“Mummy on the Orient Express”brings together all the things that Doctor Who has done well for a long time – myth, science, and terror. The episode takes place almost entirely on board a faithful replica of the Orient Express train – in space. The plan is for this to be the last journey for the Doctor and Clara.
But as we soon learn, people are dying on the train. And we soon learn that what is unfolding matches a myth about a being called “The Foretold” – which tells of a mummy seen only by the one whom it kills, appearing 66 seconds before their death.
And so once again we have that perennial theme on Doctor Who: from time to time mythology turns out to be true.
The Foretold appears in the vicinity of an artifact, an ancient scroll, which is on the train, and scientists and experts have been gathered on it as passengers. And so it becomes clear that the situation is a set-up. Whoever brought them there wants to capture The Foretold and back-engineer the technology that is at work. The Doctor eventually realizes that what he is dealing with is a soldier which is being kept “alive” by technology from an ancient war, and that the scroll is the remnant of a flag. And so he says “We surrender,” and the soldier can finally stop trying to continue existing to fight in a war that presumably had long since ended.
And so there is a nice analogy to undead zombie philosophies like some of the anti-science forms of creationism, which are made to persist after the time when they would have naturally died, doing harm to people as they continue to try to fight a war that has long since been over.
Returning to the episode, soldiers seem to be the persistent theme of the season – and so I wonder how this story connects with that arc, and where they are going with this.
The Doctor had been invited there before by “Gus” (the computer running the train), and so expected there to be danger – as usual. Does this allude to the phone call the Doctor got at the end of “The Big Bang” which mentioned an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express – in space?
There is some nice dialogue between Clara and the Doctor, who gets Clara to be his “accomplice” in misleading someone into thinking that he can save her from the mummy. But he actually does save her, putting himself in harm’s way to do so. “So you were pretending to be heartless,” Clara suggests. The Doctor says a number of things in reply, among which my favorite is this: “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones. But you still have to choose.”
Clara asks if it is like an addiction, always choosing to be the one in the place to make those bad choices. The Doctor doesn’t know, as he’s never tried giving it up, and that is how you find out you have an addiction. But we discover that Clara is addicted, as she turns out not to be able to give up traveling with the Doctor.
What did you think of “Mummy on the Orient Express”?