A bit of a rant about Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 8: “Mummy on the Orient Express”

Doctor Who series 8, episode 8, “Mummy on the Orient Express,” by Paul Wilmshurst begins with a “WTF?” and ends with a “WTF?” Capaldi and Coleman (Clara Oswald) are fine as usual, but the episode left me so dissatisfied I had to rewatch it on Monday night to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I’m not one to rant about the problems of a tv show on my sister’s blog, but this review might come across as me doing just that. Fair warning.

The acting and production are fine. The part of the episode where the time travelers have an adventure was a workable monster-of-the-week affair. If I could strip away the problems and just talk about the Doctor as a character, I’d probably say I like him in “Mummy on the Orient Express” better than in any of the previous episodes this season. The Doctor-Clara relationship isn’t working, though. It’s skated into EPIC FAIL territory. It’s interfering with my enjoyment of the show, and I am not the only one who feels this way.mummy

So. After Clara tells the Doctor not to come back at the end of “Kill the Moon,” some weeks pass and they get to be on speaking terms again. All this happens offscreen and the next thing we see is them visiting the interstellar version of the Orient Express as a “last hurrah.” Clara tells the Doctor early on “I just can’t do this any more. Not the way you do it.” Then they have an adventure. We get a couple of subtle clues during the episode to suggest that Clara has perhaps turned into a danger junkie. At an important moment in the episode, Clara does what the Doctor wants even though she thinks he’s lying about being able to save Maisie. She even goes so far as to agree that the Doctor is “a good man” to persuade Maisie to go along.

After the adventure, there’s a dramatic conversation about whether or not the Doctor was lying and about whether or not he’s addicted to “making the impossible choice,” meaning the decision to let one person die to save many more. Then Clara talks to Danny, and after the conversation, she tells the Doctor Danny doesn’t mind her continuing to travel with the Doctor. This is the part that confused me so much I had to rewatch.

On the first viewing I thought Clara did an about-face at the end because she was really just afraid Danny would break up with her and she needed his approval to continue. That would have been bad. As I read it after watching again, Danny still thinks Clara is done. So she just lied to Danny AND to the Doctor after having that conversation with the Doctor about his own dishonesty.

claraNow, let me be clear. Dishonest characters can work. So can hypocritical characters and characters who lack self-awareness. What doesn’t work is when you set a character up to be a genre-savvy, time traveling, Impossible Girl who knows every incarnation of a 2,000-year-old regenerating alien and then rob her of her self-awareness to serve the plot. Clara’s tone was too sincere and she was too distressed over the honesty issue during her conversation with the Doctor for her to lie to Danny minutes later. I believe a real character could do that, but I don’t believe Clara Oswald could do it without realizing what she just did. And I don’t think Clara, as she’s written in this episode, knows what she just did.

Clara Oswald, it seems, is doomed to be a plot device forever, and an impossible one at that.

The question for me now is whether or not the season arc turns out well enough to leave me more satisfied with this season than I was with the last two. If I weren’t blogging the season, these last few episodes would be on my “binge right before the next season” list instead of my “don’t miss” list. That’s unfortunate, because I am a devoted fan with fairly low expectations. I love the cast and I just want to enjoy my campy sci-fi. I wonder how casual viewers are feeling about it, and I am interested to see how this year’s ratings compare with 2013’s.

Images © BBC Worldwide

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9 Comments

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  1. Well, I have to say that this was my favourite episode so far of the current Dr.Who series even though it reminded me a lot of the Titanic episode from a few years ago when we had Kylie Minogue on board the ship as it floated through space.
    We all have our quarrels with people and Clara is no different, although I do think it has been a little bit of a weak storyline between her and the Doctor. As for Danny Pink, I really don’t know what he is all about just yet, but maybe we will get to find out soon.

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    1. Yeah. It reminded me a bit of the Titanic episode, too. I’m hoping something cool’s going to happen with Danny, myself. Overall, this is my favorite season of the last three so far, but you might not know it from my reviews 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by & for reading!

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  2. After my rewatch — I hate that she blamed it all on Danny. She acted like it was him who wanted her to stop, but now he’s fine with it, so let’s go see some more planets! Danny expressed concerns, but he didn’t tell her to stop and he didn’t tell her to keep going. It’s all her. Totally agree with your analysis — she was set up to be self-aware, etc., but then they just take it away for her to be more dramatic. I can’t care about a character when she’s this randomly characterized.

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    1. Building up a bunch of drama and then resolving it offstage is a big no-no, to me. Just thought I would mention it here before this post vanishes into the archives. I coined the phrase “gratuitous drama” today because I needed a label for that problem.

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    2. Theory: Missy is a much-changed future Clara. I can see it coming.

      Also. Did you notice in the beach scene at the end, they seemed to be on Gallifrey? That skyline is distinctive. They were either under the dome or on Gallifrey before the dome, I think.

      And isn’t Gallifrey supposed to be in a time-locked bubble of stasis which makes it impossible to visit? Just sayin’ Strangeness. #AmGeeking.

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      1. Oh goodness! That could totally be possible.

        Hm… Surely the Doctor would know if that were the case. Unless this is all an extraordinarily complicated plot he’s keeping from Clara? He’s been doing more of that this season, a la Sylvester McCoy. I’d be down for that.

        (Alternatively, maybe they just reused the location/effect to save money.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t think they just used the effect, because the sky was that strange Gallifrey color, too. And I’ve thought since the 50th that they are working on bringing back the Time Lords.

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        2. It was definitely a surprise to me that this whole season hasn’t mentioned Gallifrey and the Time Lords at all. I thought coming out of the 50th that the Doctor was going to be actively looking for them, but apparently not. Unless it’s all a big secret plot. 😉

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