This episode is an absolute joy, continuing the extremely fine run of form that’s been going since the end of the last series. The Orient Express But In Space is exactly the same gag as The Titanic But In Space, and there’s even a celebrity guest companion and an on-board singer, but there’s also a great plot and a really scary monster, unlike last time. My only complaint is about the singer, who is apparently some foxes. Never do a pared-down cover of a Queen song.
It was a surprise to see the Doctor turn up with Clara in tow – it feels like we’ve missed a stage somewhere. They soon explain that this is one last trip, but I feel we should have seen them discussing this beforehand, as we’re missing out what happened next after that explosive argument in the previous ep. Nevertheless, it doesn’t flinch from depicting a fractious relationship between the pair, played very well by both actors.
Admittedly, Clara does spend most of the episode locked in a room on the other side of the train, allowing Frank Skinner the chance to be a one-off companion, and I can think of very few people I’d rather see in such a role. He’s not the greatest actor in the world (believe me, I’ve seen every episode of both Blue Heaven and Shane), but his natural charm shines through, as does his absolute delight at being there. He loves Doctor Who so much, and he still talks about Perkins on his radio show on a regular basis.
He’s one of three stand out stars of the show, another being the eponymous mummy. The most straightforward and traditional of cartoonishly scary images, made chillingly effective by the tense murder-mystery-inspired writing. The on-screen timers worked really well, raising the fear and tension each time they count down to another grisly death. The plot twist in the middle gave us a secondary villain, in the form of John Sessions’s disembodied voice, and was a great deal of fun.
But the main star, unsurprisingly, is Capaldi, who seemed to be channelling Tom Baker when he was posing as a passenger, elongating his vowels to fit in, and even offering round the jelly babies. After the aforementioned plot twist, he turned into a bit of a prick, reaching new levels of blasé reactions to death. Even I wondered for a moment if this was taking it too far, but the ending brings him back round. It manages to exonerate him by revealing that he had to lie in order for his plan to work, but while still retaining the ambiguity and unpredictability that are making this incarnation so fascinating.
One interpretation, which plays in to the McCoy-esque master manipulator vibes I’ve previously mentioned, is that he deliberately made Clara think the absolute worst of him temporarily, in order to make her realise how she really feels about him and decide to stay. It’s a shame it doesn’t also work on Perkins, who turns down the chance to become a proper companion, heartbreakingly. Is it too late to petition to get him back?