Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones. But you still have to choose.
After having gotten back on track yesterday, I almost blew it today. I just couldn't drag my butt out of bed at 6am, and my son had an early doctor appointment (which, ironically, caused me to miss my early Doctor appointment.) I managed to squeeze in my fifty five minutes on the treadmill over my lunch break, though, so I am still on track to finish this ridiculous project on Monday, August 6th.
As for my viewing today, of course it included an "are you my mummy" joke. So let's talk about that.
Mummy on the Orient Express
(TARDIS Data Core recap)
leaving aside the final few minutes after the main story is finished, this is an excellent episode. Definitely my second favorite of the season, right after Listen. The plot has the Doctor taking Clara on a final trip together before she stops traveling with him forever. Which, ok, after how the last episode went I don't see why she would ever set foot inside the TARDIS again, but I am trying to leave my grumpiness about that part until later. So anyway, the Doctor takes her for a trip on the famed Orient Express, except this one is the space version. It's like Galaxy Express 999 but with fewer robots.
If you didn't watch this anime growing up, you had an unfortunate childhood
Although it's a SpaceTrain, it is themed down to the last detail to match the original. Or, as the Doctor describes it, "Completely faithful recreation of the original Orient Express. Except slightly bigger. And in space. Oh, and the rails are actually hyperspace ribbons. But in every other respect, identical. Painstaking attention to detail." Well, that plus the ancient invisible mummy, also called The Foretold. The legend says that once a person sees The Foretold they have exactly 66 seconds to live.
That being the case, there are no fewer than five sequences in which the mummy appears to someone and an on-screen counter ticks down the sixty-six seconds as the creature relentlessly pursues its victim. This is a gruesome mummy, staggering along with dangling rotted wrappings and decaying body parts, dragging its foot along in a completely unnatural and disturbing manner. Visually this is just a fantastically realized creature that would fit firmly in the classic Holmes/Hinchcliffe era.
Eventually it turns out that everyone on the train was manipulated into being there by some mysterious mastermind who is trying to unlock the secret of The Foretold. Also eventually, the Doctor does a Very Clever Thing and figures out that the mummy is really an ancient soldier being kept alive by WhateverTechnology, some of which explains the whole sixty-six second thing, and then the Doctor very cleverly surrenders and relieves the soldier of its duty. The day is saved (although the entire train gets blown up, so kind of a mixed success there.)
From a design standpoint this is a spectacular episode. Great sets, great costumes, great creature design. Early on there is even a cameo by singer Foxes performing a jazz rendition of Queen's Don't Stop Me Now. It's so good that the BBC wound up making a promo video of the entire song, mixing in footage from this entire season of the show. Check it out:
That's all well and good, but I would be remiss if I didn't talk about that last scene. It all goes back to the fundamental problem that Clara is not an actual fully-realized character, she is just a plot device. In her first season it was all about being the Impossible Girl. In this season, it is all about her romantic arc with Danny Pink. That would be fine if it was an actual organic thing, but it's not. As will become apparent by the end of the weekend, the entire romance exists solely to tee up the season finale. In order to get there, Clara first has to hit all of the proscribed plot points. Meet cute? Done. Bad first date? Done. Deepening affection? Done. So the whole point of the last episode was to force her to choose between Danny and the Doctor, and to make that choice obvious and easy. The whole point of the end of this episode is for her to wobble on that choice, thus creating conflict in her relationship with Danny where she is keeping a secret from him. So, at the end of this episode, she lies and tells Danny that she has finished her final trip with the Doctor. Then she lies and tells the Doctor that Danny is ok with her continuing to go on adventures as long as she always comes home safe and on time. That, of course, is going to blow up badly.
Now, conflict in storytelling is obviously a good thing. It creates drama. The problem here is that there is no reason for Clara to make this decision. During the course of this story, the Doctor again treats Clara badly. He outright lies to her, and in fact manipulates her into being his accomplice in lying to another woman in order to server her up as bait for the mummy. Ultimately the Doctor manages to save her, and he explains that he lied to Clara so that the mysterious mastermind wouldn't know what the Doctor was really planning. In that sense, it is very similar to what the Seventh Doctor did to poor Ace in The Curse of Fenric. The difference between the two situations is that when the Seventh Doctor did that, it was completely out of character for him and thus became easy for Ace to understand what he was doing after the fact. But here, when the Twelfth Doctor does it, it is completely in character with his behavior since his regeneration. Cold, calculating, totally indifferent to the feelings of the people he is manipulating. In fact, he even tells Clara that he wasn't sure that plan was going to work, and that if it hadn't he would have tried it with the next victim, and the next, and the next, until he won. And yet, somehow Clara takes his admission of a willingness to keep growing the body count, and somehow sees that as redeeming?
I love Peter Capaldi so much as an actor, and thankfully in his second and third seasons his Doctor becomes much better, but this whole season is hard to take. It just kills me that the writers are letting him down at every turn here.
So yeah, great episode as long as I ignore the last few minutes.
Tomorrow's episode, I remember really liking as well, and I forget if there is any stupid Clara/Danny drama in it. I hope not. I guess I'll find out in the morning.
Companion(s): Clara Oswald, Danny Pink
Episode(s): Mummy on the Orient Express
Steps Walked: 7,589 today, 3,387,848 total
Distance Walked: 4.08 miles today, 1,770.21 miles total
Push-ups Completed: 0 today, 6,579 total
Sit-ups Completed: 0 today, 929 total
Weight: 248.78 lbs (five day moving average), net change -58.52 lbs