Here’s my main question from Mummy on the Orient Express: how do you go from slapping someone and saying you never want to see them again, to having one last adventure for the sake of all the good times?
Mummy on the Orient Express was a really fun episode, one of the best of a strong season. But it really wanted to be a standalone episode, at a point in the season where it needed to focus more on the characters’ emotional arcs than on the monster of the week.
And sure, it tried to explore the idea that Clara no longer wanted to travel with the Doctor, bringing things around so that she does want to continue her adventures, at least for now, by the end of the episode. But while the episode was internally consistent, it didn’t make any sense from a broader perspective.
After our introduction to the mummy monster of the week, we were immediately thrown into confusion when the Doctor and a girl in a 20s get-up stepped out of the TARDIS. First, I thought it was some random other girl that the Doctor had taken on an adventure to fill the Clara-shaped hole in his life. Then I thought it might be another version of Clara (remember when she fractured all through time? Yeah, the show doesn’t either). And then I was just confused.
Sure, they referenced the fight that they had. They referenced the idea that she was leaving. But how do we go to a huge emotional explosion about how the Doctor betrayed her, and her telling him to never ever contact her again, to a 20s hairstyle and adventure-related excitement and sad little smiles because this is goodbye? It just felt strange, like the record had skipped. Had I missed an episode? Is this really where we’re going with this?
It was just yet another example of the show’s complete inability to follow through on its emotional narratives. The general quality of this season had me hoping we were past the days when Amy and Rory lost their baby and then never seemed to worry about it again, but apparently not. The overarching story is not allowed to interrupt the Monster of the Week. The story wanted Clara here, and so Clara was here.
It wouldn’t even have been hard to be consistent. Open with a montage of time passing and Clara missing the Doctor. Have the Doctor show up and insist that he needs her help. Hell, have him offer her this trip as an apology, even if she decides never to travel with him again after that. Something. Last week’s episode was too emotionally charged for things to be so calm and wistful this week.
And it seemed like the writer tried really really hard to make it work. He built up the emotional arc within the episode. He addressed the question of why Clara would travel with him even one more time, and even had our side-character of the week challenge her on it (“You can’t end on a slammed door.” “Yes, you can”). The fact that Clara reappeared was turned into a comment on her character, rather than a massive inconsistency. But all the writing in the world couldn’t smooth over that massive emotional hiccup. All the work was retroactive, to try and fix that initial nonsensicalness, when it should have been developed from the very beginning.
Let’s not even go into how Clara described what happened as a “wobble” on her part, completely dismissing her own legitimate feelings from last episode. Or how she blamed Danny for her decision to leave, and how her supposed reason for saying was “well now Danny says it’s OK.” Sure, she was making it up, but did that really have to be her fake reason?
And all that sucks, because otherwise I thought this was a FANTASTIC episode. The show continued its new tradition of actually having multiple female characters interacting with one another, and combined it with a great monster of the week, some wonderful one-off characters, and a really satisfying story from both a creepy-monster and a psychological perspective.
But yeah. Don’t set up an emotional arc for your tragically underdeveloped female protagonist and then sweep it under the rug, show. That’s really not cool.