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Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express

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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.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

3 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express

  1. personally I can’t believe this garbage persists year after year after year when something like Firefly doesn’t make it through a single season. Come back, Malcolm Reynolds, all is forgiven! *sniff*

  2. I’m glad it wasn’t just me that didn’t recognise Jenna at first! I thought she was going to be a random one-off person that the Doctor had picked up as a stand-in or something. I think that without the first and last 5-10 minutes it would have worked as a good episode, preferably one earlier in the series though.

    I can’t put into words how much my heart sank at the end when Clara basically turned into Amy – deciding that the adventuring is too much fun and that hey, it’s time travel so she can happily flit off and come back in time before anyone notices… All of the character development Clara’s been getting this season, especially the awesome calling-out at the end of the last episode (and the recap this episode – the Doctor used her wanting a last trip to trick her into a death trap!!!) went out the window :(

  3. Early in the episode, when the Doctor said Clara’s facial expressions made her appear to be malfunctioning, I first thought he made a robot replica to serve as companion.

    I do miss the Clara who regularly hijacked the narrative. Kill the Moon was more a wobble since she lost her clever confidant and yes controlling nature. Her character was subsumed by the narrative, by metaphor, and once again turned into a prop to Make a Statement About Something and to show how the Doctor is sooo mercurial. Yes, Clara does get that speech at the end. It’s a nice speech. It holds all of DW suspect. But again she is a prop, a mouthpiece. It undermines her as a fully functioning character and serves to build up the Doctor as the main character.

    Mummy picks up those threads and of course abuses Clara further. Why does she need the Doctor to explain his decision-making process? Wasn’t she able to figure things out on her own and inspire others to solve problems in earlier episodes? Clara should have come to terms with the Doctor in a emotionally logical way. Instead, at the end of Mummy, she just functions as audience stand-in.

    I hope this Wobbly Clara Saga is just a trilogy.

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