Mummy on the Orient Express
Mummy on the Orient Express was the eighth episode of the eighth series of Doctor Who produced by BBC Wales. It picked up a hanging plot thread posed in the Eleventh Doctor’s era from TV: The Big Bang– a phone call placed to the TARDIS, which initially appeared to be a request for help, but carried a sinister subtext veiled beneath a front that would draw out the Doctor into a trap.
Writer Jamie Mathieson was approached to write the script while working on Flatline. He was given the title, chosen by Steven Moffat, which led Mathieson to look to Agatha Christie for inspiration. Frank Skinner’s character was based on a friend of his, Perkins, a “train buff” from whom he acquired information about the Orient Express.
The original idea for the script had far more content, with the Express visiting the “Seven Wonders of the Universe”, but this was removed due to time constraints.
Brian Minchin expressed early on to Mathieson that the Mummy might force the episode to be broadcast at a later time as the BBC judged it to be too scary. Minchin had repeatedly tried to have it shown in the series trailer, but the corporation would not allow it.
In a luxurious dining car of a train, Mrs Pitt, an elderly lady, spots a man “dressed as a mummy monster”, at which point a clock starts counting down in the corner of the screen. She wants him out of her dining car, but no one else seems to see him. She calls a guard over and tries to get him to throw the man out of her dining car, but he can’t see it either. As the clock reaches 6 seconds, the Mummy gets closer and closer to Mrs. Pitt. At 5 seconds, it has its face in hers. At 4 seconds, her granddaughter, Maisie Pitt, is starting to worry. At 3 seconds, everyone in the car is staring. At 2 seconds, Mrs. Pitt seems to be having a panic attack. At 1 second, the Mummy has his hands on her forehead. Then she collapses, dead.
The Doctor lands the TARDIS in the train’s baggage car. He steps out with Clara. Clara is dressed in a 1920s outfit, and the Doctor in a tuxedo. “There were many trains to take the name Orient Express,” he tells her, “but only one in space.” He opens the door to reveal the dining car, where there is a singer performing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”. The Doctor ushers Clara inside. As they look out a window at a nebula, the Doctor begins to tell Clara about the various planets that used to be there thousands of years ago. Clara interrupts, apologizing for her recent anger towards the Doctor. She says she could never hate him, but intends this to be their last trip together. As the Doctor mentions having had a picnic on one of the now-gone planets, Maisie overhears and calls him a liar. She says he must be, as that planet has not existed for a thousand years. Visibly distraught, she is gently ushered back to her room by guards. Clara asks Quell, the Captain, what happened and he explains Mrs. Pitt’s sudden death, before escorting Maisie out.
During the night, the Doctor ponders the story of Mrs Pitt’s death and the mummy which only she could see, becoming increasing suspicious of it. Clara meanwhile is on the phone with Danny, discussing this as her last trip with the Doctor. He is relieved that at least the train is safe, which Clara seems somewhat unsure of, but nevertheless confirms. The Doctor leaves his room, stopping at Clara’s door. He almost knocks, but instead goes on, leaving her to sleep. As soon as he disappears down the hall, Clara emerges from her room and goes to the Doctor’s door. She knocks, but not being there he of course does not answer.
The Doctor starts to poke around the engine room, where he examines the chair that Mrs. Pitt had died in. It’s then that he meets Perkins, chief engineer aboard the Orient Express. Perkins tells him that they think something else might be responsible for the deaths of some of the passengers.
Having changed back into her dress, Clara again exits her room. She sees Maisie, who is coming down the hall with a determined look and a high heel shoe in hand. Clara greets her, then follows her. Maisie asks the computer for access to a room, and the computer replies, “Call me Gus. I’m afraid this door can only be opened by executive order.”
Maisie says that that’s the room where they’re keeping Mrs. Pitt’s body, and that she should be allowed to see it. Clara agrees, then tells her that she has a friend who’s really good with locks and he can open it for her. Instead, Maisie smashes the computer with her high heel shoe and the door slides open.
The Doctor has sought out a passenger named Professor Emile Moorhouse, professor of alien mythology. The Doctor asks him about the Foretold – a mythical mummy. Moorhouse tells the Doctor various bits of information, including the saying: “They that bear the Foretold’s stare have sixty six seconds to live.”
At that moment, in the kitchen, the chef catches sight of the Foretold and screams. Alerting the other kitchen crew, who, of course, can’t see it, the chef grabs a knife and waves it around. The chef backs up towards the freezer and locks himself in it, seeing that the Foretold is on the other side of the door and can’t get inside. But when he turns around, he comes face to face with – the Foretold, who has somehow teleported inside the freezer. As the clock ticks to 1 second, the Foretold wraps its hands around the chef, who collapses.
The Doctor confronts Quell about the Foretold but Quell does not believe him. Perkins then gives the Doctor a large amount of documents and information. They meet up with Moorhouse in the engineer’s room to watch footage of Mrs. Pitt’s death and note the details of her death.
Maisie and Clara get into the room, but Mrs. Pitt’s body isn’t there. The door has closed and locked behind them. The Doctor calls Clara, who tells him that there’s a strange sarcophagus at the back of the room. It opens up, but there’s nothing in there but bubble wrap. Captain Quell then apprehends the Doctor believing he is the one causing the deaths.
The Doctor and Quell go to a different cabin, where they find a guard writhing on the ground, shooting his gun at an invisible thing in front of him. The guard drops dead and Quell releases the Doctor who then deduces that the passengers are all experts and scientists in specific fields of study. They have been gathered here to study the Foretold. The inside of the room turns into a white laboratory, and most of the passengers disappear. They were holograms, says the Doctor, to make up the numbers. The train comes to a stop and the computer Gus reveals that the Doctor is right and the whole Orient Express cruise was to find out more about the Foretold. “Your goal is to ascertain the Foretold’s true nature, probe for weaknesses with a view to capture, after which we will reverse engineer its abilities” explains the computer. Gus reveals that an ancient scroll is what causes the mummy to appear.
Moorhouse suddenly catches sight of the Foretold, and the Doctor tells Perkins to start the clock. Perkins sets his stopwatch for 66 seconds, and the Doctor asks Moorhouse to describe the Foretold in as much detail as he can. Moorhouse does just that, but a dead man can tell no tales, and Moorhouse collapses, as have the other victims of the Mummy.
Clara calls the Doctor to tell him about some documents they found about the Orient Express. Gus tells the Doctor to terminate the call. When he refuses, Gus de-pressurises the kitchen room. Looking out the window, those in the laboratory see the lifeless bodies of the kitchen staff floating in space, and Gus warns the team that he will do this to another car if someone disobeys his orders again. The Doctor ends the call.
After looking at the medical history of the previous victims, they figure out that the Foretold is targeting weaker passengers first. Quell reluctantly tells the Doctor that he suffers from post-traumatic stress, and the Doctor confirms to him that he will be next. It isn’t long before Quell sees the Mummy, too. The Doctor tells Perkins to start the clock. Quell describes the Foretold as much as he can and dies like the others, in 66 seconds.
Perkins reports to the Doctor that Maisie is next because of her trauma from Mrs. Pitt’s death, and so the Doctor calls Clara to inform her that Maisie is next on the list. He tells her to bring Maisie to the car that he’s in and that Gus agrees to bring her there. Clara is greatly upset by this, telling the Doctor that she can’t just lead Maisie to her death, but the Doctor, claiming that there is no other solution convinces her, though very reluctantly, to lie to Maisie and claim that the Doctor is going to help her.
When Clara brings Maisie to his car, she screams and points, the Foretold staring at her coldly in the doorway. The Doctor fiddles with Maisie’s mind and scans her for her emotions of grief and trauma. When he implants those same emotions on himself, the Foretold now believes that he is Maisie.
The Doctor sees the Foretold and Perkins starts the clock. The Doctor deduces that the mummy is actually an ancient soldier augmented with technology to allow it to kill only its victims by pulling them out of phase and that it is protecting the scroll which is actually a flag. The Doctor notes that for him the war isn’t over yet and with one second left, the Doctor shouts: “We surrender!”
The Foretold suddenly stops and comes out of phase. With everyone now able to see it, it wearily raises its arm in a salute. “You’re relieved, soldier,” says the Doctor quietly. With that, the Foretold shrivels into dust, and the Doctor picks up the tech that powered it from the dust. He starts to fiddle with it. Gus’ voice comes over the speakers again, congratulating them on solving the mystery, before telling them that no survivors are needed. “Ah, well, there’s a shocker” the Doctor mutters. As Gus starts to let the air out of the cabin, the Doctor fiddles with the device. Clara and the other humans collapse. From space, the train is seen exploding.
Sometime later, Clara wakes up on a rocky beach, with the TARDIS nearby. The Doctor, writing in the sand with a stick, greets her. He says that he was able to teleport all the passengers into the TARDIS, using the Mummy’s animation device. He then tried to hack Gus to find out who had created him, but this triggered a security measure, causing the train to blow up so no evidence could be discovered. Then he dropped everyone off safely here, on the nearest civilized planet.
Clara is impressed that the Doctor managed to save every survivor, and asks him why he didn’t tell her straight away what he was planning to do with Maisie. The Doctor explains that he couldn’t risk Gus getting tipped off about his plan and trying to stop it. Clara then asks him if he was just pretending to be heartless. The Doctor pauses for a bit, before asking “Would you like to think that about me? Would that make it easier?” He then expresses sadness at having failed to save Moorhouse and Quell, and admits that he wasn’t even sure if he could have saved Maisie back then. He states that if that plan also had failed, he would have gone on to the next passenger, and then the next, and so forth, until he had found a way to defeat the Foretold. He tells Clara that sometimes, all your available choices are bad ones, but in the end you still have to choose.
Back in the TARDIS, Perkins compliments the Doctor on his ship and tells him that a couple of the drive stacks need replacing. The Doctor implies an invitation for the train engineer to travel with him, so he can replace the drive stacks. Perkins politely declines, stating “that job could change a man.” He and the Doctor bid each other goodbye.
Clara, reflecting back on their previous conversation, asks the Doctor if he loves being the man who has to make the impossible choices all the time. The Doctor responds that it is his life. Clara then asks if it is an addiction to him, and he answers that you can’t truly tell if something is an addiction until you have tried giving it up, something she notices he never has.
Clara then receives a call from Danny, and he asks her if it that last travel of hers is over. Clara, having decided to forgive the Doctor, lies to Danny and tells him “mission accomplished”. She then tells the Doctor that Danny just told her that he is fine with them traveling around, and so is she. The Doctor, happily surprised by her sudden change of heart, asks her if she is serious, and Clara answers that she wants to see more planets right now. The Doctor excitedly tells her about “one that’s made entirely of shrubs” and plots a course for it.