Friday, October 02, 2015

8.8 Mummy on the Orient Express

And now you're back
From outer space
And I find you here with that sad look upon your face
I should have changed that stupid lock
Oh made you leave your key
If I've known for a second you'd be back to bother me
         Gloria Gaynor

Little is left to tell.

The broken muddle that is Doctor Who staggered on for a few more weeks, mimicking what it half remembered Doctor Who being. Then someone put it out of its misery. 

I said last week that some of the plot devices in Kill the Moon were so transparent that you might as well have had the voice of God telling the Doctor and Clara what the Writer wanted them to do. This week, that’s almost literally what happens. Mummy on the Orient Express sounds like the title of a Doctor Who strip in TV Comic. 

It isn’t actually a Mummy but a plot device that looks a bit like a Mummy. And it isn’t the Orient Express, but a plot device done up to look like the Orient Express. A mad all powerful computer has created a simulation of a space ship in the shape of the Orient Express as pretext for assembling a group of characters and challenging them to defeat the Space Mummy. You could have called the story Goblin on S.S. Great Britain or Werewolf on Concord and it would have come out much the same. You could have shown us Borusa picking chess pieces out of time and space with his little time scoop and it would have been only marginally more contrived.

Although its only a computer simulation of a space ship in the shape of Orient Express, everyone talks and acts as if they are Agatha Christie characters. I don’t know if we are supposed to think that they are playing a sort of role-playing game murder-mystery party and not breaking character. I don’t know if we are supposed to think at all.

The story bit felt like an episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures — one of the bad ones, like the Mona Lisa coming to life, not one of the good ones, like everyone forgetting that Clyde exists. There is, as the title suggests, a Mummy on the Orient Express. The Mummy is actually a kind of revenant: it can only be seen by people who are about to die; or, to be accurate, by people who it is about to kill. From the point of view of the crew of the Space-Train, passengers are just dropping dead randomly. The Doctor has to convince them that they are actually being killed by an Invisible Space Mummy. There’s some fairly grim stuff with people wondering who the next victim will be, and a tiny slither of characterization around how people face Certain Death. To everyone’s total surprise and astonishment, the shell-shocked ex-serviceman faces his death bravely, with his gun in his hand. Frank Skinner does an amusing turn playing Frank Skinner

In the end the Doctor magics the Space Mummy away with his doohickey. I think there may have been an explanation, but it was so perfunctory and spoken so quickly over such loud background music that I have literally no idea what happened; but not having any idea what happened doesn’t make much difference.

The characterization bit follows straight on from the one with the Space Chicken. Clara was so angry about the Doctor lying to her that she had ended their relationship. The trip on the Orient Express is meant to be a going away present or a “last hurrah” because they don’t want everything to end with a slammed door. I don't think that's how people behave when they've been badly hurt. Naturally, the Doctor is lying to her again — he knows perfectly well that there is going to be a Space Mummy on the Space Train. In fact, he behaves horribly throughout the episode: he doesn't give Clara the slightest reason to reconsider her decision to leave.

Since Mr Spock — heck, since Professor Challenger, very possibly since Socrates — there has been an idea that thoughts and feelings don’t really go together — that the cleverer someone is the more likely they are to be callous, or shy, or emotionally illiterate. Then we all read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and decided that the best way of signifying that someone was clever was to code them very broadly as having aspergers syndrome. It worked quite well in the first season of Sherlock, and I believe the Yanks got a whole sit-com out of it. I have an awful terrible feeling that when the Doctor says things like “You are probably next to die, which is good to know” we are supposed to find it amusing and endearing. In fact, it just makes him come across as a prick. Doctor Sylvester got away with his dark callous moments because you could absolutely tell that he really genuinely loved Ace. Doctor Peter seems to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. This certainly isn’t a Doctor I could love; and the question I have about Clara is not “will she, won’t she?” but “why is she wasting her time with this idiot?” And if you don’t love the Doctor, there's no point in watching not-that-brilliantly made TV shows about Space Mummies and Giant Chickens. We quite happily watched drivel about gun tooting Mona Lisas with mancunian accents because we loved Elisabeth Sladen, and to a lessor extent, Luke and Clyde and whoever the other one was that week.

Tom Baker said that he never did any acting. The Doctor was simply Tom being alien and benevolent. There is much in that

Clara is cross with the Doctor for lying to her and being generally horrible. He explains that he was in a situation where he had to be horrible: he did sacrifice some lives, but he saved some others. "Yes, but you didn't have to be so gleeful about" screams what remains of the TV audience. Then, for no reason I could spot, Clara changes her mind and decides she wants to stay with the Doctor for ever and ever after all. Nothing which has just happened has in any way overwritten or excused the shitty way the Doctor treated her last week. It was never in doubt that, in Doctor-world, lying about the Giant Chicken was the right thing to do, for the greater good; and we can all see that allowing the Space Mummy to kill some people might have enabled the Doctor to discover its weakness and magic it away with a doohickey. If Clara couldn’t deal with the Doctor’s lies last week, why is she suddenly so cool about them this week? 

So. Last week, the Doctor and Clara split up, for no particular reason. This week, they get back together again, for no particular reason. Next week and the week after we’ll go through the same process again, until Jenna Coleman decides to get a proper job like maybe dressing up as a robot in a superhero movie.