Saturday, October 18, 2014

Walk Like an Egyptian: An Overanalysis of "Mummy on the Orient Express"

"Hello? Oh, hello. I'm sorry, this is a very bad line. No, no, no, but that's not possible. She was sealed into the seventh Obelisk. I was at the prayer meeting. Well, no, I get that it's important. An Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space" - The Eleventh Doctor receiving a phone call at the end of "The Big Bang"

"A long time ago the Doctor took a phone call asking for some help on the Orient Express and finally he's getting around to doing something about it" - Steven Moffat, being interviewed about this episode.

Well, Moffat, that doesn't quite explain this episode.  As we can see, in the original phone call the Doctor received, he was told that it was an Egyptian goddess, and that he had been in a prayer meeting to "seal" her anyway.  I've always wondered what exactly the Doctor was doing at a "prayer meeting," as he's always struck me as too much of a skeptic for that.  So no, Moffat, this wasn't you actually planning ahead, this is you reaching back to a one-off joke from an episode 3 seasons back and making an entire episode just out of that joke.  And, sadly, the episode bears all the hallmarks of an episode that began with a title, rather than an episode that began with a really interesting idea.  It has its moments, and I don't think anything about it was actively bad, I just didn't feel like anything about it was particularly great or really inspired.  However, what really intrigued me about this episode is that it clearly left a lot of loose ends open on purpose, and I think that this episode holds a lot more clues to the season finale than it would seem to on first glance.  And, perhaps even more importantly, this is the continuation of the very interesting arc about the toxic friendship between the Doctor and Clara, and it moves us one step closer to the resolution of something really difficult that's happening with them.

Perhaps one of the reasons I didn't like this episode all that much is because I've never been fond of mummies.  They don't particularly scare me.  They're just zombies with some bandages on.  Sure, seeing an actual mummified body in a museum is kind of creepy (and amazingly cool), but I don't have any fears about it coming to life and hunting me down.  Furthermore, movies and TV shows that depict mummies usually show them int heir own fictionalized version of ancient Egypt, and to highlight how hot it is in Egypt, they usually depict scenes with a lot of sunlight to show the hot sun bearing down on the landscape.  Besides the fact that I find yellows and oranges to be generally drab colors, a scene awash in daylight is really anything but scary.  Darkness is scary, sunlight is comforting.  So, usually, when I hear that something is going to have a mummy in it, I'm likely to pass on it.

Also, it has the unfortunate tendency to remind me of Brendan Frasier's attempts at "acting"
BBC made a big deal about pop star Foxes appearing in this episode, covering Queen's classic "Don't Stop Me Now."  With this bit of information, and the Doctor's penchant for picking up pop stars as companions, even for a one-off (Billie Piper, Kylie Minogue), I assumed that Foxes would be a main cast member of this episode, a one-off companion to replace Clara while she was furious with the Doctor.  The fact that last week's trailer, and all promotional material excluded Clara (including the above poster, you can even check the fine print on the bottom, she's not there), seemed to confirm this.  Imagine my surprise when Foxes was a lounge singer merely in the background of this episode singing the song with surprising disinterest (and, considering the revelation later in the episode that most of the people on the train were holograms, she probably wasn't even a real person), and Clara was front and center again as the companion.  If Foxes was booked primarily as a mislead, that's a brilliant move on the part of the show's executive producers, if a bit of an insult to Foxes.  Still, that doesn't seem to have stopped Foxes's fans from going apeshit about her performance.

"Don't stop me know, I'm having such a boring time..."

If Frank Skinner's character, Perkins, was similarly placed in here to make us believe that he would be a replacement companion for Clara, that wasn't one I fell for.  For all the attention that was conspicuously placed on him--to the point where he might as well have just been wearing a sign that said "Look at me, I'm important"--he had one thing that disqualified him from ever becoming a permanent companion on the show to replace Clara, and that's a Y chromosome.  Men do not travel in the TARDIS unless there's a woman there.  It's an unfortunate rule, and one I'd be very happy to see changed, but it's not one I expect to see change at any point in the future.  Still, the fact that the Doctor practically invited him to join him in the TARDIS at the end signals that this is someone the Doctor respects (mainly because he's someone who's willing to criticize the Doctor), and I wouldn't be surprised if we see him again later on.  Much as the Doctor's friends reassembled to help him in "The Pandorica Opens" and "A Good Man Goes to War," I'm imagining a posse from across time and space this season finale that contains, at the very minimum, the Paternoster Gang, Robin Hood, and Perkins.

I felt like a lot of the loose ends here were left loose very much on purpose.  We still don't know exactly who or what "Gus," the computer, actually was, or why he felt the need to assemble all of these experts to study The Foretold.  All I could think of was that Gus reminded me of our mysterious villainess, Missy, in that both are running an operation that is somehow, at the same time, both benevolent and sinister.  Additionally, as Clara pointed out, if Gus knows what the TARDIS is, he knows who the Doctor is.  The Doctor then lets us know that Gus has been reaching out to him for a long time (again, referencing that damn phone call), and Missy seems to know the Doctor very well, too.  I get the impression that Gus has to be working for Missy in some way, and that this episode is largely setting us up for the season finale.  We also know very little, in the end, about how the Mummy was being controlled and who was controlling it.  It was trapped in this repeating cycle somehow, but someone had to have trapped it.  But notice that Gus seemed interested in stopping this thing that is trapping a dead person and not allowing him to fully die, showing that Gus, much like Missy, seems to be obsessed with death.  I'm starting to wonder if Missy's ultimate mission is to stop death in the Universe, in which case we could have a very interesting showdown in this season finale.

Additionally, something about the scene where the Doctor was talking about all the planets form this part of space that had been swallowed up struck me as some sort of foreshadowing, and possibly that's something that's going to come around again.  Of course, the whole plotline of a lot of planets going missing in the Universe has been done before, but it was done before poorly, so I wouldn't mind seeing it done again.

Some people have complained about the fact that Clara, in the end, decides to rejoin the Doctor, even though nothing has really changed.  The Doctor hasn't gotten nicer to her, and he hasn't apologized.  She even lies to Danny about it--seemingly unnecessarily as he has changed his tone and does see to be advocating her staying with the Doctor--to continue her journey's with the Doctor.  Here's the thing about that:  one of the things I like about Doctor Who, at least in the past few years, is that it's a show that seems to be comfortable with letting its characters learn the wrong lesson from time to time, at least temporarily.  I think of "The God Complex," an episode that I really feel was designed for the Doctor to learn the wrong lesson, and to come to the realization at the end of the episode that he needs to stop traveling with a companion, because it's too dangerous for them.  As he starts to learn, and has learned many times before, he should never be traveling alone.  Ever.  This feels like a similar situation.  I never got the feeling that, when Clara decided to travel with the Doctor again despite him not changing anything or apologizing, that the narrative of this show was really trying to tell me "Look at what a great decision Clara made!"  Rather, Clara's in a dysfunctional relationship with someone who used to be very good to her, and she's hoping for him to change back again and become a better person to her.  Unlike most times when this situation plays out in real life, I think there's a good chance that the Doctor might actually turn a corner and start to become a better friend to her.  But, right now, he's not in a good place, and he's not been treating her well, and she's choosing to go off with him again any way.  I get the feeling something's coming soon that's going to make her regret that decision.

It's recently been confirmed that Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink) will at least be in the Christmas special this year, although nothing has been confirmed for next season, which suggests that the Clara, Danny, Doctor triangle of tension is going to keep going at least one episode past the end of this season.  I'm hoping, though, that all of this is leading up to a finale in which the big problems between these three characters are resolved, and the Christmas special is an opportunity to turn our attention towards other things.  That's the way my favorite season (Season 5) worked out.  Moffat seemed to have no interest in extending that love triangle with Amy, Rory, and the Doctor beyond one season, but wanted to keep the characters.  So they moved past that conflict and entered a new stage of their relationship, starting with the Christmas special.  I'm hoping the same thing is going to happen this season.

No comments:

Post a Comment