Doctor Who: Mummy Issues

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(Author's note: I'm REALLY sorry about that pun.)

I think it's safe to say that "Mummy on the Orient Express" was my favorite episode of Series 8. This is Jamie Mathieson's first foray into writing for Doctor Who and he nailed so much about the character that it almost feels like the Twelfth Doctor was made for this script.

This is supposed to be the last hurrah for Clara Oswald. Still reeling from The Doctor's cold, patronizing attitudes of "Kill the Moon," she's agreed to at least one more trip in the Tardis to say good-bye. It's clear she's fed up with who he has become, a more distant, alien man with little of the easy warmth and boyish openness of Matt Smith's Doctor. That she loves him is inarguable, but it's hard to ignore that they are rapidly becoming slightly toxic to each other. Like Charley Pollard in the Big Finish Audios, she can no longer bear to look at the manipulations that The Doctor employs, no matter how benign his intentions.

Hey, also, no jokes about Clara's appearance!

So we're on the Orient Express, or at least the space version of the famous train. One thing I will say about Jenna Coleman: She is the best "let's play with costumes" companion of all time. She always puts such an effort into her look in order to fit in, something that's made even clearer by the more subdued outfits of Capaldi's Doctor.

There is still that weird pathological tendency to pay homage to older Doctors in Capaldi's movements. The scene where he is talking to himself in bed trying to reason out a mysterious murder could have come straight from Tom Baker's lips, and he has added the First Doctor's neck piece to his dinner jacket for the more formal occasion. Neat as it was to have him open a cigarette case full of jelly babies, I can't decide whether these looks back are funny or tedious. Maybe if they'd spend more time on deciding who the hell the Twelfth Doctor really is, it would be more fun.

Let's talk about the monster, the titular mummy of the episode. It's brilliant, absolutely brilliant. It's an ancient creature of folklore and legend that has suddenly begun attacking people on the train. Now The Doctor, Clara and a curiously perfect set of scientists are racing against the clock to try and discover the ancient secret of its killing pattern.

Without giving anything away, the explanation is even more terrible than the horrifying attacks of the mummy. I won't spoil it, but when I thought the mummy slightly resembled Garth Ennis's Unknown Soldier, I was dead on the money. Its final capitulation and defeat is heartbreaking, and is one more step closer to The Doctor coming to terms with his latest life.

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See, it was only in watching him desperately try to save people and woo back Clara as a companion that I finally realized something about the Twelfth Doctor; he hates himself. He really does. He hates that he cannot save everyone and he callously pretends to be cavalier with other lives to cover it. He hates his own inability to the point that he feels he can no longer promise to be a savior. Like Superman, his nemesis is actually failure, not any specific villain.

More than that, he hates what he became in the Time War. The peace his predecessor found upon coming to the aid of the War Doctor doesn't seem to have crossed over into his new life. It's more like he's internalized the self-loathing seen in the Eighth Doctor shortly before he chose to disavow his title and go to war. He clearly resents that. He resents that soldiers are ordered to do terrible things, that officers are forced to order them, that rulers make those orders inarguable, and that no matter how foul the action, it is sometimes the only action.

I, like a lot of people, have been asking, "Why hasn't The Doctor been searching for Gallifrey," but now I think the question is "Why should he?" He saved them from destruction at his own hands, sure, but no matter what, they were still the people who threatened the universe so hard he was forced to erase them. No matter what, Rassilon and his ilk are waiting for freedom as much as the children of Gallifrey. The Master, the CIA and their Oubliette of Eternity, perhaps the Nightmare Child and the Could've Been King...none of that has gone away. It's only waiting to be found.

What I pick up from "Mummy on the Orient Express," and in retrospect even from "Into the Dalek" and "Kill the Moon," is The Doctor testing himself to see what he will do when he finishes the quest for Gallifrey. Will he have the strength to make the hard choices?

I think that's one of the reasons he is so neurotically attached to Clara now. All he knows is that when the darkest hours existed for him, she was there to help. He's going to need that. And it's going to put her in mortal danger. So he's got to try everything he can to fool her, and himself, so that she'll be there when the time comes.

Which makes him no better than many of the foes he's faced. No wonder he hates himself.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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