Saturday, October 11, 2014

Not Just "Some Man" - Review of "Mummy on the Orient Express"

Review/Recap of Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 8: "Mummy on the Orient Express" - Spoilers!

Back in Series 6, when I reviewed "The God Complex," I said that I really didn't like that episode. Because it was all angsty and deconstructionalist and academic and sophisticated and it brought up a lot of idiotic pretentious crap that I never enjoy on any level. And it was annoying that all the "high thinkers" of fandom loved it (you can love what you love - doesn't mean I'm going to love you for it). The next episode, however, was "Closing Time." Which is one that I will continually watch and rewatch. I adore it to pieces. Not necessarily because of Craig Owens and Alfie and the Eleventh Doctor - but because it made everything that was wrong and painful and angsty all right again. The Doctor was back in his element. Doctor Who as I knew it was back. The stories of hope and light in the midst of darkest trouble had returned. I was grateful for it.

In a similar vein, I'm grateful for "Mummy on the Orient Express." Because after last week's shouting match in fandom over all the weirdness that "Kill the Moon" engendered - whether it was bafflement about "The moon is an egg" (I'm somewhat over it, but not completely) or the anger and confusion over political messages (which - if that was meant to be a political message, it wasn't done very well. But I'm going to let that dead horse lie and never speak of it again). Even the aftermath of Clara and the Doctor's... I don't want to call it a fight, but I don't have anything else to call it. But it hurt. It cut deep. Both were in the wrong, both had blame to shoulder, both were also in the right. It was a difficult situation - one that can't be solved with the mediation techniques available to ordinary people. And, frankly, we all needed something to wash away the... whatever-that-was of last week.

Not that there aren't consequences leftover from last week - those certainly are addressed. I'm glad. Because it was such an emotionally heavy thing and to ignore it would be wrong. As the Doctor and Clara board the Orient Express (IN SPACE!), they both acknowledge that this is a "last hurrah" sort of deal and after this, Clara is done. While I don't believe for a second that's true (Jenna Coleman having tweeted out that she'd wrapped filming on the Christmas Special last week), I did feel good about Clara and the Doctor trying to mend fences before parting ways. It shows a depth of maturity both on the part of the characters and the writer that they would want to do that at all - and not just stomp off in separate directions like a two-year-old throwing a fit and calling it "drama." And, in a sense, Clara and the Doctor do spend some time separated and it seems to do them both good.

I loved Clara and Maisie locked in the room. It was good for Clara to air out some grievances with a third party, honestly. It reminded me a little bit of last week's episode of Once Upon a Time where Emma finally gets to talk openly about her fears and hesitation of being the Savior of Storybrooke and having powers and admitting to Elsa that she has no idea what she's doing or why. And Elsa listens because (A) she has a similar experience and (B) she's not from Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest and she's not dependent on Emma's Savior-ing gig like everyone else is. Same thing here with Clara - she's talked to the Doctor and she's talked to Danny, but those two are deeply involved in this whole situation and it's probably hard for her to be fully honest with them because of that attachment. But here's Maisie - someone Clara just met and connected with (Clara's really good at that) and Maisie's been through some tough stuff too. And she helps Clara sort out her feelings about traveling with the Doctor. On the flip side, Clara helps Maisie sort out her guilt at maybe having killed her grandmother because she wished her dead so many times - and she died due to supernatural (it seems) circumstances. Honestly, that whole conversation just felt right. Two near-strangers bonding over their problems with people close to them, helping each other work it out with a fresh perspective that both are able to give.

(I also loved that Maisie said she didn't think that the Doctor was just "some man." Because he's not the dopey guy from down the hall that you befriend because you don't have anything else to do. He's the freaking Doctor! He's a Time Lord that can travel in space and time and have awesome adventures! He's not something that two women have to avoid talking about so as to pass some arbitrary feminist test that tells you if a piece of fiction is worth your time or not! Tell Old Lady Bechdel to put that in her pipe and smoke it).

(Quick Tangent - Whenever I hear the Bechdel Test being brought up in any serious critical discussion of fiction, I just want to throw things. It's a piece of garbage and it ruins everything I love. Someday, I'll chronicle why I think using it is unnecessary and problematic, reducing interesting and intriguing individuals as merely a census box to be ticked in order to claim diversity so you can say have that all-important "representation" in your story - whether or not you're story's actually any good. *so sick of these stupid buzzwords* But I digress - I'd rather want to focus on happier things, so on with the review!)

The mystery of the mummy is pretty straightforward, as Doctor Who plots tend to go. The Doctor does his sciencey thingummy and solves the problem by turning the problem on himself. And keeping in tradition with the Twelfth Doctor, he has to lie in order for this to work. But just when you think that Maisie is being offered up as bait - the Doctor deflects it away from her so he can see the mummy in order to study it. At least, that's what he says he's doing. Personally, I think this is a turn in a new direction - just like in "Closing Time," the Doctor was reminded that he still is a good man and that he does do good things and just because he had one bad adventure doesn't mean that nobody wants to be around him anymore.

Mystery solved (another thing with soldiers - all right then) and the Doctor and Clara are out on a beach. And we actually get a rational, calm discussion of the Whys and Wherefores of how the Doctor does his thing. That he really is just pulling this stuff out of nowhere and hoping that it works, even if it probably won't and don't get your hopes up kid because it might not. Twelve is a guy that's seen some pretty tough stuff (Trenzalore, anyone?) and, like Eleven said clear at the beginning of the season - he's gonna need some help. Even when he does crappy things and pushes the limits of Clara's patience. And Clara - some part of her still needs the Doctor as well. Even with Danny Pink calling to see if she's done the "breakup" thing with the Doctor and is she on her way home? (oh... that's going to be a problem later, isn't it?) And while she has every intention of doing so - she changes her mind last minute and decides that she is still addicted to this traveling thing and she's going to keep going with the Doctor. And the fence is mended - though there is still some potential for issues later (man, why can't the Doctor and Danny just be friends? I mean - they both care about Clara. Just in different ways. Argh! Stupid boys... sometimes I just wanna...)

Some Things I Liked/Noticed - 
- The music cues sounded a lot like the music from "Pyramids of Mars" (and I only picked up on that because we watched that for Friday Night Who last night).

- Also - I said something similar about the Doctor's bedside manner on Twitter during Friday Night Who last night. Uncanny.

- The Doctor's dressing up like his first incarnation (minus the checked trousers, but we can't have everything) and that makes me happy. Similarly, I loved Clara's flapper look. She rocked the 1920s bob cut like nobody's business.

- "Where would we all be if we followed our job descriptions?"

- "Life would be so much simpler if you liked the right people - the people you're supposed to like. But then I guess there's be no fairy tales."

- "Hatred is a strong emotion to waste on someone you don't like."

- "Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones - but you still have to choose." (There were some wonderful lines in this episode. Can we keep Jamie Mathieson in the writer rotation? I like him very much).

- From the moment the Doctor called Clara to bring Maisie to the lab area until the end, I was drawn into the story. I completely forgot to take notes during that time. Not sorry at all.

I said it on Twitter and I'll say it again now - Yes to everything from "Mummy on the Orient Express." Just the palate cleanser we needed at this point in the season. It's perfectly placed after angst and intense drama to give us that lift we all needed (I said the same thing about "Robot of Sherwood" - it served a similar purpose, but in a different way). Keep balancing out the storytelling like this and I think I'll keep this show around for a litt

And I just want to end this review with a callback to "Closing Time." Because I'm just in that type of mood right now. And it makes me happy.

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