26 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 846: Mummy on the Orient Express

Dear diary,

My relationship with Doctor Who has changed over the years. When I first stumbled into it around 2003, it was simply some old television show with a premise that hooked my interest. When it returned to TV screens in a blaze of glory two years later, I made the transition into a fully-fledged, card-carrying fan of the programme. In 2006, I wandered into online fandom and got to know other fans. By 2010 I had the opportunity to read scripts to the episodes before they made their way to TV, and within a few years of that I was actively living in Cardiff, with Doctor Who filming happening all around me. 2014, though, was when things finally tipped over to a whole new level, because someone I’d worked with on a few occasions was actually in Doctor Who. Better than that, they were in Doctor Who as a monster, and one of the scariest creations we’d had in the series for quite some time! It still amuses me when I run into Jamie that I’m actually talking to a fully-fledged Doctor Who monster.

I’m also pleased that knowing who was under all those bandages didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the episode one bit. I’d worried that I’d spend the whole thing watching slightly differently, more distracted by production quibbles than actually getting caught up in the adventure itself, so it’s good that this is one which really caught the imagination. It just combines several elements that I’m a fan of, and does enough with them to keep me interested, without allowing any one of them to get too far. It’s a murder mystery, but not in the traditional sense. It’s filled with 1920s trappings - which the BBC are always going to do well - but even they get stripped away when the time is right, and the whole feel of the episode shifts to something new. You’ve even got a completely different dynamic between the Doctor and the Companion than we’ve had in a long time - these two simply don’t know what to make of each other here, and are busy trying to pussyfoot around each other as well as diving in to the adventure like they usually would.

And it doesn’t hurt that - as I’ve said - the monster at the heart of this story is one of the scariest creations we’ve had in the programme for a long time. I’m struggling to think of any other creature in the 21st century version that has been as effectively terrifying as this… is there one? I’ve seen people single out the likes of the Beast from Series Two, but I don’t think that ever really worked for me in the same way as this one - maybe because it didn’t get to interact in the way the Foretold does? I have one or two issues with the tone the programme took in 2014 (I can’t help feeling that it rather lost sight of the younger end of the audience), but this has to be the crowning glory of the programme heading towards a slightly more grown-up place, because I love that we can have a creation like this one.

Yet somehow, the mummy doesn’t even get to be the star of the episode - because that accolade surely has to go to Frank Skinner, who simply shines his way through the story. Maybe it’s helped by the fact that I’m well aware of how much he loves the show (he tells a great anecdote on an episode of the Graham Norton show, in which he asks his agent if he can play a rock in some episode somewhere), but he really comes across as such a great character… I rather hope that he becomes the Craig for the Twelfth Doctor - a character who can pop up from time to time and share an adventure with our hero. His dry wit works so well with Peter Capaldi here, and I have to admit that I was a little gutted when he didn’t take up the offer of remming in the TARDIS at the end (I’m betting Skinner was, too)!

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