It was on a June evening in 2010, with the Silence ringing in our ears, when we first heard there was a mummy on the spacebound Orient Express.
Looking back, it was a blast of chaff: words to distract us from questions about the Silence, and infer that the Christmas special would feature a festive sarcophagus. Like the whole ‘pernicious Doctor!’ bit at the end of ‘The Shakespeare Code’, it wasn’t something that needed to be followed up. But, whether you asked for it or not, here we are, on the space-train, with a fare-dodging mummy.
How pharaoh is the bandaged baddie planning on travelling? It won’t say. Maybe it’s keeping its motive under wraps, or maybe it’s just in denial. But peer amid the passengers on the gorgeously-realised cosmic choo-choo and you’ll occasionally see it, killing the sort of flappers and old Gizas that decorate Agatha Christie novels. Aswan passenger after another is murdered, only The Doctor sphinx he can stop the monster, in the usual dispassionate fashion that has divided fans this season.
That’s all the information we can give you about the episode without breaking the strict embargo, otherwise the BBC might Suez. Please, no need to Tut; that’s the end of the Egyptian puns. And anyway, you’ve probably already guessed the mummy joke that the show is most keen to resurrect.
The mummy – The Foretold – is the star of Being Human writer Jamie Matheson’s script. Not your ‘Pyramids of Mars’ chunky bandaged flunky, it’s a Boris Karloff classic: a genuinely scary, visually-arresting husk of bandages and outstretched limbs. It kills in 66 seconds, but there’s no need to check your pocket watch; every time it appears so too does a handy countdown clock in the corner of your screen. While it is effective in ramping up tension, it does turn what should be a claustrophobic murder into something resembling a game show rather than 24. An undead Krypton Factor.
Most passengers are 2D contestants that Capaldi’s merciless Doctor can use as monster bait, but what was callousness in ‘Into the Dalek’ is now commonplace. His apathy no longer shocks.
Listen carefully and you’ll hear singer Foxes crooning a delightful swing rendition of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, while David Bamber, Daisy Beaumont, and Christopher Villiers do their stiff-upper-lipped best with characters of little consequence. Frank Skinner’s love for the show translates into a great performance as Chief Engineer Perkins. There could be a lot more of him.
The episode is a good deal darker and less whimsical than that last Christie romp, ‘The Unicorn and The Wasp’, but that doesn’t mean it is any more weighty. It’s a 45-minute ghost train ride for Saturday night TV.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but once again it means forum ammunition for both lovers and loathers of Season 8. Arguments will be made, questions will be raised, holes will be poked. We’ve had quite a few divisive episodes this season – and by the time the Orient Express reaches its final destination, the naysayers will still be on board.
Airs at 8.35pm on Saturday 11 October 2014 on BBC One.
What are your hopes for the episode? Let us know below…