Doctor Who 08×08 – Rolling down the Space river


*WARNING – contains spoilers*

I was apprehensive about this episode, mainly due to my feelings about ‘Voyage of the Damned’. Despite the promise of the ‘Titanic in space’ theme, I felt let down by that episode. They even have a pop star again this week – apparently someone called ‘Foxes’ – I have no idea. However, I needn’t have worried, it was a great, fun episode that delivered plenty of humour and showed a dark side to the Doctor without being over the top.

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The episode begins on the Express – with Clara waltzing out of the TARDIS with the Doctor. This confused me at first – didn’t she say it was all over the last week? Well, this is soon explained – this is their final hoorah, one last trip before Clara retires as an old granny with the soldier.

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So, the premise is that on-board this train is a Mummy that can only be seen by the victim who is about to die. From the moments the lights flicker and the mummy appears, they have 66 seconds before they collapse dead on the floor. It’s quite a traumatic death and yet no-one can help them or even see what is happening to them – they just look crazy.

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First to go is an elderly lady in the carriage whose granddaughter is very distressed by what has happened. Then, when the Doctor and Clara arrive (supposedly for a nice relaxing break), they discover what has happened but brush the death off as nothing. Of course, the Doctor can’t keep away from what has happened and he goes to investigate. Then, Clara wants to investigate too, but ends up with the distressed granddaughter from earlier locked in a room.

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The Doctor then engages in this Agatha Christie-esque mystery of death, mistrust and puzzles set on a train, of all places. It’s well set out with the dropping of clues and the twists and turns. It also has Frank Skinner in a superb role as the train’s engineer, who would make a great third companion in my opinion.

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It soon emerges that the real reason they are all there is that the passengers are scientists and experts from around the galaxy. Once the facade of the carriage is dropped, a science lab is revealed for experimentation. The Doctor has to allow passengers to die to investigate what is happening. The Doctor is shown in a callous light in these extraordinary circumstances which was perfect for Capaldi’s interpretation of the Doctor.

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The Doctor’s apparent callousness once again shocks Clara. He tricks the young woman with her to join him in the main carriage, using Clara as an accomplice, forcing her to lie. It was all very Sylvester McCoy – manipulative, a really interesting turn to the episode.

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It transpires that the mummy is a soldier programmed to kill the enemy and the dodgy tech that is controlling him is not working correctly. It also goes after the weakest first, as a predator would. On that note, the Mummy looked fantastic – a blend of costume/make-up and very good CGI made it into a very good monster and a great homage to those films of yesteryear that turned the ‘Mummy’ into one of the iconic monsters of film and television.

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The episode looked great thanks to the set design – the fabulous 1920s décor on a train in space, with period music, elaborate costumes and great actors playing the parts. Once the camera was swooping around this festival of eccentricity, it just flew off the screen and was a visual treat.

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By the end, the mystery is solved and all who can be saved are saved. The Doctor and Clara are left alone to ponder. This is their final adventure. The Doctor won’t come for dinner – no matter what he may tell Clara. But Clara is distressed at how manipulative and callous he can be. However, he points out that he didn’t really know what would occur – this is just what happens; trouble finds him and not the other way round.
Once Clara has spoken to the love of her life, Danny Pink, on the phone she has a change of heart – just in a flash – although it had been hinted at throughout the episode. She will continue with the Doctor – to both their delight – but you know this tension is still going to develop. It’s just like patching up a tire; it is going to explode at some point.

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All in all, this was a fun episode with some great character development and an interesting enough plot. It wasn’t amazingly special but it was better than I expected it to be. Next week we have a dimension jumping modern Earth grunge spectacular that looks very interesting indeed. Where will Clara and the Doctor be on their emotional rollercoaster?

By David Roberts

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