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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

30 Comments

  1. Camestros Felapton
    May 21, 2018 @ 10:29 am

    //we finally do have a character who turns out to secretly be the Rani.//

    The episode certainly had a portentous feel to it, as if it was going to contribute substantially to the overall arc of the season or add to the mythology. Yet somehow it didn’t.

    But if it was a yum Rani moment?

    Reply

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  2. Jarl
    May 21, 2018 @ 11:30 am

    This episode also lead to the absolute best event in Eruditorum Comment history: “Learning that 4chan has a positive consensus about this episode actually makes me like it less.”

    Some things just bring everyone together. Some things are popular because they’re just good.

    Reply

  3. Aylwin
    May 21, 2018 @ 12:18 pm

    Lovely crisp summation of the Clara-transformation triptych, the crystallisation of the Capaldi era and the nature of Mathieson’s Doctor.

    The latter, I suppose, makes Mathieson a kind of counterpoint to the more upbeat tendencies of many Moffat and Harness stories, where “a better way” is often made available, enabling the circle to be squared (with apologies to Jane). (Dollard seems more mixed, in so far as the small sample allows generalisation.) It generally works well, in contrast to the Davies-era-throwback angstiness of Whithouse, though I remain infuriated by the “Why I can’t be arsed to help” speech in The Girl Who Died. And I suppose it ends up being important in underpinning the weariness that overcomes the Twelfth Doctor at the end of his run.

    Picking nits:

    This just isn’t something that could have existed in the show prior to The Eleventh Hour.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re getting at here, but didn’t 42 involve a similar sort of formal conceit? (Not that it did anything interesting with it, but still.)

    And I know you’ve retrenched a bit on the consensus popularity, but I’m still slightly surprised if this is really rated higher than Listen, if nothing else. (The snarky version of this would be to say that I wasn’t aware of a consensus on it being even the best Jamie Mathieson-scripted story of season 8, but that would probably be even more obviously a sign of my general detachment from fandom at large, and even in these parts this one outpolled Flatline, so.)

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 21, 2018 @ 3:21 pm

      The thing that couldn’t have happened pre-Eleventh Hour is not the real-time structure but the countdown clock in the corner of the screen.

      Both DWM and I believe GallifreyBase indicated this one to be preferable to Listen and Flatline, so there’s certainly a large segment that’s Mummy > all.

      Reply

      • Aylwin
        May 21, 2018 @ 3:52 pm

        Ah, thanks. And yes, that clearly is just me being out of touch then.

        Reply

  4. David Anderson
    May 21, 2018 @ 12:19 pm

    Quite right about Mathieson nailing down the characterisation of the leads, especially Capaldi. Up until this point, Capaldi’s Doctor’s been too cranky to be likeable, or too unsettled in one way or another (Deep Breath, Listen), or just written by Stephen Thomson. This is the point at which I stopped thinking, here’s Capaldi playing the Doctor, and just thought, here’s the Doctor.

    Reply

    • Citizen Alan
      May 22, 2018 @ 7:41 am

      I can’t help but think back on all those debates from a few years back about whether the Colin Baker doctor could have ever possibly worked. And then along comes Peter Capaldi to show us exactly how a surly obnoxious doctor who yells at people all the time could have worked brilliantly.

      Reply

      • Przemek
        May 22, 2018 @ 10:47 am

        The real question here is: could Capaldi’s spiky Doctor have worked in that multicolored coat?

        Reply

  5. Kazin
    May 21, 2018 @ 1:37 pm

    I loved this episode when it first aired and still like it a lot, but I revisit the episodes on either side of it more often now. There’s just so much more going on in both of them. Still, Mathieson is a great writer and a great find by Moffat.

    There’s still a reference to Gus in Oxygen (I think there’s a sign somewhere that says Ganymede User System or something like that), but I agree, Gus’s identity is best left to weird fan theories. If Gus is actually the Rani, then this would also be the best Rani episode by far.

    Reply

    • Prole Hole
      May 22, 2018 @ 11:22 am

      That bar’s so low you’d need a pickaxe to clear it.

      Reply

  6. Riggio
    May 21, 2018 @ 2:53 pm

    A throwaway comment you made actually gives me another reason to be confident in the Whittaker era. Because this idea of building the temporal structure of the episode itself around its central conceit was done back in the Davies era. It wasn’t done very thoroughly, and the writer clearly was far from what would turn out to be his higher potentials. But it was the first experiment in that structure.

    Of course, I’m talking about Chris Chibnall’s “42.”

    Reply

    • kevin merchant
      May 23, 2018 @ 9:21 am

      And of course “the end of the world”

      “earth death in x minutes”

      Reply

  7. ScarvesandCelery
    May 21, 2018 @ 5:17 pm

    I do have a problem with the “This is the episode where Capaldi really becomes the Doctor” line of commentary – it kind of frames the twelfth Doctor’s early characterisation as an aberration or a mistake, when to me it always seemed very deliberate – in my opinion they were clearly going for the “peeling away the layers” approach to writing the Doctor that they said was the plan for the sixth Doctor, but never showed any signs of putting in the work for. So when parts of fandom say “Capaldi never became the Doctor until late series 8/ series 9/ series 10” (depending on how much of his era they’re arguing is terrible), I feel like they’re missing the point he was kind of going through a character arc (and a good one, that I’m rather attached to)

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 21, 2018 @ 5:23 pm

      I’d point out that my claim is actually about when he reaches stable characterization.

      Reply

      • ScarvesandCelery
        May 21, 2018 @ 6:09 pm

        Oh yes, I was fine with how you phrased it in this essay – I was more commenting on the general trend of critique surrounding the Twelfth Doctor (I realised that wasn’t very clear the moment I hit “post comment”)

        Reply

  8. Citizen Alan
    May 22, 2018 @ 7:45 am

    “If you do a story “on the Orient Express” you’re pretty much committing to picking people off in an enclosed space.” Actually, in the novel Murder on the Orient Express, only one person died in the whole book. In fact I’m pretty sure you just one of the Christie novels in which there’s only one murder victim.

    Reply

  9. Roll the ball
    May 23, 2018 @ 9:46 am

    Maybe I am misunderstanding what you’re getting at here, but didn’t 42 involve a similar sort of formal conceit. But I agree that Gus’s identity is best left to weird fan theories.

    Reply

    • David Anderson
      May 23, 2018 @ 3:49 pm

      While I mildly enjoyed 42, I think the point is that nothing in 42 would be much different if the formal conceit weren’t there. While 42 has a race against time, so do lots of episodes that don’t attempt any formal correspondence, for example.

      Reply

  10. prandeamus
    May 23, 2018 @ 10:17 pm

    No love for Foxes and “Don’t Stop Me Now”? Not only was it a great song to do in that retro-futuristic environment, but the song’s theme (don’t stop me now … good time … having a ball) is a good way of describing the addictive nature of Clara’s adventures with the Doctor. I’m sure other people can articulate this better than I can. Or indeed tell me I’m talking rubbish.

    There’s a standalone video by Foxes on the Orient Express set cut with scenes from the first half of the series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-OTYT02W7E

    Also, I seem to remember Frank Skinner’s performance being quite divisive. After the initial scenes which were designed to make his role vaguely suspicious, I really took to the character but I remember that others found him unwatchable.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      May 24, 2018 @ 9:29 pm

      I enjoyed both the song and Frank Skinner’s performance greatly. It was lovely to hear a song I really like reimagined as retrofuturistic jazz (come to think of it, it’s nice to have such a bite-sized DW-style musical genre mashup right in the middle of a full-size story genre mashup). As for Perkins, he was entertaining, mysterious and funny at the same time – we rarely get such interesting side characters in this show anymore. That scene where he rejects the offer to travel in the TARDIS always breaks my heart a little because you can clearly see that he would love to go but the writers won’t let him. His stated reason for not going never sounded the tiniest bit believable to me.

      Reply

      • Przemek
        May 25, 2018 @ 7:37 am

        Although, to be fair, Perkins is the only NewWho side character who got the offer to travel with the Doctor and lived to tell the tale. So that’s something, I guess.

        Reply

  11. mx_mond
    May 24, 2018 @ 5:39 pm

    What mostly struck me about the episode watching it were all the careful looks Clara and the Doctor were shooting each other. There really was a sense that they’re walking on eggshells (or moonshells) around each other. I think it went a long way in helping me like the Twelfth Doctor: I saw that he realised how deeply he has hurt Clara and became more considerate in response.

    I really wish the way to defeat the Mummy worked on real-life soldiers as well. And maybe sometimes it does. Anyway, I liked how surrendering – moving outside the context of war – could push the monster out of the soldier mindset. It appealed to the pacifist in me.

    Reply

  12. Przemek
    May 28, 2018 @ 9:50 am

    A great analysis of a great episode. You’ve managed to explain the quality of “Mummy on the Orient Express” better than anyone else I’ve read. (And thanks for acknowledging that it began as a throwaway joke in Series 5 finale – it’s surprising how many people missed that).

    I think a non-trivial part of why this episode is held in such high regard was the pleasant surprise of a new writer’s first episode being so good right off the bat. After watching a lot of mediocre episodes by established DW writers the quality of Mathieson’s first contribution to the show was electrifying. The fact that his second episode was just as good as the first one (if not better) quickly made him the name to be on the lookout for. I hope against hope that he’ll write something for the Thirteenth Doctor in the future…

    Both Capaldi and Coleman were on fire in this one. Capaldi’s wistful delivery of “the last hurrah” still stands out to me as one of his most memorable performances and he finally got to show this Doctor’s more vulnerable side openly. Clara’s outrage at the Doctor’s methods was just as magnificent as in “Kill the Moon” but her coming to terms with it was even better. It certainly didn’t hurt that, as you point out, Mathieson had such a clear and fresh vision of who the Doctor is. So many writers just write a generic Doctor that this show sometimes feels like it’s running out of ideas for its main character. And then people like Mathieson come along and prove that no, we haven’t said everything there is to say about the Doctor yet. Marvelous.

    Reply

  13. UrsulaL
    June 4, 2018 @ 4:39 am

    In “42” the conceit felt forced, as if it was more important to fit the storytelling to the time structure than to tell the story well. The storytelling pace was awful. In this story, the time comceit was brief enough that it served the story, rather than dominating it.

    The clock on screen, I agree, is very Moffat, part of the visual toolbox developed both here and in Sherlock.

    Reply

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