This review contains spoilers.
I thought when we were in Boston that I would finally, finally have a chance to watch Doctor Who on television. And you know what? My hotel had a bunch of channels and the BBC was not one of them. If freedom means delayed access to Doctor Who, I want no part in it.
Aboard the spacefaring Orient Express, Clara and the Doctor face off against a murderous invisible mummy who works to a time limit.
‘There were many trains to take the name Orient Express, but only one in space.’
So begins Clara’s ‘last hurrah’ with the Doctor. After hating him for weeks, Clara decided she couldn’t end their relationship with a slammed door like I was so hoping she would. But this trip on the Orient Express isn’t nearly as relaxing as it was supposed to be.
First of all, Clara spends her entire trip in a wig and seems content to go to bed in it, and I don’t imagine it’s all that comfortable. Or maybe it’s actually a surprisingly time-appropriate haircut. Who knows?
Second, Clara realises that if she isn’t travelling with him, the Doctor probably won’t be in her life at all. She’s been assuming that the Doctor will come around for dinner sometimes. The Doctor has been assuming that Clara wants to cut him out of her life completely and was going to let her. Suddenly realising that her best friend is going to disappear completely, Clara’s doubts about her decision come racing to the fore.
Third, an Egyptian mummy called the Foretold is appearing to passengers suffering from physical and mental illnesses and killing them exactly 66 seconds later. Come on, mate. These people are on holidays.
The Doctor has a Sméagol/Gollum conversation with himself and decides to conduct a quiet investigation while maintaining the façade of a cheerful, stress-free trip. Clara decides to do some preliminary investigating of her own and winds up getting trapped.
Meanwhile, the Doctor has been locked in a carriage with a bunch of other specially selected scientists and alien experts … and Perkins, the train’s Chief Engineer, portrayed by Frank Skinner. The train’s murderous computer system (Gus) supplies them with a laboratory and instructs them to ascertain the Foretold’s true nature with a view to capturing it.
Somehow, Gus has managed to put a force field around the TARDIS to prevent everyone from leaving. When Clara edges towards it—perhaps intent on saving everyone, perhaps wondering if she should leave the Doctor to sort out his own problems—she’s rebuffed, and has no choice but to join the scientists.
Once she and the Doctor are reunited, Clara realises that he knew all along that a trip on the Orient Express could turn deadly. In fact, Gus has been trying to lure the Doctor to the Orient Express for ages, offering free tickets, and even calling the TARDIS once during Eleven’s reign. Strangely enough, the Doctor seems more excited than concerned that a computer system has the TARDIS’s phone number. Apart from the reference to Eleven, we also have references to Four (when the Doctor offers Professor Moorhouse a jelly baby), and Nine (when the Doctor repeats the ‘Are you my mummy?’ joke).
Clara reminds the Doctor that this is why she’s leaving: he lies to everyone, including her, and Clara ends up becoming a liar as well. To an extent, this is the way the Doctor has always been. Usually, it’s because something is too complex for the companion to understand or because knowing something could put them in danger. But with Twelve, it seems more and more often that he withholds information because he doesn’t believe that any human is worthy of it. He sees them more often as pawns in a larger game, content to sacrifice them whenever necessary. For Clara, who has passed every test the Doctor has put her through, the condescension must be overwhelming.
Five people are killed by the Foretold, and more by Gus before the Doctor harnesses someone’s negative emotions and attracts the Foretold’s attention. Finally able to see it, the Doctor quickly deduces that the Foretold is a soldier wounded in some long-forgotten war, kept alive with technology and the energy it drains from its victims. Once the Doctor tells the Foretold that they surrender, it backs right off, saluting him before collapsing into dust. Surprisingly, with all the people dying in this episode, we don’t even get a brief glimpse of Missy in Heaven.
Even though they’ve solved the mystery of the Foretold, Gus is not a happy computer. Or whoever’s truly controlling Gus is just plain mean. He shuts off the oxygen and everyone begins to faint. When Clara comes to, the Doctor tells her almost shyly that he saved everyone and dropped them off at the nearest civilisation. He jokes that he might be lying, that he’s only saved Clara, but his tone is hesitant. He seems to finally understand why Clara wants to leave. She would never have believed such a thing of the Eleventh Doctor but Twelve’s ruthlessness is unpredictable.
The Doctor offers Perkins (the Chief Engineer) a chance to travel with him. Perkins has shared only one short adventure with the Doctor and seen the clinical and unemotional way in which the Doctor reacted to the deaths of humans. While the offer to travel through time and space is tempting, Perkins declines. He doesn’t want that life to change him.
Clara tells Danny that her time with the Doctor is over. They exchange ‘I love you’s over the phone. I guess whether or not The Caretaker was the first time Clara revealed she loved Danny, they’re totally through that awkwardness.
Clara hangs up with Danny and tells the Doctor that she’s staying. She had a wobble. She acted like a normal human with feelings and emotions who had been betrayed by her best friend and she shouldn’t have to apologise for that but she does anyway so that she can justify her decision to stay. Even though she clearly knows that this is a bad idea. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have lied to Danny about it.
Something bad is going to happen, Danny’s going to find out that Clara lied, and shit’s going to get real. But not yet. For now, Clara and the Doctor head off on another adventure, neither one willing to admit that they’re addicted to the danger, the adventure, and each other.
If you read my review of episode 7, you might recall my alternate universe proposal, where Clara leaves for good because the Doctor has gone too far. I’m still a little sad that didn’t happen but this was the next best thing. Not only is Clara aware of the Doctor’s failings, not only is she calling him on it, it’s all starting to rub off on her. Clara is lying to Danny and to the Doctor. She’s being reckless with her relationships, with the lives of others, and with her own safety.
The addiction metaphor plays perfectly in the last scene. Clara is desperate for more adventures, telling the Doctor to ‘Shut up and give me some planets.’ Is it even about travelling with the Doctor now? Or is he a means to an end? With her frenzied need for more adventure and new recklessness, it can’t be long before Clara puts herself in too much danger and something changes. If I can’t have Clara walking out then I want a downward spiral into obsession, ruined relationships, and something massive to end her time with the Doctor.
Some kind of alien is sucking people into walls. Or the aliens are in the walls. They’re trying to understand humans and three dimensions. Clara has the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor seems to be stuck in the TARDIS, and the life support is failing. DUN DUN DUN.