"Sometimes there are only bad choices. But you still have to choose."
IN THIS ONE... 66 seconds on the clock before the mummy catches up to you aboard a train... in... SPAAAACE!!!
REVIEW: Remember that phone call at the end of The Big Bang? Well it seems like Doc11 and the newlyweds didn't go to the Orient Express in space to deal with that Egyptian goddess. Doc12 finally takes care of it here, in what is meant to be Clara's last trip aboard the TARDIS. He knew it was a trap all along, see, which isn't doing wonders for their failing relationship. Taken for its one-off qualities, Mummy (and yes, there's an obligatory "are you my mummy?" joke) is a a great little tale with a cool-looking, classic monster, complete with rules like the best monsters of the Moffat era do. The 66-second countdown (actually 67) the viewer can see is a great tension builder, as is the cramped set (this is more than just another Titanic in space thing), and the way the Doctor works it all out is brilliant stuff. He's a scientist, so he uses the scientific method, even if it means being rather cold and clinical. There's just no time for grief before the mummy attacks again. And ultimately, he makes good on his boast that he can defeat the monster in 66 seconds by placing himself in danger to save another. It means the resolution is quite quick, too quick, which isn't to say too easy. He just talks so fast, you need a repeat viewing to actually catch it. As it turns out, the mummy is another soldier - we've had many this season, including the train's captain suffering from PTSD - this one seeking an officer to put him to rest. And guess who Danny JUST tagged as an officer?
But it's the Doctor-Clara relationship that really stands out. They are each lying to the other. The Doctor desperately wants this NOT to be their last trip together and deftly plays on her addiction to excitment and danger. She calls him on HIS addiction, but she's the one who can't give up the life. Changing her mind, but not willing to admit she was wrong, she throws Danny under the bus and says quitting was his idea, and that HE'S changed his mind. All lies, but the kind the Doctor is more than willing to accept, if not believe. He's won this round, and the prize is Clara's continued company. Perhaps he understands humans more than he lets on and capitalizes on her sad smile (or emotional malfunction as he puts it). Perhaps he doesn't, as this Doctor tends to exhibit symptoms one associates with Asperger's (asp burgers? what's with the Egyptian theme?), but still understands Clara through her Doctorishness. It's through those traits that he secures her cooperation.
It's a terrific episode for Capaldi, not just in the crunch when he's being brave, clever, callous and calculating, but in the quiet moments too. He can't sleep in his cabin trying to calculate the odds of danger striking. He compromises Clara and forces her to lie to Maisie (she'll pull a Tennant and be so sorry by the end, which means more Doctor osmosis). He's got great dry humor (like the old ladies' job description). He touches on the lesson Clara just learned in Kill the Moon, saying bad choices still force you to choose, which obviously comes with a toll. The best scene, however, is the one on the beach, where the passengers' survival is ambiguous. He SAYS he saved them all, but by the time Clara wakes up, they've all be dropped off. Only Perkins, a pretty cool character with his own dry sense of humor (I'd like to imagine him as a recurring character, puttering around the TARDIS while the action is going on outside, but alas...), is present later to prove he's telling the truth. Maybe. But the Doctor's weak laugh makes us wonder. Is he telling the truth by couching it in a joke? I do that all the time! And if he lies to Clara, which I choose to believe he does, then she's doing the same thing he does later: She CHOOSES to believe him, because the reverse is intolerable and would effectively terminate their friendship. If it helps her to think he only ACTS like he's heartless, then that's what he'll tell her. And so they go off into the time vortex both lying to one another and to themselves. (Oh, and to Danny.)
REWATCHABILITY: High - A lot of great moments, and it's all somehow wrapped in the season's motifs and themes. A great, great Capaldi episode.