“Sometimes the only choices you have are bad. But you still have to choose.”
It’s not just the Orient Express, Constant Reader…it’s the Orient Express in space! Because reasons!
OK, OK, I’ll be sensible. Clara is annoyed at the Doctor because of what happened in Kill the Moon. (I don’t blame her – I’m still annoyed about what happened in Kill the Moon.) She’s decided not to travel with him any more. So the Doctor plans a last hurrah, a last trip with Clara to somewhere amazing. They choose the Orient Express. In space.
I mean, that’s quite cool, if rather gratuitously illogical – but surely if this is your last trip into space, you’d choose something a little less human? What about all those shiny, wonderful, alien planets the Doctor is always babbling about? The Orient Express still exists on Earth, after all.
I digress. This being Doctor Who, it turns out that there’s a monster aboard the Orient Express – a mythical creature known as the Foretold, which can only be seen by those about to die. Once you see it, you have exactly 66 seconds left to live. And the deaths mount and the fear rises and a mad, ruthless computer named Gus (who, now I think of it, has uncanny resemblances to Blaine the Mono in Stephen King’s The Waste Lands) transforms the train into a giant laboratory so that his unwitting prisoners can study the monster for him.
Actually, this was a fairly good episode. It’s got a similar feel to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, both in period feel (for some reason, all of the passengers are dressed in ’20s outfits – think flapper dresses and black tie) and in that the mystery doesn’t quite lie where you’d expect. Capaldi continues to go from strength to strength as the Doctor: authoritative, practical to the point of unfeeling, and actually very badass. And the ending – the solution, if you like – feels for once like it fits. It works, because of a satisfyingly clever-stupid-timey-wimey plan and a certain understated amount of symbolic sentimentality. It’s almost watertight as a plot, which makes it astronomically better than many of the episodes so far this series.
I mean, the coda was a little irritating. Clara decides that she quite likes the Doctor, actually, and decides not to leave him, blatantly ignoring Danny Who’s (ha, geddit?) protests, and there’s something a bit Magically Better about it all. But I’m happy to ignore that stuff (although it is time for Clara to leave, I think) in light of the fact that Doctor Who was not actually terrible today. Hurrah!