Written by Jamie Mathieson and Taking place an indeterminate amount of time after last week’s episode Kill the Moon Clara and the Doctor are taking one last trip together and the Doctor has invited Clara on one of the most luxurious trips he could think of, one that he’s been putting off for a while, a trip on the Orient Express. We open with the scene of a grumpy old lady Mrs. Pitt having dinner with a younger woman (who it turns out is her granddaughter named Maisie) and right from the go we set up the conceit. This space train has a murderer on it but it’s invisible to all but the victim and once the victim sees it they have 66 seconds to live. In a kind of neat little twist they start a countdown that hammers home the urgency of the situation.
Clara and the doctor wander in to the entertainment car and we get to gander at some stunning costumes. The Doctor is insisting how accurate it is with hyperspace rails working as rails every other detail is recreated (except for the guy with the steam punk style cybernetic eye and Foxes singing a Postmodern Jukebox style cover of Don’t Stop Me Now that’s actually really good). The Doctor is trying to enjoy the moment but he complains that Clara is “malfunctioning” with her smile that’s sad. This goes on for a couple of moments with the Doctor trying to talk about the planets that used to be in the spot they are flying past while Clara is talking about her feelings. It lays out the situation nicely without the exposition feeling too forced, several weeks if not months have passed and this is their grand farewell and as anyone who has been through a breakup knows trying to force being friends never ends well.
Once they learn about the first victim of course they can’t leave it alone and we see how they each deal with it. Lying in their sleeping cars the Doctor fidgets until he has to chase off the mummy while Clara eventually goes to do the same and finds Maisie (the granddaughter of the first victim) marching rather resolutely down the hallway towards the baggage car wielding a high heel shoe. Let me take this moment to say damn, even the pajamas in the 1920s were elegant!
Maisie desperate to see her grandmother’s body one last time out of a sense of guilt ends up trapped in the baggage care with Clara while the Doctor has insinuated himself in to the crew as a “Mystery Shopper” because there is nothing more in this world or any that the service industry fears than a mystery shopper. We are quickly introduced to the crew and guests who are immensely likable. First there’s the sharper than expected engineer Perkins (for the British fans a bit of stunt casting as he’s a fairly well known comedian but like Capaldi a lifelong fan), Perkins is the kind of person who works well with the Doctor. Capable but also sees right through him. Next we have Captain Quell, a man with a history who simply wants to run out his retirement and forget about his bloody past. These two lead the Doctor to the last protagonist Professor Moorhouse an expert on a myth about a creature called “The Foretold”.
We come to learn during a delicious (figurative and literal so all you Tom Baker fans look for that Easter Egg) scene where the Doctor does what he does best, being smarter than everyone else in the room and letting them know it. The Foretold is a myth about a creature that appears to its victims who are the only people able to see it. The myth itself has been around for at least five thousand years and is very precise with the entire process taking 66 seconds. In some versions there is a word that you can use to stop the Foretold but there is very little solid information that it even truly exists. As Moorehouse and the Doctor are having this conversation the second victim is claimed, a young man working as a chef on the train.
The Doctor, Perkins and Moorhouse pour over the evidence trying to find a clue as to what is going on when the Doctor finally decides to get Clara in on the action. Calling her Clara on her cellphone he (as usual) steam rolls over her for several minutes before she gets him to realize she’s trapped. When he goes to attempt to free her he is captured by the Quell who has done some digging and found out there were no Mystery Shoppers on the train. Arresting him they take him away when they come across the third victim in the process of being taken by the Foretold. This is enough to get Quell on the Doctor’s side as the Doctor pulls the rug out from the true villain (who up until now had been an ubiquitous background noise). The train’s computer Gus is in fact masterminding the operation (for who we don’t know). The majority of the guests are scientists brought on board with the sole purpose of capturing the Foretold.
Things progress quickly from here, Gus reveals there is a parchment that appears to attract the Foretold and the Doctor pieces together that the Foretold has been working its way up the food chain picking off the weakest on the train. Mrs. Pitt was over 100 years old, the chef had a rare blood disease, the guard synthetic lungs. Unfortunately next is Moorhouse who had been suffering from anxiety ever since a tragic car accident a year before. He is able to give the Doctor some details before he succumbs begging for his life. All the while this has gone on Clara and Maisie have found documents showing this is not the first time this has happened. There have been other trains, other trips, all ending in the destruction of all souls on board. Gus, in what can only be called a “display of dominance” spaces one of the cars on the train forcing the Doctor to hang up on Clara. Unfortunately for the survivors in fairly short order is Captian Quell a soldier suffering from PTSD going down with honour he as well passes on information to the Doctor. Reviewing the remaining passengers, unfortunately, it appears Maisie is the next on the list.
The Doctor calls Clara and has Gus lead her and Maisie up to the car in which all the scientists are working putting Clara in the uncomfortable position of lying to her new friend which is also the moment that the Doctor admits that this is not the first time Gus has tried to get the Doctor to take a trip on the Orient Express (fans will remember after the Pond’s wedding the Doctor received a call about a Mummy on the Orient Express, yes, this is about that call). Clara is not amused, once again he has put people in danger without being honest and now he was going to sacrifice Maisie and made Clara his accomplice. Just then the Foresaken appears and here’s where we get to see the Doctor shining through. Using a scanning device he takes all the mental stress Maisie is harbouring (that is attracting the Foresaken to her) and places it in his head making himself the next target and the Doctor (working well under pressure) is able to figure out that the scroll is not a scroll but a flag and the Foresaken is a soldier from a long forgotten war. Realizing this he utters the only words that can get a soldier to stop, I surrender.
With this the Foresaken is at peace leaving behind a teleportation and dimensional shifting device that Gus wanted to get his hands on. With no need for evidence Gus decides to empty the air out of the train, the Doctor acting quickly (and being forced to use a real screw driver since Gus deactivated the Sonic) teleports everyone to the TARDIS before trying to probe Gus for information, having none of it Gus blows himself and the rest of the train up. The passengers and crew of the train all unconscious are dropped off by the Doctor at the nearest civilized world leaving Clara and the Doctor to have a bit of a heart to heart. He explains that he had to hide things from her so he wouldn’t tip his hand to Gus which Clara took to mean he was “pretending” to be heartless and the Doctor said “if that makes it easier”. One of the nice little twitches of the current Doctor is he is always writing. The scribbling in the sand is how he deals with his nerves and when he stops it adds weight to him explaining how he couldn’t be sure and he had to keep going, that sometimes the only choices are bad ones and as he has been doing for centuries you sometimes just have to choose.
We get a moment where Perkins is checking out the inner workings of the TARDIS and there is an offer, the Doctor offers Perkins a job, sadly he refuses. I would have rather enjoyed several more stories with Perkins busting the Doctor’s chops and I hope this isn’t the last we see of him. Bidding Perkins farewell the Doctor begins to bring Clara home, speaking with Danny she seems to have a change of heart and once again in her attempt to control everything she lies to Danny and the Doctor. She lies and tells Danny that it’s done while she lies and tells the Doctor Danny was okay with everything that it was Danny’s idea they stop seeing one another but now he’s okay (when in fact Danny said she should probably still be friends with the Doctor since she hadn’t let go yet) and once more they venture off in to the stars with Clara eight episodes in finally finding a semblance of peace and understanding of the new Doctor and what he is and why he does what he does.
This was a tight, fast paced, and fun adventure that was a real delight to watch. We aren’t hammered over the head with the meta plot (even though there are only four episodes and a Christmas special left), we have the progression of Clara and the Doctor as well as Danny and Clara’s relationships but not at the expense of chewing up time and butting heads. We even have a potential connection to Missy in Gus but it’s never laid bare and is a nice little taste of what’s to come. I don’t know how Moffat is going to do it wrapping up the remainder of the series but I’m looking forward to it. So far this season has not had a single dud and even the worst of the episodes was better than many of the best of the last 7 seasons and all this with a “cheap” episode (because you know those were recycled sets and costumes from some period drama that the BBC had in mothballs). Now, we wait, one more week to Flatline (also written by Jamie Mathieson who I hope Moffat collaborates with more in the future as he’s doing some solid work).