By Ken Parker
Every week we are given a glimpse at the upcoming episode and this one looked promising. On board a space train with people in danger from a mummy, I love this type of setting and things seemed to point to a classic story. Where did this story fail and why did they copy the script from a previous episode this season?
The siege story is not new to Doctor Who. Having the Doctor trapped within an enclosed setting with a dangerous element killing people off one by one is one of the most successful formats for the show. “The Moonbase”, “Robots of Death”, “Horror of Fang Rock” and “Midnight” are some of the better examples of this type of story. The writers of this episode go with the usual classical imagery but with a science twist. We have the setting of the Orient Express train but in space. Like the Titanic before it, we have a sci-fi setting and not a historical one. We also have the classic monster of a mummy which ends up being something scientific. Mixing this imagery within the futuristic setting is fine but loses some of its atmosphere for sure. Once the real train setting was revealed the episode looked flat and uninteresting. Keeping the Orient Express look would have been easy and less expensive as they would have only needed one set – not sure why they did that.
One of the most important parts of a siege story is the threat and certainly the return of the mummy on a regular basis, along with the countdown, was an effective device for the story. It was the main thrust of the tension in the script but beyond that, that was it. The characters in a siege story have to be somewhat important and in this story it was hard to feel for them. Apart from some attempts to bolster Maisie, Perkins, Quell and Moorhouse, the characters seem to fall flat – often just standing there pointing when their end was near. The background characters were noticeably just standing around and that was annoying. I think some of this is attributed to the poor directing and cinematography. It must have been hard to shoot in such a tight set but the editing and such was not as polished as some other episodes even this season.
For a siege story I felt that the surrounding elements were a let down on many levels. Peter Capaldi is excellent in this story and continues to shine. Clara's character is realistically handled and it is obvious by the end of the episode that she is 'addicted' to traveling in the TARDIS and will not stop right away. Like the Doctor's seemingly higher hatred of soldiers this season alienating viewers from his character, I can see why some people might be annoyed with Clara's change of heart. Still, Jenna Coleman is playing the part in a realistic manner. Clara hates and loves traveling with the Doctor and her 'addiction' is certainly going to get in the way later on I would think.
The story – The Doctor pretends to land at a location just for a rest but in reality is investigating the sudden appearance of something that is killing people off one by one. The Doctor is trying to figure out how to stop the menace and in the end discovers that the militaristic nature of the menace is its weak point and is the answer to stopping it once and for all. THAT was the story for “The Caretaker”!! Too soon to have a copy cat story? Perhaps. This was the biggest negative for me and while I am all for remakes and rehashes from time to time, this was not the case here. Back many years “Remembrance of the Daleks” and “Silver Nemisis” sported similar scripts and that didn't help “Silver Nemesis” at all.
I wanted to like this story so much but I found it to be my least favorite of the season. The story is a copy and any double meanings or extra plot elements are non existent or at least lost on me. I do like the fact that Clara can't give up the travels and her dilemma with Danny adds levels of character for her. But beyond that, the story lacks much of what I hoped to have in this story. I think the direction was a big let down but many other things did not support the episodes shortcomings.