Doctor Who's Adrenaline Junky Time Travel Addicts

[Spoilers up to "Mummy On The Orient Express", the eighth episode of Season Eight.]

Recently, I've been re-watching Season Four. I just got to the bit where Martha comes back, so that for a few brief episodes both she and Donna are travelling together on the TARDIS. Those two stories — the ones with the Sontaran invasion and the Doctor's cloned daughter — are full of interesting parallels to the current season. There's all sorts of soldier stuff going on: the Doctor clearly hates the military, but he learns that he's helped drive Martha to join UNIT and is forced to confront his own soldierly instincts in the mirror of his cloned solider daughter.

But the thing that really struck me, having just watched "Mummy On The Orient Express", was the relationship between the two companions. The conversations they have. Martha has decided that she's better off without time travel; she's trying to lead a relatively normal life with her fiancee instead. ("Never mind the universe," as she puts it. "I've got a great big world of my own now!") And as you might expect, she's worried about the new companion right from the very beginning of their very first episode together. One of the first things she does when she calls the Doctor back to Earth is to ask Donna whether she's telling her own family the truth about her adventures. After all, Martha lied to her loved ones and it almost got them killed by the Master. She warns Donna about keeping secrets. And about the dark side of life with the Doctor. "He's wonderful," Martha tells her. "He's brilliant. But he's like fire. Stand too close and people get burnt." Donna ignored her warning. And it didn't end well.

I couldn't help but think of Clara Oswald during that conversation. Over the last few weeks, she's been faced with the same kind of choices. Last week, after feeling betrayed and abandoned by the Doctor during all that baby-moon-space-dragon-egg business, it looked like she was going to pick Martha's path: give up time travel in favour of a life with the man she loves. But now, just one week later, she's thrown it all out the window. Life on the TARDIS is just too amazing. There are mummy mysteries to be solved. Space trains to save. And this time around, the Doctor was... well... at least a little bit less of a jerk. So, instead of leaving the TARDIS behind, Clara makes the same decision Martha lived to regret — the one Donna never got the chance to regret: she lies to her loved ones. She lies to Danny about the Doctor. And to the Doctor about Danny. 

Clara's been lying a lot this season. And there have been plenty of signs that her adventures on the TARDIS have warped her sense of right and wrong. As Perkins the engineer suggested this week, "That kind of job could change a man." In "Time Heist," Psi even called her out on it.

Rose-coloured glasses skies
The Doctor seems more than okay with that: he seems to be actively trying to change her. As Chris Lough points out in his review of this week's episode: "Over the course of the season... he continually places her in positions that will make her just like him." This is two weeks in a row now that he has forced her to make the same kind of impossible decision he's usually forced to make. Last week, it was the moon. This week, it was lying to Maisie about her chances of survival. On both occasions, Clara has made the same decision the Doctor would. She saved the moon dragon even though it meant ignoring the democratic will of the planet. Now, she lies and manipulates Maisie because she believes it's for the greater good. She's not just the Doctor's companion anymore. As she says herself, she's been turned into his accomplice.

Last week, that was enough to drive her into a rage. This week, she only briefly gets upset. The rage passes quickly. She changes her mind. Makes excuses. And maybe worst of all: she lies to herself. "As long as you get me home safe and on time," she tells the Doctor. But she knows perfectly well that neither one of those things is guaranteed. She's smart enough to acknowledge what's happened: she's addicted to time travel, to the Doctor, to their adventures together. But that's only the first step. She still can't help herself. And she's willing to lie to Danny in order to get her next fix.

Thing is, that lifestyle — the adventure, the danger, the making of life and death decisions on behalf of other people just like you do in the military — takes a toll. There are consequences. We've seen it over and over again. In Danny Pink, who can't hold back his tears. In Journey Blue, who lost her brother. In Robin Hood, separated from the love of his life. In Orson Pink, stuck at the end of the universe. In the captain of the Orient Express, who suffers from PTSD. In the mummy solider, who keeps fighting and fighting even though its body is decaying into tatters. And in another ancient warrior, too: the Doctor, who frees the exhausted mummy just like he freed the exhausted minotaur in "The God Complex", but who still carries on himself, as immortal as they were, and even more addicted to it all than Clara is.

Martha managed to break away in time to escape relatively unscathed. But she's the only companion who has pulled off that feat since the show came back in 2005. Donna had her memories wiped. Rose and Amy and Rory are all exiled. Even Victorian Clara fell to her death. Heck, so did Kyle Minogue.

So, as we draw ever closer to the end of Clara's time aboard TARDIS, I'll have Martha's warning in mind:

 "People get burnt."

Other thoughts:

- All of this has been enough to remind some people of the Seventh Doctor. He was secretly in the process of preparing his companion, Ace, to join the Time Lord Academy before the show got cancelled in 1989. That storyline was later picked up in the Big Finish audio plays.

- I do wonder how differently Clara would be feeling if Maisie actually had died. Would she still be travelling with the Doctor then?

- This week, a reference to the Bechdel test. The show even manages to pass the test — Clara and Maisie do talk about things other than the Doctor while they're trapped. It's about time the show began to address some of these issues in the Moffat era. Though we're still a far cry from actually, you know, like hiring some women writers or something.

- On the Verity! podcast this week, Kat Griffiths nailed her description of the funny walk Capaldi has been doing as the Doctor: "overconfident duck."

- The Excelsior Life Extender the grandmother was using as a chair is like the thing inside the mummy is like the Doctor having a whole new regeneration cycle that might last forever for all he knows.

- Comedian Frank Skinner, who played Perkins the engineer, is a HUGE fan of Doctor Who. When they called to ask him to read for the part, he was even in the middle of watching episode three of "The Sensorites" from the show's very first season. He's also got a TARDIS ringtone and a big cardboard cut-out of a Dalek.

- Great references to older episodes this week, like the jelly babies, the argument the Twelfth Doctor seems to have with the Fourth Doctor talking aloud to himself, "are you my mummy?",  plus of course, the callback to the phonecall the Eleventh Doctor received at the end of Season Five, inviting him to the train.

- According to the BBC's Fact File: "Clara’s incoming call alert image for the Doctor appears to be a picture of a stick insect with a top hat! This brings to mind her words in Listen, when she tells the Time Lord, 'People don’t need to be scared by a grey-haired stick insect, but here you are. Sit down, shut up!'"

- The BBC put together a Who-themed video for Foxes' cover of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now", which was featured in the episode. It includes super-brief clips from other episodes, including the ones we haven't seen yet:


Read our previous recap: "Doctor Who's Elitist Jerk of a Time Lord" here

Read our next recap — "Doctor Who & The Companion Who Forgot To Care" or our previous recap: "Doctor Who's Elitist Jerk of a Time Lord". 

This post posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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