Six Degrees of Who: Murder on the Orient Express

orientAs fans, when we find actors from Doctor Who in other things, it seems to automatically make us smile.  Sometimes a movie or TV show comes along that has so many Doctor Who actors in it that it has to be talked about.  That was certainly the case with Game of Thrones.  In my review (here) I counted about 10 actors that appeared in both.  I’ve since learned there are others I wasn’t even aware of!  Getting more than a couple of our Who actors in any given show is never going to be that likely.  But on November 10th, 2017, a movie came out that didn’t just connect its actors back to Doctor Who, but the plot as well.  Well, to be fair, the plot actually comes first, but let’s throw out a “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” and we can split hairs later!

That movie was Murder on the Orient Express.  Like Doctor Who’s own Mummy on the Orient Express, we are presented with a confined space and a murderer in our midst.  Conceptually, Agatha Christie’s masterpiece is a marvelous mystery with a truly unexpected plot twist.  It is also a tale that you can’t really do much with.  What I mean by that is, it would be very hard to make changes to the original work and still have Murder on the Orient Express.  It doesn’t leave much room for change.  Many producers and directors come along and copy things that they like from source material but then change something intrinsic to the original, making it something different in the end.  With Murder, that’s not really possible.  One can add a little pre-train sequence establishing Poirot as the genius detective, but you have to do it well and quickly so the main plot can start chugging along.  And in that way, the movie succeeds.  Kenneth Branagh is quickly established as the world’s greatest detective (within the first 10 or so minutes) and the main plot gets underway.

While I’ve read reviews calling Branagh “a ham”, I loved his character.  He has some great quirks; for me, the best was his love of food.  There’s a brief moment in the middle of the murder investigation where food is being rolled passed him on a trolley and he mumbles something akin to “I like the little pastries”.   It’s subtle things like that which pop out.  There’s actually quite a bit of humor in the early part of the movie but I found it worked well; at no point did I think it was trying to be a comedy, it just took the reality of life often being quite funny and played it up a few times.

Onto the 6 Degrees of Doctor Who:

  1. The plot: Murder is thematically similar to Mummy on the Orient Express.  That’s not a coincidence, obviously, but it should be noted as it is a major connection.
  2. Sir Derek Jacobi, best known as Professor Yana, AKA The Master in Doctor Who’s Utopia, plays Edward Henry Masterman in Murder; one of the 12 murder suspects.
  3. On the connections front, star Kenneth Branagh shares top billing with The Master, Sir Derek Jacobi, in the superb Dead Again from 1991. 
  4. Olivia Coleman, Prisoner Zero in one of its guises from The Eleventh Hour, plays Hildegarde Schmidt, another of the potential suspects on the train.
  5. Gerard Horan, Father of Mine, in Family of Blood/Human Nature, the two part David Tennant story, plays Aynesworth, although only briefly on screen.
  6. To a less obvious extent, Daisy Ridley’s Star Wars appearance has her interact with, Unkar Plutt the owner of the Millennium Falcon, in The Force Awakens. He is played by Simon Pegg, The Editor from The Long Game.  Ridley plays Mary Debenhamm, another suspect on the Orient Express.
  7. According to the rumor mill, producer Jane Tranter considered casting Judi Dench as the 9th Doctor.  Dench played another suspect.

While the last two are tenuous, this is a view of the various connections that lead back to Doctor Who!

I was able to watch the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express a week before seeing the remake, and I absolutely believe the remake is better.  While the original cast was good, this has Branagh, Sir Derek Jacobi, Olivia Coleman… Daisy Ridley!!  (I admit that someday, in the future, it will be remade and the then-current populace will say, “I saw the 2017 version before watching the 2057 version and the remake was better”… but that’s just the nature of time!  I accept that it’s not just possible, but likely.  And that’s as it should be.  We should always seek to improve!)

I’ll end by saying this: if you haven’t read the book, see the movie.  If you read the book and loved it, see the movie.

If you read the book and hated it or don’t want to see something you already know the outcome of… Thor and Justice League are both in theaters now.

There’s no mystery surrounding which movies will be the box office giants!   ML

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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6 Responses to Six Degrees of Who: Murder on the Orient Express

  1. Mike Basil says:

    Thank you for this good review. I think the 1974 version, the purist that I am, will remain the best one for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. epaddon says:

    This was the worst version of Christie’s most famous story alongside “And Then There Were None” I have ever seen. There are thoroughly ridiculous scenes like Count Adrenyi doing action hero kicks to show his displeasure with reporters, there is the oh-too-obvious reimagining of the Colonel Arbuthnot character from the original to engage in present day soapboxing and a lot of other things that are simply wrong about this version for my taste. The 1974 version is the best filmed treatment of the story I have seen, but suffers from some poor scripting in spots, plus the fact that Richard Widmark comes off as too “nice” as Ratchett in contrast to how Christie writes the character as one whom Poirot refuses to help before the murder because “Forgive me for being personal, Mr. Ratchett, but I do not like your face.” Another problem is that too often the whole justification for the group’s action is mangled because in the original Christie story, Ratchett “Beat the rap” so to speak and was acquitted on a technicality. That means the law let down the victims. But in the 74 script and other treatments, Ratchett is not established as having beat the rap but having merely fled the country which means technically the law *could* still have caught up with him.

    Suchet is a far better Poirot than Albert Finney IMO (who was better than anyone else up to that point but before Finney the only actor who had played Poirot on the big screen was Tony Randall!), but his version runs far afield from the original for my taste. Ironically, Suchet provides the voice of Poirot for a far more traditional telling of the tale in the late 2000s computer game version which follows the novel faithfully but puts in an extra twist at the end for the benefit of those who know the story by heart already. There was also a good, faithful BBC radio adaptation in the 1990s with John Moffat (who has a small part in the 74 version) as Poirot and Desmond “Q” Llewelyan as Masterman and Joss Ackland as Ratchett.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      Well said and incredible that you knew the game! I enjoyed the video game version but it’s a long time since I played. Same goes for the other game version of And Then There Were None. (It came with the novel!) Can’t believe someone knew about that…
      No disagreement on your other comments. You make good points, as usual!

      Liked by 1 person

      • epaddon says:

        I loved those three games which by happy coincidence are the three Christie novels I know best. Fortunately you can still play them on Windows 11 platforms so they’ll be good for a while to come. The “Twist” in Orient Express works nice, though the one in “And Then There Were None” is a little less successful. But I love the total sense of atmosphere you can get lost in in each of them and not have to worry about getting killed and being forced to replay from the beginning like a lot of other games if you haven’t saved it in the nick of time.


      • DrAcrossthePond says:

        You should try the Sherlock Holmes games Frogwares puts out. They seem to get better and better and early next year, there’ll be another! ML

        Liked by 1 person

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