Tuesday, July 07, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 4x07: "The Unicorn And The Wasp"

Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Graeme Harper

Donna (re Agatha Christie): “She’ll forget about us.”
The Doctor: “But at least we’ve solved another riddle – the mystery of Agatha Christie.”

In the last two seasons we’ve been lucky to get at least two or three trips in the past. Last season gave us Carrionites and Shakespeare in 1599, the Daleks in 1930 New York and that creepy family in 1913. If ever there was a show to make history fun, it’s definitely Doctor Who.

This season has given us “The Fires Of Pompeii”, one of the show’s darkest and dramatic episodes so it’s reasonable to assume that “The Unicorn And The Wasp” would adopt a lighter tone.

In terms of writers we’ve gotten both Charles Dickens and Shakespeare and now it’s time to get one of the most famous female crime writers going – Agatha Christie. However just like “The Unquiet Dead” and “The Shakespeare Code” there’s a sense that The Doctor didn’t deliberately choose this meeting.

Donna has a bit of fun in teasing The Doctor about whether or not he’s able to tell a particular just by the smell. For her, clapping eyes on a vintage motor is a far more efficient way of knowing what year you happen to visit in. Also Donna decides to dress for the occasion as well in a flapper outfit.

The main event surrounds a party hosted by Lady Clemency Eddison who as hostesses go certainly rounds up an eclectic enough guest list. On one hand you’ve got the Reverend Golightly who looks like he wouldn’t harm a fly, let alone apprehend two thieves in his own church.

There’s also Robina Redmond, who has a reputation of being something of a socialite. In modern terms the girl could draw a comparison to Paris Hilton but let’s be kind about her. After all she does factor into at least half of the title of this episode.

The first guest however to make a stir is a bloke named Professor Peach. The episode opens up in a traditional murder mystery style by actually having Peach discover something quite scandalous and then before getting the chance to spill the beans he’s murdered by a lead pipe and a giant wasp then appears.

In terms of The Doctor and Donna fitting into the story themselves, the psychic paper is used nicely to dupe an inquisitive Lady Clemency. Really I sometimes wonder if we’ll get another person smart enough to see that thing as a blank piece of paper. Maybe later in the season perhaps.

However the big attraction to this little get together is Agatha Christie herself and it’s Donna who has the most interesting of reactions. Given all the stuff she’s encountered this season, it’s rather to see that some things are still capable of shocking her a bit. The Doctor is similarly dumbfounded for a bit too when he meets the woman.

Fenella Woolgar who was last seen in Steven Moffat’s Jekyll series is a good piece of casting for the famous author. Agatha Christie was not only a famous writer but she also disappeared for ten days without an explanation and this episode chooses to use the day she disappeared as the basis for this episode.

When Peach’s body is soon discovered, The Doctor quickly makes up that he’s from Scotland Yard much to Donna’s initial chagrin. Apparently she doesn’t take too kindly to being called a plucky young girl. Imagine how she’d react if her Doctor was William Hartnell in this tale.

Putting The Doctor and Donna in detective mode and then separating them is a good way of moving things forwards as well story wise. The Doctor teams up with Agatha and grills every single suspect who all have the fact that none of them had an alibi for their times alone.

Well not everyone was alone. We did after all get to see in flashbacks that Lady Clemency’s son Roger was having an affair with the servant boy Davenport. They did make for a handsome couple and despite the fact that this is the very show that had The Doctor and Captain Jack once share a kiss, all these two get to do here is hold hands.

To be honest neither of these two really does come across as suspects anyway and for the longest while I am convinced that the wasp like creature called the Vespiform is the real culprit. There was no way this story wasn’t going to contain an alien threat and seeing as I have a bit of a fear of wasps, the Vespiform makes for an effective creature.

It’s Donna who has the misfortune to first encounter the creature as well. Her snooping manages to get her access into a room that Lady Clemency has locked for the past 40 years and it’s in this room that Donna nearly meets her maker with the Vespiform.

Of course a little fear on Donna’s part is nothing compared to the annoyance she expresses when both The Doctor and Agatha fail to take her warnings seriously. That being said at least The Doctor is able to take a sample from the creature prior to the death of Miss Chandrakala.

The woman was a loyal servant to Lady Clemency and unlike Professor Peach, who arguably might have gotten it easier with the lead pipe; she gets crushed by a hideous gargoyle before mentioning something about a child. What’s that I smell – oh right, that would be a secret child and given this household, it could only be Lady Clemency of course.

The murders don’t just stop with Professor Peach and Miss Chandrakala. Nope, given how much of an annoyance his presence has been, The Doctor is the next person to have a hit on him. Let’s just when making lime sodas, I fail to recall cyanide ever being a key ingredient.

What should be a tense moment is something that is strictly played for laughs. David Tennant gets to show off his physical comedy as The Doctor desperately tries to rid the stuff out of his system and both Agatha and Donna’s haplessness during the situation adds to the comedy.

For those of you who feared in the Season Four trailer that Donna kissing The Doctor would suddenly indicate that she’s developed an attraction for him, then you can breathe a sigh of relief. The kiss is to help shock him and gets played out in a similar to the kiss he had with Cassandra as Rose in “New Earth”.

Killing The Doctor however might have failed but poor Roger doesn’t make it out of the episode alive when he finds himself stabbed in the back. I’m guessing that’s one way of keeping his secret affair with Davenport from being discovered but I was actually a little sad to see him killed. Still there is sense behind his death and this show is way too gay friendly to endorse any forms of homophobia.

One of the strongest things about this episode is the way both The Doctor and Donna encourage Agatha Christie. For a woman with such a mind, it’s interesting to see that she wasn’t all that confident in her abilities. I’m not the biggest reader of her novels but I do understand why she consistently gets the props lauded onto her as well.

Donna’s way of boosting morale is to get Agatha to open up about her private life. It’s a really good moment between both the characters and actresses Catherine Tate and Fenella Woolgar and it’s also nice to see Donna open a little bit about her own bad experiences with Lance too.

Of course The Doctor makes more of an attempt for Agatha to realise that the murders are something that she herself would scribe in her books. As soon as she mentions the murderer being human, it’s like The Doctor finds the best way of getting her into the game. As teams go, these two are a lot of fun.

Rounding up everyone else in the room also gave us the chance to reveal some secrets. For those of you expecting to see the unicorn in the title, you get your wish. Robina might not turn into the creature but she is the unicorn thief and her attempts of nicking the firestone are scuppered thanks to Agatha.

Donna gets to have a bit of fun in trying to guess who the actual killer is. Personally I was banking on Lady Eddison being involved somehow into the mystery and while the reveal of her husband being able to walk is fun, I liked that the alien element of the episode was brought back into the fore.

So we know that Lady Clemency had locked herself away in that mystery room because she allegedly had malaria. The reveal of her giving birth to a child as a result of a sexual encounter in India was a more satisfying answer and at 40 years old, the only person who could be that mystery child was the good Reverend.

Yeah, I really should’ve guessed but Gareth Roberts had me fooled and on his part, it was a very good once so kudos on that score. Tom Goodman-Hill made for a seemingly benevolent presence at first but upon his reveal, he suddenly upped the nastiness quite convincingly.

What’s interesting though is how this episode then comes to its conclusion. Agatha is the one who feels responsible for all the murders that have happened and uses her hold on the Vespiform to try and stop it. It’s a noble thing to do and she is able to best the creature without dying in the process.

As for The Doctor and Donna, they leave everyone else to suppress their memories and for Agatha not to really remember what happened to her in the last ten days. There’s an interesting exchange where both of them do discuss the woman’s legacy without the cheesiness that a lazier script would’ve resorted to.

Also in “The Unicorn And The Wasp”

This episode was clearly filmed in a summer period given how bright the day scenes were.

Donna: “What do you think flapper or slapper?”
The Doctor: “Flapper. You look lovely.”

Come to think of it, isn’t it a shame that Martha couldn’t have been in this episode. The Doctor did try to tempt her with seeing Agatha Christie in “Last Of The Time Lords”.

Roger: “Some of these young boys deserve a decent trashing.”
Davenport: “Couldn’t agree more, Sir.”

Agatha: “Agatha Christie.”
Donna: “What about her?”
Agatha: “That’s me.”
Donna: “No way. You’re kidding.”

Following Rose and Martha’s footsteps, Donna had to be corrected by The Doctor for talking in a posh accent.

Donna: “Yeah but think about it. There’s a murder, a mystery and Agatha Christie.”
The Doctor: “So? Happens to me all the time.”

The Doctor: “We’ve only got your word for it.”
Robina: “That’s your problem, not mine.”

Flashbacks included Hugh getting carried away with himself, Robina with a gun, Roger/Davenport’s tryst, Lady Clemency boozing in secret and Reverend Golightly unpacking.

Donna (to The Doctor/Agatha Christie re Vespiform): “When I say giant, I don’t mean big, I mean flipping enormous.”

Agatha: “Can we return to sanity? There’s no such thing as a giant wasp.”
The Doctor: “Exactly. So the question is what is it doing here?”

Some of the things used to stop cyanide poisoning The Doctor were ginger beer, walnuts and anchovies.

Donna (to The Doctor): “This makes a change. There’s a monster and we’re chasing it.”
Agatha: “Can’t be a monster, it’s a trick.”

The Doctor: “Shock, I need a shock.”
Donna: “Right then. One big shock coming up.”

Arc wise, Donna once again alluded to bees disappearing. She also mentioned the Racnoss, which harks back to the “something on your back” warning we’ve had.

Donna: “Well we know the butler didn’t do it.”
The Doctor: “Then who did?”

The Doctor: “What does the Vespiform want?”
Agatha: “Doctor, stop it. The murderer is as human as you and I.”

There was a small bit of flirting between The Doctor and Agatha. Plus I think Roger may have fancied The Doctor, even though he openly flirted with Donna.

Agatha (to Robina): “You said you’ve been to the toilet.”
Donna: “Oh I know this. If she was really posh she would’ve said loo.”

Donna (to Agatha, re Robina): “Is she the murderer?”
Robina: “Don’t be so thick. I might be a thief but I ain’t a killer.”

There was a nice reference to “The Unquiet Dead” about Charles Dickens and ghosts and I cracked up over the Noddy reference too. Oh and we got the Cybus logo, Carrionites prison etc.

The Doctor: “Bit of a buzzing sound there, Vicar.”
Reverend Golightly: “Don’t make me angry.”

I was disappointed that at the end of this episode we didn’t get a trailer for the remaining six episodes of the season, especially given that we have to wait two weeks for “Silence In The Library”.

As episodes go, this has to be most fun episode of Doctor Who ever. “The Unicorn And The Wasp” was a light hearted, enjoyable romp and given that the remaining episodes are going to be rather heavy, this was a well timed episode. Gareth Roberts you should be so proud of yourself.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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