Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Annual Author Episode Of Doctor Who Puts Agatha Christie In With "The Unicorn And The Wasp!"

The Good: Interesting characters, Good performances
The Bad: Very predictable
The Basics: "The Unicorn And The Wasp" is more an Agatha Christie mystery than a compelling episode of Doctor Who!

As much as fans of Doctor Who might want to deny it, the tenure of Russell T. Davies as showrunner of the rebooted series had some remarkably formulaic aspects to it. One of those aspects was that each Companion got a visit to a time that afforded them the chance to meet a great English writer. Rose met Charles Dickens in "The Unquiet Dead" (reviewed here!) and Martha Jones had the chance to hang with Shakespeare in "The Shakespeare Code" (reviewed here!). When the current season's episode titles were announced, I was prepared for a particularly clever use of J.K. Rowling (how could one not think that was a possibility with the two-parter titled "The Girl Who Died" "The Woman Who Lived"?!), but, alas, that was not to be. Back when Donna Noble was The Doctor's Companion, though, the writer she had the chance to interact with was Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie's appearance on Doctor Who comes in "The Unicorn And The Wasp" and unlike some of the prior author-centered episodes, "The Unicorn And The Wasp" actually fits into the larger, season-long arc of the season more directly. Back in "Partners In Crime" (reviewed here!) Donna mentions the things she was investigating and one of them was the disappearance of bees. "The Unicorn And The Wasp" revisits the throwaway line with a full, well-developed story that will (shockingly!) resonate into the season's final arc.

The Doctor and Donna Noble appear in England in the 1920s where Donna is excited by the idea of a party. While Donna is changing into period-appropriate garb, Professor Peach is murdered in the library with a pipe . . . by a giant wasp. When the guests are introduced, The Doctor and Donna are thrilled when Agatha Christie is introduced. After geeking out, The Doctor finds a newspaper and discovers from the date that it is the day before Agatha Christie (famously) went missing for ten days. Soon, they have an actual mystery to investigate in the form of Professor Peach's murder.

The mystery deepens when Donna encounters a giant wasp (bigger than a human!) in an abandoned room. Reuniting with The Doctor and Agatha Christie, Donna chases the wasp into a hallway where they realize that one of the people at the party is the wasp alien. The Doctor identifies the alien as a vespiform, which is a shape-changing alien. After The Doctor is poisoned - and rescued by Donna - he laces the dinner at the party with pepper, which shares an active ingredient with pesticides. This temporarily draws out the vespiform, but leads to another death. In the wake of that murder, Agatha Christie exposes the guests at the party to solve the mystery of which one is the alien villain!

"The Unicorn And The Wasp" is a Doctor Who version of an Agatha Christie mystery and it works pretty well. David Tennant's version of The Doctor has so few times when he actually geeks out over a person he meets and it plays to his strengths very well. The Doctor has not acted like he has met his match this way since he was infatuated with the Madame D'Pompadour in "The Girl In The Fireplace" (reviewed here!). The mystery includes red herrings from the title down - the episode is not actually about the thefts that have been attributed to The Unicorn - though that case is incidental to the episode and its story of extraterrestrial wasps. As one would expect, every character in "The Unicorn And The Wasp" is guilty of something - or is shown having their own agenda at the party.

The performances in "The Unicorn And The Wasp" are good. Actress Fenella Woolgar so dominates the episode as Agatha Christie that Felicity Jones is is virtually invisible in the episode! Woolgar plays Christie to be the equal in gravitas as Tennant's Doctor. She is articulate, direct and plays the role with an intelligence that radiates from her eyes. Woolgar and Tennant share the detective work as Christie and The Doctor and the episode works, as it does, because of their strength.

After the initial set-up and the wrap-up, Donna Noble is virtually invisible for the episode. The special effects in the episode are about as good as they can be for a CG-wasp on a television budget. Director Graeme Harper has to cheat a number of shots and while that might be an allusion to the BBC/PBS Mystery episodes that feature Agatha Christie stories, it plays out as unfortunately obvious on Doctor Who.

The result is an average episode of Doctor Who.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of David Tennant as The Doctor here!

For other works with Felicity Jones, please check out my reviews of:
The Theory Of Everything
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Like Crazy


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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