Sunday, 18 May 2008

Doctor Who Series 4, Episode 7: The Unicorn And The Wasp

My favourite episodes of TV shows tend to be the ones that enjoy their central premise and give a simple plotline which works off the basics of what makes the show great. When the cast of Angel got separated into a boys vs girls fight in the fantastic “Billy”, for example, or when Alias sets up a hostage situation inside the offices where main character Sydney worked (The Box, parts 1+2). So to see the Doctor Who team sit back for a moment from all the flying around and aliens to deliver a simple time-travel story, I was happy. In “The Unicorn And The Wasp”, Donna and the Doctor go back in time to enjoy a tea party which, surprise, features Agatha Christie as a guest, winningly played by Fenella Woolgar. Quickly we are introduced to a reverend, a professor, a society woman and several other characters, including an Old Colonel. Sound familiar somehow? I should hope so, because the episode turns out to be a whodunit (not a pun) after Professor Peach gets lamped, in the library, with some lead piping. There’s murder afoot, and the Doctor teams up with Christie to try and solve things.

This led to a solidly entertaining episode, which was played off as a comedy despite featuring some kinda graphic murder sequences, when you consider the audience that Who is aimed at. People get stabbed and beaten and stuff, but the light-hearted tone persists throughout. It seems like an odd link of genres, but it works, for the most part. The episode is helped by a series of clich├ęd character beats that are played up to be silly, such as Felicity Kendall’s constantly shocked lady of the house, who obviously has a hidden agenda going on. The characters were all assembled pretty quickly, and established well, but the focus for this episode, as far as I was concerned, was the relationship between the Doctor and Donna. This was the first episode Catherine Tate filmed after the Christmas special, so you could see her starting to tone down the character in this episode, and it was surprising how well her performance sat in amongst the previous episodes she’d appeared in. Donna is turning out to be quite the companion for the Doctor, although they’ve really missed a trick, romantically. This is the first companion who hasn’t been interested in the Doctor romantically, but the fact remains that Tate is the first actress (excluding Jessica Hynes, who wasn’t technically a companion anyways) to actually have chemistry with the Doctor, and as Tate and Tennant are of a similar age, it seems a shame not to have a relationship going on. Martha and Rose both seemed weird for having a romance with the Doctor because they were so young, but it feels right with Donna and yet… nothing going on.

Not that the writers don’t like to bash us over the head with this. The recurring joke of someone mistaking the pair for a couple surfaced again, and we got to see Tate kiss the Doctor in a tremendously silly scene where he detoxed himself. It took us out of the episode, and it would’ve been more fun to focus on the murders than a stupid moment where the Doctor is almost poisoned until he eats some walnuts (although Tennant properly chugged those things). The lack of murder in this murder mystery was a big shame, as far too many characters were left standing at the end. However, these are little gripes I have with an episode that was overall entertaining. We didn’t have to think about anything apart from the story this week, which made for a nice change. There weren’t any heavy-handed metaphors, of which this season has been too zealous, and although we got the compulsory alien, it was fitted into the plot in a way which sort of made sense.

Yes, the giant wasp. When I saw the previews I thought this episode would solve the problem of the bees which has been mentioned constantly throughout the series. You’d think by now that the Doctor would look to check up on something as strange as this, but he seems content enough to float from mystery to mystery instead. I’m happy enough with that, because it gives us some more diversity. The opening scenes of this episode, and the jokes made at the expense of Enid Blyton, Christie, and Brideshead Revisited (at least that’s the vibe I got from the relationship between the son and the servant-boy, which incidentally was possibly my favourite joke of the episode) gave the show an English feel which lasted til’ the end. Personally, I loved the little touches, such as Donna’s attempts to speak ‘1920’ and the reaction of the vicar to the thieves he met in the church. This Britishness clashed just enough with the alien wasp thing to make the episode that much more entertaining, although in honesty I would probably have preferred to have just a human villain. Attempting to connect a giant wasp with Agatha Christie’s disappearance seemed like a bit too much for the plot to work out, and this turned out to be the case, in the end. The finale seemed a little rushed and was sadly a bit disappointing, because it had to pack so much into the last five minutes. Up until that point, though, this episode was a nice change of pace for Who, and provided a solid episode for the characters.

Rating: B.

Stray Points:

  • The Unicorn subplot didn’t have much meat on it, but I liked the actress playing the role.
  • I guessed who the murderer was as soon as I saw the character.
  • Even though it was a little upsetting that the Butler didn’t do it.
  • Donna’s magnifying glass scene: clever, or a bit silly?
  • Line of the Week: I liked two lines this week. Tennant assuring that guests who Donna is: “This is the plucky young girl who assists me”, and Donna noticing the sexual tension between the two male lovers. “Typical. All the good men are on the other bus.”

Next Week: Stephen Moffat writes a two-parter! Will it be the best thing ever?

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