Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp

Agatha: 'Agatha Christie.'
Donna: 'What about her?'
Agatha: 'That's me.'

Agatha Christie's disappearance in 1926 was one of those weird events that we'll likely never get to the bottom of. (Despite many books telling us that they've got to the bottom of it.) 'The Unicorn and the Wasp' was a fun attempt at explaining Agatha Christie's whereabouts during those eleven missing days, and what with details being as scarce as hen's teeth—and Agatha not bothering to elucidate in her autobiography—attributing her disappearance to a giant wasp seems as good a solution as any.

When this episode first aired, I was largely unimpressed. It seemed like fluff. There was so little to sink your teeth into (hen's or otherwise), and what they did give us was so densely packed with clumsily inserted Agatha Christie references, that it was hard to take seriously. On second watch, my opinion of it improved slightly. I didn't find myself loving it, but I didn't hate it quite so much, either. Once you get you my head around the fact that it's supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek ride through Agatha Christie land, then it doesn't seem quite so offensive.

To say Gareth Roberts is a fan of Agatha Christie is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Apparently Roberts and Russell T. Davies had a contest to see who could wedge in the most Agatha Christie references. I'm not sure who won, but I counted goodness knows how many novel titles and character references. Add the half dozen or so Cluedo allusions, and you're left with a script almost collapsing under the weight of its own 'genius'. Which, although I'm sure seemed like a splendid wheeze at the time, produced an episode which feels occasionally maladroit, and frequently unfocussed.

The comedic nature of the episode did, however, give a free reign to all sorts of japes and silliness. Some of the exchanges between the Doctor and Donna were side-splittingly hilarious. The Doctor getting himself poisoned was brilliant. Tate's talents as a comedienne really kicked in during those scenes, and Tennant matched her stride for stride. I don't think anyone was expecting them to lock lips. Kissing a man who's just had pickled walnuts and anchovies in his mouth, can't have been pleasant—though Tate gave it the old college try. Yet at times, it felt as though they took the humour too far. There was just so much of it. Roberts claims that is was Russell T. Davies idea to go 'funnier' with each rewrite, and in truth, it probably went two rewrites too funny. It just kept pulling you out of the story.

Evidently, it was Donna's turn this week to be told off by the Doctor for attempting an unfamiliar accent. It's a wonder she hasn't picked up on the fact that his accent isn't exactly kosher. This is the third time a companion's been chastised for trying to ape the local dialect. The Doctor cautioned Rose in 'Tooth and Claw' after her somewhat unsuccessful attempt at Scottish, and Martha was criticised for going all Olde English in 'The Shakespeare Code'. And like the latter Roberts penned effort, this was a story which revolved around a famous writer. I guess the old adage still rings true: write about what you know. Look at Stephen King. How many of his protagonists are either teachers or writers?

And in classic whodunnit style we were treated to an ensemble of well known English actors. (Well known, if you know them, that is.) There was Felicity Kendall (from the breathtakingly bad Rosemary and Thyme,) Fenella Woolgar (from Poirot and St. Trinians,) Tom Goodman Hill (from The Office and Broken News), and in traditional Christie fashion, all of the supporting cast appeared to be up to no good. Colonel Hugh was looking at porn, Robina was loading a gun in the toilet, Lady Edison was gulping down booze, and the aptly named Roger was... well, rogering.

Of course, most of the episode was so silly that if you didn't laugh, you'd cry. The giant wasp was bizarre and its ability to hold a length of lead pipe with those spindly, waspish legs, baffling. And the less said about the Reverend Golightly's... zzzzzzzz... transformation into a... zzzzzzz... wasp, the... zzzzzzzz... better. Oh, for f....zzzzzz..... sakes....zzzzz.

Other Thoughts:

—Would an expert in poison have sniffed a bottle of cyanide? Hydrogen cyanide is one of the poisons that can kill through inhalation.

—I'm ashamed to admit that, initially, I though Vespiform was a brand of sanitary towel. After some Googling I discovered that I was mixing up Vespre and Body Form. It could have happened to anyone!

Billie says...

Agatha Christie does Clue. Nothing wrong with it. But that's all it was, and it could have been more. Did we have to have giant wasps? I suppose there must always be an alien. Could have been a better alien, though. A Starman sort of plot without the wasp could have been a bit easier to take, instead of way too silly.

I really did love the Doctor/Donna charade scene when he was poisoned. Best part of the episode. And the actress who played Christie was good. She felt Christie-like.

Quotes:

Donna: "What do you think? Flapper or slapper?"

Donna: “Typical! All the decent men are on the other bus.”
Doctor: “Or Time Lords.”

Donna: "Agatha Christie didn't go around surrounded by murders, not really. I mean, that's like meeting Charles Dickens and he's surrounded by ghosts at Christmas."

Donna: “It's a giant wasp!”
Doctor: “What do you mean, a giant wasp?”
Donna: “I mean a wasp that's giant!”

Doctor: "A giant wasp! Well, there are tons of emorphorous insectivorous lifeforms, but none in this galactic sector."
Agatha: "I think I understood some of those words... enough to know that you're completely potty."

Agatha: "I found my husband with another woman. A younger, prettier woman. Isn't it always the way?"
Donna: "Well, mine was with a giant spider, but same difference."

Agatha: "Death comes as the end and justice is served."
Doctor: "Murder at the Vicar's Rage... needs a bit of work."
---
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.

6 comments:

shawnlunn2002 said...

What is it with companions being corrected on accents, huh? Do you think Eleven will have to do the same to Amy in Season 5?

I liked this one, silly but endearing and probably needed as the remaining episodes are decisively darker ones.

Fenella Woolgar was good casting for Agatha Christie as well.

Patryk said...

Correcting accents is a nice running gag, but it's so far Ten's thing. Nine didn't do it with Rose.

Michael Colvin said...

Being a fan of Agatha Christie and the Poirot films, I was able to catch a bunch (but probably not all) of the inside jokes. I didn't understand how the psychic imprint from Lady Edison translated to being an imprint to AC simply because she was reading the book. It was just a disconnect.

But the big great reveal scenes at the end around the fireplace - straight out of a Poirot book. Bravo!

Michael Colvin said...

I also forgot to mention that there was a missing bees reference in this episode - mainly a lack there of because there was a giant wasp

Hana - Marmota said...

My personal problem with this episode was that it was far too hectic to feel all right as an Agatha Christie episode. Christie rarely rushes things; here, everything was rushed.
The over-the-topness could have been fine otherwise; Christie has some fairly over-the-top moments as well. But - I guess - they crammed so many things in, it simply had to run fast and furious, and that did not serve it well.

sunbunny said...

I love this episode I don't care what anyone says. One of my favorite Donna-era episodes. Felicity Jones before she was famous! Also I love Ten's attitude towards his companions trying on dialects to Eleven's enthusiastic attempt at a Yorkshire accent (Crimson Horror) and his delight at Clara's trying to bark like an alien in Rings of Akhaten.