“The Unicorn and the Wasp” – Review: Redux

Donna “No, but isn’t that a bit weird? Agatha Christie didn’t walk around surrounded by murders, not really. I mean that’s like meeting Charles Dickens, and he’s surrounded by ghosts, at Christmas.”
The Doctor “Well…”
Donna Noble “Oh come on! It’s not like we could drive across country and find Enid Blyton having tea with Noddy. Could we? Noddy’s not real. Is he? Tell me there’s no Noddy!”

The Unicorn and the Wasp

At the end of Series Three, when the Doctor assumes that he’s about to fly off for more adventures, he mentions that he’d like to meet Agatha Christie, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that here at the midpoint of Series Four, we are presented with a murder mystery featuring none other than Agatha Christie herself and, to be honest with you, I really didn’t know what to make of it. It was clearly an homage to the writer herself and the whodunnit genre in general but was it supposed to be a pastiche, or a comedy, or a proper whodunnit, or just harmless fun, or, more simply, the calm before the storm of the end of the season? May be all of the above but I thought it was only okay. When I re-read my original blog review of “The Unicorn and the Wasp”, I saw that I had watched the episode three times during its first week after broadcast, which could lead to the obvious question of “Why watch something that was “only okay” three times?” I hear you cry. Well, the reason is probably that I am just a big old fanboy at heart and will inevitably quite enjoy any old tosh that comes with a Doctor Who label.

However, watching again after a few years and there were a lot of things that I had completely forgotten about, like the melting, wishy-washy screen as we moved in and out of the flashbacks and the newspaper headlines whirling into view were all nice little directorial touches to amuse the audience but were a little too much for my tastes and served only to distract me from the story. I loved Fenella Woolgar as Christie, effortlessly creating on screen the kind of person I imagined the mystery writer to be, whether this was anything like the real Christie, I couldn’t say but it was wonderfully realised nonetheless. I still wasn’t half as keen about the wasp though, which was an absurd creation, nor the detox scene, which is the kind of camp tomfoolery that leaves me cold. If I was in charge, all that unnecessary clowning around should have been re-written or written out, which I know makes me sound like an old curmudgeon but that’s the way it is. I don’t like anchovies either, so that bit would’ve made me feel a little queasy at the best of times. 

Again while revisiting my first review of this story I was reminded of the commentaries that the BBC provided on the website (and even behind the red button on the Sunday night repeat). Oh, how I miss those! This was back in the day, when spin-off series like “Sarah Jane Adventures”, “Doctor Who Confidential” and “Totally Doctor Who” were the norm and extras abounded. The Beeb was a treasured institution back then and it was willing to throw some money at adding value to one of the jewels in its crown. Nowadays the jewels seem a little tarnished and we don’t get such delights anymore. The commentaries were always insightful and often good fun, depending on who was booked in the studio.  For TUATW we had Gareth Roberts, Graeme Harper and Reverend Golightly himself and on hearing their views I started to forgive all the foibles and really begin to enjoy the episode and also appreciate the directing talents of Mr Harper.  The ensemble cast had little time to develop as three dimensional characters, so, by necessity, had to fulfil a stereotype and simply be plugged into the story.  Perhaps this lack of roundedness was why, with the exception of the aforementioned Fenella Woolgar and, of course, the main duo, there was a degree why it didn’t matter to me who’d dunnit after all.

And here we get to the nub of it.  Once I had realised that none of this mattered, that there were no clues or nods to the ongoing story arc, that this was, in fact, just a comedy interlude, then the whole thing fell into place beautifully.   Get a solid cast that is able to hit the ground running in their archetypal roles for a romp around a 1920′s country house; hand the script to one of the show’s biggest fans and the directorial responsibilities to an irrepressible and enthusiastic sort; insert a fair dollop of humour so that everyone from the bloggerati to the “normal viewers” don’t take it all too seriously and Robert’s your mother’s brother.

Highlight: The moment you realise you don’t need to take Doctor Who too seriously after all

Lowlight: The Wasp

Talking Point: Who’s next for the celebrity historical treatment?

Demon’s Run Rating: 13 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 17th May 2008

Marathon Status: 49 down, 53 to go

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