I’m sure I read an interview with Russell T Davies some time ago where he referred to “The Unicorn and The Wasp” as “the first comedy we’ve done.” I put that in quotes because that’s what I recall him saying, but I’ll be damned if I can find the piece now. It probably doesn’t matter, but it does seem the aim of the episode is to be a comedy—well, a comedy and a murder mystery peppered with ample doses of sci-fantasy. The episode worked better on the second viewing, yet I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’m beginning to tire of this brand of Doctor Who story. I’ve got plenty of respect for Agatha Christie’s body of work, but I’ve never read any of her books—pathetic, but true. I grew up reading Doctor Who novelizations written by Terrance Dicks—also pathetic, but true.
The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) arrive at a lovely estate in 1926 England. They immediately mesh with the residents, including Lady Eddison (Felicity Kendal), Colonel Hugh (Christopher Benjamin), Reverend Golightly (Tim Goodman-Hill), Robina Redmond (Felicity Jones), and Agatha Christie (Fenella Woolgar). The time travelers are stunned and delighted to meet Mrs. Christie, although the Doctor quickly confesses that only one of her stories stumped him. It’s an amusing moment, and one of several. If you’re going to jam Christie into the Whoniverse, it only makes sense that someone is killed, and everyone else must figure out Whodunnit. (In this one case, we’re reasonably sure that “Who” is the one person that didn’t do it.) Forgive me for not recounting the mystery in question play by play. It isn’t all that interesting and exists mostly as an excuse to serve up numerous gags and nods to the works of Agatha Christie. If the script can’t bother to do any hard work, why should I? A giant wasp is involved, as is a thief called the Unicorn. When the true identities of each are revealed we’re nonplussed; the former because it was so obvious, and the latter because we didn’t really care and it goes nowhere anyway.
I shouldn’t sell this episode too short. It has some wonderful dialogue and acting. One scene in which the Doctor has been poisoned, followed by a game of charades between he and Donna is classic—maybe even the funniest scene yet unleashed via the new series. But the third act devolves into a bunch of sci-fantasy hokum that has the feel of “been there, done that.” Around the time I was expected to believe Lady Eddison was in love with and gave birth to the spawn of a giant wasp, the entire thing went south: It either ceased being a comedy or turned into a bad comedy. Must Doctor Who work a creature/alien into every story? I’m sure a witty, cohesive tale could have been told here that didn’t involve an enormous insect. What if there was no murder? What if there was only the Unicorn and no Wasp? As I said before, I’m bored with these types of episodes. The Doctor meets an admirable historic figure. His world collides with their’s in a cleverish manner. Despite the mayhem, he influences their P.O.V., and something we always knew about the figure has a new meaning after the time they spent with the Doctor. No matter what, all is right by the end. Aside from some witticisms, you won’t get much more than that here which is all well and good if you enjoy this sort of thing. If the Doctor is going to continue meeting up with famous historial figures, the series needs to find a new spin on the formula.
It’s unfortunate that after such a strong batch of initial episodes this season, the series has delivered two mediocre pieces in a row. Perhaps Steven Moffat will save the day?
Ross Ruediger is a San Antonio-based writer. In addition to contributing to The House Next Door, he also publishes The Rued Morgue and writes for Bullz-Eye.
NEXT WEEK: Yes, indeedy—The Moff is back and this time there will be “Silence in the Library.”
Classic Who DVD Recommendation of the Week: No Who to recommend this week. Instead, check out “The Grand,” created and written by Russell T Davies. It was recently released on R1 DVD and is a wonderful TV series.