The Unicorn and the Wasp
Donna: Never mind Planet Zog – a party in the 1920s, that’s more like it.
Episode star rating:**** (out of a possible five)
I don’t usually watch Doctor Who Confidential on the day of a new Doctor Who episode (in fact I have them recorded but mostly unwatched.) It seemed appropriate to watch it this week, considering the metafiction and writerly concerns of this episode – 45 minutes of yakking about the previous 45 minutes was more appealing this week.
As detailed in the Confidential, the basic idea was a 1920s murder-mystery featuring Agatha Christie as part of the story, played for laughs. If that was the plan, it was a success, as this was possibly the most amusing Nu-Who episode yet, with Donna’s Noddy confusion a highlight and the Doctor’s anchovies and ginger beer palaver had me in hysterics.
It wasn’t all larking about, as Agatha Christie admonished the Doctor for enjoying himself a little too much (in much the same way Queen Victoria berated the Doctor and Rose’s smug antics in Tooth and Claw) and there was some nicely underplayed emotional turmoil from Fenella Woolgar as Christie.
Over these past four years, three out of the four “celebrity historicals” have focused on writers e.g. Dickens, Shakespeare, now Christie, (I’m not counting Pompeii or Pompadour here as celebrity episodes) and this perhaps illustrates one of the concerns of the production team: an interest in playing with the ideas and the medium of storytelling. The games played with conventions of wobbly-screen television flashbacks were very clever, especially the Doctor coaxing the Colonel out of the flashback-within-flashback, and the Doctor reminiscing about Charlemagne (was that another glimpse of the mainly unseen story alluded to in Blink, as the Doctor had a quiver full of arrows in both?)
The actual plot mechanics to justify the giant wasp were quite convoluted, but sort of made sense, and it was a nice idea for the wasp to stage the episode as a Christie murder-mystery (as the Christie novel had been part of the awakening of the wasp via the Firestone.)
The ending as the Doctor raked through his “C” chest (another nice idea), through a Cyberman component, Carrionites (yes, very good Gareth Roberts you did the Shakespeare episode too, we remember), then Christie novel was slightly bewildering. Yes, there is a giant wasp on the cover of the paperback, but – why? (Apart from Christie half-remembering the events of the episode.)
In the Doctor Who Confidential, Russell explains that on the cover of Christie’s Death in the Clouds that he remembers, the wasp is “symbolic, there is no giant wasp in it.” Eh? As I say, I tend not to watch Doctor Who Confidential, as it is not that illuminating really.