Review: Doctor Who – 4×7 – The Unicorn and the Wasp

Bloody murder?

Agatha Christie: the world’s favourite novelist. 

Except for me. I bloody hate her. Apart from putting together novels populated by ciphers, who are mere components in intellectual exercises with no resemblance to reality, she single-handedly reduced most of British crime-writing to the same level – a state it didn’t recover from for decades, leaving the US to take over and monopolise proper crime-writing.

Even on its own terms though:

  • Miss Marple: pages of no proper clues whatsoever then three pages before the end. "Have you ever noticed the extraordinary resemblance between cipher x and cipher y?" No we bloody haven’t because it’s a book, Miss Marple, and we haven’t had any decent descriptions that would reveal this familial connection and motive for murder.
  • Hercule Poirot: pure anti-Belgian xenophobia.

And let’s not get started on The Mousetrap as the ultimate example of inter-changeable Christie characters. 

Some people disagree. Bah, and indeed, humbug to them. They’re wrong. I will brook no disagreement on this one. They must think about what they’ve done until they realise the sheer depth of their wrongness. Yes, even my wife. I won’t be telling her that though.

Anyway, this week’s Doctor Who. It seems when you want to do an ‘homage’ to an author, you call Gareth Roberts. Writer of last year’s slightly uninvolving Shakespeare Code, he’s back again with a moderately better but still similar effort, this time a blatant piece of recidivist pro-Christie propaganda. 

Plot
In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for 10 days. Was it amnesia? A nervous breakdown? Or a Giant Alien Wasp..?

Was it any good?
There should be a whole streak of nu-Who analysis called "when literary fanboys turn bad and bludgeon plots into odd shapes so they can worship their heroes". It’s not very catchy, but it’s accurate. We’ve had Charles Dickens worship (The Unquiet Dead), Shakespeare worship (The Shakespeare Code), Peter Davison worship (Time Crash) and probably a few others I haven’t even thought of.

And it’s really tedious to watch this hero worship. You can cope with it for a few minutes, but after that, it’s "get a room guys – preferably one I can’t see into".

Now, The Unicorn and the Wasp was lovely in many ways. Director Graeme Harper (god of "lots of energy… action!") proved he can do more than just future sci-fi with some lovely… well, everything really. The script was head and shoulders above The Shakespeare Code in terms of providing useful things for the companion to do, the baddie, humour, strength of plot, things for the Doctor to do and more.

The central conceit – that someone is killing people according to an Agatha Christie/Cluedo plot – did at least have an explanation and if you like your Christie in-jokes, you were probably chortling to yourself all the way through. 

Ha.

Ha.

Ooh, is that another one? No. It’s not.

But, really, it was just daft – yet enjoyable enough and filled with some nice individual moments. A little bit slow in places, as indeed anything Christie-esque has to be because it doesn’t have proper characters to drive it. The constant repetition of jokes was tedious. And, of course, the unicorn was ultimately a red herring.

Pretty funny nevertheless. One of those ones where everyone will remember the giant wasp, Agatha Christie, and the cyanide charades but every other detail will blur away into the mists of time in mere days. I only watched it half an hour ago, I can’t remember much of it already. No classic, but no dud either.

Next week: Talentless Euro-disco fanatics from the Balkans produce identical tunes for each other to vote for while the UK produces something jingoistic, insulting and ultimately empty and banal. The only difference this year? The French are going to be singing in English! Sacre bleu! Yes it’s Eurovision time.

All right, the week after that then: Stephen Moffat’s two-parter set in a library begins – if you thought you were scared of the shadows before, Stephen has a new wrinkle for you….

Who continuity references
There were references to The Unquiet Dead (Dickens and ghosts), The Shakespeare Code (The Carrionites) and others I’ve forgotten already.

The Murray Gold Watch
This week Murray Gold was doing a surprisingly good job, although why he decided to have some Bix Beiderbecke in there, I don’t know.

Other reviews
A mass grouping of Christie-ites and others has been spotted fighting a rearguard action. Their reviews can be found in the following artfully constructed locations: Marie, Jane, Stuart, Anna. If you have a review, you can slip it under the door just before midnight before emitting a blood-curdling shriek that wakes the whole house except for Miss Broomingfield – where might she be then? – or leave a link to it in the comments below.

  • Anonymous

    Oh! My goodness, I couldn’t agree with you less, but you’ll say that’s just because I AM a Christie fan. I would have expected you to like this one, well, there you go. I’m not going to suggest that you haven’t actually read her books, just watched the (sometimes dodgy) TV adaptations, because I trust your reviews enough to think you wouldn’t say that … but perhaps you haven’t read the right ones? Doesn’t sound like you are going to, though. I would suggest however that in only slightly altered form, the charges you lay against her are often put by people who hate Doctor Who, are they not?
    Here is a link to my review just to annoy you:
    http://www.tellygirl.com/2008/05/last-nights-telly-190508.html
    BTW, re your blog gods … six men and one woman, who is there because you really fancy her? Okay. That’s fine, I’m just checking. 😉

  • Sorry – forgot to sign the above, didn’t intend to be anonymous.
    Andrea

  • I did read the books but a long time ago. Maybe there are better ones that don’t involve blow pipes on airplanes that use wasp stings for weapons. Cos that’s realistic.
    “the charges you lay against her are often put by people who hate Doctor Who, are they not?”
    Maybe. Not fussed. If they hate Who, they hate Who: who am I to tell them they’re wrong. Maybe I agree with them but just choose to overlook their criticisms.
    “BTW, re your blog gods … six men and one woman, who is there because you really fancy her? Okay. That’s fine, I’m just checking. ;-)”
    Technically, it’s five men, one woman who I really fancy (and who’s a very talented actress, I also discovered to my happy astonishment, after watching her in umpteen proper costume dramas, listening to radio shows, etc) and was voted for by a quorum of the blog and one bloke that you all really fancy. 😉 More women whom I don’t necessarily fancy will be added to the blog pantheon when I have a mo.

  • andrea

    Ah, I’m a Christopher Eccleston woman, myself. I tend to agree with Donna’s assessment of DT’s looks.
    “If they hate Who, they hate Who: who am I to tell them they’re wrong.”
    Yeah, that’s normally my attitude to Who, Christie or anything I enjoy that others don’t (marmite, hip hop, comics) … their loss!

  • “Ah, I’m a Christopher Eccleston woman, myself. I tend to agree with Donna’s assessment of DT’s looks.”
    Kudos. A stout choice.

  • Rob I agree with Andrea, you probably haven’t read the right books. Something Wicked This Way Comes is truly spooky, for eg, and occasionally Christie really does rise above the banal. She did several short story collections which were top notch – The Mysterious Mr Quin is particularly good (The Dead Harlequin scared me rigid at thirteen). Why they chose Death on the Clouds for this Who episode I know not. It isn’t well known and has a preposterous plot – unless as I said on Marie’s blog is part of this bees thing.
    I enjoyed it for its sheer silliness. I have decided with Dr Who I am going to enjoy it for what it is, and not worry about the faults with it. (I plan to take a similar approach with the new Indy film to avoid disappointment).
    Oh, and you see, as I am also in awe of Dickens and Shakespeare and Christie, I particularly love all those Who episodes! I doubt they’ll ever go for my other major literary heroines (Aphra Behn? Now that would be fun) or Virginia Woolf (way too depressing for children), but would be happy to settle for Jane Austen….

  • That doesn’t sound like you contemplating how wrong you are. That sounds very much like disagreeing with me! How can this be?
    Okay, maybe I’ve read the wrong books. I might reconsider. When I have a mo.
    I love Dickens, I like Shakespeare but Austen is my favouritest of all authors so I’d be very happy to see Pride and Proodjudice or something similar, provided it isn’t too fannish. This “you must revere x” thing really grates.

  • I think Austen is the most likely one for them to go for — such a huge amount of adaptations for them to take the piss out of… sorry, I mean ‘affectionately homage’ — but they might struggle to get some decent level of threat in there.
    But isn’t it getting a bit same-y with meeting writers all the time? I’m still hoping for one where they meet Einstein. Or Newton, where he turns out to be the villain.

  • “No classic, but no dud either.”
    What? I thought the thing was mostly dreadful. I have a lot of gripes, but I’ll narrow it down to the top TWO:
    A man transforming into a giant wasp will make buzzing sounds with his mouth, exactly like the buzzing sounds regular wasps make with their mouths when they fly around. Oh, wait, that’s retarded because wasps don’t do that at all. (Just the sound of actual buzzing wings would have worked so much better)
    And, what a nice perfectly round number 5,000,000,000 is. Are those Earth-years? Will we still be using those even after the Earth is swallowed by the sun when it goes red-giant? Still, can’t beat that amazingly round number.
    Worst episode I’ve seen in a while.

  • My general policy is that on the ones that are intentionally daft, we cut them a little slack. They’re supposed to be a bit of fun for the kids rather than something that needs to be taken too seriously and over-analysed. It’s whether they’re actually entertaining or clever that’s the real issue.
    As such, I thought this one wasn’t too bad – even good – on its own terms. Bar all the Christie stuff.

  • Northanger Abbey. That’s the one to do if you want threat levels. Ish.

  • Ooh yes they could have lots of fun with Northanger Abbey….
    And isn’t the point of this that I disagree with you?
    Actually thinking about your anti Agatha thing again. It is true to say that her contemporaries were probably better. Margery Allingham’s Campion was fantastic…. Maybe Agatha just gets away with it by sheer number of books written.
    I think the Doctor meeting Einstein or Brunel or Eddison would be fabulous – or for another literary ref, Mary Shelley creating Frankenstein?

  • “And isn’t the point of this that I disagree with you?
    “Actually thinking about your anti Agatha thing again. It is true to say that her contemporaries were probably better. Margery Allingham’s Campion was fantastic…. Maybe Agatha just gets away with it by sheer number of books written.”
    Yes, you just keep thinking about it. Soon you’ll realise I was right the whole time and we’ll have no more of this ‘disagreeing’ talk. 😉

  • Oh, Rob, you Fire Sign you! (New candidate for a Quick Comment.) I’m not sure what sign Jane is, but I’d guess Libra or Cancer. Or Pisces.
    Don’t like Agatha Christie. (Do like PD James.) My measure of whether I like a DW episode is based on a) whether I noticed the music (a sign that the story was less than absorbing); b) how glady I’d watch it again. I’d gladly watch this again except for that ghastly “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Agatha Christie…” from the Doctor as they begin the big usual suspects scene. Oh puh-leese.
    Not a huge fan of Jane Austen (like her well enough, but I don’t foam at the mouth), but surely the obvious candidate for the next famous author on Doctor Who is Oscar Wilde, given the bent (if you’ll pardon the expression) of the producers and writers? Personally, I’d love to see Bach. Wouldn’t the Doctor have fun with the mathematics of those fugues? A perverse part of me wants the Marquis de Sade, but that’s more the territory for Torchwood. And you know they’d botch it up….

  • Persephone you are a witch. I am indeed a cancerian… how did you work that out???
    Rob. Aw go on. Let me keep disagreeing. PLEASE. It’s the character trait my husband hates most about me…

  • Persephone: I am indeed a Sagittarius. Good call! Not sure it’s worth a Quick Comment although an abbreviated form – “Rob, oh you!” – might be a worthwhile addition.
    Jane: As for disagreeing, oh, all right then. First though, we have to decide what do with Persephone. Do we throw her in a lake and see if she floats or do we weigh her against a duck?

  • Oh Rob, you Ram you!
    Please don’t weigh me against a duck! (“It’s a fair cop, but society’s to blame.”)
    Jane, you battle hard to argue without arguing and you frequently mention your motherhood status. That’s your giveaway.
    David Tennant would think this was all tripe of course!

  • Whoops! Sagittarius is the Archer! (Aries is the Ram.) You’re right; let’s just stick with Mary Tyler Moore in The Dick Van Dyke Show: “Oh, Roooob…..”

  • Whoops! Sagittarius is The Archer! You’re right; let’s just stick with Mary Tyler Moore in The Dick Van Dyke Show: “Oh, Rooob…”

  • Phew. Nice as sheep are, we Sagittarians are very proud of being half-men, half-horse.
    Two new Quick Comments have been added to the list.

  • Like Handel’s Messiah? “Oh, we like sheep…”
    (Sorry about the double-posting; I tried to correct myself too soon, so your site said I couldn’t, then posted it anyway!) The new Quick Comments are very versatile, and can cover a range of interesting reactions…

  • My site’s cheeky right now. Sorry about that.
    I knew I’d get a proper Gavin & Stacey Quick Comment in there one day.

  • Ha… Nice to be so transparent, Persephone(!) I rather think it’s my hard shell/soft exterior, tenaciousness (also a character trait my husband hates that gives me away). Will scuttle away under my shell now.

  • Electric Dragon

    Damn you Stu! You’ve already read my script haven’t you? The one that’s entirely in my head and hasn’t been written yet, that is. It’s a cracking script though, featuring alchemy and rifts in the space time continuum and the Royal Mint and the Tower of London. And plenty of calculus in-jokes. (Although in my story, Newton isn’t so much a villain as Meddling With Forces He Doesn’t Understand.)
    PS. BBC confirms Rusty to step down after next year’s specials and be replaced by Stephen Moffatt. ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7411177.stm )

  • Unfortunately, “Newton the villain” has already been done by Big Finish in Circular Time.

  • Anonymous

    I plead total ignorance of any of the Big Finish oeuvre. But on the bright side, BF isn’t canon, is it?
    All this is completely academic as it presupposes that
    a) I know anything about writing scripts
    b) I would ever be able to find the time to concentrate on writing
    c) Rusty/Grand Moff Steven would give my spec script/treatment the time of day

  • Electric Dragon

    Bah, Movable Type 500-errored on me: looks like it forgot my details at the same time.

  • Sorry, my host is being a bit slow at the moment (although we might be fighting a spam attack). Fingers crossed, it should be a bit faster now.

  • “”Newton the villain” has already been done by Big Finish”
    And they’ve never re-used ideas from Big Finish in the TV series, have they?

  • Hell would, in fact, freeze over before they ever used a Big Finish idea. Oh yes. La la la, I can’t hear you if you’re saying anything to the contrary.

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()