The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Donna to the 1920s, to an ordinary cocktail party with an extraordinary guest – murder mystery author Agatha Christie. And right on cue, a murder takes place at the party, and the Doctor tries to enlist the famed writer’s help in narrowing down a list of suspects whose alibis have no witness to back them up. Donna searches for clues, and discovers quite a big one – a huge wasp at least as big as a human being. She narrowly avoids its deadly stinger, and at the same time, a jewel thief is at large in the house. But is the killer related to the jewel thief…or the wasp? And after solving a mystery whose perpetrator is not of this Earth, will Agatha Christie ever be the same again?
written by Gareth Roberts
directed by Graeme Harper
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Fenella Woolgar (Agatha Christie), Felicity Kendal (Lady Eddison), Tom Goodman-Hill (Reverend Golightly), Christopher Benjamin (Colonel Hugh), Felicity Jones (Robina Redmond), Adam Rayner (Roger Curbishley), David Quilter (Greeves), Daniel King (Davenport), Ian Barritt (Professor Peach), Leena Dhingra (Miss Chandrakala), Charlotte Eaton (Mrs. Hart)
Notes: Guest star Christopher Benjamin appeared in two much-loved adventures from classic Doctor Who, the 1970 Jon Pertwee epic Inferno, in which he played well-meaning bureaucrat Sir Keith Gold, and 1977’s Talons Of Weng-Chiang, in which he guest starred as irrepressible showman Henry Gordon Jago – a character who, with Talons sidekick Professor Litefoot, was briefly considered a candidate for an early Doctor Who spinoff which never – if you’ll pardon the pun – materialized. Agatha Christie’s amnesiac interlude actually happened, though generally history doesn’t record the whole giant wasp incident in connection with that.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: An unabashedly funny installment of Doctor Who, The Unicorn And The Wasp gently pokes fun at everything from the general style of Agatha Christie’s mysteries to the conventions used in translating those mysteries to the screen. Part of me thinks that this is yet another based-on-historial-events story that might’ve been better off without the goofy macguffin (which, in this case, is pure Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie fodder), but in this case it’s entertaining enough. Fenella Woolgar deserves special praise for bringing Agatha Christie to life, but Catherine Tate gets a shot at the spotlight too, once again making Donna possibly the most mature TV companion since Romana. I’m sure she’ll be criticized for dropping in a couple of Tate-isms more associated with her comedy work, but Donna continues to be a refreshing change of pace, and perhaps the main reason I’m enjoying season 4 so much. David Tennant almost overdoes it in a scene where he’s having to initiate his Time Lord body’s defenses to being poisoned; it’s a bit too close, in both script and performance, to Smith And Jones‘ “radioactive shoe” scene from the previous season.
Unicorn is a story that thrives more on its atmosphere and setting than on actually trying to make sense out of it. The macguffin mystery is a little too quickly and conveniently wrapped up – the only way it could’ve been wrapped up any more quickly would’ve been with a can of Raid – and I find myself more interested in the Agatha Christie mystery, which is a fun Who-ish attempt to explain a real amnesiac episode/disappearance that the author actually suffered. In the meantime, the real mystery – how anyone would pronounce a matronym-patronym resulting from the marriage of Miss Chandrakala and Bannakaffalatta – is left untouched. There are some elements of the “Doctor meets a famous author” plot which come dangerously close to what season one’s Unquiet Dead did with Charles Dickens, and it almost seems as the production team is trying to draw attention to that, with an very specific reference to that episode.
A good fun episode, but nothing that’d tax your brainpower on the order of, say, an actual Agatha Christie novel.