Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Unicorn and the Wasp - "I need to investigate. You just buttle off."

The Unicorn and the Wasp (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Season 4, Story 7 (Overall Series Story #194)

The Doctor, Donna, and Agatha Christie
The Doctor convincing Agatha Christie she's the one to solve the murders.

The 1920s, a gathering at an English country house, with a murder. Oh, we're in Agatha Christie country now. Oh yes, with *the* Agatha Christie, even! After watching "Black Orchid" it seemed a natural pairing to view this New Who trip into familiar territory. The similarities pretty much stop at setting and the basic set up though: this story has an alien it, and nobody plays cricket. So, yeah, entirely different. I mean, Tegan ordered a Screwdriver at her party and Donna ordered Side Car! You can't tell me there's any connection between these two radically different stories. (Although, the Doctor tee-totaled both times ...)

I'm not sure what deeper themes we're going to be able to dig out of this one, but there's one well Ten and the companion went to several times: Rose trying to ape a Scots accent in "Tooth and Claw," Martha trotting out some "forsooth" and "verily" gibberish at Shakespeare, and here Donna tries to drop some posh "Spiffing! Top hole." on their hosts -- and each time the Doctor has to tamp down their enthusiasm with a bit of "No. Don't do that."  Works every time. (If Rose, Martha, and Donna weren't all very different characters, we'd have to worry what interchangeability says about lack of variety; but, this isn't the difficulty some have identifying exactly what about Clara makes her a different character than Amelia Pond. Catherine Tate made Donna very much her own woman.)

With this story, you've got to choke down a Clue™ homage that somebody wanted to force in really bad, so bad we've got a character name Professor Peach getting killed in the library by a giant alien wasp with a section of lead pipe. Now, I understand the Professor had uncovered a secret that the giant alien wasp had motive to kill to keep secret, but did he really have to be named "Peach"? And, when you're a giant half-alien wasp disguised as a normal human, do you really need to go full wasp to wield a lead pipe? No, only if the writer is trying to collect on a bet or was dared to be so audacious. (Also insecure about it -- kids today with their video games might not know about Clue™, so better have Donna spell it out. Twice.)  Luckily, the questioning of the suspects scenes are much more pluckily self-assured and willing to plant tongue firmly in cheek.

If the board game reference was too forced, this episode otherwise hits all the right notes. Well, until Donna attempts to comfort the jilted Christie by telling her how after her engagement ended in disaster, she was lucky enough to find the Doctor and he brought meaning back to her life. Earlier, Christie had chided her hostess for implying she was somehow incomplete without Mr. Christie. Yes, as Christie points out, a woman can make her own way in the world. She ought to have been lecturing Donna.

Despite expressing skepticism about finding any deeper themes, well ... we found some unfortunate sexism, but we also found another case of nurturing an artist. Eleven and Amy Pond will find themselves encouraging Vincent Van Gogh in much the same way Ten and Donna do Christie here. Dame Agatha doesn't get to flash forward to the year 5,000,000,000 to see her books are still in print, but both Donna and the Doctor make it clear her works have deep and lasting impact. Donna, in fact, can't help but make it abundantly clear by accidentally referring to works in Christie's future. (Luckily, some convenient amnesia undoes that.) Dickens, Shakespeare, Van Gogh, Agatha Christie (?!) ... well, the Doctor makes the case for her understanding humanity's motivations and using that understanding to craft mysteries that endure. And they have. Maybe we shouldn't dismiss her works quite so out of hand ...

Also, on the anti-religionist front, the speech when the Reverend is about to go full Vespiform he contemptuously dismisses the teachings of the Christian Fathers at the orphanage and their worship of a tribal Sky God. He, after all, knows a great deal more about the universe than they did.

Tennant, it's worth mentioning again, is like Tom Baker in that he brings so much energy and passion to every scene, it's genuinely fun to watch. The charades while he tries to expel the cyanide he was poisoned with, and his reactions to Donna's utter bollocksing her guesses based on his pantomiming is priceless. Those two worked so well together ... no companion since has had such a sparkling dynamic with the Doctor.

Have to admit, I'm not enough a Christie reader to have caught most of these myself, but there are tons of sly references and puns embedded in the script:

Image via ofmaraudersandtimelords

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