Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp, BBC1

by | May 19, 2008 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

Brilliantly acted, very funny and superbly plotted. In fact everyone was having such a good time they forgot to write a proper ending.

What was good about it?

• The balance between thriller and comedy were set early on with a brutal murder of the colonel being offset by the almost clownish circumstances of his death, something which Donna duly noted for those unfamiliar with Cluedo – “Professor Peach, in the library with the lead piping”. But this levity never impeded the galloping narrative.

• In fact it, it enhanced it. Each of the gruesome deaths were underscored with a saradonic humour as apart from the professor, the housekeeper spent about five seconds screaming when she could easily have sidestepped a flagstone, while Roger was stabbed in the back causing him to slump face first into his soup.

• The excellent interplay between the Doctor and Donna. Taking charge after the professor’s murder the Doctor introduced himself and Donna as a Scotland Yard inspector and “the plucky young girl who helps me out.” “The ‘plucky young girl who helps you out’?” retorted Donna. “I’ll pluck you in a minute!”

• But the highlight was when the Doctor had to cleanse his system of the arsenic that had been put in his drink. Fleeing to the kitchen the Doctor covered himself in various foodstuffs and engaged in a frantic game of Give Us A Clue with Donna, motioning that he needed something salty. “What’s that?” he choked. “Salt.” “Too salty!”

• The infestation of Agatha Christie novels into the script. Sometimes it was a seamless segue – “They do it with mirrors” – but at other times it was slightly more awkward – “This endless night!” orated David Tennant, practising for his Shakespeare play this year.

• Fennella Woolgar as Agatha Christie, who subtly seeped misery at her estrangement from her philandering husband and guilt that the vesperform had been instilled with her murderous literary philosophy.

• The way in which Lady Eddison (Felicity Kendal) excused the lack of mourning over the deaths of her friend, housekeeper and ultimately her son with a tight-lipped, stoical, “We are British” to ensure the plot didn’t get bogged down in the treacly realism of grief.

• Donna acting as an overexcited conduit for the viewers as she prematurely jumped to the conclusion that each person Agatha or the Doctor alighted upon with their suspicions was the killer.

• And the bit in which Agatha turned to the Colonel, but before she could deliver her incisive exhumation of his dark secret he rose from his wheelchair and admitted that he could really walk and feigned disability to prevent his beloved Lady Eddison from leaving him. Agatha then timidly notified him that she hadn’t guessed any of that and was simply going to declare him innocent.

• Captain Jack has often acted as a (loveable) gay caricature aimed at ushering the social mores of Doctor Who into the 21st century, and so the tender sketch of forbidden love in the 20s was tenderly played out between the doomed Roger (although the name could have been a bit more understated) and the servant Davenport was a pleasing contrast.

• Thankfully, unlike the Doctor’s last visit to the 1920s in The Black Orchid, there was no Tegan Jovanka to embarrass her entire species with an energetically awful rendition of the Charleston.

What was bad about it?

• The identity of the Unicorn was a travesty of an Agatha Christie mystery. From the very beginning, the Unicorn was being referred to as “he” so it was apparent that it would be a woman, with ‘Robina Redmond’ (Felicity Jones) the only candidate.

• The premise that the vesperform/ Reverend Golightly was murderous because it had Agatha Christie’s novels ingrained into the fabric of his soul because Lady Eddison happened to be reading one when the Reverend discovered his true heritage was, even in the peerless panorama of science-fiction, contrived nonsense.

• It relied on so many dubious absurdities to work. Was Lady Eddison’s mind utterly absorbed by the novel she was reading, did her thoughts not stray to her closeted son and his affair with Davenport, was she thinking about what was for tea and how did the whole philosophy of Agatha Christie’s work transmit to the vesperform?

• Despite the fact that an entire subplot was devoted to various characters telling Agatha what a superb writer she was, to then infuse an alien with the essence of her literature and accordingly metamorphose its mentality into an unthinking killing machine reflected a one-dimensional attitude onto the work of Christie. If the Vesperform had absorbed the genius of an Agatha Christie novel, it would have focused on so much more than ever more inventive ways to murder people, it would have learned of human traits such as jealousy, love, forgiveness and grief, meaning that it would have been highly unlikely to embark on a senseless slaying spree.

• To reveal that the murderer was an alien that killed because of an unconscious desire to do so meant there was little satisfaction in the denouement (which itself was a disappointment with Donna causing it to drown).

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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