Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Unicorn and the Wasp written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Graeme Harper

This story in a nutshell: ‘Agatha Christie didn’t go around solving murders all the time…’

Mockney Dude: Come season four Tennant has been doing this job so long his performances are peerless. Certainly the next four episodes would see some of his most memorable turns as the Doctor and Unicorn and the Wasp is his last chance to have some fun before all the fireworks begin. This time the Doctor adopts the role of chief inspector Smith from Scotland Yard and he seems to having a whale of a time picking up on clues and slips of the tongue whilst the death toll mounts. I love his moments of utter lunacy, which mirror Tom Baker at his finest (certainly his sudden exclamation of ‘MAIDEN!’ reminded me strongly of Baker’s ‘BRILLIANT!’ in The Stones of Blood). Like the werewolf in Tooth and Claw, the Doctor finds the wasp magnificent to behold, this is a guy who can appreciate beauty even if it is deadly. The sparkling cyanide sequence is one of the best of the year and we get to see the Doctor at his most energetic, hilarious and desperate. David Tennant makes a pretty good stand in Poirot having as much fun revealing everybody’s dirty secrets and pointing the finger as David Suchet does.

Tempestuous Temp: You would never be able to tell that this was filmed way in advance of the rest of the season as Catherine Tate is at her all time most confident during this murder mystery. It is around The Unicorn and the Wasp that my mum who was determined not to like Tate in the role (her loyalties lie with Billie Piper’s Rose) defences were crumbling and she fell in love with the character. Come the end of the season she was weeping with the rest of us. Never mind planet Zog, Donna would much rather go to a garden party in the 1930s. Is Donna a flapper or a slapper? I love how she completely fails to convince as a member of the gentry (or it could be Tate playing the whole thing for as many laughs as she can get: ‘Spiffing! Top ho!’). Roger declares that she is a super lady and she likes the cut of his gib, chin chin! Donna ponders why all the best men are on the other bus (why thank you kind lady) – when did we get to the stage where a companion could make an observation like that? Donna is shoehorned into the role of the plucky young girl that assists Inspector Smith. Her copyright faux pas (Donna is responsible for both Miss Marple and Murder on the Orient Express) are wonderful winks. I really like the gentle moments between Donna and Agatha which show a tender side to her character and it is great to hear her talking so openly about the events of The Runaway Bride. She is very understanding and talks about moving on, finding the Doctor and changing her life. This would have been sugar overload coming from Rose or Martha but hearing how much the Doctor has changed Donna’s life works because we have gone on such an incredible journey with her already. Donna is disgusted that the unnamed serving boy cannot grieve Roger because they were in a homosexual relationship. I love watching her munching on grapes during the big reveal bewildered and baffled how complex it has all become and befuddled at how everyone seem to have a motive. She's treating this as though she is watching it on the television with her slippers on on a Sunday evening. In one final act of heroism (or murder if that is your take), Donna causes the Vespiform to drown and stands by her decision that she had no choice. It really was a case of kill or be killed because the creature was working on pure instinct.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This makes a change! There’s a monster and we’re chasing it!’
‘Those tiny huge things than can turn a normal person into a killer.’
‘That night the universe exploded in my mind!’

The Good Stuff: The opening scenes give you an instant hit of summery 1930s gorgeousness – if you are a fan of the era (and Christie’s mysteries) this is already enough atmosphere to win you over. The location and the weather are perfect for s stylish slice of Christie pastiche. In order I screamed out loud as the episode introduces Felicity Kendall, Christopher Benjamin and Fenella Woolgar – just like a Sunday night Poirot/Marple this is an incredible guest cast that give their roles full justice. It is nice that we learn something about Christie rather than this simply being a parody, her disappearance is a story worth telling (and explaining). I love the structure of the flashbacks, with blatant lies (the Vicar), affairs revealed (Roger’s romance), perverts uncovered (Curbishley lost in a flashback within a flashback) and Edison exposed as a drunk. Whilst I probably would have preferred a pure historical I cannot deny the wasp is a brilliant bit of CGI, both beautiful and terrifying with some stunning detail. I'm frightened enough of little wasps but this grotesquely over sized version is genuinely nightmarish. Everybody leaving their room would be funny enough by Roger’s little gay playmate popping his head out is laugh out loud funny. ‘Try as I might it's hardly great literature’ – I found Agatha’s modesty very charming (being such a huge fan) and her assertion that she is just a ‘purveyor of nonsense’ making her all the more appealing. Even the nonsensical twists such as Curbishley faking his disability adds some colour. The flashbacks to Deli are sumptuous and I wouldn’t mind a whole story story set in such an exotic location. The plot comes together like delicious clockwork – Lady Edison having had a child, brought to England to give birth, ‘maiden name’ being discovered by Professor Peach, Roger killed for his share of the inheritance and the Vicar being brought up by the ‘Christian fathers.’ The Reverend’s buzzing manages to be both silly and oddly terrifying – like he is trying to resist what he is becoming. It is so discordant, it's quite destabilising for children. Especially coming from a Vicar. Roberts offers a joyful touch of The Shakespeare Code as the Doctor still has the Carrionites locked away. The final sentiment that people will never stop reading Christie novels is the perfect way to end this little gem. I'll be re-reading her books until the day I die.

The Shallow Bit: Needless to say both Roger and bit of fluff are gorgeous. Donna is most definitely a flapper and Tennant has never looked as radiant.

Result: I find it astonishing that Gareth Roberts managed to write a full bloodied Agatha Christie story complete with suspects, flashbacks, secrets, lies, murder, a dinnertime death, a huge reveal and still has time for a ruddy great monster and a car chase! Not only that but this is lovely homage to why we all love Christie’s work and an interesting look at the woman behind the books as well. The script sparkles with wit and intelligence and there are some outstanding performances as well (Tate especially shines in this setting). Simon adores both Sunday night murder mysteries and Catherine Tate and this episode is still his favourite NuWho and whilst there are a handful that I find better pieces of Doctor Who there aren’t any that I find much more pleasurable: 9/10


Anonymous said...

Don't you totally miss RTD era characters like Donna or Wilf? I don't like Moffat era empty,cypher companions like Amy or Clara, I miss the more fleshed out ones like the brilliant Donna, intelligent Martha or even jealous Rose (yes, she was annoying but she was more HUMAN)
Even River Song doesn't do for me, she seems designed to be too cool for words, very flirtatious and with a complicated back story, but I wish her more human.


Anonymous said...

what I mean about Rose is: she was brilliant with 9, annoying with 10 but she was a flawed human being and not as half annoying as Amy. Amy was a little b**th from the beginning, with an annoying job (kissogram, are you kidding me? a temp like Donna or a shop assistant like Rose are more realistic), a very nice boyfriend who didn't deserved the ill treatment he received and half fleshed out than any of RTD secondar characters). Not that I dind RTD era perfect, but I miss his human characters... *sigh*

Richard S. said...

Do you think that "Professor Peach" could be a wink to "Professor Plum" of the game Clue / Cluedo?

Loved the episode too, by the way! A wonderful "Count the references" pastiche!

David Pirtle said...

A fun episode all around. I don't really care for murder mystery novels, so I've never read Christie, but I've seen enough shows and films based on her work to appreciate how well they have captured the genre and sent it a love letter.