Sunday, August 24, 2014

Doctor Who--"The Unicorn and the Wasp"

There are three reasons I really like Doctor Who. One, I am a cynic and the British seem to have a pathological need for stories to have at least some bit of a downer ending. Like is never wrapped up in a neat little package like American television tends to present it. Second, I am a science fiction buff. Finally, I am a history buff. Sometimes all three aspects collide in one episode to make it great. I think great might be too strong a word for “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” but I did like it.

I must confess murder mysteries are one step above romance novels and two steps about pop spirituality books in my hierarchy of literature. I have read Agatha Christie out of bibliophile obligation and recognize her talent, but I am much more partial to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation, old what is his name. One thing I will say for Christie is 1920’s Britain is the stereotypical setting which comes to mind when asked to picture a murder mystery. If you are going to have an old fashioned murder mystery with the Doctor, that is the place to do it and Christie is the perfect partner in crime.

At the end of “last of the Time Lords,” the Doctor was about to invite Martha to the 1920’s in order to meet Christie before his shell shocked companion opted to leave the TARDIS. A good move, honestly. Donna Noble struck me as a much better companion for this sort of adventure. I cannot see Martha or Rose interested in Christie’s novels. The story itself humorously and intentionally uses ever murder mystery cliché in the book other than having the butler do it. I enjoyed it, but I imagine Whovians with a greater fondness for murder mysteries found it and wink, wink, nudge, nudge hoot.

This being Doctor Who, there had to be a science fiction twist and this one involved the lady of the house once giving birth to a alien which eventually became a giant insect who committed all the murders in the episode because it absorbed its mother’s fondness for Agatha Christie novels. Yes, the last ten minutes explaining all this was a bit on the wacky side even for the Doctor. The whole idea of a cat burglar called the Unicorn was completely wasted and unnecessary for the rest of the story. Still, it did not ruin it for me. It might have knocked a star off my overall rating, but it was still an entertaining hour.

The BBC does period pieces fantastically well. I am beginning to think it is because of British fondness for the Empire’s glory days. The wasp CGI was unusually good for a creature used so often in the episode. The aliens tend to not be so elaborate when featured so often. I did find it bemusing Donna used a magnifying glass and sunlight to keep the critter at bay a couple times, but the writers have thus far handed certain comedic elements in every episode to Catherine Tate so that it does not feel so terribly out of place still, it would have fit better in a cartoon than here. The best part for a history buff/geek is that, like in the story, Agatha Christie really did disappear for ten days in 1926 after discovering her husband had an affair with another woman. I assume she was not really with the Doctor and Donna all that time, but you never know….

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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