“THE UNICORN AND THE WASP” – Series 4, Episode 7, Story 194 – Written by Gareth Roberts; Directed by Graeme Harper – The Doctor and Donna head back to the 1920s where they go to an upper class party in which Agatha Christie is in attendance. And you know if the Doctor is at a party and Agatha Christie is at a party, someone’s getting whacked. There’s a giant bee buzzing around killing people, which allows the Doctor and Agatha to solve the mystery together and Donna to do a lot of nothing. Because It Seems Clear The Show’s Producers Don’t Have Full Faith In Donna.
THE UNICORN AND THE WASP is a breezy, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it offering that has the Doctor and Donna teaming up with Agatha Christie to solve the mystery of the murderous giant wasp.
It’s one of those episodes that’s both enjoyable and not in the least bit memorable. It offers no real insight into either the Doctor or Donna and uses the murder mystery basically as an opportunity to tell a bunch of in-jokes about Agatha Christie novels.
UNICORN works because of Tennant, who seems to be having a blast in this episode. Christie even scolds the Doctor at one point for having a good time after a murder has been committed. The humor is both what makes the episode and undoes it; it’s great to watch Tennant and Tate play the whole episode as a lark, but that constant sense of whimsy is also what keeps UNICORN from every becoming anything more than a diversion.
I am not saying diversionary stories are bad, but they serve a more important role in the larger context of a season than the specific context of the episode itself. That is, UNICORN provides a welcome respite from the fast-paced action and heavy emotions of the stories that have come before it and will come after it, but I think in some ways it would have worked better as this season’s “Doctor-Lite” episode.
The Doctor largely takes a backseat to Christie in the episode, gladly allowing her to take the lead in the investigation. He even lets her have the “Here’s what happened” moment. Fenella Woolgar is terrific as Christie and I wouldn’t minded just watching her for the bulk of the episode. It would have made the comedic bits more appealing, I think, if we were seeing them through Christie’s lens. The exaggeration would have had more traction with me, I think.
Tennant and Tate do a bunch of slapstick/comedic routines that grate after a while. There’s a completely over-the-top sequence in which the Doctor is poisoned and fashions a prolonged antidote by ingesting lots of different kinds of food. The scene shouldn’t work but Tennant and Tate are so committed to seeing it through that it ends up being okay in its ridiculousness, but it does go way, way, over the top.
Unfortunately, the show doesn’t give Donna a lot to do, yet again, though Tate does her best to make it work. After taking the back seat to Martha and Jenny, she now stands off to the side to allow Christie room to fulfill Companion Duty.
There’s a whole murder mystery plot but it really doesn’t matter. Just like the episode as a whole.