The Unicorn is fairly hot. The Wasp less likeable.
As a side note, Ewen is quite right that he looked rather a lot like Mark Gatiss. Which is interesting, when you think about that Marple TV movie that they did, I think called Murder in the Vicarage in which there are two vicars, one played by Tim McInnerny and the other played by Mark Gatiss and they are really, REALLY difficult to tell apart.
So... all priests in the Christieverse are Sontaran-style clones. Bear that in mind.
The astute may have realised by now that I'm planning to crap on aimlessly rather than my usual review style.. this is because I had the sneaking suspicion that this episode would be so fun for me that I wouldn't want to spoil it by pausing it constantly and jotting something down in Wordpad and, less selfishly, that it would probably end up as lots of "LOl, that's funny!" style comments.
And... I turned out to be quite accurate in my assessment. This is a very funny episode indeed, probably the silliest Who story ever (well... televised. Let's not get into Doctor Who and The Pirates and Mad Dogs and Englishmen here..nor any of those TV comic stories I've heard of where Troughton and Jamie spent weeks fighting off Quarks and giant wasps from Icecream factory planets with bows and arrows on scooters) And.. I don't know what's not to love about it. Well, aside from one thing, I guess..
The Sly, They Came in From The Cold Opening
I have a sneaking suspicion that the cold-open may have been written by RTD, ala Rise of the Cybermen, because it shares quite a bit with that one in terms of absolutely astonishingly crap writing. Of course, the main difference being that this one isn't very funny. I mean, if the wasp was buzzing at Professor Peach in complete incoherence, and Peach said "OH? And how do you intend to do that - FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE?!?" it would be piss-funny. Nonsensical, but funny.
As it is "Oh, it's you. And what were you planning to do with that lead pipe?" is... no. It's like something ripped from an Oxford textbook of what funny is meant to be. It's ironic of course, but that doesn't make the joke seem clever. It feels very dumb. If it could have been turned around to have another level to it, like, I dunno, Peach says "Ah, trying your hand at a bit of plumbing were you? Nice hefty pipe you've got there - oh, yes, I'd like to take a closer look, now you mention it, just give me a moment to read through this document I've just discovered..."
And, you know, he ducks his head down reading the birth certificate, thus ironically presenting the bloke who is obviously going to beat him with an iron bar the perfect angle to beat his head in with.
YEAH, I KNOW IT ISN'T FUNNY! But it's getting there! See, this is what I mean, the bit desperately needs work. And that's why I think it could be RTD. I'm not saying his stuff isn't funny, but even his biggest fans admit that when it comes to Doctor Who a lot of RTD's jokes fall flat, and a lot of the time it's due to what seems to be a very rushed writing - his jokes leap out at you, rather than, say, Moffat, who seems to weave them into the story. A lot of his jokes are given a setup you barely even notice and other intricacies. But there's none of that in these first few scenes, and it's really a pity because I think they have the power to turn people off the show entirely. Like, say, somebody who started screaming "SPARACUS MUST HAVE WRITTEN THIS SHIT!!!"
It's not just the lead pipe bit, it's also, of course, what deserves to be an infamous line the "Never mind Planet Zog!" bit which is just... whoa. Totally baffling. I didn't think it was possible to BE this baffled. Something that has been found is that the public like 'Planet Zog' (even when it's shoved mid-season because some cowards are paranoid people will snigger the instant anything filmed near a quarry is screened) and that 'Planet Zog' is a phrase meaningless aside to fans that follow interviews with RTD, and most fans who are familiar with it HATE IT because of it's massively condescending nature.
So... example #5000 of RTD actively pissing off his fanbase because he has them all at his mercy?
And interesting side-discovery from this episode was this nugget from Wikipedia:
Roberts, a self-confessed fan of Christie's works, made the episode into a comedy, the first Doctor Who story to do so since Donald Cotton's serials The Myth Makers and The Gunfighters, in 1965 and 1966, respectively.
Hmmm. So. The Highlanders, The Three Doctors, The Sun Makers, The Pirate Planet, The City of Death, The Horns of Nimon, The Two Doctors, Delta and the Bannermen and Silver Nemesis were all serious dramas, were they? And that's not even going into the expanded universe!
I do find the notion amusing, though, that supposedly a show could go 41 years without somebody saying "Hey, we should do a funny episode!"
And, Myth Makers the first comedy? What was the dramatic subtext behind The Romans, then? Because whatever it was, I missed it!
Anyway, setting aside all that guff, it becomes clear that once you're past the amusement abortion that precedes the story that we're into something very funny. Lawrence Miles is indeed right when he says that this is primarily a pastiche of those godawful Christie telemovies that get pumped out like Model T Fords from some BBC factory in Ispwich, committing such horrors as wasting Paul McGann as a dude in an eyepatch who does nothing but sit around looking sorry for himself. He argues that this is a case of DW elevating television above all else. I say bollocks to that - the simple fact is that Christie's media is written, and you can't spoof a written style on television, unless you try and act out the actions described in the books absolutely literally. But that joke would be beyond lost on people. So you're restricted to pastiching the most obvious visual reference point for Agatha Christie stories - said AWFUL glacial movies.
And what a brilliant... fuck, I've been using the wrong word. 'Pastiche' is beyond generous. It is a complete, butchering mockery of everything that the shows are about.
The constant flashbacks are the first thing lampooned, and done well by making them oh so much more OTT than they ever have been in the actual shows, by the ludicrous addition of harp sound effects and that weird visual 'warbling' you get in all the shows. It's great to see that all of the guests are lying through their teeth about what they did, and what's great is that this is ANOTHER joke in itself that you don't get until the end and you think about it - the murderer is the only one whose flashback does look innocent, and who doesn't seem to be lying. A very deliberate and blatant screw to the audience, especially when the identity of the murderer is massively illogical from the events of the opening scene.
Oh, and as a side note I adore the nutjobs of fandom for screaming "GAY AGENDA!" with regards to a homosexual coupling in this episode played entirely for laughs. Nevermind the fact that there hasn't been another gay couple in the series since... bloody hell, the decrepit lesbians in Gridlock is the last one that I can recall at any rate. So... one gay couple a year, that's 'agenda' worthy, is it? Arguably the classic series clocked up about that many, though none of them were explicity but, come on - Vivien Fay and Rumford? Stubbs and Cotton? That dude inexplicably dressed like an Egyptian in The Time Monster who manages to make every single line sound like a double entendre for performing oral sex on another man whilst talking to Ingrid Pitt??? Actually.. come to think of it, the entire guest cast of The Time Monster?
The Hunter Read October
So, anyway, it's farly obvious that Agatha Christie is going to be the detective in this story, but when that's happening there is the matter of what the Doctor himself is going to be doing for the next 45 minutes. See, that's the trouble with comedy stories, says the fanboy from his snippet of experience with the unfinished fic To Catch a Thief, is that it is easy to create guest characters who are funny and have them be themselves. But the show is ALWAYS about the Doctor. It's easy to create a comedy premise, slightly harder to work the Doctor into it.
The Pirate Planet goes around this by having no characters at all in on the joke.. in a sense this isn't hard because Romana and the Doctor are on a whole other plane to the audience, so what is to us completely absurd (turning a planet into a TARDIS and using it to eat other planets) is to them fairly understandable stuff. The Highlanders has the newly regenerated Doctor finding himself in a situation where a bunch of idiots are in charge, kicking back to see how his companions handle themselves and intermittenly decided to fuck with some bureaucrat's heads if he gets bored. Love & Monsters... well, that does ignore the Doctor. Boom Town! has the Doctor have dinner with an alien who accuses him of mass murder in massively illogical arguments ad nauseum... yeah, that one stands out, doesn't it?
TUATW, if any of the above takes the Highlanders road. The Doctor finds there is a murder, and that Christie is around. Now, because Tennant is (hitherto unmentioned) a pants-wetting Christie fanboy nothing could please him more with the possible exception of Mme Pompadour with a french tickler, so he wants to see how things unfold, and giving Christie a prod in the right direction when she's uncertain of what the hell she's meant to be doing.
What's funny is that the story doesn't really elevate Christie to a state of genius (as it hasn't, really, for Shakespeare or Dickens before her..) - her investigations are, in the entire point of the episode, fortuitous observations based on her own astonishingly formulaic and hackneyed form of writing. It's quite funny watching her stumble across unbelievably major clues, such as the box of thieve's tools that have been, ludicrously, dumped in the rose bed.
And, then at the same time there's the gigantic wasp going around of course..
The Beagle - Two Handed!
So why is there a giant wasp in this episode? Why? What is going on with that? I don't watch Confidential so I understand that it could have been a JNT-style demand from RTD as he wandered into the writer's room with his usual white powder-y mustache inbetween demands that a bandril be brought to his bedroom or, as somebody suggested, that the entire thing was a tribute to Craig Hinton (actually, nobody probably suggested that. Just somebody said Craig would have thought it was neat...)
But... well, monster-of-the-week and all of that but the Wasp doesn't add much to the episode. I'm not complaining but I'd have thought if you wanted an alien menace of absolute absurdity to amuse the audience you could have gone a bit further than a giant wasp. It's silly but... what about an evil Alpha Centauri?
Somebody online suggested that it would have been cool for this entirely silly story to BE the first 'pure' historical since Black Orchid and, I have to say, I champion this idea. They specifically submitted the idea of the 'giant wasp' thing to be the work of 'smoke and mirrors' or a 'mind altering drug', so I'm saying the episode should have ended with a bewildering nod to the resolution of And Then There Were None with Professor Peach being the murderer himself, having faked his own death to throw everyone off the scent, using his experience as a celebrated music hall magician and a master chemist.
For that to really work you'd want him to be played by Paul Darrow.
So love the idea? No? Right. Nevermind.
Oh, and I understand one explanation for the giant wasp thing is in the episode but - no. It doesn't make sense. I read the synopsis for Death in the Skies pretty soon after watching it. Some people think a guy dies from a wasp sting. Poirot tells them that they're morons. A long time later some dude thinks the book will sell better if people are led to believe it contains gigantic wasps. So if you do your homework it REALLY doesn't account for Christie supposedly regaining her memory of events.
Layman's Murder Club
A scene that has become something of a talking point of this episode is the 'charades' scene where the Doctor has been poisoned and is trying to communicate desperately to Donna exactly what he needs. It is funny.
Not much else to say about that. See, this is why I didn't do the minute-by-minute version of the review.
The great thing that it does is exhibit the wonderful dynamic that the Doctor and Donna have, due to the absence of any sexual undertone to their relationship, which beggars the question of why they've shifted the companion relations AWAY from this in the recent series. It seems that there's an assumption that companions are all about telling the Doctor he's very clever, not getting in the way and generally being agreeable, I suspect due to the thoroughly bland but very well-spoken Sarah-Jane Smith, who happened to be companion at the time when most people were watching.
And it's funny because people say "Oh, we hadn't had a companion like Rose before!" Well, we haven't had companions like Jamie, Leela and Romana before or since, have we? The good companions are always unique - in fact most stay away from the SJS-template that's in a lot of people's minds for no good reason, and yet the people writing Who material seem keen to deliberately avoid it.
At least, that's the only explanation I can come up with for BF's adaptation of a set behavioural guide for their companions which seems to go 1) Tell the Doctor to piss off because you're smarter than he is, 2) Go face alien menace and abuse the hell out of them for no good reason, 3) Cry like a bitch for the Doctor's help when you realise you're not quite as hard as you made out. Okay, not EVERY story, but every derivative one for some reason. Oh, but it is every story if we're talking Lucie Miller, who is the most generic companion they've ever made.
So, anyway as I was trying to say it's great to see that the new series is playing with the options that are actually available in a knockabout, asexual rapport between two grown adults. But at the same time worrying that Rose is returning, as she has the most limited dynamic with the Doctor ever...
ROSE: I worship you my surrogate father figure now take me over the console.
THE DOCTOR: ...okay. Can we make some tacky pop-culture asides as we do it?
Anyway, I am slightly irritated about the Doctor's reaction to cyanide being so extreme. Whether or not it contradicts The Two Doctors is, I suppose, something of a moot point, but the Doctor is consistently shown to be massively immune against poisons of all varieties...
But then I guess only one generation has been allergic to the Praxic Gases and so on, so it could just be that Tennant is a big, stroppy, cyanide-wuss.
Harry Potter and The Hollow-y Deaths
For me, there are two zeniths of brilliance in this episode, and in both cases it is due to piss-taking of the worst excesses of the Christie stories. The first is the dining room scene where the Doctor has concocted some improbably genius scene of finding out who the killer is and then... all hell breaks loose in a deliberately unconvincing manner, with lights cutting out and every running madly all of a sudden and - once they come on, there's no clue to who the murderer is and in the chaos - SOMEBODY HAS BEEN STABBED.
This is brilliant because
a) It is, stunningly, done absolutely straight
b) This scene, by law it seems, must appear in every Christ telemovie that gets made
The next one is the obligatory 'corral every suspect into one room and reveal their secrets one by one' scene, which is simply hysterical. The way that Donna is munching on some dinnger in a back seat as if she's watching this on the telly is meta at her best, especially when she shouts out one of the clues in jubillant realisation and her impatient demands of just who the murderer is. Then there's the revelation that Incredibly Posh Girl in Red is the famous jewel thief is followed by her revealing herself to speak with the most unconvincing cockney accent since Donald Sutherland in The Great Train Robbery and talk entirely in cliched London slang. And the obligatory completely pointless revelation that Colonel Jago doesn't need a wheelchair at all (LOVE IT!!!), and small things like the way that Christie keeps looking right at the person she has the bombshell over... before turning to someone completely different at the last minute.
And if I hadn't been sitting down I probably would have doubled over in laughter at the Doctor's endless cries of "YOU!" whilst pointing down the barrel of the camera.
The episode can't keep up this sort of peak, because there's pressure for it to have a 'proper' ending. Botheration. It feels a bit pointless, though, when the action 'climax' is a chase scene involving two quite slow-moving vehicles and.. I have to point out... NO attempt is made to take the piss with this. In this story that's pretty unforgiveable.
And then there's the Doctor at the end, giving a slightly condescending spiel to Donna about how important it all is, and here I was a little put out - Agatha Christie the best-selling novelist, ever? It seems like a bit of a sleight against mankind to me, for the utmost in generic and formulaic storytelling to remain popular throughout our entire history - and slightly out of character for the Doctor to put so much weight in market statistics.
I think it needs to be put into perspective that Christie died in the 70s. It's a bit early to judge whether her works are immortal stuff at the moment! Especially considered that they aren't really considered much in artistic terms at the moment.
Besides, although she is technically the best-selling novelist in terms of accumulated figures from all of her books, the figure is slanted due to her loyal fanbase and the fact that she wrote far more than the average writer. In terms of how many copies were sold of any individual book she is beaten by J.K Rowling, Charles Dickens and Tolkien among others.
I dunno, I guess I find something slightly depressing about Christie being hailed as the pinnacle of literary achievement...
All in all - brilliant. Once you get past the shocking opener this episode is wildly funny and a great example of what Doctor Who can do when it's in the mood. I can't fault it much - I just sit back and enjoy it. And it's great, now that he's writing for the TV series, to understand why everybody loves Gareth Roberts. 8/10
WHAT THOSE OTHER LOSERS THOUGHT
IMDBer Response: Will you all shut up about homosexuality! Good grief you're all as bad as each other. It's hardly a matter of great importance is it? There are people starving in the world and the ice caps are melting, who cares about a couple of bummers FFS.
Man With No Sense of Irony Response: And on top of that, we have some incredibly basic (not to say cliched) devices - the "diddly-dee" transitions between flashbacks, for example. It's like "Wayne's World" never happened. AND that same thunder sound effect which has been used in everything since time began makes ANOTHER appearance, the last being in Smith And Jones. And a dolly-zoom so utterly pointless and self conscious that it almost made me fall off my chair. Graeme Harper? You must be joking.
(Be sure to note that this fellow considers Wayne's World to be a landmark in film history. Wayne's World.)
Cave-Dweller's Response: Waaaah?! RTD is gay?
Nyder's Response: I wonder what they'll be saying about Doctor Who twenty years from now? Probably they'll show a clip from this episode of a man dressed as a Vicar, going "buzz, buzz" before disappearing in a cloud of pink smoke and turning into a CGI wasp!
Angrier IMDB Response: God that was crap. Donna was crap sound effects were crap, effects were crap. Donna figuring out in a split second that holding up the magnifying glass at the right point would burn the wasp was crap.
Donna was pretty *beep* as well, the doctor wouldn't stand a human killing another species purely because "their scary"
Doctor: "This is the biggest library in the universe...so where is everyone?"
Me: "ON THE *beep* INTERNET"
Michelle would never *beep* a horse.
(... I didn't think that she would.)
That Same IMDBer Response One Day Later: i was drunk last night so that post was written whilst i was singing about portsmouth winning fa cup
(Wow. Would never have guessed it...)
Johnstone Response: I am outraged that there is no outrage over Donna kissing the Doctor. Where are all the anti RTD rants? Where are the people calling Dotor Who a soap? Where's the Spara thread saying that Donna and Agatha Christie had a sexual relationship? And moreso where are all of the "I'm sick of this bloody gay agenda" threads. And of course the old classic "How many steriotypical "CAMP" delights did RTD put into this episode"
What is wrong with the world? Has fandom lost it's ability to be outraged? Or have the anti-RTD brigade finally shut up and admitted defeat?
Confused Response: I couldn't figure out whether I was laughing with the episode or at it. 3/5
Paraphrased Lawrence Miles' Response: Agatha Christie? Genius? THEN HOW COME SHE NEVER WROTE FOR DOCTOR WHO?? She was still alive when they were showing Brain of Morbius, for fuck's sake. She didn't have the balls to put on the line like me. Tart.
I could piss And Then There Were None in my sleep. And then drink it! What? I am MAD Larry, after all...
Damon Queery, apparently Behind the Sofa's 'comedy' writer's response: Have we created a generation of Terrence Dickses? Of course not, there's not Doctor Who fan who's managed to procreate yet. Talk about colony collapse disorder - before the resurrection of the show the entire fan community was one box of man-sized tissues and 14 wanking sessions away from it's own collapse. Do me a cumquat. We've all got more chance of copping off with a giant wasp.
(Haha, there is absolutely nothing funnier and more groundbreaking than endless virgin jokes about sci-fi fandom. Keep it coming, brother, keep this unique brand of humour alive!)
Charles Daniels' Response: The Unicorn and the Wasp
By Malcolm Hulke
Brigadier: Doctor, do you really expect me to believe that this woman mated with some sort of giant bee monster?
Doctor: Technically they're wasps dear chap. While it may seem strange to you, Vespiforms have quite
a reputation for being very caring and tender creatures -- traits I often wished you'd share.
Brigadier: (Huff) Be that as it may, hadn't we better evacuate the area immediately?
Doctor: No need to rush and upset the guests. Agatha and I can use our deductive skills to unravel the identity of the vespiform and soon put right to things. And in the meantime you can prove rather useful yourself.
Brigadier: Oh? In what way?
Doctor: Well you know how to mix screwdrivers don't you? Keep our guests happy while I get on with the important stuff. There's a fellow.
And a brief message to Sparacus: pull your head in, mate. When I started these reviews I thought you'd be right there saying insane shit for me to put in these for added humour value. You've been fairly sane this year when you post at all. Now, I can't even keep up the pretense - there's no "Sparacus' Baffling Response" AT ALL. Now that wounds me. It wounds me deeply. So get your act together, and start telling us about the pornographic DVD extras you want of A-grade British actors having sex with one another and when you're going to the bathroom next.
Next Week: ...hmm, the Doctor has to deal with Terry Wogan and an army of massively camp internation 'pop stars'... might have to give it a miss.