Doctor Who-dunit – The Unicorn and The Wasp by Gareth Roberts

The one episode I simply can’t ignore as part of my 50th anniversary “Thank You” to Doctor Who.

England, 1926, and the Tenth Doctor and Donna arrive at a country house, gate-crashing a house party. To the delight of the Doctor, Agatha Christie herself is in attendance, but he is horrified to discover that this is the very day on which she disappeared.

unicornBefore he can investigate any further, a body is discovered in the library… and another body… and another – all killed in the style of one of Agatha’s books. And to top it all off, the house seems to be suffering from a wasp problem – a giant alien wasp problem…

I do like this episode. Gareth Roberts’ scripts are always entertaining, and he’s clearly channelling a love of Dame Agatha’s work here. He takes great pride in dropping in as many titles of Christie books into the dialogue as possible – a couple of them are a bit forced, but even the Doctor winces at the worst of them – which is, unfortunately a spoiler. Sorry.

The cast is wonderful – Felicity Kendall, Fenella Woolgar, Tom Goodman-Hill (who the Puzzle Doctor have loved since seeing him as Lancelot in Spamalot) and the always-wonderful Henry Gordon Jago himself, Christopher Benjamin. Add in David Tennant on top form and Catherine Tate as my favourite of Tennant’s companions and you’ve got a production that’s a joy to watch.

But the mystery? Not bad at all. The crucial clue that points to the murderer is a bit unsubtle, but the background story is wonderfully reminiscent of an Agatha Christie plot. There is a distinct lack of sense at times – why would a giant wasp club Professor Peach with a lead pipe, other than to make a Cluedo joke? – but there are some great jokes in there too – Christopher Benjamin’s “confession”, for example.

Well worth a look, if you haven’t seen it before. And if you have, watch it again.

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10 comments

  1. I found this quite humorous and enjoyed it. A decent murder mystery.
    Regarding your statement that murder with a lead pipe makes no sense, the same would apply to murder with gargoyle and by stabbing in the back. However, considering the motivation behind the murders, I see nothing wrong in different methods of murder being used.
    Incidentally , a remark by Donna is a spoiler for the book “Murder on the Orient Express.”

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  2. Really not a fan of this one, almost purely because of the title game, which I found even more irritating than in The Shakespeare Code. You’re unlikely to find many people more in favour of cleverness and wordplay than me, and writing under restrictions is often better than being given free reign, but here it’s pointless. It’s not a joke, it’s not part of the story a lot of the dialogue could have been better if the whole thing had been dropped. Which might be excusable, but it’s also clearly affected the plotting, as some of the more ludicrous events only seem to happen to tick off more titles.

    Why bother, except to show off?

    Occasionally clients will want to include in-jokes and other stuff to appeal to people in the know. That’s fine, but I have a rule: only pander to a small part of your audience if it doesn’t come at the expense of everyone else’s experience.

    Man, I’m such a grump! But I stand by it here…

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