Doctor Who series 4 episode 7 review: The Unicorn and the Wasp

Our second take on this weekend's Doctor Who episode, and Simon, with reservations, quite liked it...

It’s probably no coincidence that the Peter Davison Doctor Who adventure Black Orchid made it onto DVD recently, given the content of The Unicorn & The Wasp. A murder mystery set in a big old house, this latest episode of Who almost pressed a stop button on the series itself, choosing instead to go and have a poke around another genre. And, to be fair, it did it all rather well.

That’s because The Unicorn & The Wasp had things that the tepid, aforementioned Black Orchid lacked, even though they trod similar ground. A half decent plot was a good start, but also the introduction of Agatha Christie as a character worked a lot better than the previous jollies into the world of Shakespeare, Dickens and Queen Victoria. Oh sure, the script made the same old jokes, dropping hints to Christie of works that she hadn’t yet penned, but on the whole, it gelled a lot better than I was expecting.

Because here was the Doctor Who team having fun, gently lampooning the detective genre, and throwing in some alien elements to the cocktail. The big whodunit conversation towards the end was typically Cluedo-esque stuff, and if you can forgive the fact that the plot seemed really quite muddled (easily following the aforementioned whodunnit conversation took a brain bigger than mine, sadly), there was certainly fun to be had. Agatha Christie as a character was worked in well, and I found myself chuckling along quite a lot as the whole thing panned out.

The highlight of the episode for me? The lovely sequence where the Doctor works out that he’s been poisoned, and has to take a variety of ingredients to counter the effects, and then get a big shock, for his body to be rid of it. The shock? A snog from Catherine Tate, and again you wonder if this wasn’t some kind of response to the criticisms of relationships between the Doctor and his assistant of late.

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The lowlight, ironically, was the part where the Doctor Who elements popped in, namely the wasp of the title. You still can’t help having a sneaking suspicion that we haven’t seen the last of wasps and bees in this series – they’ve certainly been namedropped a few times, although it could, of course, by a red herring – but if they do come back, let’s hope they look a bit better than this one. Remember Jon Pertwee coming up against giant maggots once upon a time? It sort of reminded me of that.

As a viewer schooled on old-style Doctor Who, I find myself not worrying too much about special effects most of the time, but this just all seemed a little daft. It didn’t help that the metamorphosis from man to wasp was a quick wiggle of the head, and throwing in a few buzzes here and there, and as a result it was easily the least convincing part of the episode. The whole thing would surely have worked a lot better without the wasp at all.

As a murder mystery, The Unicorn & The Wasp wasn’t great by any standard of the genre, but as a fun diversion before the series ramps up to the big stuff in the weeks ahead – and it’s the hugely-anticipated Steven Moffat two-parter next, thank the lord – it has its place. The fourth series has been trucking on quite competently now for a few weeks, with lots of quite good-to-good episodes, but nothing – save for, perhaps, the eruption in Pompeii – overly memorable thus far. Let’s hope that Mr Moffat works his magic again in two weeks’ time, and that the back end of the series delivers in the way that we know it can.

Read Martin’s review of the episode here