Doctor Who – The Unicorn & The Wasp Review (or “Gareth Roberts Certainly Has A Type”)

Remember my review of The Shakespeare Code? The one where I criticise Gareth Roberts for having a “big old wank about Shakespeare”?

Well he’s at it again, but this time about Agatha Christie.

I’m far more fond of Christie’s work than I am of Shakespeare’s but it wouldn’t be right to slate him for writing a story that’s basically a love letter to one and not the other.

Having said that, there’s still a story to be watched beyond that in The Unicorn & The Wasp, so let’s see how it goes.

Doctor Who – The Unicorn & The Wasp Review: What’s This One About

Gareth Roberts has a big old wank about how much he loves Agatha Christie.

Oh, and there’s a giant wasp in it too.

Thoughts – He’s Quite One Dimensional, Isn’t He?

There’s always a chance that RTD loved Gareth Roberts’ work on The Shakespeare Code so much that he asked him to go back and write another story based on another famous writer; indeed, that’s probably what happened.



Even so, for the sake of originality, he probably shouldn’t have. We’ve now had a story about Dickens and ghosts (which they actually make a joke about in the script), Shakespeare and witches and now Agatha Christie and a murder mystery.

Is that not going to the well once too often? It most likely is, and we’ve still got one about van Gogh to come in the next full season.

Roberts didn’t write them all, but he did write two of them in a row, so I think he should be criticised for a lack of original thought.

If you’ve seen Arrested Development, you might agree with me that it’s a bit like Gob’s pitches to Stan Sitwell about Single City, Sin City, Fuck City etc.

But To Judge It On Its Own Merit

However, if we get past that, what we’re left with is a decent story.

I’d say the Unicorn & The Wasp is fun rather than particularly brilliant. It’s got that 1920s vibe down nicely, and has a good cast to go along with it.

So it looks and feels authentic, and alongside that there’s a fair amount of humour involved too.

Some of that humour – such as the scene where the party guests are telling their account of where they were when the murder took place – are a bit too obvious for my tastes, but other aspects hit the spot nicely.

I’m talking about stuff like when Agatha Christie introduces herself to Donna…

“Agatha Christie”
“What about her?”
“That’s me”
“No! You’re Kidding”

…which is a brilliant conversation.

Or better yet, the scene where the Doctor has been poisoned and tries to explain what he needs to Donna in the kitchen. That bit is genuinely laugh out loud funny.

Donna doesn't show enough urgency when confronted by a giant wasp, I think.

Donna doesn’t show enough urgency when confronted by a giant wasp, I think.

But while there is good humour, I can’t help but feeling the plot is a little on the light side, and is a textbook example of one that didn’t need to have an alien threat.

Why can’t the Doctor just go back in time to the 1920s and solve the mystery of Agatha Christie’s disappearance? Why does there have to be an alien involved at all? Because it’s Doctor Who? Going all the way back to my Enemy of the World review, you’ll know I disagree with that.

Donna & The Wasp

Now you’ll know from reading my reviews of this season that I’ve been a big fan of Catherine Tate’s work.

And she – much like David Tennant – is on form here and naturally handles the comedy elements well. In particular, I like her part in the scene where Christie reveals the murderer.

But if I praise her for her acting, it’s only fair that I criticise her when the occasion arises as well.

And I thought the lack of fear or urgency she showed when confronted by a giant wasp was poor.

I don’t know about you, but for me the prospect of being confronted by a 6 foot wasp is horrific! I hate wasps the normal size; they are little bastards who are deliverers of a sharp pain if they get you. So a giant one? Surely that would play on anyone’s fears more than a Sontaran, a lava monster or an Ood?

And yet Tate just shows mild alarm and runs off with less exigency than someone who has let their saucepan boil over.

Random Observations

  • It’s good to see Christopher Benjamin back on Doctor Who after all these years. He hasn’t lost any of his comic timing and seems to have aged pretty well. I enjoyed the scene where he accidentally gave himself up when Christie was simply going to say he was innocent.
  • I really need to get round to listening to some of those Jago & Lightfoot Big Finish Audios.
  • On the other hand, I wasn’t too keen on the character of Robina (The Unicorn). She didn’t add much to the story, and what’s more, when she is revealed, her real common accent is far less convincing than her fake posh one.

    Don't just stand there!! Move!!!

    Don’t just stand there!! Move!!!

  • Felicity Kendal meanwhile looks like she’s had her face ironed.
  • How come nobody noticed the Vicar changing into the wasp when it happened in the very same room at dinner? I can accept that we as viewers didn’t see it because we weren’t shown it, but surely if you were there you’d notice?
  • And how come the Vicar’s clothes manage to survive the transition into being a wasp?
  • Are we to assume Felicity Kendal knowingly shagged a wasp?
  • The scene with the Indian woman standing still, putting her hands over her face and screaming *before* the stone gargoyle is dropped on her head from a great height is one of those TV annoyances. Why wouldn’t she move?
  • And how come it fell on her head, but appears to have landed on her stomach?
  • I didn’t really get the link between the Vespiform and Agatha Christie. So because Felicity Kendal was sitting reading one of her books whilst wearing that jewel when the Vicar changed back to a wasp for the first time, it got linked to her mind? Aye…ok then.
  • I massively dispute the theory that paperback books will still be available to buy in the year 5,000,000
  • The aforementioned scene where the Doctor is poisoned and has to eat specific things to combat it is lifted right out of a Colin Baker Big Finish. I can’t be bothered checking which one though.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #83

Doctor Who – The Unicorn & The Wasp Review: Final Thoughts

So moving away from Gareth Roberts’ rather unoriginal idea for a story, the Unicorn & The Wasp could be summed up as light, fun and amusing, but at the same time not particularly deep.

It’s an entertaining 45 minutes of TV, but it has its faults and will never really be considered a classic.

Personally I’d have preferred it if it didn’t have any alien elements at all, but I suspect I’m going against the grain with that line of thought.


One Response to Doctor Who – The Unicorn & The Wasp Review (or “Gareth Roberts Certainly Has A Type”)

  1. Ralph Burns says:

    I do heartily recommend the Jago & Litefoot audios: great fun.

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