"The Unicorn and the Wasp"
18.40 BBC1

After the last two shitfest episodes, it was tempting to start writing off this series. Then 'The Unicorn and the Wasp' came along and restored my battered faith.

But first, the plot. Donna and the Doctor materialise in 1926, just in time to attend an Evelyn Waugh-esque garden party of suitably fucked-up English aristos and members of polite society. Also in attendance is 'teh' Agatha Christie, still getting used to her gift as a writer and wounded after her first husband was caught in flagrante. So far, so very E M Forster. But then a giant wasp turns up and starts murdering the guests and staff in a manner not at all unlike one of Christie's novels. The Doctor and Agatha investigate...

And on such an unlikely premise, one of the best Who episodes in this series is built. Mainly, it's the set pieces - the sordid reminiscences of the guests; the Doctor's unusual and frankly deranged way of dealing with cyanide poisoning; the final dénouement in the drawing room; the car chase and then the final revelation in the Tardis of just how far Christie's fame will extend: it all dazzles and thrills like a luridly sparkly rollercoaster.

But the characters are for the most part strong too. Felicity Kendal does a good job in portraying Lady Clemency Eddison, who is both too shallow and too damaged to be anything other than a whisky-supping duty-bound nob, and is all too painfully aware of this. Christopher Benjamin, meanwhile, plays her surprisingly likeable Colonel Blimp-like husband with a taste for wank mags and a genuine, vulnerable need to cling on to his beloved wife with equal measure.

But, as is fitting, the star of the show is the curiously named Fenella Woolgar, who vividly plays Christie as a vulnerable and still rather hidebound young woman who begins to achieve her destiny, thanks to the Doctor and her own developing sense of self-worth. She also has a gloriously irony-laden line when she has a go at the Doctor for enjoying the mayhem just a bit too much, despite having a career based on providing that self-same thrill to readers herself...

Thus, 'Wasp & Unicorn' is a success by being just post-modern enough to add colour to the setting without getting in the way of the heartfelt homage to Christie herself and her heyday. But in truth, the episode is really about self-discovery, and it handles this with skill.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Donna carry on their successful double act of hyperactive Tigger and loveable harridan driven to piss on the former's parade at every opportunity. True, the episode hints (at one point quite blatantly) that Donna sees the good Doctor as more than a friend. But this is then wisely brushed under the carpet and left for the nerds to debate on their bulletin boards. And for once, references to the series’ grand narrative are kept to a minimum, which makes for a refreshing change. The way the loose ends are tied up and the mystery is structured are effective too, with the episode's slotting into real historical events with genuine ease and flair.

On the other hand, the CGI wasp looks a bit too - well - CGI for its own good, and the Unicorn super-thief is neither developed enough to deserve his/her place in the title, nor helped with a cock-er-ney accent and mannerisms that would make Dick Van Dyke weep bitter tears of shame. The upper classes seem too easy a target for derision too: like evil corporations and evil alien refugees, which seem to be the show’s obsession at this point.

But still, it's hard not to see the end of this episode and feel... Happy. Satisfied. Afloat with a sense of completeness. And reminded of how this series started, rather than how it started to die on its arse of late.


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