Season 30 Episode 7 – The Unicorn & The Wasp, by Gareth Roberts

May 18, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

Oh dear lord…

You know, this looked a fairly promising story, even though it was yet another adherence-to-formula. A murder mystery with Agatha Christie as a guest star sounds like quite a neat idea, if a little too similar to The Unquiet Dead and The Shakespeare Code, but the story in practise gets lost in a tidal wave of sloppy logic, plotting short cuts, shallow characterisation, recycled jokes, Brian Blessed-style bellowing, and self-conscious smugness. The result is one of the most tiresome episodes since the revival, too tiresome for me to review it properly.

Recycled jokes include, among others…

The companion trying to talk to strangers in their own accent, and the Doctor telling her, “No, don’t do that.”

The Doctor and Donna making a big deal about not being married.

The Doctor and companion feed plot ideas to a future titan of literature.

The Doctor being poisoned in some way and having to ‘expel’ the carcinogens by behaving like a buffoon.

On the issue of buffoonery, David Tennant puts on probably his most awful display of over-the-top yelling yet, a truly vacuous performance, and very much in keeping with the general ‘Mel Brooks’ attitude of the episode i.e. the way to be funny and exciting is to have people shouting at the top of their lungs a lot. (This attitude also probably sums up why Catherine Tate is in the series at all; her performance was hideous yet again, but even she was overshadowed by Tennant.)

Murray Gold’s music was more awful than ever; it’s a sure sign of how bad it was that the regulars were frequently yelling at the tops of their lungs and were still getting drowned out.

The idea of knowingly having an affair with a gigantic alien insect is utterly ridiculous, and the explanation for it – “It just didn’t matter to me” – is the laziest bit of non-characterisation I’ve ever seen in Dr Who, an even worse sidestep round a moral/psychological issue than Ursula claiming that it was all right being imprisoned in a paving slab because it’s a “peaceful feeling”. It’s a peaceful feeling being a slab of concrete because the writer says it’s a peaceful feeling. And sleeping with a bug didn’t matter to her Ladyship because the writer says it didn’t matter to her.

Every time the story shows any sign of progressing sensibly or in an engaging way, it seems to lose heart and go for a lazy laugh instead. But it also shows little faith in that either, and so the attempts at laughs usually degenerate into a spell of shouting. It makes for a tedious, puerile experience, one that insults the intelligence of the viewer.

I will speak up for the portrayal of the wasp, which is probably the best CGI the series has ever produced, but that’s never going to be enough to carry the episode, especially as it only appears for about three minutes of airtime. Still it’s a redeeming feature.

Other than that, the episode is a terrible waste of a good concept and an excellent guest cast. It’s certainly the most feeble episode of the season so far, and indeed, it’s one of the worst episodes I’ve ever seen, on the same dismal level as Last Of The Time Lords (albeit for different reasons). I can’t really be bothered analysing it in any more detail than this.

2/10. Please, Steven Moffat, come and rescue us!

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