Sunday, June 15, 2008

Doctor Who: 'The Wasp and the Unicorn' (4x07)

“The Wasp and the Unicorn” is a pretty light episode, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable, taking a plot that sounds pretty weak on paper and making it work thanks to the really fun execution. I found the earlier Doctor meets historic writer episodes a bit ponderous, with their frequent references to classic literature, and all too obvious ties between the Doctor’s actions and what we saw in the author’s books. This episode does similar things, but always with a wink, and, like much of this season, what really makes it work is Donna.

Whereas Rose and Martha seemed awed simply to be traveling around with the Doctor, Donna plays things with a mix of enthusiasm and questioning. She’s excited to be caught up in this world, but also points out the ridiculousness of the genre conventions they’re messing with. It reminded me of the way Buffy used humor to make stories that are really goofy work. The humor doesn’t undermine the narrative reality, it’s an added pleasure on top of the story. Played straight, this episode would not work, but the jokes make it fun.

There’s not too much in depth to discuss here, so I’ll pretty much just do a list of the stuff I liked. I really enjoyed the cheesy dissolve and sound effect accompanying the flashbacks, and the digressive flashback within a flashback to the can can dancers. Another fun scene was the Doctor’s reaction to the poison and the farcical attempt to cure his poison. And, the constant misdirects in the big reveal scene were a lot of fun.

Typically, it’s been the historic episodes that didn’t work for me, but both “Fires of Pompeii” and this episode were great. “Pompeii” was the season’s high point so far, and this was a pleasant surprise. Other than the Sontaran two parter, the season’s been really strong so far. I think part of it may be watching the episodes spaced out a week, instead of bunched up on DVD, but I feel like the stories are more distinct and significant. There hasn’t been that feel that some episodes are just filler that I got from the previous years.

And, I think a large part of that is the fantastic chemistry between the Doctor and Donna. They’re making this season work, and I’m dreading these hints about Donna’s fate. The more she says she’ll never stop traveling with the Doctor, the more I’m worried that she’ll wind up dead down the line. Either way, we’re moving closer to the epic many character season finale, and I’m eager to see how Davies pulls everything together.


Anonymous said...

You're more positive about the season overall than I have been - but I think Unicorn and the Wasp marks a definite improvement and the following three episodes are remarkable.

But for me there's still three episodes to go for the season and I'm eager to see how it resolves itself. I almost feel like Donna is my favourite of the companions so far - so I am worried about her fate, too.

David Golding said...

I loved 'The Wasp and the Unicorn'. The poison cure scene is fantastic (and "ginger beer" is rhyming slang) but it was the Noddy scene that utterly killed me.

I love Donna. Possibly even as much as I loved first season Rose. I hope they don't kill her. Partly because I like her, partly because I'm invested in a new companion leaving the Doctor to help in their own way. As most of the companions did in the old series. We see a bit of this in Sarah and Martha, but the former spent years moping first, and the latter only left because of personal issues.

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick! Really enjoying your Who write-ups. If you're interested here's the mid-season trailer that aired after TUATW in the UK. It's mildly spoilerish i guess, but you seem to know the general gist of who appears later in the season as it is. Well worth a look. Very well cut/and emphasizes some of the themes drawn out in later episodes. Check it out!

Anonymous said...

Patrick said...

The mid season trailer's pretty cool. With the return of the Daleks and Rose, it looks like this'll be a wrap up for four years worth of stories. I'm curious about what the specials next year will be, will they be a direct continuation of the season finale or more semi-standalone like the previous X-Mas specials?

I don't know if I like Donna more than first season Rose, but I think each of them are perfect for where the show was at at that point. As someone who was totally new to the world of the Doctor, Rose was my eyes for first seeing the world. What Donna does wonderfully is mix the wide eyed enthusiasm of early Rose with the life experience to know that every adventure, every action has consequences.

I'd agree that not every episode this season has worked, but pretty much every scene with the Doctor and Donna together has been great.