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Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Unicorn and the Wasp originally aired in 2008.

Oh, it’s you… I was just doing a little research… I say, what are you doing with that lead piping? But that’s impossible. Oh, no!

– Professor Peach discovers the point of crossover between Agatha Christie and Doctor Who

The Unicorn and the Wasp is the most fun episode of the fourth season, by a significant margin. It’s a high-concept high-energy run-around that has a great deal of fun playing with a genre mash-up, as the Doctor intrudes on an Agatha Christie mystery (starring Agatha Christie!) to create curious horror/sci-fi/mystery/class drama hybrid of an episode. It’s an episode that really benefits from the lighter tone of the fourth season. Despite some of the darkness creeping in at the edge of the frame, especially towards the final scenes, it’s an astonishingly light-hearted and playful episode.

In spite of Christie’s stern admonishings, it’s hard not to seize on the story with same glee as the Doctor does.

A sting in the tale...

A sting in the tale…

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Doctor Who: Cold War (Review)

Hair. Shoulderpads. Nukes. It’s the eighties. Everything’s bigger!

– the Doctor

The theory that this fiftieth anniversary half-season is intended as an homage to Doctor Who‘s rich and varied past holds up with Cold War. If The Bells of St. John was a Pertwee-era invasion tale, and The Rings of Akhaten was a shout-out to classic Hartnell world-building, then Cold War wears its influences even more brazenly. It’s the archetypal “base under siege” story popularised in the Troughton era, to the point where it even brings back one of the era’s most iconic monsters.

Indeed, the “Troughton base under siege by classic monsters” story is the only classic Doctor Who formulation that this half-season visits twice. While Cold War is easily weaker (and less ambitious) than Nightmare in Silver, it still fills that niche remarkably well. After all, if any Doctor Who writer can channel nostalgia, it’s Mark Gatiss.

Going green...

Going green…

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Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Unquiet Dead originally aired in 2005.

What the Shakespeare is going on?

– Charles Dickens

It feels appropriate that Mark Gatiss should script the first episode of the revived Doctor Who not written by Russell T. Davies himself. Davies wrote the bulk of the first season’s thirteen episodes, and you could argue that he occasionally spread himself a bit too thin. However, I would argue that the first year of the revived show also had the strongest string of secondary writers on the bench, including Rob Shearman writing Dalek, Steven Moffat writing The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, Paul Cornell writing Father’s Day and Gatiss writing The Unquiet Dead.

Gatiss and Moffat are two of the most prolific writers for the new series, with Moffat even succeeding Davies as showrunner. It’s also worth noting that both Gatiss and Moffat are fans of the classic show with considerable writing experience in television. It’s very clear that Davies isn’t just recruiting fans of the classic show, even those who may have written material while it was off the air (Gatiss wrote spin-off novels, Moffat wrote The Curse of Fatal Death), but recruiting those with practical experience about how television today works.

And that was a very shrewd decision.

Ghosts of Cardiff...

Ghosts of Cardiff…

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Doctor Who: Night Terrors (Review)

I’ve really liked Mark Gatiss’ contributions to Doctor Who. While not amongst the very best the series has to offer, The Unquiet Dead and The Idiot’s Lantern were both very solid monster-of-the-week episodes with clever concepts, a huge amount of energy and a sharp wit. Night Terrors shares all these attributes with those two earlier of Gatiss’ stories, but benefits from a wonderfully endearing sense of nostalgia and a very effective urban setting we really haven’t seen since the end of the Davies era.

George needs professional help…

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