The Mysterious Affair at Eddison Hall

Doctor Who The Unicorn and the Wasp
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The moment that the name of Agatha Christie was mentioned in the last few moments of The Last of the Timelords there was no doubt in people mind’s that next celebrity historical episode would feature Agatha Christie herself.

The fact that the episode was also to be written by Gareth Robert means that we pretty much knew what we were going to get from this episode. The episode was not dissimilar to last years pseudo celebrity historical The Shakespeare Code, just replace the theatre with a country house and swap famous authors then you pretty much have the same story give or take.

There were plenty of references to the titles of Agatha Christie’s stories and short stories, some more obvious than others such as mentions of Murder on the Orient Express and one of the characters actually reading The Murder of Roger Aykroyd. If you aren’t aware of any of these titles it doesn’t really matter as quite a lot of them are incorporated as lines of dialogue which work on their own as well as a reference to Christie’s work.

The Unicorn and the Wasp is Agatha Christie by numbers and I do believe that it lives or dies on your appreciation of the works of Agatha Christie herself and on the whole detective fiction and murder mystery genre itself. If you have little interest in either than it is likely that this episode will leave you cold. If, however, like myself, you like or have more than a passing interest or knowledge in either, then you will find plenty to enjoy in this episode.

The worst aspect of the whole episode, in my opinion, is the wasp. I mean that looked really shit, it just didn’t work when you saw the whole thing. It worked when you just heard the buzzing sounds it was making, and in shots from the wasps point of view, but it just looked really, really bad and was quite disappointing considering the sterling work we normally get from the Mill. It looked less realistic than the giant fly did in The Green Death and that was a giant rubber fly!

The story from the original series that was most like this episode would have to be the Peter Davison two-part story from his first season, Black Orchid, which was also set in the nineteen twenties but didn’t really have that much of a plot. I mean it looked lovely and all but the plot was nonexistent.

At least this episode did have a plot, and the sort of plot that they would spend two-hours telling in the usual Agatha Christie adaptations out there. Of course Christe did also write short stories so there were episodes of Poirot and the oft remembered nineteen eighties series Partners in Crime (starring Scott out of Earthshock and Franscesca Annis), which also gave the opening episode of this series of Doctor Who its name.

Catherine Tate was very good in this episode as the Doctor’s plucky assistant Donna Nobel especially considering that this was the very first episode that she had filmed. Her character had obviously grown since her first chronological appearance this series and it was obvious that she had experienced a great deal since that then and was not the same Donna Nobel that we had met in Partners in Crime.

I loved the look on her face when after she had kissed the Doctor to give him a shock that he said he would have to do that again, meaning the detox, and not the kissing Donna bit. Her look was priceless and was a bit like in the first episode when she mistook his comment about wanting a mate. In fact that whole sequence, with the sparring between the Doctor and Donna as he was trying to mime to her what he wanted, was just laugh out loud funny showcasing both Tate’s and Tennant’s comic timing perfectly.

The giving Agatha Christie ideas for titles, and even one of her most famous characters, is straight out of The Shakespeare Code but in this case it is more Donna than the Doctor, although the Doctor does slip up later when he calls her Dame Agatha.

One thing that you cannot accuse the episode of is not looking anything less than superb because if anybody knows how to do a costume drama then it is the BBC and they once again excelled themselves in this episode with the costumes and the general look of the piece which was so different to the previous episode and will be nothing like the following episode either which is what makes Doctor Who such a fascinating show.

Fenella Woolgar was very good in the role of Agatha Christie and gives a good rendition of what people might imagine Agatha Christie to have actually been like. It was nice that they had a younger Christie as it would have been not as interesting if it had of been an elderly Christie even though the whole episode could then have been played like an episode of Miss Marple! I am sure that most people think of Agatha Christie as being an old lady (like Miss Marple) so it was nice to have her as a younger, more vital woman which worked better with the younger, more vital Doctor that we have nowadays.

Christopher Benjamin made a nice little cameo appearance in this, his third appearance in Doctor Who, as the blustering Colonel who was a bit of a naughty boy and kept girlie mags, or military magazines as he liked to call them, in his study. I bet it did remind him of being in the army, the old goat!

Felicity Kendall was good too in this episode and that now leaves Penelope Keith as the only living member of the cast of the Good Life to appear in Doctor Who.

These celebrity historical characters are getting more and more recent aren’t they? Who’s next for series 5 I wonder. JK Rowling?

Aside from the wasp, I would say that this episode was a triumph. Well done to all concerned!

Who’s the Daddy

Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter
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I have to say that The Doctor’s Daughter was not the episode that I was expecting it to be. I expected it to be a hell of a lot more controversial than it turned out to be and for and episode with such an audacious title it really should have been.

I know the fact that he already had a granddaughter means that he must have had a son, or a daughter, who then produced Susan but what with all of the nonsense about Looms in the Virgin New Adventures and fans insistence that the Doctor would never do anything sexual with a woman (despite Girl in the Fireplace where he definitely nailed Reinette, and don’t try to say that he didn’t, because he just did).

I was expecting news of countless pot noodle related electrical fires, as lots of fans spat out their pot noodles in disgust during the episode, but nothing like that happened because in the pre-title sequence they answered all ming-mongs worries by making her a clone of the Doctor, extrapolated from his DNA, making him both mother and father as it were, rather than a child born in more tradition method, which pretty much waylaid all the fears and sleepless nights they have had since the line ‘hello Dad’ was uttered in the next time trailer last week. I was hoping that they might make them sweat for a while, but no it was bought out into the open right from the word go. So that has to be one nil to the ming mongs there.

To say that I was disappointed about the lack of outrage caused by the episode would be nothing short of a massive understatement. Still there were some good elements of the episode despite it being a massive cop-out.

Georgia Moffett was very good in the role of the Doctor’s daughter and I was shocked by how much like her father she looks. I have heard people say that she looks a bit like the lovechild of the fourth Doctor and Romana and boy would that have been a right royal twist if that had been the case rather than her being a clone. The Doctor Who Forum would have exploded if that had happened, I can tell you!

I suppose that the fact that she looks like one of the Doctor previous incarnations then it does make sense that the machine created her, rather than just a clone of the Doctor himself. God two tenth Doctor’s running around, it doesn’t bare thinking about, it really doesn’t!

I loved the twist as the end when we found out that the war had been raging for a whole week rather than the hundreds and thousands of years that the humans had believed it had lasted for. It made sense as they were talking about countless generations fighting in the war but if they are clones and their average lifespan lasts about two hours or so then there would have been time for generation after generation to be created in seven days.

I am assuming that they are created as young adults, if Jenny was a typical example of a clone but how do they age? Do they age at all, or is it a quicker process. I mean look at the difference in age between Cobb and most of the other soldiers. Either he is one of the earliest generations of clones, or he was created to appear much older than the other clones. That’s the only explanation I can come up with.

Sadly, once again, Martha was underused and was only there to get kidnapped and then meet up with the Doctor again at the end of the story. I thought that the Hath weren’t a bad alien race. They certainly looked interesting, being a combination of fish and human, and are ripe to be turned into a figure for character options. I mean they didn’t really do a great a deal and were almost just there to give Martha something to do in the episode, but they made a figure of the Hoix and that only briefly appeared in Love & Monsters.

It was quite sad though when the Hath that Martha helped ending up being pulled in the quicksand to save Martha, although how he managed to avoid being pulled under the quicksand until after he had rescued Martha was not explained, so it will just go down as one of those things that tends to happen in Doctor Who that cannot be adequately explained.

Catherine Tate continues to impress as Donna with her expert knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System coming in handy in working out the major twist of the plot. The Doctor didn’t have a clue but good old Donna was there to give him a helping hand. I would never have thought that would be much use outside of library, but its nice to now that it is still being used, in some form, in the far future.

I am not surprised that the character of Jenny didn’t die in the end, despite being shot and all, and I half expected her to regenerate at the end of the episode. Now the Doctor is no longer the Last of the Timelords, and the big question is will this be significant? As this is the sixth episode of the series, it is more than likely to become significant in the latter part of the series, but quite what the significance of it is nothing more than conjecture at the moment. I know what I think it might be, but I am not going to say anything in case I am proven wrong by the end of the series. We will have to wait and see. Time will tell, as they always say.

Hot Potato

Doctor Who: The Poison Sky

Well that wasn’t a half bad conclusion to the cliffhanger, if I do say so myself. To be honest it was about the only one that would have worked given the situation. I am not sure how Sylvia was able to smash the window when neither Donna nor the Doctor could, which they did appear to be trying to do in the close of the first episode. It did seem to be a bit of a cop out with them be able to save Wilf so easily but you couldn’t kill Bernard Cribbins off, could you? Bernard Cribbins is a legend and he is the kind of man that everybody would want as a grandfather.

I also wasn’t expecting the twist at the end with Rattigan sacrificing himself for the sake of humanity, which was quite surprising considering his contempt for the human race for the majority of the story, well at least till the Sontarans told him that they were never going to give him what he wanted and that he was just a pawn in their stratagem. In the end he did prove his worth but you can tell by the Doctor’s face that that wasn’t what he meant when he told him to do ‘something clever’.

What I was expecting was for Donna and Martha to pilot the TARDIS to the Sontaran ship to save the Doctor in the nick of time after all the story did start with the Doctor showing Donna how to pilot the TARDIS and telling her not to try and dent the nineteen eighties. Now did the Doctor show Martha how to pilot the TARDIS, or even Rose for that matter?

On the subject of Rose who saw her on the scanner screen in the TARDIS when Donna was stranded on the Sontaran ship? I am sure that nobody would have missed that by now but it could quite easily have been missed if you blinked or something on first viewing. Now of course Donna still doesn’t know what Rose looks like or anything, even though she has met her once.

I am not sure that Donna even noticed Rose on the screen, or else she might have wondered why the woman she asked to tell her mother where her keys had been left had appeared on the TARDIS screen.

Donna isn’t stupid and this surely would have piqued her interest if she had seen her, which I don’t think she did. Rose was certainly shouting the word ‘Doctor’ on the screen so one can only assume that she is trapped somewhere that is not the parallel world that she was left on after the events in Doomsday, because she is certainly looking for the Doctor, but that is for later on in the series and not now.

I have to admit that I did think that Martha was rather underused in this episode much like in the second episode of her Torchwood stint. Freema was quite good in the role of her clone working for the Sontarans but she was rather underwritten when compared to the way that she was portrayed in the previous season. That is probably because she is no longer the main companion, but if that is the case then why bother having her in the episode at all.

Her presence is not exactly vital to the plot, as there could have had somebody else being cloned by the Sontarans. It didn’t need to be Martha. It was the same with Captain Jack in the last three episodes of series 3, he was there but he didn’t really need to be there and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if he weren’t.

It made me smile the way that Donna kept on calling the Sontarans ‘sonteruns’ instead of Sontarans. I mean it not a commonly used word is it so she can be forgiven for not be able to say their name properly for the first few times. I suppose that it never really struck me as odd that all of the Doctor’s companions were able to pronounce strange sounding alien names and races and planets without so much as a by or leave when the rest of us might have had the same difficulty as Donna did, and tried pronouncing it phonetically.

Colonel Mace stepped up the plate more in the episode that he did in The Sontaran Stratagem and was a perfectly capable UNIT Commander than he was in the previous episode. The look on his face when that UNIT female officer snogged his face off after the gas had dispersed was priceless! I think that Colonel Mace will probably end up being one of those one-off UNIT leaders much like Colonel Faraday. He was better here and there was a nice use of the valiant in this episode, a lot better use than it had in Last of the Timelords.

There was even a nice reference to the whereabouts of the Brigadier (who has become a knight of the realm since his appearance in Battlefield), which was just right for that moment, and showed that they hadn’t just forgotten about him. It worked bringing Sarah Jane back, but I am convinced that bringing the Brigadier back would work in the same way, perhaps in The Sarah Jane Adventures but not here. I can’t quite work out what he would be doing in Peru. He must be knocking on 80 and he was retired by the time of Battlefield which was about 19 years ago (both in reality and in the context of the stories as well)! Still at least he isn’t in a nursing home wiling away his final years, or dead.

The Poison Sky wasn’t as exciting as The Sontaran Stratagem, but it was a nice ending to the first two parter of the fourth series and was not the disaster that Evolution of the Daleks was last series. It was nice to see the Sontarans return and Helen Raynor should be proud of the way that she wrote them, but I don’t think I would like a return performance by them for a long time yet. They work best in small doses and now this is five appearances in 35 years by them, which is quite a lot by anyone standards. Christopher Ryan was the best Sontaran since Linx and his performance is one that will stand the test of time unlike Derek Deadman’s in The Invasion of Time.

One Potato, Two Potato

Doctor Who : The Sontaran Strategem

The Sontaran Stratagem was a rollicking good episode in classic old-school fashion. It had U.N.I.T (last seen properly on television in 1989, and when I say properly I mean actually being a part of the episode and having more than one line or two before people say that they have appeared in the new series before), Sontarans (last seen on television in 1985) a cliffhanger, and the return of a previous companion. It could well have been a Pertwee story but luckily only lasts the length of an old four parter rather than an old six parter.

It is about time that we have seen the return of the Sontarans, as they are one of the best of the original series alien races, despite the fact that they have only appeared in four television stories and were well due a reimagining by Neill Gorton and his team, and I would say that they did a good job and the Sontaran masks themselves are pretty impressive, as are the cgi effects for the Sontaran ships and spheres.

In fact this story is the best we have seen of the Sontarans since 1975’s The Sontaran Experiment. Here they are seen in classic warmongering form complete with their own war chant. This is how the Sontarans should be seen, and I am very impressed with the way that Helen Raynor has characterised them, as I am sure Robert Holmes would be if he were still with us.

The idea of them having a war chant is such an obvious one that it is quite surprising that this had never been seen before. However I am not sure we have seen as many Sontarans, as we did in this episode, ever before in the show. I could be wrong and I am sure that someone will correct me one of these days.

Raynor had certainly watched The Time Warrior and The Sontaran Experiment to get an idea of how they should be portrayed because even the late, great Robert Holmes dropped the ball on The Two Doctors.

Christopher Ryan was excellent as General Staal the undefeated, he even managed to sound more like Kevin Lindsay’s Sontarans than any of the other actors to portray Sontaran commanders since, and was a very typical Sontaran, obsessed with war and with the superiority of the Sontaran race.

It was mentioned that the Sontaran’s are a cloned race and one of the characters questioned how they could tell each other apart, but you can tell the two main Sontaran’s apart. They look similar but not exactly the same. That has always been the case in Sontaran stories when they have more that one Sontaran minus helmet, in the same scene.

You could argue that as a cloned race they should all look exactly the same, but the only way to achieve that would have been to have Christopher Ryan playing every speaking Sontaran, like Deep Roy in the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film did when he played every Oompa Loompa, but I guess that the budget didn’t stretch to that for these episodes, so they did what they always did and had two actors of a similar build and height to play the main Sontarans.

It sounds like a nitpick, but that is something I have heard other people talk about so I thought it worth a mention, but it doesn’t make any difference to me at all. They even managed to get the joke, about Sontaran’s looking like baked potatoes, in the episode itself, which was nice, as I am sure that the kids of today will be running around shouting that after these episodes have aired.

We also had the return of Martha, fresh from her adventures with Torchwood and now engaged to Tom Milligan from Last of the Timelords. There was a lovely non-bitchy scene between Donna and Martha when they met and it was nice that two female companions met up and were not cat-fighting over who liked the Doctor more. It was Donna who first noticed that Martha was engaged, because the Doctor is obviously above such mundane trivialities as that, and the Doctor seemed a bit put out by that.

Was that a little jealousy from the Doctor after a companion had left him and moved on, which it took Sarah Jane more than thirty years to do? I think that it might have been, and my wife agrees with me.

So now we know what that scene in the trailer was all about when we saw Martha dripping wet and covered in goo (it wasn’t the spurtings of fan boys, at the return of Martha, as I first suggested on this very blog!) Freema Agyeman looks like she is having a lot of fun playing an evil version of Martha and it’s going to be interesting how this clone interacts with the Doctor and Donna!

The scene when Donna said to the Doctor that she was going home and the Doctor (and probably ten’s of fans) assumed that she was leaving him, when she only meant that she was popping back for a visit. Tens of fans hearts stopped beating when they realised that she wasn’t leaving after all, and that they would have to put up with her more for another nine episodes at least, even though they knew full well that she was going to be in every episode of this series.

U.N.I.T. are portrayed more of a military might than they were in the nineteen seventies and they even get a jibe about U.N.I.T dating in there with ‘was it in the seventies, or the eighties’ or something like that when they were much more homespun as the Doctor commented. Their portrayal here was more akin to the U.N.I.T that featured in the Torchwood episode Fragments.

The new U.N.I.T. commander Colonel Mace (played by Rupert Holliday-Evans best know to a lot of people as one of the doubletake brother’s from Harry Enfields TV Programme – he even has the same hairstyle he had in that show as well) was not a particularly memorable head of U.N.I.T. when compared to the Brigadier’s first appearance. However I am not sure that we will see much more of him after these episodes, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he doesn’t make it out the story alive. That might explain why he doesn’t really have much of a character, the same which can be said for the other U.N.I.T. soldiers in this episode.

I can only hope that next week’s episode, The Poison Sky, can live up to the hype that this first episode has created. The next week trailer after the closing credits certainly looks exciting but you can never judge an episode by the trailer, as we have learned so many times watching Doctor Who over the years.

The two important questions as far as I am concerned are this:
Will Wilf survive?
Will it be the Doctor or Donna who works out that Martha is a Sontaran clone first?