Everybody obviously had a blast making the latest episode of Doctor Who, with its endless swirly flashbacks and parade of 1920s stereotypes. It reminded me of Clue more than Agatha Christie, with its almost epileptic non-stop winking. It works pretty well, despite a more-nonsense-than-usual storyline, because of an amazing cast of Brit-TV stalwarts. Spoilers and maybe a little snark, below the fold.
This was basically the latest in a line of historical-writer episodes, including the Dickens episode and the Shakespeare episode. (The show even winked at the fact that we'd been here before, with Donna joking about meeting Dickens at Christmas time, with ghosts, not realizing that had actually happened.) The latest iteration, the Agatha Christie episode, worked about as well as the Dickens episode and the Shakespeare episode, except that the concept is a little less fresh now.
The main thing that's slightly annoying about all three of those famous-writer episodes, actually, is the way they try to pay homage to the writer's work by building the plot around it. I was able to forgive a lot in the Dickens episode because the plot about the "ghosts" actually sort of made sense, and I liked the fact that Dickens came up with the way to destroy the ghosts, using science. That was a really nice bit. The Shakespeare episode was more silly, but at least there was a reason the "witches" wanted to put their jargon into the manuscript of Shakespeare's lost play "Love's Labors Won." (They wanted to use Shakespeare's hold over his audience to open a rift in blah-dy-blah, whatever.)
Actually, thinking about it, the Dickens episode had one other thing the Dickens and Christie episodes didn't — there's a moment where the Doctor and Rose are trapped in the cage in the basement with the Gelth, and they realize they're going to die. And the Doctor apologizes to Rose for getting her killed. The moment drags out a little too long, but it's still something Doctor Who made an effort to do back in its first season, and no longer bothers with.
Anyway, back to the Christie episode. Here's the plot, and why it was nonsensical. So there's this alien wasp creature, which comes to Earth in human form. And it meets a lovely young Earth woman and falls in love with her. They get together and make a half-wasp, half-human baby. The woman gives the baby away, but keeps a jewel that is some kind of psychic activator for it. And then one night, she's reading an Agatha Christie novel just as the half-wasp half-human chimera gets "activated." So the creature is psychically bonded with Agatha Christie. And it decides to kill the people who learn the truth about it, in the manner of a Christie novel.
Why wouldn't the creature be bonded with its mother? You know, the person it shares genetic material with? And the one who was actually wearing the psychic jewel thingy when it was activated? I know, it's just a way to have an episode with a monster and an Agatha Christie-style set of murders.
But I'll stop picking nits now. In general, this was a fun bit of fluff, and it really worked because of the cast. I pretty much suspend my critical faculties any time Felicity Kendall is on screen, and Fenella Woolgar was great as Christie as well. Christopher Hugh has been in so many great British shows in the past, including Who once or twice, that it's fun to watch him do anything, and his bizarre metatextual flashback involving remembering sitting in a chair remembering the can-can girls was just so demented it fell into wonderful.
Oh, and I just remembered: I loved the starchy reverend starting to become upset and saying "zzz" more and more, until he turned into a giant wasp. Best moment ever. No idea why I loved it so much, I just did.
Sadly, Catherine Tate annoyed me a bit more than usual this time — the constant "Copyright Donna Noble," the rudeness to the poor servants, and the gratuitous kiss were all way too grating. She's starting to have the same problem that Rose did in season two — because she's got this amazing privilege of traveling with the Doctor, she's all detached from events and can laugh at everyone and everything around her. It makes her not very sympathetic, and also makes me hate the Doctor a little bit. They're like obnoxious tourists.
Oh, and I just remembered one other thing that bugged me slightly: we're told at the start that Agatha Christie vanished for 10 days and then reappeared with amnesia. And then the Doctor is instrumental in making that verison of events happen. Even though at one point he throws in a pro-forma thing about how things may happen differently this time. Which is it? Is the Doctor just making things happen the way they're "supposed" to? It feels like another example of the show trying to have things both ways.
Bottom line: I liked this episode quite a bit despite the nonsense plot and the feeling that I'd seen it all before. It works quite well as fun fluff, and the cast totally carries it. I probably would have liked it a lot better if it hadn't been the latest fluff episode in a season full of fluff, but that's not the fault of this episode.