Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp
(1 episode, s04e07, 2008)
The mystery meets the mystery writer.
The TARDIS materializes to the scent of mint and lemonade in the air. If the vintage car in the drive is any indication, it’s the 1920s and Donna’s excited to attend a party with Professor Peach, Reverend Golightly, and the butler Greeves. The Doctor produces his psychic paper, meaning that invitations are all taken care of.
Unfortunately, the party will be one short Professor Peach falls victim to the lead pipe in the library. The suspect is a giant wasp.
The Doctor and Donna are greeted at the party by Lady Clemency Eddison. They also meet Colonel Hugh Curbishley (Lady Eddison’s husband), their son Roger (who flirts with Davenport, a servant), Reverend Golightly, socialite Robina Redmond, Miss Chandrakala, and the famous mystery writer Agatha Christie.
It’s a regular game of Clue.
The Doctor notes the date of the newspaper: It’s the day of Agatha Christie’s disappearance. Her car will be found abandoned and she’ll resurface ten days later with no memory. Her husband has recently cheated on her, but she’s maintaining a stiff upper lip.
Meanwhile, Miss Chandrakala finds Professor Peach, and the Doctor stands in as a police officer with a plucky assistant to boot. The Doctor finds alien residue – Donna’s beside herself that Charles Dickens was actually surrounded by ghosts at Christmas – then teams up with Christie to question the guests while Donna looks about with a magnifying glass from the Doctor’s endless pockets.
Each of the guests has an extraordinary story of where they were at the time of the murder, but there are no alibis. Each is hiding something except for the reverend. The Doctor asks Christie about the paper she picked up from the murder scene, and together they discover the word “maiden” on it.
Upstairs, Donna finds an empty bedroom. Greeves informs her that Lady Eddison has kept the room shut for the last 40 years, after spending six months in it recovering from malaria following her return from India. Inside, Donna finds nothing but a teddy bear and a giant murderous wasp. She attacks it with the magnifying glass and the power of the sun, and the Doctor and Christie arrive to sample the stinger that it left behind.
Miss Chandrakala is murdered by a falling statue. When the Doctor, Donna, and Christie find her, the wasp attacks, but the Doctor cannot find it after it flies off. The guests convene in a sitting room and talk through the events with Christie, but she’s discouraged because she doesn’t know what’s going on. All they have is the clue in Miss Chandrakala’s dying words: “The poor little child…”
Later, she confides in Donna that she feels like the events are mocking her. They commune over lost loves before finding a box in a crushed flowerbed. The Doctor, Donna, and Christie examine the as Greeves brings refreshments, but the Doctor soon realizes that he’s been poisoned by cyanide. A short comedic scene later – complete with ginger beer, walnuts, anchovies, and a shocking kiss from Donna – and the Doctor has detoxed.
The cast gather for dinner, which the Doctor has laced with pepper to test each guest to see if they are the wasp. The lights go out, the wasp appears, and Roger is dead after being stung in the back. Greeves is cleared by being in plain sight during the murder, but Lady Eddison’s necklace (the “Firestone”, a priceless gem from India) is missing.
The Doctor encourages Christie to solve it, knowing that she has the ability. Christie works her way around the assembled guests, uncovering Robina as a thief known as the Unicorn. The Firestone is recovered, but the murderer is still at large.
Christie further (accidentally) uncovers that Colonel Curbishley has been faking his wheelchair-bound disability in order to keep his wife’s affections. She also discovers that Lady Eddison came home from India pregnant, with Miss Chandrakala as a maid and confidante, and had to seclude herself to hide the scandal and the shame.
But, as the Doctor discovers, her tryst was with a vespiform visitor from another world. The alien gave her the jewel and a child, who was taken to an orphanage, and whose identity was uncovered by Professor Peach since “maiden” led to “maiden name”. The Doctor works his way around the room, landing on the reverend who had recently thwarted a robbery in his church. He also notes that the reverend is forty years old, and pieces together that Golightly’s anger broke the genetic lock that kept him in human form. Golightly activated, and the jewel – a telepathic recorder – connected mother and son, including the works of Agatha Christie since Lady Eddison was reading her favorite, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
The reverend transforms in rage, and Christie leads the wasp away with the Firestone, believing that this whole thing is her fault. The Doctor and Donna pursue Christie to the nearby lake, realizing that the two are linked. Donna seizes the jewel and throws it into the lake. The wasp follows and drowns, and while the Doctor is aghast at its death, the three of them are relieved that the mystery is solved. Before the wasp dies, it releases Christie from the psychic connection, and the Doctor puts history in motion: The events of the night are erased from her mind and the mystery writer turns up ten days later Harrogate Hotel courtesy of the TARDIS.
The Doctor consoles Donna about the adventure, showing her that Agatha Christie’s memory lived on. She got married again, wrote about Miss Marple and Murder on the Orient Express (which Donna had mentioned during the night’s events), and even published a story about a giant wasp. The last one – Death in the Clouds, filed away after Cybermen and Carrionites – was reprinted in the year five billion, making Agatha Christie the most popular writer of all time.
Donna reminds the Doctor that Christie never thought that her work was any good. He replies simply:
Well, no one knows how they’re going to be remembered. All we can do is hope for the best. Maybe that’s what kept her writing. Same thing keeps me traveling.
With that, they fly onwards to the next adventure.
This story was a rapid-fire mystery, and the power of the acting mixed with the pace kept it entertaining throughout. Fenella Woolgar’s turn as Agatha Christie was well done, mixing her intellect and modesty about her craft with the pain and tragedy of her husband’s betrayal. I particularly liked Christie’s gradual awakening to the Doctor’s alien nature, best evidenced in the scenes where they interrogated the guests using each other’s strengths to unravel the mystery.
Combine that with the chemistry between Tennant and Tate bulldozing through a game of Clue and you have a rather entertaining (if not bloody) dinner party.
The final words that the Doctor uses to summarize his ethos remind me of quote from a recent episode of Outlander. While discussing last words and legacies, a certain character (whose identity I’ll not spoil for fans who haven’t seen the episode yet) said this:
I’d say let history forget my name, so long as my words and my deeds are remembered by those I love.
It doesn’t matter if anyone remembers my name so long as my life made an impact on the people who meant something to me.
Life lessons from the Doctor. Words and ideas to live by.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.