The Unicorn and the Wasp

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194 – "The Unicorn and the Wasp"
Doctor Who episode
A giant wasp confronts a man.
The Doctor is confronted with the Vespiform.
Directed byGraeme Harper
Written byGareth Roberts
Script editorLindsey Alford
Produced bySusie Liggat
Executive producer(s)Russell T Davies
Julie Gardner
Phil Collinson
Incidental music composerMurray Gold
Production code4.7
SeriesSeries 4
Length45 minutes
First broadcast17 May 2008 (2008-05-17)
← Preceded by
"The Doctor's Daughter"
Followed by →
"Silence in the Library"
Doctor Who episodes (2005–present)

"The Unicorn and the Wasp" is the seventh episode of the fourth series of the revived British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was aired by BBC One on 17 May 2008 at 19:00.[2][3]

Set in an English manor house in 1926, shortly before the disappearance of crime fiction novelist Agatha Christie (played in the episode by Fenella Woolgar) the episode is a murder-mystery storyline where a shapeshifting giant wasp, in disguise as one of the party guests, murders the other guests using methods similar to those in the novels of Christie, who is also a guest.


The Doctor lands the TARDIS outside a manor house somewhere in Surrey, England in 1926. He and Donna invite themselves to a dinner party hosted by Lady Clemency Eddison and her husband Colonel Hugh Curbishley. They are thrilled to find one of the guests is Agatha Christie, and the Doctor realises that they have arrived on the day that she will inexplicably disappear for ten days. One of the guests, Professor Peach, is found dead, bludgeoned with a drainage pipe, and the Doctor uses his psychic paper to convince the rest of them that he is from Scotland Yard and Donna is his assistant.

Together with Agatha, he begins investigating. They discover a viscous substance left behind by the killer that the Doctor identifies as morphic residue. He concludes that the murderer is an alien in human form. The Doctor and Agatha question the guests while Donna searches the bedrooms for clues. While searching in a room that had previously been empty for 40 years, Donna hears a strange buzzing noise. Opening the curtains, she sees, instead of a harmless, trapped bee like she expected, there is a ridiculously gigantic wasp outside. It smashes through the window and attacks Donna, but she fights back with light from a magnifying glass and the creature embeds its sting in the door but escapes through the window before the Doctor and Agatha arrive. The Doctor examines the wasp's sting embedded in the door, and collects a honey like-substance from the sting. The alien kills the housekeeper, Miss Chandrakala, by crushing her with a gargoyle, and the Doctor, Donna, and Agatha chase it but it returns to human form before they catch it. When they regroup in the study, the Doctor identifies the substance he collected as Vespiform venom, an extraterrestrial wasp species that lives in the Silfrax Galaxy. Suddenly, the Doctor is poisoned with cyanide in lemonade laced with bitter almonds. His Time Lord physiology allows him to detoxify, with Donna's help. The poisoning inspires him to add pepper to the dinner meal, since the piperine in it would act as an insecticide. As they eat, the guests hear the wasp but the lights in the room are blown out before the alien's identity is revealed. When the lights are restored, they discover that Lady Eddison's necklace has been stolen and that her son Roger has been stabbed in the back with a bread knife.

The Doctor assembles the remaining guests in the sitting room, where he and Agatha reveal what they have discovered. Agatha exposes the Unicorn (the thief, but not the murderer) as one of the guests, Lady Robina Redmond, when she says "toilet" instead of the upper class saying "loo" and drops her posh accent for an East End one. Then the Doctor deduces that Lady Eddison's shutting herself away for months, years ago, allegedly due to malaria, was actually due to her becoming impregnated by another Vespiform while travelling in India in 1885. The Vespiform gave Lady Eddison the necklace before he died; unbeknownst to her, it links her telepathically with their child. The Doctor further reveals that the child, whom she gave up for adoption, is really Reverend Golightly. Recently, during a bout of anger and via the telepathic link, the Reverend had become aware of his alien nature and absorbed the details of the murder mystery his mother was reading at the time, Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The details of the book prompted him to kill in a fashion inspired by it.

In a burst of anger, Golightly transforms into the Vespiform and threatens the guests. Agatha grabs the necklace and lures him away while driving towards the nearby Silent Pool, with the Doctor and Donna close behind. When they catch up with Agatha, Donna grabs the necklace from her and throws it into the water, prompting the wasp to dive in after it and drown. Due to her own connection with the necklace, Agatha suffers as the wasp dies, but right before the end he severs the link, sparing Agatha but rendering her unconscious. The Doctor realises this is the event that gave her the amnesia during her disappearance, and uses the TARDIS to quietly drop her off near the Harrogate Hotel ten days later. Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor shows Donna Agatha's novel Death in the Clouds, in which there is a giant wasp on the cover. The Doctor explains that his copy was printed in the year 5,000,000,000 and that Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time.


The Doctor produces items from a chest of items beginning with C, including a Cyberman chest-plate from "The Age of Steel", the head of a Greco-Roman statue (possibly depicting Caecilius from "The Fires of Pompeii"), and the crystal ball in which the Carrionites are trapped from "The Shakespeare Code" (which he playfully shakes).

Early in the episode, the Doctor states his desire to meet Agatha Christie. This is a reference to "Last of the Time Lords".

Donna remarks that meeting Agatha Christie during a murder mystery would be as preposterous as meeting "Charles Dickens surrounded by ghosts at Christmas", unknowingly describing the events of "The Unquiet Dead".

When Donna talks to Agatha about her cheating husband, she recalls her own engagement to Lance in which she found out he was using her, briefly mentioning the Empress of Racnoss as "a giant spider". This is a reference of the 2006 Christmas episode "The Runaway Bride".

The Doctor has a flashback scene when unravelling motives with Agatha Christie. He is shown in medieval Belgium with a bow and quiver of arrows on his back. His voiceover explains that he was deep in the Ardennes, looking for Charlemagne who was "kidnapped by an insane computer". Christie interrupts before he can paint a full picture; however the events are fully explored on Doctor Who's BBC website in the short story "The Lonely Computer."[4]



The episode is written by Gareth Roberts, who previously wrote the pseudohistorical episode "The Shakespeare Code". Roberts was given a fourth series episode to write after executive producer Russell T Davies reviewed Roberts' script for "The Shakespeare Code". Several months later, he received an email from the production team which said "Agatha Christie".[5] The idea for a murder mystery featuring Agatha Christie came originally from producer Phil Collinson.[6]

Roberts, a self-confessed fan of Christie's works, made the episode into a comedy. Roberts based the episode on his favourite Christie works: Crooked House, which focuses on secrets within an aristocratic society, and the 1982 film adaptation of Evil Under the Sun. Speaking of both works, Roberts noted that it was "quite strange writing a modern Doctor Who with posh people in it. We don't really see posh people on television anymore, except at Christmas", and "there's something funny about the veneer of upper class respectability and the truth of any family underneath". He also stated that "there's really nothing nicer than watching a lot of English actors hamming it up in a vaguely exotic location... and then somebody's murdered!" The episode's title was deliberately chosen to sound "vaguely Christie-ish", but Roberts admitted that "[Christie] never used 'the blank and the blank' construction".[5]

In writing the episode, Roberts aimed to make the episode a "big, fun, all-star murder mystery romp". He was influenced by advice given by Davies, who wanted Roberts to "go funnier" with every draft, and former Doctor Who script editor Douglas Adams' advice that "a danger one runs is that the moment you have anything in the script that's clearly meant to be funny in some way, everybody thinks 'oh well we can do silly voices and silly walks and so on', and I think that's exactly the wrong way to do it". Using this advice, he used the adage that in comedy, the characters do not realise the humour, and cited Basil Fawlty's mishaps in Fawlty Towers as an example.[5]

In an interview with Doctor Who Magazine, Roberts stated that "to a certain extent [there was less pressure]" in writing the episode. He was pleased with the success of "The Shakespeare Code" and The Sarah Jane Adventures two-parter Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?, but likened himself to Corporal Bell, a member of the administrative staff at the fictional Doctor Who organisation UNIT, in saying that he did not wish to be "in the middle of things" or writing episodes "where big, pivotal things have happened to [the Doctor]".[5]

Roberts and Davies held an unofficial contest to see how many references to Christie's works could be inserted. Titles that were noted were: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; Why Didn't They Ask Evans; The Body in the Library; The Secret Adversary; N or M?; Nemesis; Cat Among the Pigeons; Dead Man's Folly; They Do It With Mirrors; Appointment with Death; Cards on the Table; Sparkling Cyanide; Endless Night; Crooked House; Death in the Clouds; The Moving Finger; Taken at the Flood; Death Comes as the End; Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder at the Vicarage. A deleted scene referred to The Man in the Brown Suit, referring to the Doctor's clothing. The narrative itself parallels several of Christie's novels: the jewel theft storyline parallels The Secret of Chimneys; Miss Chandrakala's death was influenced by And Then There Were None; and the Colonel's revelation that he was not disabled paralleled a key concept of The Pale Horse.[7] In an email conversation with journalist Benjamin Cook, Davies admitted he had initially added a reference to the original title of And Then There Were None, Ten Little Niggers, but decided it was too risky.

Cast notes[edit]

David Tennant's father Alexander McDonald had a silent cameo as a footman in one of the early scenes, after being asked to act when visiting David on set.[8]

The casting of Fenella Woolgar as Agatha Christie was made at the suggestion of David Tennant, who had previously worked with her on Bright Young Things and He Knew He Was Right.[8] She later played Hellan Femor in the audio play The Company of Friends and Morella Wendigo in Nevermore.

Fenella Woolgar had previously appeared in an episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot, "Lord Edgware Dies" as Elis, and has since appeared in the episode "Hallowe'en Party" as Elizabeth Whittaker. David Quilter has also made an appearance, "The Million Dollar Bond Robbery".

Christopher Benjamin, who plays Colonel Curbishley, previously starred in two serials of the original Doctor Who series, playing Sir Keith Gold in Inferno (1970) and Henry Gordon Jago in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977).


The music playing at the garden party is the "Twentieth Century Blues", originally from Noël Coward's 1931 play Cavalcade. The recording used here, edited together with other period music, is a 1931 recording of 'Love is the Sweetest Thing' by Ray Noble and the New Mayfair Orchestra, featuring vocalist Al Bowlly.


A framing device featuring the aged Agatha Christie (played by Daphne Oxenford) trying to recall the events that took place during her disappearance was deleted because the producers felt it diminished the story's urgency. The original ending featured the Doctor and Donna visiting the elderly Christie; a new ending in the TARDIS set was filmed after the producers decided to cut the framing sequence, much later than the filming for the rest of the story.

The framing sequence and another scene cut for time are present on the Doctor Who Series 4 DVD box set.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

BARB figures show that "The Unicorn and the Wasp", was watched by 8.41 million viewers, making it the second most popular programme of the day (behind ITV's Britain's Got Talent) and the seventh most watched programme of the week.[9] The episode received an Appreciation Index score of 86 (considered "Excellent").[10]

Jordan Thomas, the lead director of the game BioShock 2, stated that his creation of the game's character of Sofia Lamb was inspired by Fenella Woolgar's portrayal of Agatha Christie in this episode, and Woolgar was hired to voice the character. The game also has a character named Grace Holloway in it, a reference to the companion of the same name in the 1996 Doctor Who TV film.[11]


  1. ^ "Interview". Doctor Who Confidential. BBC. May 2008.
  2. ^ BBC - Press Office - Network TV Programme Information Week 21 Saturday 17 May 2008
  3. ^ "Network TV Programme Information Week 21 Saturday 17 May 2008". BBC Press Office. Retrieved 3 May 2008.
  4. ^ Laight, Rupert. "The Lonely Computer". BBC. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d "Script Doctors". Doctor Who Magazine (393). 6 March 2008. pp. 48–52.
  6. ^ "Phil's Full Of Ideas! Executive Producer on Collinson's Series Four suggestions". Doctor Who: News. BBC. 14 August 2008. Archived from the original on 26 October 2008. Retrieved 16 August 2008.
  7. ^ Pixley, Andrew (14 August 2008). "The Unicorn and the Wasp". Doctor Who Magazine. Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Panini Comics. The Doctor Who Companion: Series Four (Special Edition 20): 82–93.
  8. ^ a b "Nemesis". Doctor Who Confidential. Season 4. Episode 7. 17 May 2008. BBC. BBC Three.
  9. ^ "Weekly Viewing Summary w/e 18 May 2008". BARB. 28 May 2008. Retrieved 28 May 2008.
  10. ^ "Unicorn and the Wasp - AI and Digital Ratings". Outpost Gallifrey. 19 May 2008. Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2008.
  11. ^ "BioShock 2 Podcast Episode Nine: Sofia Lamb" at the Cult of Rapture

External links[edit]