A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “The Unicorn and the Wasp”

Doctor Who


Doctor Who loves Agatha Christie. Just a few weeks ago, we saw the premiere of “Mummy on the Orient Express,” an interstellar reinterpretation of Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express. But that wasn’t the first Agatha-themed episode: back in season four, David Tennant went full Poirot to solve a whodunit in a big old mansion. This was classic Christie—except with an elephant-sized wasp.

Quick recap: sometime in the 1920s, Donna and the Doctor land the TARDIS outside the home of Lady Eddison, where a high-class party is just kicking off. Using his psychic paper, the Doctor gains access to the festivities, where he meets a host of partygoers—each with something to hide. There’s Reverend Golightly, the mild-mannered man of God; Roger, Lady Eddison’s secretly gay son; Robina Redmond, the flapper It Girl; Colonel Hugh Curbishly, Lady Eddison’s smutty-magazine-reading husband; and the Lady herself, who sneaks nips of liquor when she says she’s drinking tea. Oh, and Agatha Christie, whose husband just left her in the lurch. So when one of the party guests is found dead—followed by the deaths of two others—the Doctor and Ms. Christie must solve the crime.

This episode plays off a fun real-life mystery. In December 1926, Christie’s husband told her he was leaving her for another woman—after which she disappeared from her home. Her car was discovered by a lake soon after, but she was not found for 10 days. Christie never explained what happened, and doctors diagnosed her with amnesia. Now Doctor Who tries to fill in the blanks: by suggesting she lost her memory in a telepathic melee with an amulet and a human-turned-wasp. Seems plausible!

There’s no denying that this is a corny episode—but that’s probably kind of the point. Christie’s novels are not about realistic crime-solving or subtle character development. It’s all a game of Clue: fun and fairly easy. While these types of episodes, which reinterpret well-known cultural/historical moments or people (think season eight’s Robin Hood episode, or season three’s “The Shakespeare Code”), don’t spur any major plot developments, they do play an important role in the series overall. Watching Doctor Who isn’t just about envisioning outer space or the future, or about heavy musings on humanity’s place in the universe—it’s also about reimagining the past. These playful episodes are more than relief from the drama. They also satisfy Doctor Who fans’ desire for more fantastical versions of history.

As a side note, I’d like Donna to have some sort of romance. She obviously wants some sort of romance, but the show has bogged her down as a bit hopeless in love. Just because she and the Doctor aren’t going to be smooching it up—unless she needs to extract wasp venom from his lungs, which she did—doesn’t mean she can’t smooch someone else. I really appreciate the comedy and strong-willed personality Donna brings to the show. But just because she’s a goof, doesn’t mean she’s not a romantic prospect.

And speaking of romantic prospects, it seems River Song enters the picture next episode. Very curious to learn what that’s all about.f