Recap / Doctor Who S30 E7 "The Unicorn and the Wasp"

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Quick! Someone call the exterminators! Roll out the Daleks! We need massive pest control!

Agatha: Agatha Christie.
Donna: What about her?
Agatha: ... That's me.
Donna: No.

The one with Agatha Christie, David Tennant's dad and a giant, blasphemous wasp. In the mansion, with a Big Damn Kiss.

Not necessarily all in that order.

Written by Gareth Roberts.

The Doctor has brought Donna to the twenties for a nice garden party. Meanwhile, a Professor Peach is murdered, in the library, with the lead pipe - and everything suddenly becomes a massive game of Cluedunit!

Also at the party is Agatha Christie herself. Pity she won't remember it: the date is 8 December 1926, and Agatha will mysteriously vanish and turn up ten days later, confused and with no memory of where she'd been. note  Which means that whatever freaked out (not-yet-Dame) Agatha is about to happen. But right now, there's a murder to be solved!

Agatha: Someone should call the police.
The Doctor: We don't have to! Chief Inspector Smith from Scotland Yard. Known as "The Doctor". Miss Noble is the plucky young girl that helps me out.

But who murdered Professor Peach? Was it The Flapper? The Vicar? The Colonel? The mother? The two secretly gay men? The Doctor and Donna are both delighted to be solving a murder mystery together with Agatha, but Agatha reminds them that a) she only writes books and she knows nothing about actual crime solving, and b) murder is not funny and could they please stop squeeing.

Over the course of an afternoon of wacky hijinks that cleverly recall the titles of many of Christie's works (seriously, try it as a drinking game!), the Doctor, Donna and Mrs. Christie all piece together a story of forbidden love, murder, secret identities, abandoned babies and alien bling. In the end, it turns out that the killer (a giant alien wasp — who is a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant AND a giant actual space wasp) was telepathically linked with someone reading a Christie book, which explains why the world suddenly started behaving like a Christie book.

Also, Donna snogs the Doctor, but it makes sense in context and he tasted like anchovy.


Tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Lady Eddison spends a very good fraction of her screen time holding something alcoholic. Including that time she said it was tea.
  • All the Good Men Are Gay: After a somewhat overdone bit of flirting by Roger, only to then see some genuine flirting between him and Davenport.
    Donna: Typical. All the decent men are on the other bus.
    The Doctor: Or Time Lords.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: "When I say giant, I don't mean big, I mean FLIPPING ENORMOUS!"
  • Big Damn Kiss: The Doctor needs a shock. Donna's got a proper one for him. Notably, it's the only bit of intimacy that the two ever share, and it serves to prove that they really are just best mates.
  • Big Secret: Lots of them. Lady Eddison's Mysterious Past, Colonel Hugh's able-bodiedness, Robina Redmond's real identity, and Roger's relationship with the footman.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology:
    • The Doctor's ability to reverse cyanide poisoning using various substances. Actually, some of the Technobabble he spouts is vaguely plausible.
    • Lady Eddison had a baby with an alien wasp.
  • Bitter Almonds: Dropped word-for-word by Agatha herself, followed by a Sparkling Cyanide reference.
  • Blatant Lies: Nearly all the suspects' statements about what they were doing when the murder took place are this, as flashbacks show they were actually having a gay tryst, looking at period porn, etc.
  • Bury Your Gays: Roger. Which, per the trope, would have almost made his sexuality usable in the story in the real 1920's since he was killed, appropriately enough by the Vicar.
  • The Butler Did It: Lampshaded but averted; "At least we know the butler didn't do it."
  • Call-Back: When Donna tries to blend in with socialite talk and by saying "topping day, what?", the Doctor tells her, "No-no-no-no, don't do that", like he did to Rose in "Tooth and Claw" when telling her not to try doing a Scottish accent, and to Martha in "The Shakespeare Code" when telling her to stop using Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe. The very Edwardian Third Doctor greeted people with "topping day, what?" on occasion.
  • The Cameo: The Very Rev. Sandy McDonald, David Tennant's father, plays the footman at the beginning: he's the one in the foreground when Donna orders a Sidecar. (A different footman from the one with whom Roger is in a relationship, by the way.)
  • Changed My Jumper: Donna attempts to dress in an appropriate "flapper" outfit. The Doctor, as usual, just turns up in his brown suit.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The big, dorky magnifying glass is a pretty short-term one; after the Doctor gives it to Donna, she ends up using it about ten minutes later to hold off the giant wasp.
  • Death by Looking Up: Miss Chandrakala, in the courtyard, with the gargoyle.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Donna calls attention to this by sympathizing with Davenport, who has just lost his boyfriend yet cannot even openly mourn because their relationship was illegal in that era.
  • Elephant in the Living Room: Agatha's just learned of her husband's affair, but doesn't want to admit to it (see Stiff Upper Lip). The Doctor reminds Donna of exactly why this was the case.
  • Exposition Beam: Lady Eddison's fire pendant triggered an invisible one that sets off the real killer — her son.
  • Flashback... Back... Back...: The interrogated suspects have flashbacks (complete with wavy line dissolve) while establishing their alibis, revealing that all of them are lying. Then played with when Colonel Curbishley has a flashback within his first flashback. Then the Doctor has a flashback of his own when he recalls hunting in Belgium for Charlemagne, who'd been kidnapped by an insane computer...
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The one interrogation flashback that matches up with the spoken account is by the guy who did it.
    • Agatha Christie's fate at the end foreshadows what happens to Donna in the season finale.
  • Genre Blind:
    Professor Peach: I say... what are you doing with that lead piping?
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: A nice tea party in the Christie Time with Christie herself where being gay was illegal.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • The 1920s porn that Colonel Curbishley secretly looks at. That got more questions from the kids than the gay relationship.
    • Roger and Davenport, after the Vicar recounts stopping two young men from robbing the church.
      Roger: Some of these young boys deserve a decent thrashing.
      Davenport: [with a meaningful look] Couldn't agree more, sir.
    • The Doctor asks the (closeted gay) footman for ginger beer — cockney rhyming slang for "queer".
      Davenport: I beg your pardon?!?
    • When the Doctor runs to the guest quarter where he thinks the wasp is cornered and everyone peeks out of their rooms, Davenport is with Roger in his room. But he is fully clothed — from what we can see.
    • When discussing Lady Eddison's pregnancy and the fact that her lover had given her the Firestone, a jewel on a necklace, the Unicorn mentions that it's just like a man to "flash his family jewels and you end up with a bun in the oven". In some circles, "family jewels" is slang for a man's... private parts. Made even better by the expression the vicar makes in response to the statement.
  • Giant Flyer: Donna, occasionally known to over-exaggerate, is not doing it in this instance. The wasp is ENORMOUS! It's an alien wasp after all.
  • Green Rocks: Well, purple — the alien jewel, the Firestone, that Christopher gave Lady Eddison is a Vespiform telepathic recorder. It beamed the Vicar's full identity into his brain when it was activated, and also beamed in the basic structure of an Agatha Christie novel, making him think the world actually worked that way, leading to the events of the episode.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Half human and half giant space wasp.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Agatha Christie.
  • Historical In-Joke: Christie's historic disappearance was due to a mystery-adventure with a giant space wasp. Who knew?
  • Impersonating an Officer: The Doctor passes himself off as an inspector from Scotland Yard so no one calls the real police, especially because he's just noticed some morphic residue...
  • Improbable Antidote: Apparently, the Doctor can be cured of cyanide poisoning by drinking ginger beer, eating walnuts and anchovies and being kissed by a Fiery Redhead. (Technically, he asked for a shock, but Rule of Funny.)
  • Improvised Weapon: Donna uses a magnifying glass to burn the wasp.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: "Murder at the vicar's rage." Donna's reaction is about the same as the audience.
  • Inflationary Dialogue: The Doctor gushing to Christie.
    "Oh, I love your stuff. What a mind! You fool me every time. Well, almost every time. Well, once or twice. Well, once. But it was a good once."
  • Inspiration Nod: The references to Cluedo (Clue for Americans) are clear. They make sure to work in Reverend Golightly (Reverend Green), Colonel Curbishly (Colonel Mustard) and Professor Peach (Plum). Similarly, Robina Redmond, Lady Eddison and Miss Chandrakala the housekeeper fit the typical characteristics of Miss Scarlet, Mrs. Peacock, and Mrs. White pretty well. They really hammer it home with the "Professor Peach in the Library with the Lead Piping" line, because that's how you might say it when you declare that you want to make an accusation.
  • Interrogation Montage: When the Doctor is questioning all the dinner guests about the murder of Professor Peach, he gathers them all together and then talks about the investigation.
  • Interspecies Romance: Lady Eddison and Christopher the Vespiform.
  • It's Always Spring: This episode is supposed to take place in December — which explains the lovely springlike weather present for the entire episode.
  • I Want Grandkids: The Colonel comments that he and his wife are unlikely to have grandchildren, implying that he knows about Roger's sexual orientation.
  • I Will Show You X: Donna will pluck you in a minute.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Donna gives the Doctor a disapproving look when he says "Murder at the vicar's rage."
  • Lampshade Hanging: Via a Continuity Nod — Donna finds the idea of Agatha Christie being involved in a real murder mystery as ridiculous as the idea of finding Dickens surrounded by ghosts at Christmas. The Doctor looks embarrassed, given his own knowledge of what that's like.
  • Magic Pants: Apparently Vespiform can transform their clothes when they take on human form.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Professor Peach, and possibly Miss Redmond, is a Cluedo (Clue for our American readers) reference. In fact the Cluedo-ness of the situation is lampshaded by Donna.
    Donna: I mean... Professor Peach, in the library, with the lead piping?
    • The shapeshifting alien wasp is called a Vespiform. Which is Latin for guess what: wasp-shaped.
  • Mistaken Confession: As Christie and the Doctor expose the house's secrets, the Colonel cracks and admits he doesn't need his wheelchair... much to their surprise.
    Agatha: Actually, I was going to say you're completely innocent. Sorry.
  • Mistaken for Romance: Agatha Christie briefly mistakes the Doctor and Donna for a couple before pointing out that neither is wearing a wedding ring.
  • Never One Murder: The story starts off with Professor Peach's murder but then the killer strikes again before the mystery is solved.
  • Newspaper Dating: Played with. The Doctor uses sensory clues like Professor Peach's vintage car and the smells around him to determine that they are in the 1920s, then uses a newspaper to determine that they have landed on December 8, 1926. Subverted in that they are at a garden party on a sunny, warm, day with lush greenery all around. In England. In December.
  • Noodle Incident: The Doctor has been hunting in Belgium for Charlemagne, who'd been kidnapped by an insane computer. We don't know why, when or how this occurred (we can guess that the Doctor did something to cause it, he usually does!), but it may be related to the events occurring at the end of "Blink", as the Doctor has the same bow from that episode.
  • NOT!: The Unicorn, in the more antiquated version.
    The Unicorn: Ever so nice to meet you, I don't fink.
  • The Noun and the Noun: The Unicorn and the Wasp.
  • Obfuscating Disability: A sympathetic take on it. Colonel Hugh pretends to be crippled, because he believes it's the only way a guy like him could keep his beautiful wife from leaving him for a more handsome man.
  • Oblivious Mockery: Donna's joke about meeting Charles Dickens "and he's surrounded by ghosts — at Christmas." The Doctor wisely doesn't admit he's done just that.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Doctor's reaction upon looking at a newspaper and realizing that today is the day Agatha Christie will disappear.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: After the Mistaken Confession, Agatha, completely taken aback, slips from RP into Fenella Woolgar's Estuary English. Robina Redmond, when outed as the Unicorn, also briefly lapses into her real accent.
  • Overly Long Gag: The far too long and extensive protestations of the gay guy that he was alone.
  • Parlour Games: Charades, after the Doctor gets poisoned (and Donna is terrible at it — "How is Harvey Wallbanger one word?!").
  • Pass the Popcorn: Donna seems to be doing this during the drawing-room reveal, though we can't see what it is she's eating. Some glances based on the camera angles suggest green grapes.
  • Plucky Girl: The Doctor invokes this with Donna by calling her "a plucky young girl who helps me out" to explain why she's going to investigate with him as policewomen didn't exist in the 1920s.
  • Porn Stash: What the Colonel was really up to when the murder took place is looking at period porn.
  • Recycled In Space: An Agatha Christie mystery WITH AGATHA CHRISTIE! AND ALIENS!
  • Rummage Fail: At the very end, the Doctor digs through some of his junk in the TARDIS (of the starts-with-a-C variety); before he finds his copy of Death in the Clouds, he pulls out the C logo off a Cyberman's chestplate, the head of a statue (Julius Caesar?), a crystal ball full of Carrionites (still screaming) and a big jumble of cables.
  • Running Gag: The one about the Doctor and Donna not being married and the one where the companion attempts an accent, and the Doctor tells her not to. Hilariously enough, the protestations turn out to be unnecessary; Christie noticed Donna didn't have a wedding ring. note 
  • Samus Is a Girl: The mysterious jewel thief known as the Unicorn is referred to with male pronouns before Agatha correctly identifies The Flapper as her.
  • Shaped Like Itself:
    The Doctor: What do you mean, "a giant wasp"?
    Donna: I mean a wasp, that's GIANT!
  • Shout-Out:
    • Rusty and Gareth Roberts had a bit of fun with the script. Gareth would pop a reference in, send the draft to Rusty, and it'd come back with another one, and so forth. All told, there are about 18 titles of Agatha Christie novels directly referenced in dialogue. Such as...
      • And Then There Were None
      • N or M?note 
      • Crooked Housenote 
      • Taken at the Floodnote 
      • Endless Nightnote 
      • Cat Among the Pigeonsnote 
      • Cards on the Tablenote 
      • Death Comes as the Endnote 
      • The Murder at the Vicaragenote 
      • They Do It with Mirrorsnote 
      • Murder on the Orient Expressnote 
      • Why Didn't They Ask Evans?note 
      • Nemesisnote 
      • Dead Man's Follynote 
      • Sparkling Cyanidenote 
      • The Body in the Library
      • Appointment with Deathnote 
      • The Moving Fingernote 
      • They also have The Man in the Brown Suit (explicitly referred to as such in one of the bonus scenes on the series 4 DVD) solving the mystery of The Body in the Library. The reveal scene has the Doctor doing The Moving Finger.
      • The Doctor also has a copy of Death in the Clouds published in the year 5 billion and then some, no less.
    • And in a non-Christie Shout-Out, Colonel Curbishley's getting up from his wheelchair is from The Real Inspector Hound.
    • I'd like to make an accusation: it was Professor Peach in the library with the lead pipe. Lampshaded by Donna, even. (See Meaningful Name)
  • Solar-Powered Magnifying Glass: Donna scares off the wasp the first time with a detective glass and sunlight.
  • Sssssnaketalk: In this case, "Wazzzzptalk". "Put thozzzzzze thingzzzzz back where you found them! It's-zzzzzzzzzZZZZZ!"
  • Stealth Pun:
    • At the end of the episode the Doctor pulls things filed under "C" from (what else?) a sea-chest.
    • WASP: White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
  • Stiff Upper Lip:
    • "She's British and moneyed. That's what they do; they [posh accent] carry on."
    • When the Doctor remarks that, despite two murders, they are having a normal formal dinner, Lady Eddison simply remarks "We are British."
  • Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism: In this case, she had "malaria" because "pregnant with a half-wasp-alien child" just isn't proper.
  • Summation Gathering: With Donna enjoying the show and repeatedly accusing the wrong people.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Vespiform are helpless against the might of a calm and peaceful lake.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: "Oh, yes, all alone. Totally alone. Absolutely alone. Completely. All of the time. I wandered, lonely as the proverbial cloud. There was no-one else with me; not at all! Not ever!" (flashback shows him flirting and holding hands with his footman)
  • That Came Out Wrong: After the Doctor gets snogged by Donna and subsequently "detoxes"...
    The Doctor: Detox! Mwa! Oh, I must do that more often!
    Donna: ...
    The Doctor: I mean, the... the detox.
  • The Theme Park Version: The writer deliberately went for the popular perception of a Christie novel as opposed to what they're actually like.
  • Title Drop:
    Agatha Christie: The Unicorn. He's here!
    The Doctor: The Unicorn and the Wasp...
  • Troperrific: And the Doctor clearly knows, and is loving every moment of it.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: Most of the "Where were you at a quarter past four?" flashbacks when the Doctor is asking the suspects do not come close to what the character says they were doing, with funny actual stories:
    1. Reverend Golightly says he was unpacking in his room. His is the only one where the narration and the flashback match up. In hindsight, it's also a clue that he's the actual culprit.
    2. Roger says he was going out for a stroll by himself behind the house. We see that he was actually meeting for a little tryst with Davenport.
    3. Robina Redmond says she went to the toilet. This one is partially true: what she isn't mentioning in the narration is that the flashback shows her checking a tiny pistol.
    4. Colonel Hugh says he was in the study remembering memoirs, when we actually see him looking at some erotic photos, which causes him to slip into a second flashback with some can-can dancers. The Doctor has to snap him out of each layer of flashback separately.
    5. Lady Eddison says she was drinking her afternoon tea. We see her actually drinking some spirits from a flask.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Murder at the Vicar's Rage (*ahem*) ensues when the boys are stealing things from the church.
  • Vertigo Effect: On Lady Eddison, when she realizes that the reverend is the child she gave up forty years ago.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: The Unicorn, upon being exposed as both being present and having stolen the Firestone earlier, pulls the gemstone in question out of her décolletege.
  • What the Hell Are You?: Agatha's understandable reaction to the Doctor exhaling deadly poison as a cloud of black smoke.
  • What the Hell, Hero?
    The Doctor: Donna, that thing couldn't help itself.
    Donna: And neither could I!
    • Another one comes when Agatha makes it clear she doesn't approve of the Doctor having fun during the investigation.


Alternative Title(s): Doctor Who NSS 4 E 7 The Unicorn And The Wasp

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Recap/DoctorWhoS30E7TheUnicornAndTheWasp