Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Countdown - The Unicorn And The Wasp

To celebrate the fact that 2013 is the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, we are taking a look back at all of the episodes of the show which featured David Tennant as the Doctor. At the end of our look back we'll be asking you, the fans, to vote for what you think is the ultimate David Tennant episode of Doctor Who....
We continue with the next David Tennant episode.... The Unicorn And The Wasp
Read our previous Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Countdown posts here.

36. The Unicorn And The Wasp

First Broadcast on 17th May 2008. Running Time: 44.43 Minutes. Viewing Figures: 8.4million.
Written By Gareth Roberts.
Directed By Graeme Harper.
Executive Producers Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner. Rating: 10/10.


In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for 10 days. Was it amnesia? A nervous breakdown? Or perhaps a Giant Alien Wasp? The Doctor and Donna join forces with the world's most famous crime novelist to encounter a body in the library, poisoned cocktails and a Vespiform seeking revenge.

Production Notes:
The idea for The Unicorn And The Wasp came from Doctor Who producer Phil Collinson, who back in 2006 happened to mention to Russell T Davies that he had always wanted to see an episode of the show where the Doctor would travel back in time and meet up with legendary crime writer Agatha Christie. Davies was equally excited by the prospect of the Doctor and Christie teaming up to unravel a mystery and decided that the story would be an ideal project from Gareth Roberts to work on.
Roberts had previously written the 2007 episode The Shakespeare Code, where the Doctor and Martha Jones had met up with another historical literary figure, William Shakespeare, and he was a big fan of Agatha Christie so Davies felt he was ideal.

The initial plan was for the episode to be set in the 1960s when Christie was an elderly lady, this was to enable them to portray her a sort of Miss Marple style character, but it was quickly decided that a relatively modern setting wouldn't evoke the atmosphere of a classic Christie style novel and so it was decided to move the adventure to the 1920s, thus giving Roberts the ability to include many key aspects of Christie's life in to the story. 

One particular event in 1926 gave the writer the perfect staple for the story, when Christie was involved in a very mysterious drama in her own real life...
In December 1926 Agatha Christie was going through a particularly difficult and unhappy time. Her mother had passed away earlier in the year and now she had discovered that her husband was having an affair. She vanished from her home and her car was found abandoned near a pond, a huge police hunt was conducted and she was eventually found in a hotel in Harrogate, however she insisted that she had no memory of anything that had happened to her during the eleven days that she was missing from home.
The explanation for what had happened to Christie was never found and she took the secret of what really happened over those eleven days with her to her grave in 1976.
Whatever happened Davies and Roberts agreed that the mystery would certainly make for a brilliant plotline for the episode. The only change to the actual history would be that the episode would be set in the summer of 1926 rather than the winter of 1926 as there was already another episode,The Planet Of The Ood, that was being set in wintry surroundings.

Roberts began working on his script in early 2007 and he and Davies were both keen for the episode to have a strong comedic influence. The main comedy scene was to to centre around the poisoning of the Doctor. This scene was inspired by The Love Invasion, a 2005 Doctor Who Magazine comic strip written by Roberts, and featuring the Ninth Doctor. 
Through early drafts Roberts attempted to make the viewer believe that Christie herself could be the murderer, a real red herring, however he found it unworkable and gave up on the plan.

It was decided that the episode needed a suitable monster and whilst trying to create a creature which would pose as a suitable foe to Christie, Roberts recalled the artwork to a Christie novel, Death In The Clouds. A 1960s cover of the novel, which was first published in 1935, featured a bi plane being chased by a giant wasp. Roberts then began to develop the idea of the Vespiform and so the episode was entitled The Unicorn And The Wasp.

Roberts paid tribute to many aspects of Christie's work throughout the episode; Lady Eddison's first name, Clemency, was a reference to Clemency Leonides from the 1949 novel Crooked House. Roberts and Davies also added mentions of a number of Christie's book titles throughout the script. 
Roberts' cited the traditional murder-mystery boardgame Cluedo as further inspiration behind the episode.
The six prime suspects in episode related to the six key characters of the boardgame - Miss Redmond (Miss Scarlett), Colonel Curbishley (Colonel Mustard), Reverend Golightly (Reverend Green), Professor Peach (Professor Plum),  Lady Eddison (Mrs Peacock), and Miss Chandrakala (Mrs White).
Many of the boardgame's weapons and locations were also spoken about in the script.

In August 2007 David Tennant asked Russell T Davies to rewrite the final scene at the Silent Pool. The original script featured the Doctor smashing the car in to the Vespiform and plunging it in to the pond in order to save the life of Agatha. However Tennant felt uncomfortable that this would be portraying the Doctor as a murderer. 

Agatha Christie's Grandson, Mathew Prichard, became involved with the episode to represent Christie's estate and attended the readthrough for the episode. He was thrilled with the story and was more than happy to give his approval to the Doctor Who representation of his Grandmother.

The Unicorn And The Wasp was filmed alongside The Planet Of The Ood and made up Production Block Two, with Graeme Harper directing. 
Filming began on 8th August at Llansannor Court in the Vale of Glamorgan. Catherine Tate had now rejoined the team and was making her debut as a series regular on set. 
On 8th and 9th August scenes set in the grounds of Eddison Hall were recorded, along with the flashback scene of the Doctor.
David Tennant's father, Sandy McDonald, was visiting him on set on the 9th August, and it was decided to give him a cameo role as one of the footmen, you can spot him early on in the episode.
On the 10th, the action moved inside for the material in the drawing room.

From 13th to the 15th August, the cast and crew set up base at Tredegar House in Newport. The house provided the location for the dining room, the kitchen, the library, Robina's bathroom, and various corridors throughout the episode. During this time the flashback of Christie was also filmed. 

On 16th to 20th August it was back to Llansannor Court for scenes in the drawing room, the study, Reverend Golightly's bedroom, further corridor scenes, and some exterior shots.
St Senwyr's, located in the grounds of Llansannor Court was used to portray Reverend Golightly's church.

On August 21st the team headed back to base at The Upper Boat Studios to use the set for the locked room. This was the only set at Upper Boat to be used for the entire episode. The rest was shot on location.

On the 6th September filming on the episode resumed and the scene of the Doctor, Donna and Agatha Christie driving the car towards the Silent Pool was filmed on Pen Y Lan Road in Newport. The Silent Pool was in fact Cefn Mably Lake in Cefn Mably.

On the 7th September filming took place at Hensol Castle in Hensol, this stood in for the exterior of the Harrogate Hotel. It was also used for a flashback of Lady Eddison's youth and further material involving an elderly Christie set in her hospital ward in 1976.

Further scenes set in 1976, the year of Christie's death, included a scene where Christie called out for the Doctor during a thunder storm, as well as a scene in which the Doctor visited Christie in her last days to give her the copy of Death In The Clouds from the year Five Billion. 
However the episode was overrunning its timeslot and so Harper decided to cut both of the scenes set in 1976. As a result of this a new concluding scene in the TARDIS needed to be shot. This was filmed at the Upper Boat Studios on 16th November, along with a pickup shot of Donna in the locked room.

Agatha Christie: Super Sleuth

Agatha Christie is the most popular crime fiction writer of all time. She was born as Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in Devon in 1890 to an American father Frederick Miller, who died when she was a child, and her mother Clarissa Miller who brought her up and educated her in Torquay.
She married an air force officer just after the start of the First World War and they had a daughter, Rosalind, born in 1919.
Christie’s first novel introduced the world to the now famous Belgian detective ‘Hercule Poirot’ in 1920. He was closely followed by her iconic ‘Miss Marple’ character in 1930. 
In total Agatha Christie wrote more than 70 detective novels as well as romances and a children’s book under various pseudonyms.
As well as her fame as a writer, another thing that Agatha Christie is probably well remembered for is her strange and mysterious disappearance in December 1926.
She was 36 years old and already a successful writer when, on 3rd December she left her home in Surrey. Agatha had been very unhappy before her disappearance. She had recently lost her mother and her husband had revealed to her that he had been enjoying an affair with another woman. 
Her car was found near a pond which led to one of the largest police search operations the country had ever seen, with over a thousand police constables, civilians and for the first time aeroplanes, involved in the search for Agatha Christie.

Photo from 1926 of the search for Agatha in The Silent Pool
The mystery was like something straight out of one of Agatha's own books and for eleven days the whole country wondered what on earth could have happened to her, with many fearing the worst.
Happily on 14th December 1926, Agatha was found, safe and well, living in a Harrogate Hotel. She had checked herself in using the name of her husband's mistress and had eventually been recognised by a banjo player who worked at the hotel.  
Her husband, Colonel Christie came to collect her immediately but she kept him waiting in the hotel lounge whilst she finished dressing for dinner. 
Agatha Christie never spoke about those missing eleven days of her life and over the years there has been much speculation about what happened between 3rd and 14th December 1926...

When we meet the fictional Agatha she is at a garden party being held in her honour by Lady Clemency Eddison and it is the day before her famous disappearance. 
At this point Agatha had only just discovered her husband's affair and had only written six of her seventy plus novels. It was these books which Lady Clemency had read, their plots and their twists that were transmitted telepathically via the firestone gem that she wore to the Vespiform that was Clemency's illegitimate son.
Inspired by the books, the Vespiform turned to murder, until the Doctor, Donna Noble and Agatha exposed the Reverend Golightly as a changeling. Feeling guilty over the murders Agatha stole the firestone and led the Vespiform away from Eddison Hall. When the gem was thrown into The Silent Pool, and the Vespiform followed and drowned. With the psychic link between her and the Vespiform broken, Agatha's memory was erased and ten days later she arrived at a hotel in Harrogate, with no memory of what occurred at Eddison Hall or even that sh had ever been there.

The Vespiform:

The Vespiform was a huge wasp like creature from the Silfrax galaxy. Amorphous by nature, one came to Earth in the late 1880s calling himself Christopher and began a relationship with a human, Lady Clemency Eddison. The Vespiform drowned in an accident and Lady Clemency returned home to England, pregnant with his child. She gave the resultant changeling baby up for adoption and it began a new, unwitting life as Arnold Golightly, who eventually became Reverend Golightly. However Christopher had given Clemency a telepathy-boosted jewel, the firestone, and when Golightly befriended Clemency 40 years later, he became susceptible to the firestone's powers. Unknowingly at first, Golightly changed back and forth in to the Vespiform, firstly to attack two rough boys who had tried to steal from his church.
At Eddison Hall, the works of Agatha Christie, being read by Clemency whilst she wore the firestone, turned Golightly in his Vespiform state in to a mass murderer.
Eventually Agatha led him away from the Hall, her own mind beginning to sync with the firestone - and when it was thrown in to the water, the Vespiform followed and drowned, just as it's father had nearly half a century earlier.

Agatha: Agatha Christie.
Donna: What about her?
Agatha: That's me.
Donna: No! You're kidding!
The Doctor: Agatha Christie! I was just talking about you the other day. I said, I bet she's brilliant. I'm the Doctor, this is Donna. 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 one. 

Donna: There's a giant wasp!
The Doctor: What do you mean a giant wasp?
Donna: I mean a wasp... that's giant!
Agatha Christie: It's only a silly little insect!
Donna: When I say giant, I don't mean big. I mean flipping enormous!

Roger: I have a question: why a Belgian detective?
Agatha: Belgians make such lovely buns. 

Donna: But, the body in the library? I mean, Professor Peach in the library with a lead pipe.

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.

The Doctor: I need something salty.
Donna: What about this? Here.
The Doctor: What is it?
Donna: Salt.
The Doctor: Oh that's too salty. 

According to Guinness World Records, Agatha Christie is the best selling novelist of all time. She also comes second to William Shakespeare as the best selling writer of any kind.

Fenella Woolgar previously appeared alongside David Tennant in the Stephen Fry film Bright Young Things. Funnily enough, her character in that was also called Agatha.

Christopher Benjamin previously appeared in Doctor Who adventures Inferno (1970) and The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977).

The Sidecar cocktail ordered by Donna is traditionally made with cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice. A Harvey Wallbanger is made with vodka, Galliano, and orange juice.

Charles Dickens? Christmas? Ghosts? It could never happen - except perhaps when the Ninth Doctor and Rose visited Cardiff in 2005's The Unquiet Dead.

The Colonel's reference to Mafeking relates to a famous siege in Africa during the Second Boer War. It lasted 217 days, from October 1899 to May 1900. The Doctor implied that he was present at the siege in both Volcano (episode 8 of 1966's The Daleks' Masterplan) and in 1978's The Invasion Of Time.

Possibly because it was the first story Catherine Tate recorded since her debut in The Runaway Bride, Donna repeats the high-pitched squeak of surprise first heard when she is transported from her wedding to the TARDIS at the beginning of that episode.

Cyanide has been used throughout history as a poison. The Fourth Doctor even used a gaseous form of it in 1976's The Brain Of Morbius.
The Tenth Doctor was kissed (or was  kissed by) all his female companions. Donna uses a kiss to shock his system and reject a potentially fatal dose of cyanide.

  • David Tennant - The Doctor
  • Catherine Tate - Donna Noble
  • Fenella Woolgar - Agatha Christie
  • Felicity Kendal – Lady Clemency Eddison
  • Felicity Jones – Robina Redmond
  • Christopher Benjamin – Colonel Hugh Curbishly
  • Tom Goodman-Hill – Reverend Golightly
  • Ian Barritt – Professor Peach
  • David Quilter – Greeves
  • Adam Rayner – Roger Curbishley
  • Daniel King – Davenport
  • Charlotte Eaton – Mrs. Hart
  • Leena Dhingra – Miss Chandrakala
  • Alexander McDonald – Footman