Monday, June 16, 2008


"The Unicorn And The Wasp" serves as a good example of the difference between Toobworld and the real world when it comes to the portrayal of historical figures. Aside from the actors portraying them, the historical figures are already rendered fictional just through interaction with a show's characters.

But with this 'Doctor Who' episode, they further fictionalized Agatha Christie by altering the facts of her life, facts that should have remained constant in both the TV Universe and in the Trueniverse.

The historical details behind Mrs. Christie's "disappearance" in 1926 are these:

On 3 December 1926, while living in Sunningdale in Berkshire, Agatha disappeared for eleven days, causing great interest in the press. Her car was found in a chalk pit in Newland's Corner, Surrey (Guildford?).

She was eventually found at the Harrogate Hydro hotel, staying under the name of Teresa Neele. [Her husband had recently admitted to having an affair with a Nancy Neele.] She had suffered the death of her mother and her husband's infidelity which may have caused a nervous breakdown. She could not recount any information as to her disappearance due to amnesia.

Opinions are still divided as to whether this was a publicity stunt. Others believe she was trying to make people believe her husband killed her in order to get him back for his infidelity. Public sentiment at the time was negative, with many feeling that an alleged publicity stunt had cost the taxpayers a substantial amount of money.
[from Wikipedia]

Of course, 'Doctor Who' filled in the blanks between the time when Agatha Christie left her home and when she checked into the spa with a fun little murder mystery (with a sci-fi twist). And it would be the alien, not her husband's infidelities, that would put her mind in an amnesia-like fugue state.

But other facts were altered to better suit the story, or because the actual details were too trivial to trifle with.
For instance, Agatha Christie disappeared on December 3rd of 1926. But the Doctor and his Companion Donna Noble arrived at the Eddison estate to find summery weather. I'd say it couldn't have been later than the middle of June - to be pleasant enough for an outdoor party and yet not be too hot (unless you were off in the bushes with Lady Eddison's son and his manservant boyfriend!)
Mrs. Christie's car was found abandoned in a chalk pit, not too far from Silent Pool, which is where many believed she had drowned herself. In the 'Doctor Who' revision of history, Christie drove the car directly to Silent Pool while being chased by the Vespiform. But this can be easily splained away - as is often the case with Toobworld, we in the viewing audience were not privy to everything that happened. After Donna figured out a way to rid themselves of the giant alien wasp, the Doctor and Donna moved the vehicle to Newland's Corner in Guildford (Surrey?) - perhaps to keep the authorities from dragging the lake in search of Christie's corpse and instead finding the body of the giant wasp.

Afterwards, the Doctor and Donna used the TARDIS to bring Agatha Christie to the spa, where she would spend the next ten days in seclusion. The reason for the fugue state of her mind could be attributed to the hold which the Vespiform had over her via the purloined Firestone necklace.
And that brings us to the last divergence from established fact. Mrs. Christie is shown arriving at the Harrogate Hotel; in actuality it was a hotel in Harrogate, the Swan Hydropathic which is now known as the Old Swan.
By the way, I'm no expert on cars. So if that vehicle seen above is not a Morris Crowley, then there's another difference between the two accounts!
Of the occurrence, all Mrs. Christie would say was, "For 24 hours I wandered in a dream, and then found myself in Harrogate as a well-contented and perfectly happy woman who believed she had just come from South Africa."

If only the backstory about Lady Eddison and the father of the Vespiform took place in South Africa rather than in India, this all would have tied up neatly!

For more information and further details about her actual disappearance, check out these sites:

All About Agatha Christie

The Guardian - Books News

Agatha Christie And The Eleven Missing Days

Toby OB

My thanks to Sonic Biro's 'Doctor Who' screencaps. Without their work, this essay would have been the poorer.

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