Series: Altered History
Genre: Doctor Who
Rating: T/M (attempted murder, emotionally constipated characters)
Summary: The Library left a mark on both Eight and Donna. They each realized they had feelings for the other, but felt unable to act on them. How will meeting Agatha Christie and his nearly dying change their dynamic?
Disclaimer: Utterly not mine. Just taking things from canon, mixing in Big Finish stories, and adding a healthy dose of my imagination.
Dedication: cassikat, for getting me interested in the Eighth Doctor in the first place. tardis_mole for being an awesome beta. And bas_math_girl for encouraging me to continue the series and keep posting.
Author's Note: Started during NaNoWriMo when I suddenly found “Echos on Oodsphere” finishing two chapters sooner than I expected (leaving one flashback bit out in the original draft), and to keep me going. I had to figure out on the fly what else I needed to write, and figured out later where the ideas would fit.
Once again, please make sure you've read the earlier installments: The Runaway Bride, Prophecies and Pompeii, Echoes on Ood Sphere, and Time Trials. Otherwise you'll have no context for why Donna is traveling with Eight.
Originally, I was not going to include “The Unicorn and the Wasp” as one of the DT-era stories moved into this series. However, when the flashbacks in the last story stopped naturally at the end of “The Christmas Invasion” and did not continue to the needed final flashbacks, I knew I needed one more story. So the idea from my beta of using some brief flashbacks of things needed to show the evolution of Eight and Donna's relationship turned into a full-blown story. I think it works better this way, because it prepares for the rest of the series. I did rewatch the episode before posting, to catch any details I previously missed. Mind, the American DVDs have terrible closed captioning for the episodes; a lot of lines are presented incorrectly.
And this is not Eight's first time investigating a murder. If you can get hold of a copy of “Max Warp,” I highly recommend it. It's basically “Top Gear in space meets Agatha Christie”. PM's own description of the story.
Canon Error Reset Alert Note: You might have noticed that I developed a habit of giving the date for when a chapter is set wherever possible. Well, when I looked up when Agatha Christie disappeared so I could give the date, I was stunned to learn that RTD allowed a writer to place it during the summer and not the near winter when it actually happened. I know Doctor Who is known for bad writing, but this made me face-palm myself. So... I'm adjusting the setting to the historical date, and adjusting the events and scenes as needed. Also, the sheer number of historical research fails were abnormally high in this episode even for Doctor Who. Hence a lot of adjustments in addition to the season change.
Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three
Altered History: Chasing Unicorns and Wasps
Started November 22, 2018
Finished January 6, 2019
Chapter Four: A Mutually Great Big Shock
December 4, 1926
It was not long before everyone was back in the sitting room where the Doctor and Agatha had questioned each person not a servant. Golightly led the way into the room, although Robina Remond was close behind, heading to an empty sofa. Lady Eddison was inconsolable even as Roger assisted her to the sofa facing the other. “My faithful companion, this is terrible,” she moaned into the handkerchief in her hand.
Davenport had wheeled the Colonel into the room. Once he was settled, facing his wife and son, the footman spoke. “Excuse me, my lady, but she was on her way to tell you something.”
Lady Eddison shook her head. “She never found me.”
Davenport knew a dismissal when he heard one and walked to stand next to Greeves. By this time, the Doctor was leaning against another chair and the remaining women had joined Robina on the other sofa.
Lady Eddison added, looking at Roger and then away again, “She had an appointment with death instead.” She cried into the handkerchief again.
“She said, 'the poor little child', before she died,” said the Doctor. “Does that mean anything to anyone?”
The Colonel shook his head and his expression was harsh. “No children in this house for years. Highly unlikely there will be,” he added with a tight glare at his son.
Donna and the Doctor exchanged a surprised look. Given the era, they were amazed that the Colonel would allude to his son's sexual orientation so directly. And it was clear that Roger knew his father knew far more than either of them wished. Although he might not have known how much Greeves appeared to suspect, given the subtle glare the butler was giving the footman.
Lady Eddison must have as well, for – after the Colonel cleared his throat – she was quick to redirect the topic by addressing Agatha, who sat next to Robina. “Mrs Christie, you must have twigged something. You've written simply the best detective stories.”
Golightly nodded, seated behind the trio of ladies with his hands in a steeple. “Tell us, what would Poirot do?”
The Colonel thought the pause that followed was too long. “Heavens sake. Cards on the table, woman. You should be helping us.”
Agatha looked imposed upon and a bit panicky. “But, I'm merely a writer.”
“But surely you can crack it,” Miss Redmond encouraged. “These events, they're exactly like one of your plots.”
“That's what I've been saying,” Donna added from the other side of that sofa. “Agatha, that's got to mean something.”
Agatha shook her head. “But what? I've no answers. None. I'm sorry, all of you. I'm truly sorry, but I've failed. If anyone can help us, then it's the Doctor, not me.”
He did not like having everyone's attention on him. He assessed the situation and knew he had only one option. “Right. Everyone, settle in. I need to check something. Donna, Agatha, with me.”
Donna raised an eyebrow. Surely he wasn't going to bring Agatha into the TARDIS?
Once outside she was enlightened. He let her see it, but he insisted on going inside alone. “I need to analyse the venom in my... portable police hut. I would invite you in, Agatha, but it's a bit of a squeeze,” he claimed, managing to think of it all quickly before hurrying inside.
Agatha was bewildered. “Has he got room in there?”
Donna looked at her, and then back at the TARDIS. “He's... a smallish man.” Only hearing him call himself such allowed her to not feel embarrassed about referring to him by the phrase.
“And I'm useless. And a man holds all the power. Yet again.” Agatha, dejected, walked away after her justified complaint.
Donna followed, letting the author sit at a little wrought iron gazebo just outside the manor, leaning forward in abject distress. She sat across from her, which encouraged Agatha's moneyed British nature to draw herself up to a more proper sitting posture, and decided she had to create a distraction. “Do you know what I think? Those books of yours, one day they could turn them into films. They could be talking pictures.”
Agatha looked up when Donna started speaking, but frowned at the unfamiliar words. “Talking pictures? Pictures that talk? What do you mean?”
Donna winced, trying to keep it to a fraction of a reaction. One more thing she was ignorant of. “Oh, blimey, I've done it again.”
As if sensing that Donna was unwilling to expand on what embarrassed her, Agatha managed a little smile. “I appreciate you trying to be kind, but you're right. These murders are like my own creations. It's as though someone's mocking me, and I've had enough scorn for one lifetime.”
“Yeah, I know what it is to be mocked,” Donna sighed. “Been there all my life. Thing is, I had this bloke once. I was engaged. And I loved him, I really did. Turns out he was lying through his teeth. He turned out to be one of my mockers. But do you know what? I moved on. I was lucky. I found the Doctor. It's changed my life. There's always someone else.”
The words held a heavier weight after her revelation in the Library aftermath, but she was not about to admit to that.
“I see,” Agatha said, grim and hard even through a gentle expression. “Is my marriage the stuff of gossip now?”
“No, I just... Sorry,” Donna finished, unable to find anything else to say that was appropriate.
Fortunately for Donna, Agatha saw that no harm had been meant. “No matter. The stories are true. I found my husband with another woman. A younger, prettier woman. Isn't it always the way?”
Donna held her wince back. It reminded her a of few exes. Though she would only speak of the last one. “Well, mine was with a giant spider, but, same difference.”
Agatha's smile became genuine again as she laughed. “You and the Doctor talk such wonderful nonsense.”
“Agatha, people love your books. They really do,” Donna insisted. “They're going to be reading them for years to come.”
It made little difference. Agatha's smile faded to a sad one. “If only. Try as I might, it's hardly great literature. Now that's beyond me. I'm afraid my books will be forgotten, like ephemera.”
Donna tried to think of something else to say, but then Agatha's eyes drifted to a nearby spot. “Hello, what's that?” She stood, and Donna followed her as she noted, “Those flowerbeds were perfectly neat earlier. Now some of the stalks are bent over.”
Agatha reached into the bent stalks, and her hands drew out a small case.
Donna was thrilled. “There you go. Who'd ever notice that? You're brilliant.”
“Do you think the Doctor is done with his tests?”
“Maybe, but maybe not. We'll meet him as planned in the sitting room.”
The Doctor returned and noticed the case on the table. “What did you find?”
“Agatha did,” Donna said from her chair. “Someone dropped it from a window. Must not have wanted anyone to find it during my search.”
“And Agatha, did you tell Donna about your discovery in the library? The one I had to remind you about not keeping from an investigation?”
The writer grimaced briefly before looking at Donna. “Someone tossed some papers into the fireplace. Only a small fragment of one paper survived, with one word clear: 'maiden'.”
“'Maiden'?” Donna repeated. “What was it from? And why did the killer try to burn it?”
“I'm not sure we can be certain it wasn't the Professor,” the Doctor answered as he sat down, slinging his satchel to his side. “The only thing that makes sense is that someone had a secret they wanted kept secret. Did you get to look at Professor Peach's things?”
Donna nearly sank in her seat. “Nothing that made sense. His papers suggested he was asked to do research on Roger's government connections and his recent marriage – a detail I wasn't expecting – but what he was expecting to find in the library I don't know. So, what's in that case?”
He used a few household items to open the lock – as he didn't want to use the sonic in Agatha's presence – and reveal the contents. His eyes lit at the sight of a slew of lock-picking tools. “Ah. Someone came here prepared. This is the sort of stuff a thief would use.”
Agatha made the connection. “The Unicorn. He's here.”
“The Unicorn and the Wasp,” the Doctor remarked. “I feel like I just named the mystery,” he added as Greeves entered with a tray of refreshments ordered by Donna earlier.
“Your drinks, ladies. Doctor.”
“Thank you, Greeves,” said the Doctor as they all took their drinks. Which were the same ones they had earlier.
Greeves nodded before departing, as the trio began drinking.
Once the butler closed the door behind him, Donna got down to business. “How about the science stuff? What did you find?”
The Doctor took out the test tube as he drank. Once he swallowed, he explained, “It's a Vespiform sting. Vespiforms have hives in the Silfrax galaxy. This is quite a way off for them.”
“Again, you talk like Edward Lear,” Agatha said, taking another sip as if to clear her mind from the confusion.
He did not acknowledge her comment. “But for some reason, this one's behaving like a character in one of your books,” he remarked before draining the drink and placing the glass aside.
Donna put down her drink. “Come on, Agatha. What would Miss Marple do? She'd have overheard something vital by now, because the murderer thinks she's just a harmless old lady.”
“Clever idea,” Agatha said. She put her drink down as the idea settled in her mind. “Miss Marple? Who writes those?”
Oh would she ever stop showing herself up in front of the Doctor?! “Er, copyright Donna Noble. Add it to the list,” she said, awkwardly, and hoping to avoid hacing to explain herself to a confused Agatha.
The stiff tone made her think he was irritated with her. “Okay, we could split the copyright,” she began, but stopped as she saw how still and introspective the Doctor had become.
“No” He went stiff, listening to his internal systems. “Something's inhibiting my enzymes. Argh!” His cry, accompanied by doubling over, startled both women, and the panic in the room grew as he choked, “I've been poisoned.”
Donna hurried to the Doctor's side. She had never seen him doubled up in pain. “What do we do? What do we do?”
Agatha had knelt beside the Doctor, and grabbed his glass to sniff the drink. Her eyes went huge as a particular scent registered. “Bitter almonds. It's cyanide. Sparkling cyanide.”
The Doctor forced himself to his feet and used all his strength to run out of the room, although he stumbled in getting the door open. The women followed closely, wondering what he intended to do.
He burst into the kitchen, staggering his way in and grabbed the first servant he found. It happened to be Davenport. “Ginger beer!” he cried.
“I beg your pardon?” the servant squeaked.
“I need ginger beer. Where is it?!” the Doctor demanded, looking around as he spoke.
“The gentleman's gone mad,” said one of the female servants.
But the Doctor found some and promptly gulped it down.
“I'm an expert in poisons,” Agatha said, frightened. “Doctor, there's no cure. It's fatal.”
The Doctor put down the container, some of the surplus ginger beer spilling from his mouth. “Not for me! I can stimulate the inhibited enzymes into reversal! Protein. I need protein,” he pleaded to the ladies, gasping for breath.
Donna quickly spotted a container of familiar items and handed it to him. “Walnuts?”
“Brilliant,” he gasped and put a bunch in his mouth. More than enough that he could not talk and had to use his hands as he chewed rapidly.
“I can't understand you,” Donna said, trying to decipher his gestures. BSL was one language she had not learned and how she regretted that. Assuming it was what he was using. She was equally bad at Charades. “How many words? One. One word.” She thought quickly as she saw him move a hand in a shaking motion. “Shake! Milk! Shake! Milk? Milk?! No, not milk! Um, shake, shake, shake! Cocktail shaker. What do you want, a Harvey Wallbanger?”
He almost choked on the words he blurted out. “Harvey Wallbanger?”
“Well, I don't know,” Donna cried.
“Harvey Wallbanger is not one word!” he snapped. Although the speed he said it belied his claim.
Agatha took control. “What do you need, Doctor?”
“Salt,” he gasped, cringing in pain and struggling to breathe. “I was miming salt. I need something salty.”
Donna immediately grabbed a nearby container. “What about this?”
“What is it?” he asked, barely able to see.
He shook his head. “No, too salty.”
“Oh, that's too salty,” Donna groaned.
Agatha, who had also been looking, came up with another container. “What about this?”
The Doctor barely looked at it before grabbing it and downing at least half the contents.
Donna winced at the smell. “What's that?”
“Anchovies,” Agatha answered as the Doctor fought to chew quickly and resumed his miming.
“What is it? What else?” Donna tried to figure out why he was holding out his hands wide. “It's a song? Mammy? I don't know! Camptown Races?”
He almost spat out the last bites. “Camptown Races?!”
“Well, all right then, Towering Inferno!” she snapped, panic making her sound angry.
He doubled over again, struggling to keep upright. “It's a shock. A shock. I need a shock.”
Only one thing came to mind. Donna swallowed. “Right then. Big shock coming up,” she said weakly.
The Doctor looked up to see Donna reach and grab his head, drawing him up to her height. Before he could open his mouth to ask what she was doing, she kissed him.
It was all she could think to do, all she could think of. In case it didn't work, she wanted the last thing this him knew was of love. So the kiss was not long and hard. It was long and gentle, letting everything she had come to feel for him to seep through. If he was the touch telepath he seemed then he would be in no doubt about her real feelings.
Suddenly she felt him seize, and she let go and stepped back. He looked up and smoke erupted from his mouth. He coughed more out, and then the coughing was dry.
The Doctor took several deep breaths. “I'm alive,” he gasped.
“It worked?” Donna whispered aloud.
“Yes. Detox.” He looked at Donna in a dazed silence. “I-I-I didn't...” He couldn't finish the sentence. Not with witnesses.
Donna flushed and her mouth slackened. He had definitely figured it out, but he did not look dismayed. If anything, he looked hopeful. And very scared as well.
Agatha looked back and forth between the definitely unacknowledged couple. “Doctor, you are impossible. Who are you?”
He looked at her briefly. “Not impossible,” he muttered. “More like... a bit unnatural. Depending on your viewpoint. Donna, are you... all-all-all right?” he added, quiet and nervous.
That stammer came out when he was nervous, and Donna realized he did it a fair bit with her. Especially since the Library. Unsure what to say publicly, she nodded.
The Doctor stepped closer. “Donna, did-did-did that mean... what it felt like it meant? The kiss itself wasn't the shock?”
Donna swallowed and nodded. “Yeah.” She had not felt this scared without a life-or-death situation with no clear escape plan since she had faced a group of reef sharks. While she had known that they weren't aggressive if you left them alone, the sheer number of them had meant it wasn't her finest moment as a diver. It gave new meaning to 'wet suit'.
He touched her arm. “We'll talk later. After we figure out how to flush out the killer. And now what's nearly happened to me. We're lucky neither of you were targeted.”
“But how do you deal with a giant insect?” Donna asked, needing to divert attention from them, and especially her. “What can make it go away? What kind of insecticide could possibly work on something that large?”
The Doctor stilled as his eyes lit with inspiration. “That's it! Donna, I keep telling you and you keep disbelieving me. You're brilliant!”
Donna blushed. “Well, what did I do this time?”
“Given me an idea we could use!” he declared as he rushed off, grabbing things and taking command of part of the dinner. Miffing the chef in the process, although he was too well-mannered to show it.
Agatha looked at Donna. “Is he always like this?”
“Um... yeah.” Donna was grateful that Agatha was choosing to not question what had happened between them, for she had no good answer herself. Let alone one that fit their cover story. “He can go from one extreme to another, but he's never cruel without reason.”
“But what is he planning?”
“Best not to ask too many questions, Agatha,” the Doctor said, startling her by proving he could overhear. “There's no way to know who has the killer's ear or has something to hide themselves.”
Donna was not certain, but she thought Davenport paled. Was he afraid of discovery, as he had every right to be? Or... was there some other reason?
Dinner was in the formal dining room. Candles provided the light to see against the thunder and lightning crashing outside, accompanying the snowfall outside. A rare case of a thunder snow storm. Although given how tall some of the windows were it seemed almost overhead. The Colonel and Roger had changed into formal evening wear, and Lady Eddison as well. Robina Redmond had swapped her red and black dress for a golden one, and her fox stole for a glis-glis fur stole. Even Agatha had changed into a more formal golden dress and a coordinating stole, making Donna feel like the poor relation. Not even the Doctor's warm, reassuring smile when they sat could erase that feeling. And it took a bit for the blush that smile provoked to fade.
The soup course was being served as the Doctor mused aloud. “What a terrible day for all of us. The Professor struck down, Miss Chandrakala taken cruelly from us, and yet we still take dinner.”
“We are British, Doctor,” Lady Eddison stated as a matter of fact, pausing in the middle of bringing her glass to her lips. “What else must we do?”
He allowed that point with a nod – and avoiding comment on the tremulous tone – as everyone began to eat the soup. “And then someone tried to poison me.”
Everyone except Donna and Agatha paused in the progress of eating. If the wide-eyed reactions or horror were any indication, this was a surprise to all of them. Which meant Greeves and the servants followed his instructions to not repeat what happened to him to the family. He did notice that no one had acted strange over his appearing at dinner. Although he thought Roger's reaction was rather restrained.
“Any one of you had the chance to put cyanide in my drink,” he speculated aloud. “But it rather gave me an idea.”
Donna was not put out that he did not mention her unknowing contribution to whatever his plan was. Best that she was left out of it, given that she was fairly accepting of her limitations and doubted she had anything else to offer. Even with the Doctor's confidence in her.
“And what would that be?” Golightly asked.
The Doctor simply picked up his spoon and held some soup up near his mouth. “Well, the ways to poison someone or something.”
Donna, who had put some soup in her mouth, stilled. Although the effect of several people not noticing that they let soup spill onto the tablecloth as they put their spoons down would have made her laugh any other time. She could be sure that the Doctor would not do anything to hurt her, so she risked swallowing.
A smirk crossed the Doctor's face in amusement over the general reaction and he swallowed his spoonful. “Drink up. I've laced the soup with pepper.”
The Colonel relaxed. “Ah, I thought it was jolly spicy.” He took another spoonful.
“But the active ingredient of pepper is piperine, traditionally used as an insecticide,” the Doctor explained, putting down his spoon. He looked around at the varied reactions from the guests and family. “So, has anyone got the shivers?”
As if planned, a loud crash of thunder cut through the air. The bolt hit a nearby tree, which split apart and hit the window. The inrush of wind and snow extinguished the candles.
“What the deuce is that?” demanded the Colonel.
But the Doctor was waving for quiet in the dimly lit room. “Listen, listen, listen.”
Everyone heard a buzzing sound.
“No, it can't be,” Lady Eddison breathed.
The lightning had faded, suggesting the storm was passing, but the burning tree outside the window made the room brighter as Agatha stood. “Show yourself, demon.”
“Nobody move. No, no, no, don't! Stay where you are,” the Doctor commanded as people started to leave the table.
But the wasp suddenly appeared in midair. Chaos and panic erupted in the room. Greeves tugged Donna to the side of the room, opening a door.
“Out, out, out!” the Doctor yelled, grabbing Agatha by the arm since she was closer.
She quickly found herself outside the dining room in a storage closet, with the Doctor, Donna, and Greeves. It seemed everyone else was scattering.
“Not you, Agatha. You've got a long, long life to live yet,” the Doctor said as he grabbed a sword from the panelled wall.
“Well, we know the butler didn't do it,” Donna said, trying to breathe some air into the situation. She noticed Greeves' surprise over being acknowledged. Possibly that he was even a suspect. But she had to note his efforts to protect her, which proved she had his respect.
“Then who did?” the Doctor asked as they hurried back in.
Remarkably, it looked like everyone else was still there. The Colonel was on the floor, wheelchair overturned but otherwise unharmed. Robina was still in her chair, as if transfixed by fright. Golightly had stumbled against a wall near the Colonel.
Lady Eddison, also still in her chair, was touching her neck. “My jewellery. The Firestone, it's gone. Stolen.”
Davenport stood stiffly at the side of the room. “Roger,” he moaned in despair, looking ready to collapse when he did move slightly forward.
Miss Redmond screamed as they all saw Roger plopped face-first in his soup bowl. A large knife stuck out of his back, and blood spreading outward from the wound.
Lady Eddison stood, crushed and beyond inconsolable. “My son. My child,” she cried as she went to his lifeless body. She sobbed, clutching and leaning against him.
The Doctor turned and walked out of the room. He found a nearby chair, sank into it and closed his eyes tightly.
Soon he felt and sensed Donna kneel beside him as she touched his arm. “It wasn't your fault.”
“My idea led to another death,” he said, empty and bitter. “Would the killer have targeted Roger without what I did?”
He felt Donna take his hand, showing him that she did not blame him. He could not meet her gaze, but he gripped back, needing the anchor.
Chapter Five: Springing the Final Trap