A superb innings, worthy of the master.
Well, the other doctor. W G Grace.
Sir Robert Muir and The Doctor
The TARDIS arrives in 1925 England, where due to a case of mistaken identity, the Doctor ends up playing in a local cricket match. The travellers accept an invitation to a costume party but events take a more sinister turn when the Doctor finds a dead body.
Black Orchid, sadly, feels paper-thin. Observing some of the best detective dramas, thinking of programmes like Inspector Morse, manage to build up dramatic tension and uncertainty about the eventual reveal of the murderer. I don’t think that it is entirely the story’s fault, as there are only fifty minutes to work with, but there is nothing similar here. There is no uncertainty as to who the murderer is, and the story does wear its literary allusions on its sleeves, pastiching stories like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Agatha Christie novels.
The writing and runtime certainly contribute to my issues with this story, as it ultimately feels like filler. I strongly believe that Doctor Who is a flexible enough programme to be able to adapt to any type of story, however, the reduced time really means that none of the aspects of this story really work very well. None of the guest characters feel very fleshed out or believable, and the whole issue of Ann and Nyssa being identical feels extremely contrived. It’s almost as if the long cricket playing sequence is also completely unnecessary, but I do quite enjoy Adric and Nyssa’s complete bemusement and Tegan trying to explain cricket to them, so I guess it’s actually quite a nice moment for this TARDIS team. I completely agree with the main cast that this story lacks any dramatic tension – as soon as the first murder takes place, you know exactly where the story is going.
On the positive side, however, it is nice to see the TARDIS crew out of their normal uniforms. The costume designs at the ball are pretty fantastic – I’m particularly in awe of the Henry VIII costume seen in the background. I also like the fact that, despite the fact that he is no longer wearing his pyjamas, Adric retains his Badge of Mathematical Excellence. The party is a nice chance to see the team let their hair down, and it is particularly nice to see Tegan getting along so well with Sir Robert Muir, especially as the majority of the previous stories have seen her getting more and more irritated about the Doctor’s failings to take her to Heathrow. It’s nice to see her and Nyssa having a good time at the party and dancing the Charleston.
I do feel like the climax is ultimately rushed though. The Doctor’s arrest is rapidly undone by just showing the police officers the interior of the TARDIS, and even the fact that the police box is missing from the station is rapidly resolved, where elsewhere this would have been a cliffhanger. I know ultimately the Doctor isn’t cleared of the murder of James until the police see the deformed George Cranleigh threatening Nyssa. The second episode feels very rushed and thus denies a really satisfying conclusion. The whole ‘Black Orchid’ element feels like a bit of an undeveloped and problematic plot point too, focusing on the British colonialism aspect that any foreigners would obviously wreak horrible revenge on George. The fact that his two victims are servants and barely mentioned is also extremely problematic. In a story with a relatively short running time, the Doctor’s companions don’t have very much to do other than spend time at the party, and in Adric’s case, eat.
Verdict: Black Orchid sadly never really feels like anything other than a two-part filler. There are some nice moments, but they don’t redeem a paper thin plot and a rushed conclusion. 3/10
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa/Ann Turner), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Barbara Murray (Lady Cranleigh), Moray Watson (Sir Robert Muir), Michael Cochrane (Charles Cranleigh), Brian Hawksley (Brewster), Timothy Block (Tanner), Ahmed Khalil (Lakoni), Gareth Milne (The Unknown/George Cranleigh), Ivor Salter (Sergeant Markham) & Andrew Tourell (Constable Cummings)
Writer: Terence Dudley
Director: Ron Jones
Behind the Scenes
- Peter Davison, Matthew Waterhouse and Janet Fielding hated this story, citing a lack of mystery and any dramatic tension. Sarah Sutton was more positive, but still rather dismissive of this story.
- The first story since The Highlanders not to feature any science fiction elements other than the TARDIS and its occupants. There is some dispute as to whether it is a ‘pure historical’ as the story does not focus on real people or real events.
- The first two part story of the 1980s.
- Peter Davison is a keen cricketer, and performed all of his cricketing scenes.
- Ahmed Khalil had to have his voice dubbed in due to his lip disk.
Probably no surprise, but the cricket match is probably the best part of the story. Despite it being overly long, it’s quite nice to see Davison’s talent at bowling!
So what is a railway station?
Well, a place where one embarks and disembarks from compartments on wheels drawn along these tracks by a steam engine – rarely on time.
What a very silly activity.
You think so? As a boy, I always wanted to drive one.
Adric, The Doctor and Nyssa