Black Orchid (1982)

Black Orchid is a curious story in that it is only two episodes but two episodes of nothing. Nothing of any consequence happens during this 50 minute adventure. This was Terrance Dudley’s second story of the season after ‘Four to Doomsday’ and whilst this story isn’t anywhere near as dull as that story this one isn’t that much better. The story takes place in 1925 where remarkably the Doctor has to play Cricket which given that his outfit is based on cricket is perhaps quite an astute one. The fact that the Doctor is mistakened for someone else is a particularly useful and in this case acceptable way to get the regulars into the action.

The big thing that seems to be of interest is that Sarah Sutton has to play two roles. She has to play Nyssa and Ann Talbot. I’m not quite sure as to what the point of this was. The only thing I can think of is that it’s to make up for being written out during ‘Kinda’. There are some fun moments where Nyssa and Ann have to appear on screen at the same time. The story centers around someone who has been hidden away in a country house whilst a shindig is taking place.

We learn that the individual hidden away was at one time the fiancé of Ann who when he was travelling got into trouble retrieving the Black Orchid and presumably got locked away to protect his families’ interests. In the meantime, Ann marries the brother which doesn’t seem to bother either Ann or Lord Cranleigh. This is something that doesn’t get explained until the final part of the story which is a shame as I think it would have spiced the story up a bit.

Something that does slightly bother me is the bit where everyone seems to go into the TARDIS. It was perhaps the easiest and most sensible thing to do in the story but I just have a problem with letting everyone in the TARDIS. It should be like a VIP nightclub. Only the best get in and not any riff raff. The problem at this time is Club TARDIS is starting to lose a bit of its private setting. Also what is the point of Matthew Waterhouse in this story. It’s arguable as to the level of his contribution in some stories but in ‘Black Orchid’ all he does is dance for about 4 seconds and then proceeds to spend the rest of the story eating. I could have done that if I had been born a year later.

Of the regulars it’s clear that Sarah Sutton takes the lead in this story but actually Peter Davison does quite well with what he is given. He spends a good amount of time walking through secret tunnels and asks why he lets his curiosity get the better of him. As the production text says on the DVD, there wouldn’t be a story if he didn’t. Also having to deny a murder charge was perhaps the most exciting stuff that he did. Janet Fielding has very little to do apart from show that she can do the Charleston. Of the guests in this story Moray Watson was quite likeable as Sir Robert Muir and I would like to have seen more from him. However it was Michael Cochrane who was the most famous name and face in this story. He would go on to appear in ‘Ghostlight’ (1989) and the Big Finish plays ‘No Man Land’ (2006) and ‘Brotherhood of the Daleks’ (2008). As Lord Cranleigh, he is a lot of fun in this story and plays the role brilliantly. It’s quite similar to his role in ‘Ghost Light’ and also his role in Sharpe.

Black Orchid is the best story that Terrance Dudley wrote but it’s only because that this story was half the length of a normal adventure. It’s unusual not to have a science fiction element in a Doctor Who story and in fact I think that ‘The Highlanders’ (1966/67) was the last time that there was a pure historical story but unfortunatley that story wasn’t great either.

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