Black Orchid

Written by:
Terence Dudley
Directed by: Ron Jones
Starring: Peter Davison
Year: 1982
Video Availability: Try

I love Black Orchid, you know. Second only to Kinda in Davison's first season, there's no saving the world, no aliens vying for universal conquest. Instead, it realises what its two-part descendants didn't - you can't tell a large-scale story in fifty minutes. So it is we get a "Tardis crew on holiday" tale, all tea and cricket on the lawn, the Doctor in a bath robe, and even the companions are made to be likeable. Well, almost. It's not an exciting, dramatic tale to show your mates, it's a Sunday afternoon with a Mr. Kipling cake story. In fact, I'm eating a jam doughnut right now as I give it another glance.

One myth around this story is that it's the first historical since 1966, which seems a little odd as it doesn't tell any historical event, but just gives us some Days of the Raj stereotypes. With the presence of an older architecture, Michael Cochrane and the "something in the attic" storyline this one does remind you of Ghost Light at times. This ably demonstrates how the budget began to decrease, when you consider how much larger the sets are here, and the addition of extensive location shooting.

I reckon if you made a compilation tape of all the season 19 console room scenes then it could well be the worst ever Who. Uneasily directed on multi-camera with four principles, even Davison struggles with the story-bridging expositionary dialogue and the lame support he's given. Fielding, Sutton, Waterhouse… who da worst? I'd probably say Fielding actually… while she can reach greater heights than the other two, she can also stoop to stagier lows. That said, Waterhouse (whose hair is notably shorter in this story) has terrible body language here, horrifically unnatural. Didn't I say I liked this story? Well, yeah, I do, in a throwaway sense, but the back up Pete has is just not up to the job. And how would the Doctor have wanted to drive a train since he was a boy?

The notion of Nyssa having a double seems to be more gimmicky contrivance rather than any Hopeian endeavour, and unfortunately allows Sutton to wooden it up twice over. Is this what they mean when they say someone's as thick as two short planks? On the plus side, then the "Master" reference is nice because it makes sense even if you don't get the double meaning, but there's never a good enough reason for the "Doctor… Who?" gag.

The addition of the 1920s dance music is a nice touch, though it reminds me more of a Woody Allen movie these days rather than anything authentic. You can tell that Sir Robert really just wants to hang around with Tegan so he can hold a pillow over head. I mean, look at her face when she does the Charleston - on a scale of 1 to 10, how much would you like to slap her? And in a line that could sum up his entire career, Matthew Waterhouse claims "Well, look, I'm not really very good at it. Anyway, I'd much rather eat." I'm going to have to contradict my first sentence on this one, I'm afraid, because maybe Black Orchid is a story that varies on each viewing. The last time I saw it I regarded it as a charming period piece with its own identity. This time around, with horrible companions and minutes of cricket footage, I regard it as indulgent toss, and it only scrapes its final rating:
* * *

My favourite scene in this final episode is where Tegan and Nyssa berate Adric for eating so much, with the three of them for once seeming to have a genuine rapport. The Doctor's decision to show the police the Tardis always struck me as both odd and lazy writing, though the revelation of George Cranleigh frightened me when I saw it as a boy.

On reflection there's probably a decent essay in there somewhere, as Black Orchid's curiously backward-looking plot has the enemy as "The Other", the offscreen tribesmen. While you could get your book of Kaplan and wade through it all, also tackling why Adric seems to have a crush on Nyssa for this story, I really think it isn't worth it. For some reason the final shot struck me as a stunning twist (I was ten, what do you expect?), but looking back at this twenty-odd years later it just strikes me as galling how the Tardis crew laugh and joke in their brightly coloured clothes at George's funeral after blagging their fancy dress. "Do you really mean it? We can keep them?" Show some respect, you gobby cow - they've only just buried the bugger!
* * * ½

I'm not altogether certain what to say about this one, as there have been times when I've really enjoyed it. This time around I thought it was pretty ropy, with poor acting and a plot that seems outside of Doctor Who's remit and concerns. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood?
* * *