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Recap / Doctor Who S19 E5 "Black Orchid"

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Black Orchid
Once again... no comment...
Written by Terence Dudley
Directed by Ron Jones
Production code: 6A
Air dates: 1 - 2 March 1982
Number of episodes: 2

"Why do I always let my curiosity get the better of me?"
The Doctor gets metafictional

The one where the Doctor wears a velvet bathrobe and proves to be fantastic at cricket.

The second serial by writer Terence Dudley, "Black Orchid" is nine-tenths Scenery Porn and Fanservice and one-tenth the plot for said Scenery Porn and Fanservice. Also, it's the first two-part story in Doctor Who since "The Sontaran Experiment" in 1975: much like how that one's length was the result of a staff effort to pare down the amount of stories over four parts, this one was the result of John Nathan-Turner doing away with longer stories almost completely. He wasn't a fan of six-parters even after they were limited to one per season during Tom Baker's run, and wholly did away with them once he took over as producer (coincidentally one season after the six-part "Shada" was scrapped due to a workers' strike), choosing to instead experiment with different story lengths. The two-part structure of this story, "The King's Demons" and "The Awakening" would be products of those experiments.

It is also the last "pure historical" (a past-set story with no fantastic elements other than the regular cast's arrival and departure by TARDIS) in the Doctor Who TV series to date, and the only one since "The Highlanders".

Landing in England in 1925, the Doctor is mistaken for a random friend of Lord Cranleigh, a local high society man, who's having a genteel afternoon of cricket followed by a fancy dress party. The Doctor is delighted. He plays a good game, too: his team wins, Tegan enjoys the game, and Nyssa and Adric are mostly confused. The Doctor has a grand time saying "I say" a lot and enjoying the Genteel Interbellum Setting.

After playing the game, everyone heads inside for tea and introductions. Nyssa happens to have an exact-clone of herself running around in 1925, apparently, going by the name of Ann Talbot. Of course, the two of them decide to dress up in the same butterfly-person outfit for what will surely be a harmless lark. The others are also assigned costumes: we assume out of spite, because Adric gets a pseudo-pirate getup while the Doctor is stuck with an extraordinarily ugly clown costume and full face mask. Tegan, finally, looks like nothing so much as "Tinkerbell gone nightclubbing". The Doctor befriends Lady Madge Cranleigh (mother of the younger Lord Cranleigh, Ann's fiance). Her other son, Ann's previous fiance, was an explorer who went missing after finding a rare black orchid.

During the costume party, Adric stuffs his face, Tegan introduces glorified extra Sir Robert Muir to Aussie slang (while dulling the pain of being in this story by ordering a large vodka orange) and Nyssa and Ann have everyone seeing double. This ends badly as Ann is assaulted by someone wearing a certain eye-wateringly hideous clown suit and full face mask - before you ask, no, it's not Colin Baker; that's later. It can't be the Doctor, because he's done what he does best - snooping: he's donned a nice revealing chamber gown and is wandering through a secret passageway into a disused corridor, where he finds a dead body. He also eventually finds Lady Madge Cranleigh, who leads him back upstairs and extracts a promise from the Doctor to keep utterly silent about the whole thing for reasons no viewer or fan can begin to comprehend.

This absence, of course, means that the Doctor is an extra-suspicious suspect in the attack on Ann, once he's changed into the clown suit and gone downstairs to join the party. The Doctor makes some lame excuses as to how he couldn't have done it, and then finally gets fed up and admits that he's a time-travelling alien, as if this were some kind of alibi. Everyone believes him, and there is much laughter over the misunderstanding!

Ha. Of course, they don't believe him... until the Doctor gets them to walk into his TARDIS, which proves that he is a time-travelling alien but doesn't actually exonerate him of the murder. (Look, we did say the plot didn't make sense.) That only happens when the Cranleighs admit that the real killer is back at the mansion. Oh no!

Mystery Killer, now dressed in slacks and and a nice sweater, escapes, grabs Nyssa and runs off — apparently having set the entire house on fire to break down a simple door. At this point, Lady Cranleigh decides to confess that the murdering psychopath is her other son, who was hideously mutilated and driven insane during the course of his search for the black orchid; and, no longer being one of The Beautiful Elite, was shut away in the disused corridor. But it's all good, as the Doctor and Lord Cranleigh decide to go up and rescue Nyssa — and in doing so, cause our "misunderstood" villain to fall from the roof to his death.

Adric doesn't have any actual speaking lines for most of Episode 2 — presumably he was still eating. Murders be damned, there's food on that table going to waste.

All the problems solved, the Doctor and companions smile and grin happily as they leave a mourning family behind while taking their costumes with them. And, for his troubles, the Doctor is given a ethnobotanical treatise called Black Orchid, written by our villain back when he wasn't insane. What a charming memento!

So, to sum up?

Tegan dances the Charleston! Nyssa and Adric are baffled by this weird Earth game "cricket"! Nyssa wears a beautiful dress! Adric eats food! The Doctor sings in the shower! Adric eats more food! A "good person" kills a lot of people! Most importantly, Peter Davison spends quite a bit of the first episode in a bathrobe! It's like an entire serial of omake (Who-make?).


  • Animal Motifs: The insect-like dresses Nyssa and Ann wear.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: George was driven insane by being tortured and mutilated by a Native American tribe for trespassing on their land.
  • Big Bad: George Cranleigh.
  • Big Eater: Adric spends a good amount of time eating food because he doesn't want to dance.
  • Breather Episode: Considering that in that the previous four adventures often had high death counts, or at least came near grievous personal harm to our TARDIS crew. And then there is the next one...
  • Character Development: By the beginning of this story, Tegan has finally given in to the wonders of travelling the universe and has asked the Doctor to stop trying to get her back to Heathrow. Despite his annoyance at her criticizing his many failed attempts to get her home, the Doctor doesn't seem any less annoyed by her deciding to stay on.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Never fired. The mole Ann Talbot has on her shoulder (Nyssa doesn't have one) is set up to be a plot point and then is never mentioned again. (The novelisation has George using it to confirm it's Nyssa he has rather than Ann, but this isn't clear on screen.)
  • Continuity Nod:
  • A Day in the Limelight: Each of The Doctor's companions was given a story where they could take a bigger role this season. This is Nyssa's. She gets to play her Identical Stranger!
  • Fanservice: Tegan shows off some great cleavage. And the Doctor himself looks rather fine in that deep red bathrobe, too.
  • Filming for Easy Dub: There is a character named Latoni who is a South American Indian complete with a large plate massively extending his lower lip. Despite this, he is somehow able to converse in perfectly normal BBC English... but only long shots or when shot from behind.
  • Fish out of Water: Adric and Nyssa have never been so confused with Earth customs.
    • Fish out of Temporal Water: But Tegan takes everything in stride and is actually enjoying herself more than usual.
      • This might have something to do with the fact that she was the only one who was allowed to drink.
  • The Flapper: Ann Talbot.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: A 1920s English mansion fits the description.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Averted.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: "Black Orchid" is a fine exemplar of a subclass of Who stories: the let's-raid-the-BBC-wardrobe-department serial.
  • Hand of Death: How George is depicted throughout the first episode.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The story contains several references to Cranleigh's old friend, Smutty Thomas, "Smutty" being a nickname the friend in question picked up at school. What prompted this nickname is never mentioned, but it's hard for modern audiences to hear it without imagining something indecent.
  • Hysterical Woman: Ann Talbot, after the murder.
  • Identical Stranger: Ann Talbot, for Nyssa. Yet despite them looking alike, Nyssa is treated as being younger than Ann, notably in the scene where Nyssa innocently orders a Screwdriver.
    • This could be because the Doctor knows that Nyssa has no experience with Earth's alcoholic beverages, and is unsure if it would be compatible with her non-human biology. Better to be safe than sorry...
  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: Nyssa and Ann Talbot.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Used when the Doctor finds Digby's body and tries to tell someone about it. The first time he tries to tell someone it is indeed there, but the second time it's not. True to the trope, it's been replaced with a mildly interesting thing (a doll). Later he tries to tell the police about his TARDIS, and leads them to it. Of course it's not there either.
  • Luck-Based Search Technique: How the Doctor manages to open the secret door he finds.
  • Madman in the Attic
  • Masquerade Ball: The Cranleigh Hall is host to one, and which is how the Doctor gains and loses his harlequin mask.
  • Mistaken for Special Guest: The Doctor.
  • Mundanger: The only post-1960s Doctor Who story to feature no science fiction elements beyond the Doctor, his companions, and the TARDIS.
  • Not Helping Your Case: The Doctor must not be familiar with Murder, She Wrote. He won't state his name for the record because it's infamous in faraway lands, he doesn't carry I.D., and his idea of arguing one's innocence is shouting that he knows where to find more bodies.
    Doctor: I've no reason to harm you! And besides...
    Muir: Besides what?
    Doctor: (earnestly) Well, it wouldn't be cricket.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: George Cranleigh.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: There's a moment where Ann steps into view along with Nyssa and the others. No split screen is used, and the double, Vanessa Paine, looks nothing like Sarah Sutton. (They weren't even the same height!)
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: Doctor Who becomes a Christie-esque Murder Mystery in a Genteel Interbellum Setting for two episodes. (Although often called the last "historical", it's worth noting that there's actually nothing particularly historical about this serial besides being set in 1925 - it features no real people nor events of historical significance, and is really more of a genre exercise.)
  • Rail Enthusiast: The Doctor confesses that when he was a child, he always wanted to be an engine driver. This is too geeky even for Nyssa.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Adric was originally meant to dance in this serial, but was promptly relegated to eating because Matthew Waterhouse didn't consider himself to be a good dancer.
  • Same Language Dub: Ahmed Khalil (Latoni) had to have his voice dubbed in at parts due to his lip disk.
  • Scenery Porn: The story likes to show off the pastoral English countryside and manor.
  • Settle for Sibling: Played with. Ann was originally going to marry George Cranleigh, but, at some point after he was supposedly lost on one of his expeditions, she got engaged to his younger brother, Charles (Lord Cranleigh). However, it's unknown if, following the events of this story, in particular the revelation of George's true fate and his subsequent death, she married into the Cranleigh family at all, though she is last seen standing with Cranleigh and his mother.
  • Start to Corpse: About twenty minutes, near the end of Episode 1.
  • Too Dumb to Live: An almost hilarious example as the butler comes to Ann's rescue. As George is manhandling Ann, the butler runs past them to set down a metal pot he could easily have used to brain George, then runs over to rescue the girl and is promptly strangled.