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on 29 October 2013
Strange story altogether, and I wonder if Terrence Dudley ever really properly understood Dr Who - beyond the need to get the scripts delivered on time - but then, he produced Survivors for three years, and I'm not sure he always understood that either. It's not just that this isn't sci-fi, I'm not sure it's even Dr Who.

Though it may simply be Dr Who pretending to be something else, and nothing wrong with that, in fact it might be one of the adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey; it's the right period and class, and just so we know how posh the Cranleighs are, one of them's played by Michael Cochrane.

It's not that the story's offensively bad, it's just not terribly good; the Nyssa/Anne thing and the subsequent doubling at the fancy dress party is nice, and then the Dr and the 'baddie' both dressed as Harlequin (and the costume's nicely designed), and the party itself looks fun (even if it was freezing), and the cricket match is great, and I love stories with steam trains in them (even if, in this case it's a sound effect and a smoke machine).

And, like King's Demons (also by Mr Dudley, funnily enough), the first episode's very interesting and mysterious, but the second really fails to supply an exciting solution. When we really need to see the Dr using his intelligence and insight to clear his name, he simply tells Sir Robert he's a Time Lord and proves it by showing him inside the TARDIS - letting a *stranger* in? - the First Doctor would have had fifty fits! Not just that, it is a massive lazy cop-out on a par with the egregiously bad Carnacki the Ghost Finder. This does not live up to Lord Peter Wimsey, nor to Sherlock Holmes either - though the solution - George horribly mutilated by Indians and kept in the attic - is admittedly Holmesian, though without any of the deduction that should attend it.

The denouement is good however; lots of scary stuff on the roof, and a fine fall from Gareth Milne who, as Peter Davison's stunt double really deserved a part of his own.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 August 2015
The Doctor and his friends land in the middle of a 1920s country-house murder mystery novella, full of jolly good sorts and decent and not-so-decent-chaps (and chap-esses) It's too short at only two episodes and had a few production problems from bad weather but, in its own way, it's "simply topping!" Good show! 5*

A charity cricket match and fancy-dress ball, an aristocratic family with something to hide, a country house with secret passages and hidden rooms, a mysterious "Indian", a posh policeman and the local Bobbies are all entangled with visiting strangers, an elusive Harlequin and a cluster of dead bodies.

If it all sounds strangely familiar, well, in a way it is. But at the same time, Terence Dudley's `Black Orchid' is unique - not really science fiction, not really a classic-style `Doctor Who' historical either, this time the Doctor materialises not in another time or place, but somewhere else altogether - in a novel, or rather, a genre.

In my opinion, `Black Orchid' isn't an historical or even a serious murder-mystery story; what it is, is *fun*. I think of it as an affectionate homage (with just a hint of P.G. Wodehouse) to the whole field of classic English murder-mystery novels and their heroes, from Holmes to early Agatha Christie stories to Lord Peter Wimsey to Campion - the latter character later played (and very well played) by none other than Peter Davison. Fellow fans of the genre will no doubt enjoy spotting the many parallels as much as I did, so I won't give them away here...

This DVD release looks and sounds fantastic, almost like a different production; the digital restoration (explained in one of the Special Features) floods the screen with colour so the quality of the extensive location filming, the costumes and Tony Burrough's impressive sets can fully be appreciated, the `20s gramophone music sounds great and director Ron Jones chose and made good use of some excellent locations. The `period' look of the whole production is superb, but unfortunately, the wind visibly gusts around the terrace during the masked ball, it's actually raining at one point and as Lord Cranleigh leads the Doctor onto the cricket ground, you can clearly hear the outfield squelching underfoot! No doubt the usual tight budget meant it was impossible to wait for better weather.

This story has its critics (including most of the TARDIS crew, as you will learn from the commentary!) but also its definite fans. Personally, I've always liked it as a unique story in the classic series, to be enjoyed but not taken too seriously. If you doubt the partly tongue-in-cheek intentions, consider some of the dialogue: Lady Cranleigh says there can't possibly be a branch of the Talbot family near Esher because "the hunt isn't good enough"... the Doctor's defence against an accusation of murder is that he can't have done such a thing because "it wouldn't be cricket"... "Strike me pink!" says the policeman seeing inside the TARDIS ... and surely no story is taking itself entirely seriously with a (missing) character nicknamed "Smutty"!

There is a dramatic side to the story too, with a startling opening, two more quite violent moments and a tense scene at the end leading to the final tragedy and the Doctor going to the rescue. But in the best traditions of much of the 1920s murder-mystery genre, everything (including several deaths) gets tidied away quite easily with no lasting traumas, before our friends are away on their travels once more.

I think the lead actors come out of this adventure with far more credit than they give themselves in that commentary. Peter Davison gets to play cricket as the Doctor, takes a wicket entirely for real (howzat!) and plays up the Fifth Doctor's `decent chap' persona to fit the setting. Tegan (Janet Fielding) is more relaxed and enjoying herself for once, dancing the Charleston and drinking a Screwdriver - the others wisely keep to lemonade and orange juice!

In this season each of the companion actors had a story that gave them an enhanced role; `Black Orchid' sees Sarah Sutton in a double performance as Ann Talbot (fiancée of Lord Cranleigh), who happens to look identical to Nyssa. This idea works very well, helped by the convincing effects photography, camera angles, her acting double and the costumes. Sarah Sutton performs her dual role really well - there is never any doubt whether we are seeing Nyssa or Ann (except of course for some of the scenes at the masked ball where the confusion is intended.) When 'they' are actually talking to each other in the special effects scenes, it's still very convincing!

Adric is still annoying (so no change there then!) but the character does get a couple of comedy moments. Each of the guest cast gives a "perfectly ripping performance"; Michael Cochrane (Lord Cranleigh), Barbara Murray (the Dowager Lady Cranleigh) and Moray Watson (Sir Robert Muir, the Chief Constable) are all excellent and faultlessly in style for the genre, as is stuntman Gareth Milne in an acting role involving two impressive stunts.

This is a short story to enjoy on a summer's evening, with lemonade or a Screwdriver according to age and choice! It's not the deepest or best Fifth Doctor story, but it's different and definitely fun, so as Lord Cranleigh would say: "Top ho!" 5*

I recently heard the Audiobook of Terence Dudley's novelisation of his story for the first time (recommended in a great review by 'Black Orchid' fan Tim Bradley) - I thought it was an excellent expansion of the televised version, both funnier and more dramatic and an enthralling listen. "Doctor Who" - Black Orchid (Classic Novels)

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`Black Orchid' is also very unusual because it's a murder mystery story with no actual villain! There is tragedy and some obstruction from aristocratic arrogance, but no really evil intent. I do like the clues to character given by the costumes worn for the masked ball. The Doctor and the Unknown are both Harlequin, an unpredictable sprite who may be helpful or dangerous; Lady Cranleigh becomes Marie Antoinette, who, rightly or wrongly, went down in Revolutionary history as the symbol of an out-of-touch, egotistical aristocracy; Lord Cranleigh wears traditional hunting red - right for a "sporting gentleman" with a conventional outlook and Sir Robert is dressed as a bewigged 17th century grandee - duty to King and Country.

There's a nice joke about "the Master", but in cricket terms that was the `title' of Sir Jack Hobbs, not W.G. Grace as stated by Sir Robert! And he was of the right period to be referenced in `Black Orchid'.
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DVD Special Features:
The commentary is mostly - forthright - about this story... I think it's fair to say they don't like it... (1920s-style British understatement there!) Sarah Sutton speaks up for `Black Orchid' and judging by the DWM 200 story poll (where it was placed about halfway in the list), many fans agree with her. Quite right too!
`Deleted Scenes' (7 min) - well presented with `silent movie' captions and more `20s music.
`Now and Then' (9 min) - a tour of the locations at Dalton Hall, presented in the same style as the above.
`Blue Peter' (9 min) - visiting the vast collections of the costumiers who supplied `Black Orchid'.
`Stripped for Action - The Fifth Doctor' (16 min) - the Fifth Doctor's era in the comic strips.
`Film Restoration' (3 min) - how the film was restored, with `before' and `after' comparisons - it looks like a different production now.
`Points of View' (3 min) - BBC viewers' complaints about the 1981 move of `Doctor Who' from Saturday to weekday evening slots. (Hear, hear!)
`Photo Gallery' (5 min) - a good gallery with many location publicity photos.
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on 12 June 2015
It may be brief, but 'Black Orchid' is nevertheless thoroughly engaging from start to finish. The story is full of charming little moments such as the TARDIS landing in the rather evocative setting of a railway station platform.

Aside from the TARDIS crew and the TARDIS itself, the story contains no sci-fi elements, it's the first such story since 1966. It's basically an Agatha Christie style murder mystery set in a stately home, Cranleigh hall.

There is plenty of amusing and clever dialogue and there are some very pleasing character moments. Charles Cranleigh is convinced Adric's home planet of Alzarius is a Baltic state while Sir George thinks Nyssa's home world of Traken is near Esher.

There is an unusual and most refreshing naturalism to scenes where the doctor skillfully plays cricket and later where the regulars enjoy themselves at the fancy dress ball. Not a great deal actually happens in the first episode but the more relaxed pace is good because it allows us to get to know the characters. The guest characters are interesting and believable and all well acted.

The story's biggest triumph however is its gorgeous recreation of the 1920's. The period costumes, sets, cars and music are all first rate and the filming locations are all very well chosen. The fancy dress costumes are also worthy of considerable praise. All in all, it's a superbly executed production.

Peter Davison is, as ever, on fine form and he gives a great performance. Sarah Sutton does well in the dual role of Nyssa and Ann Talbot and Tegan is good fun here as she flirts outrageously with Sir Robert. Meanwhile Adric takes full advantage of the buffet at the ball.

The story's only real flaw is the level of coincidence. Nyssa just happens to bump into her exact double Ann Talbot and the Cranleighs just happen to be expecting somebody else who goes by the name of Doctor who then doesn't show up. All of this is easily forgiven because of how satisfying everything else is.

A very successful change of pace and style, 'Black Orchid' expertly captures the magic of Doctor Who. It's a shame it didn't lead to any further stories in a similar mould.

Sadly, there is no 'making of' documentary. There is however a 'Now and Then' feature which looks at all the locations used for the story.

There are also a handful of deleted scenes and a feature which looks at the restoration techniques used on the footage for the story.

Also included is an old clip from Blue Peter in which the presenters explore 'Berman's and Nathan's' a costumier in London. A short contemporary clip from Points of View mainly consists of letters from people lamenting Doctor Who's move to a weekday slot.

The most substantial extra (16 minutes) is 'Stripped for Action - The Fifth Doctor' which looks at the Davison Doctor's comic strips.
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on 27 September 2014
Although Peter Davidson was not "my" Doctor, I have to say that this was a story that I remembered watching at the time and enjoying. Not as silly as some of the 1980s, low-budget stories, this story has stood the test of time relatively well. There are no alien monsters, no threat to the planet, just a murder mystery to solve.

As a two-part story, it is short and to the point, with minimal padding, which helps it to work well. There is a memorable moment in the first episode that Peter Davidson plays to perfection when he is compared favourable with "the other Doctor" (blank look) "The Master" (look of bewilderment and horror), until we discover that the reference is not to his deadly enemy, but to W.G. Grace - a bit of a stretch, as Grace had retired twenty years earlier, but Davidson dead-pans and plays it beautifully.

A lot of the action is filmed outdoors, which limits the need for the flimsy plastic sets for which Doctor Who became famous. Instead we get the peeling off latex make-up of the villain (??) which, by the end of the second episode, is flapping freely and very obviously in the side-on shots, in the air.

The Doctor is wrongly accused of murder. The TARDIS goes missing and a jolly nervous time is had by all, until it turns out that the local police have recovered the TARDIS thinking that it was theirs. Doctor produces key, invites his accusers inside and takes them for a ride. Collapse of police case! Of course, time travel and flying police boxes are so natural parts of 1920 rural England that no one seems particularly surprised by the experience, not even Tegan and Nyssa, who complain bitterly that the Doctor can't even hit the right planet, but then seem totally unsurprised that he can make a precision hop of a mile or so from the police station to the country house where most of the action takes place!

Of course, there is one small detail that had me baffled: if a mysterious murderer is killing off the domestic staff, how is it that the domestic staff seem unaware of this and totally unconcerned? They don't notice their colleagues vanishing?? I am sure that there is a simple explanation!

The story is great fun and a good countryside romp with the British aristocracy. It's not Agatha Christie, but it is very enjoyable.
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on 26 February 2014
Ah! Black Orchid, one of my truly favourite pieces of Doctor Who serialage. It's hard to describe why this small 2 part tale works so well for me, but, suffice to say, it just does. The story is by no means original, epic, consequence driven or even action orientated, but charm, now this is evident in abundance. Peter Davison's first year as the Doctor has always been one of my personal favourites, the quality of the scripts, direction and of course a new Doctor add so much vigour to the show after 7 years with good old Tom. Reinvention is the key here and Black Orchid fits perfectly in the middle of this ideal.

Being a 2 part historical tale set in rural England in 1925, this is a story that reeks of Britishness and tonnes of charm. One must concede that Peter Davison, over perhaps any other Doctor fits in well in this high-class culture. Davison has really grown on me as the Doctor, his innate Human qualities are in sharp contrast to the alien Baker and for me at least, this is a welcome change, especially after 7 years. Here, Peter and Co. {Adric, Nyssa and Tegan} are working beautifully. There's a real sense that after the events of Kinda and The Visitation, the team is kicking back and enjoying life for a bit. Of course, these things never last for the intrepit foursome and suddenly and expectedly, people start to die, but whom could it be???

It would be churlish to even suggest that this is an Agatha Christie who-dun-it, its not. It's purely a character piece and anybody who watches this tale and does not work out who the killer is within the first 26 seconds is in trouble, big trouble. Hospital visit will need to be arranged. But the charm of this is not it's plot, which is near to non-existent, but the performances of the quest cast and most importantly, the regulars. Peter Davison has by now settled into the role and gives a charasmatic performance as the Doctor, Adric is as annoying as ever but he has such a small part to play who cares??? Tegan is slightly less verbose here and comes accross as quite a charmer and at ease in this time period.

Nyssa is the main draw here, JNT wanted to give Sarah Sutton the spotlight at least once this year as he had done with Tegan in "Kinda" and Adric in "Earthshock". Sarah proves herself to be highly capable here playing both Nyssa and Ann with relative aplomb. You always know who's who, but that only adds to the enjoyment I feel. This story features some great guest characters such as Michael Cochrane as Lord Cranleigh and especially Barbara Murray as Lady Cranleigh. The casting is superb with not one person looking ill-at-ease. A word or two must also be said concerning the design of this tale. It's class. Pure class. The location filming is some of the most beautiful ever captured for Doctor Who, the cricket scenes in particular are incredible. The DVD thankfully has cleaned up these film elements and now they look truly breathtaking. Inside, and the BBC lives up to its name with some of the most convincing sets created for the show. The mansion truly looks like a mansion, the stairs are impressive enough but the level of detail is unsurpassed. Truly great work from designer Tony Burrough.

Now then, the BBC DVD release of this classy tale is not to be sniffed at. Although a patent budget release, the extras are plentiful and both episodes come with a commentary and other fiddly bits to keep amusement amused. The Restoration Team have superceded all previous efforts {until the next release} in restoring this tale, as mentioned above, the raw film elements were found to still exist and have been scanned at HD quality to ensure that the best results were possible. This whole tale simply glows with love and dedication. 10/10.

In all, Black Orchid is one of my favourite tales, lightweight it may be but that only adds to its endless charm. I highly recommend this 2 part Davison tale for a Sunday afternoon viewing in mid July.

Many thanks for your time, it's greatly appreciated.

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VINE VOICEon 29 February 2008
Black Orchid was the fifth story to feature Peter Davison's Doctor and was notable for being a two-parter and the series first historical story since the Patrick Troughton days.

Now we Doctor Who fans can recite and quote all the facts and figures of any story, including this one, but what is so special about Black Orchid is that it is one of the very few stories that does not have to be watched with any appreiciation of science fiction, because apart from the TARDIS and the regular line up of characters there are no sci-fi elements at all, and that adds to the enjoyment enormously as it was quite a change of direction for the show at the time.

The whole story has a Sunday afternoon play of the week kind of feel, revolving around a type of Agatha Christie style murder mystery and is perfect for members of the casual viewing audience whom may not be interested in sci-fi but want a nice easy, pleasant hour of viewing.

It's ironic that Peter Davison himself does not like the story when this was the adventure where he finally shook off the shadow of Tom Baker and truly found his own interpretation of the part, he is very much in the minority as it is generally loved by almost everyone.

This was my favourite story in that crucial first year of Davison's and the fact that it was up against blockbusting Cybermen stories and more expensive shows and the first story of the fifth Doctor says a lot.

I have seen a provisional list of extras but as they have not been confirmed as such, I will leave their description to my fellow reviewers.

This is a huge thumbs up for the more quiet, gentle and character based stories of Doctor Who, to be enjoyed mainly for that reason, as there are not many of those in the original series.
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on 21 May 2008
At one point in the commentary for 'Black Orchid', someone remarks that this story feels like Terrence Dudley just dusted off a Miss Marple-style story he had written and added the Doctor into it. This tale has no science fiction elements at all, relies on heavy levels of coincidence to power its narrative.

The change of pace both marks it out in the season and also contributes to many of its weaknesses. There is so little narrative that the production resorts to a five minute cricket sequence in the first part (more on that later!) and corridor-wandering galore.

Still, it is hard to deny that the story has a unique feel and it is nice to see the Doctor go back in time.

The commentary for this story features the entire TARDIS crew who are on fine form. As others have noted, this is much more negative than most Davison commentaries because of the four actors only Sutton has a soft spot for the story. Whilst some will feel that they are too negative about a well-loved story, the commentary is frequently very funny indeed. One highlight for me is Peter Davison's synopsis of the cricket scene where he refers to an off-scene character, "Smutty", whose friend he has been mistaken for.

I emerged from the commentary more aware of the story's faults but much more fond of the story despite them. I may no longer be able to take it seriously but in many ways that is not such a bad thing as it has increased my enjoyment of it no end.

Amongst the other extra features there are also deleted scenes, a now and then featurette looking at the locations and a featurette on the Fifth Doctor's era in the comics. This last item is the sort of thing that will either appeal to you hugely or not at all. Suffice it to say that if you enjoy Doctor Who comics it is an interesting overview of the era from Doctor Who Monthly editors and artists - if not you will likely be skipping over it.

'Black Orchid' is certainly not one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time but the BBC has put together a good package of extras at an excellent price.
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on 13 June 2013
Well as a younger viewer, the classic who stories take a lot more will to get through at least in my opinion. What's fun about Black Orchid however is that it is a short two parter which makes the story easy to get through without becoming boring or slow paced. Although the story isn't appreciated as much as other stories, Black Orchid succeeds in bringing a much more calmer tone to the series and for using a non sci-fi plot which every once in a while is quite nice to see. It's focus on the 1920s is brought to life by the great supporting cast, costumes and wonderful settings. The main cast each have their own roles with The Doctor being framed for murder, Nyssa finding her doppelganger, Tegan finally having some fun rather than moaning about wanting to get to Heathrow and Adric...eating chicken! The bonus features are all enjoyable but the commentary is definitely worth a watch after seeing the episode on it's own as the main cast talk about the experience working on the story and it's genuinely funny and entertaining to listen to. Overall Black Orchid is a calmer and more subtle story to the rest of the season and the decision for it to be placed right between The Vistation and Earthshock was right as both of these stories are quite darker in contrast so I would recommend people to watch this story in the middle of those stories. Black Orchid has aged well and despite its focus more on time than space, it is fun and a great addition to Doctor Who DVD collections. :)
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There are a number of reasons why Black Orchid is one of the worst Doctor Who stories and easily the weakest BBC Dr Who title to date. Firstly, there's no reason for the Doctor to be in it at all. Aside from playing a bit of cricket, getting stuck in a secret passage, finding a couple of bodies and being suspected of being the killer for about the 100th time before the plot - a tired 20s country house number with under-developed gothic undertones - quickly resolves itself while he's not even around, he has no real impact on the plot (what little there is) and there's no real science fiction or even historical aspect to the story. It's simply an exceptionally weak and very tedious country house non-mystery that plays like an outline for an episode of Ripping Yarns played straight. Worse, it's so uneventful. Even at 49 minutes over two episodes it's mostly filler: in the first episode there's a lot of not very much to set up the not very much that happens in episode two. The direction is dull, the writing mechanical and perhaps the only unique thing about the story is that it shows that the normally relentlessly vile and whingeing Tegan could be nice for an entire story and it wouldn't kill her.

It's not the worst of the stories produced under John Nathan Turner's contentious stewardship, but it's possibly the dullest and most utterly pointless: hard to disagree with the audio commentary on this extracting-the-urine-releasing-this-as-a-single-DVD (on video it was doubled with The Visitation) where the cast basically spend 50 minutes rubbishing its many weaknesses. Extras are pretty thin too - 4 deleted scenes and trims, featurettes on the locations and the Peter Davison Dr Who comic strips, extract from Blue Peter and Points of View, continuity announcements and the usual trivia track and stills montage.
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on 27 December 2012
My alltime favorite Doctor Who story. Black orchid is fantastic I think i like it so much because it does not have any sc-fi elements and its just a murder mystery. Its fantastic.

Peter Davison - The Doctor
Janet Fielding - Tegan
Sarah Sutton - Nyssa
Matthew Waterhouse - Adric

(Black Orchid ranked 117th in Doctor Who Magazine's mighty 200 pol in 2009)
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