THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
LOYALTIES" AND THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO BOOK
'BLACK ORCHID' DVD
RELEASED IN APRIL
ENGLAND, 1925. THE
ON A QUIET RAILWAY
PLATFORM WHERE THE
DOCTOR, TEGAN, ADRIC
AND NYSSA SOON
DISCOVER THEY ARE
EXPECTED AT AN
MATCH. AND WHEN THE
TIME TRAVELLERS ARE
INVITED TO STAY AT
CRANLEIGH HALL FOR A
FANCY DRESS BALL, IT
ISN'T LONG BEFORE THEY
UNCOVER A TERRIBLE
FAMILY SECRET. WHO IS
SERVANTS AND WHY? A
RARE FLOWER MAY
HOLD THE ANSWER...
1st march 1982 - 2nd march 1982
With Gareth Roberts’ new thirties’ episode “The Unicorn and the Wasp” almost upon us, 2 Entertain have once again demonstrated their marketing savvy with the DVD release of “Black Orchid”, a rather discordant fifth Doctor murder-mystery set around the same period.
Something of an oddity, this story was the first two-part serial to air since 1975, and it was also the first purely historical television story since “The Highlanders” aired way in 1966. In fact, Terence Dudley’s tale of death in twenties’ England is neither beleaguered by alien monsters or time paradoxes, nor is it set around any noteworthy historical event. It is simply
a ‘whodunit’ set in the past.
Supposedly concocted by John Nathan-Turner as a trial to see how well this approach would be received by eighties’ audience, Doctor Who’s producer originally intend to direct this story himself but was unable to do so due to his already demanding schedule. However,
Ron Jones did a sterling job in his stead. The BBC has always been able to produce first-rate costume drama, and “Black Orchid” makes full use of Auntie’s proficiency. The opening episode is dawdling and indulgent, but visually it is stunning - lush green fields, wickets and stately homes. It is also delightfully refreshing to see the TARDIS crew chill out, even if it is for nearly half the story. We get to see the Doctor enjoy a game of cricket – Peter Davison reckons his bowling someone out was the first take – whilst his companions kick back and enjoy the hospitality of the Cranleigh’s. Tegan even dances the Charleston.
The DVD’s commentary, however, reveals that the four regulars regard this story a little less sympathetically than I do. Davison calls the script “lazy” and “out of the drawer”, with Janet Fielding adding that Dudley probably “wrote a Miss Marple and couldn’t sell it”. In
fact, it seems that Fielding has particularly unhappy memories of recording this story on location – apparently her scant outfit and the bitter October weather did not mix!
Indeed, of the regular cast only Sarah Sutton seems the slightest bit fond of “Black Orchid”. After Fielding’s central role in “Kinda”, here Sutton takes centre stage playing not only Nyssa but also her double, Ann Talbot (who would appear again in Justin Richards’ novel “The Sands of Time” as Lady Ann Cranleigh). Sutton juggles the two roles well, managing to make Ann and Nyssa different enough to be distinguishable. In fact, Ann seems to be everything that Nyssa is not – childish and dependent.
For my part, I do not think that Dudley’s ‘whodunit’ plot is actually all that bad. Fair dues, we know that the Doctor is not the killer and that the disfigured man in the attic is, but it is the hows and the whys that keep the story interesting. That said, having just sat through forty-
nine minutes of “Black Orchid” bashing from its own cast, I must admit that the story’s cuts and dents do seem to catch the light a little more now.
As for the DVD’s bonus material, despite “Black Orchid” being one of these ‘budget releases’, there is still a glut of special features to keep the DVD connoisseurs happy. As well as a remarkably grand trailer for “The Trial of a Time Lord”, this month the Restoration Team treat us to one of their customary “Now and Then” featurettes; some whimsical, albeit wholly superfluous deleted scenes; an apposite clip from Blue Peter; and a truly priceless excerpt from a contemporaneous edition of Points of View which sees Barry Took attempt
to temper the audience’s outrage at Doctor Who being rescheduled. I found each of the letters featured extremely amusing, but none more so than that of young Robert Moore, which read something like: “Please may we have more monsters and fewer girls. They do nothing but talk and screech and are not at all interesting. Even malignant vegetables are more interesting.” From a post-pubescent point of view, I bet he is regretting that one. Mind you, I suppose he is talking about Nyssa and Tegan…
The DVD also continues the Stripped For Action series of featurettes, which began back in February with the release of “The Time Meddler”. Naturally it is the fifth Doctor’s comic book adventures that are scrutinised here, with pivotal figures such as former Doctor Who Magazine editors Alan McKenzie, Gary Russell and Alan Barnes as well as early-fifth
Doctor artist Dave Gibbons sharing their thoughts on the strips. At just over sixteen minutes in length, “Stripped For Action – The Fifth Doctor” is by far the DVDs most generous feature, and it is also the most entertaining. Particularly as I have yet to read any of the comic strips (they are on the list…), I found it fascinating to learn about this vibrant and diverse branch of the mythology that has, to date, eluded me so completely.
All told, “Black Orchid” is a charming little two-parter that comes as a complete breath of fresh air when viewed in context. It is light and it is fun, but as the cast will tell you if you listen to the commentary, it is far from perfect. Nevertheless, the DVD is probably worth the purchase price alone just for the hilarious Points of View clip and the impressive comic strip featurette, and so with the whole lot made available for less than a tenner, delightfully packaged in Clayton Hickman’s dazzling artwork, as per usual you can’t go far wrong.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2008
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