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A ripping performance and a whodunnit in which we know whodunnit

The TARDIS seems to have developed a compulsion for Earth, more specifically, England, so we find ourselves there again, this time in 1925. Shortly after materialising at a train station, Doc is mistaken for another Doc and the whole crew get chauffeured off to a rather fancy estate, old boy, for a bit of cricket and light cosplay. Mistaken identities must run in pairs, because it turns out Nyssa has a doppelganger amongst the Worcestershire Talbots, and she just so happens to be engaged to the same chap that Doc is coming to meet.

Everyone in the generic country estate is in good spirits, and happily enjoys a bit of cricket and an outdoor costume party in the marvelousness that is the British summer. But it wouldn’t be a decent Doctor Who serial — and we’re not saying that this is one — without a bit of intrigue. As luck would have it, though, the homicidal Quasimodo stowed away in the tower is about to bludgeon his Brazilian guard chum and wreak havoc on the proceedings.

Here's what we think of C121 Black Orchid

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken

2.4

Jim | @jimmythewho

0.8

Here's what we think of C121 Black Orchid

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken

2.4

Jim | @jimmythewho

0.8

Here's what you think 9 Responses to “C121 Black Orchid”
  1. Steven from Canada

    Bet you’re surprised it’s a historical.

    I love pseudo historicals with all my heart but I find myself longing for these simple stories. No crazy alien invasions or time meddling friars, just the Tardis crew in the past and having them deal with the drama their foreknowledge brings. Should they interfere? Can they even interfere? These types of stories are one of the reasons why the First Doctor’s tenure is my absolute favourite.

    However this two-parter doesn’t quite live up to the philosophical drama in stories like “The Aztecs” and “The Massacre” or the spectacle of stories like “Marco Polo”. “Black Orchid” feels less like those stories and more like a very strange episode of Downton Abbey.

    The story lacks connection to any large historical event much to its detriment. While it exemplifies the roaring 20s perfectly, its plot is a Phantom of the Opera esque murder mystery that is too predictable, too short and too quickly resolved. Even if it were done in the Hartnell era, I think I might have enjoyed it a bit better but I don’t think I would sing its praises.

    On a less disappointing note I liked a lot of parts of this story: the 1920s setting is entertaining, the look-a-like plot point feels like it’s straight out of 60s Who, and Adric was incredibly entertaining. I don’t think I’ve ever connected with a companion on a more primal level than when seeing Adric devour an entire English Buffet. Can’t wait to see more of him… oh

    Overall this earns 2.5 paisley bath robes out of 5.

    Steven From Canada

  2. Kieren Evans | @kjevans2

    Hi folks

    Hmm, not really sure what to say about this one. The first of the Davison two-parters, we have ‘historical’ for the first time since the Highlanders i.e. no sci-fi element other than the Doc and co. Though this is debatable actually, as the plot could easily be set contemporary (the 1980s) as I’m sure I’ve seen episodes of Inspector Morse with similar enough plots. Thus it isn’t really a true historical like we had during the 60s where the historicals were dependent on the setting, whether with them getting involved in an actual event like The Romans (burning of Rome) and The Massacre or just in a particular setting like The Smugglers.

    After that, I think the only things of note are the Doctor playing cricket (something some of the novels use as well) and Nyssa having a doppelganger, maybe making up for her being shafted in Kinda. The first wicket that the Doctor gets was actually for real with Davison bowling.

    Annoying railway continuity of using Quainton Road, Buckinghamshire for the shots of the station but the shot of the train departing is Arley, Worcestershire (Tardiswiki says Bewdley, but they are wrong. I’m from around there). Grrr!

    So it looks nice but there isn’t really a lot to it despite having the highest viewing figures for a 5th Doctor story with 9.9 and 10.1 million respectively. For me it’s fairly average at 3/5

    Cheers

    Kieren

    PS
    Everyone watch the next one Earthshock

  3. Ed Corbet

    The Doctor starts by stressing that the fire they definitely started would definitely have happened anyway, honest. I’m sure the Master goes with “Tegan, your Aunt would definitely have died anyway, stop giving me aggro”.

    He then infiltrates a cricket match (pretty sure having 2 hearts is cheating). He asks the Umpire if he’s on middle-stump, then sets his guard on off-stump, but he needn’t have worried, that first delivery was wide by about 2 feet; from that montage, those bowlers couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. These guys are supposed to have reduced a team to 54 for 8?

    Wait a minute; Traken went from being a “Union” to being an “Empire”, has Nyssa let a dirty little secret slip there?

    I love the way that when the Victorians see the fantastic technology of the TARDIS, they respond with “Well, everything seems to be in order here, clearly an alien couldn’t be a murderer”.

    And it turns out with George dead, no one has to answer for any of this for some reason, Doc seems fine to leave it at that; no questions about the imprisonment? … of the disfigured man?… no? .. Okay.

    A short-but-sweet historical and a nice change of pace, and they manage well with their budget (e.g. the good job of hiding the join between the 2 takes of Sarah in the face-to-face shots between Nyssa and Ann). The TARDIS crew seem quite likeable when people aren’t constantly trying to murder them.

    3.3

    Ed Corbet

  4. Kristaps Paddock

    Brevity is the soul of wit, both in serials and reviews, and so I will simply say that I love this. It goes full Agatha Christie, kills a few people, Tegan does the Charleston, and it’s over. Even Adric wasn’t half bad. Four point two.

  5. Peter Zunitch

    I don’t understand the haters. Sure Orchid’s not a thrill ride, sure it’s not epic, but remember? During Tom’s years we were all complaining about how not everything has to be about the end of the universe. We asked for this one. I know it relies on the old identical twins trope, but Who has done that before and some of those stories were among the best. In fact this story would fit right in during the Hartnell era.

    Perhaps though that’s the issue, it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the Davison stories. Yet that may also be the genius of it. For the first time in ages we’re presented with a period piece that has no monsters, no masterminds, it’s just a tiny sequence of events that would fit right in with any Agatha Christie story, pompous secondary characters and all.

    What I see is a short trip that deftly teases the audience with the evil shoe dropping any minute, but it never does. It takes the time to develop the cast and explore their relationships in a casual atmosphere like we’ve never experienced. It shows us the crew when they’re not on the edge of a cliff. It takes a break from what was and quite deceptively sets us up for everything to come.

    I’ll admit, it’s not great. If you’re not in the right mood it can be snore city. Yet given the bigger picture it’s an okay 2-parter. Sticky wickets to you, 2.3

  6. Andy Parkinson | @caffreys71

    Tally-Ho chaps!

    Here’s my Black Orchid review.

    Black Orchid is one of those stories which isn’t really a Doctor Who story at all. It’s more a cross of Agatha Christie whodunit and Phantom of the Opera. It seems to have affected the TARDIS crew too – The Doctor is so weak and ineffective, hen-pecked by his companions and timid when accused of murder.

    Tegan has done a complete personality 180, no longer concerned with returning home, she’s actually nice here, why haven’t they written her this way before? Nyssa gets to have fun with a doppelganger – and double Sarah Sutton is never a bad thing. Even Adric is bearable, never once switching sides or acting like a dick, this could be because he’s stuffing his face at every opportunity – something of a last supper for the condemned.

    Likes

    Nice Tegan! More please!

    The sets and locations are great

    Beefs

    Errrrr where’s the sci-fi gone?

    How many people is the Doc going to show inside the TARDIS?? Richard Mace last time and now nearly the entire local police force!

    George may be dead, but Lord & Lady Cranleigh got up to some dodgy stuff – yet the cops and the TARDIS team seem to just let it go?

    I vividly remember seeing this as a kid and being frightened by George. Sadly, watching it as an adult it’s lost some of its sheen. It’s not terrible by any means, it’s just a bit unremarkable. That said because I remember it so well, I will give it a slightly higher score.

    I award this story 3.0 out of 5 why didn’t we leave after the cricket.

    Andy Parkinson

    @caffreys71

  7. Neil James | @neilandrozani

    We open with a grizzly murder and a very large lip! I love the Doc explaining to Nyssa and Adric how a railway station works.

    Being a 2-parter, you’d think the pace would be cranked up. But it isn’t.

    We get a relaxed and gentle Part 1, which is happy to breeze along and allows Davison to show off his cricketing skills. LOVE IT!!!

    Lord Cranleigh is hilarious and instead of moving the story along, we head off to a fancy-dress party where Davison gets lost in a secret passage while his companions have a spiffing time! Adric eats a ton of food, Tegan flirts with a pensioner, and Nyssa dicks around with her doppleganger – lovely stuff.

    It’s really funny watching the party scenes as it clearly started off warm and sunny, then pissed down later on and everyone looks freezing!

    In Part 2, we discover that George is still very much alive, and completely bonkers! Great make-up job on big George and nice stunt when he falls from the roof. We also discover that Lady Cranleigh is a first-class bitch, happy to incriminate the Doctor for murder!

    Big shout out to the policeman who’s cry of “STRIKE ME PINK!” when he sees the inside of the TARDIS is comedy gold.

    It’s tied up with a very rushed ending which implies they all hung around for George’s funeral. WHY?!!!

    I adore Black Orchid and if you disagree, I will set fire to your mansion and drag you up to the roof.

    Rating – 4.5

    Neil James

    @neilandrozani

  8. James Ashley | @JamesAshIey

    Hi there, thanks for doing the podcast as always:

    Black Orchid is one of those cosy feeling serials – a story that feels comfortable and relaxing. This is probably because very little action takes place at a high intensity, but here it works in its favour. Hiding beneath this warm facade, a fairly dark story lingers beneath, so thankfully a good cast was used to pull it off. At only two episodes, it is quite strange that the serial still feels like it has enough breathing room, so it was a good move to use this for the 2-episode slot.

    On a negative, I don’t think the portrayal of indigenous cultures is great, while the use of a horrific accident to create a ‘monster’ does feel a little uncomfortable. To conclude, the cast are having a great time and that transcends onto the audience and, though the aforementioned issues bring it down, Black Orchid still remains a neat and comfy serial ; the stakes are not the highest, but it doesn’t hinder a mostly enjoyable and unique story.

    Overall: 3.6/5

  9. Michael Ridgway | @bad_movie_club
    • This story is brought to you by Ye Olde Cadbury’s. Yum.
    • ‘What’s the matter, old girl? Why this compulsion for planet Earth?’, erm, the budget?
    • ‘[insert catastrophe for which I’m directly responsible] is just part of Earth’s history,’ – is now my catch-all excuse for causing mass death and destruction.
    • Charles Cranleigh wouldn’t be played by the same Michael Cochrane who appears as a loopy explorer in Seventh Doctor masterpiece Ghost Light, would it? I think it is!
    • This story is clearly just a vehicle for Peter Davison to play cricket.
    • No dead servant in the cupboard is going to stop you having a good time, eh Doctor. To the party!
    • Socially awkward Adric hanging around the buffet resonated.
    • The police have taken the Tardis / Timelord thing very calmly.
    • Setting fire to the door to escape is a risky strategy. Good stunt work though.
    • Was George falling off the roof an accident?
    • Adric didn’t get a present!
    • Why isn’t Lady Cranleigh in prison!

    Summary: A whimsical oddball.

    Rating: 3.4/5 servants with sore necks after a run-in with George.

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