Black Orchid is a fairly simple tale, but there are some plot flaws, particularly in episode two, which impact the story.
It was the first two-parter since The Sontaran Experiment in 1975 and there are times when it’s easy to see why this wasn’t a regular format for the show. On occassions a little more time would have worked to the benefit of the story such as in the opening sequence, when we see in quick succession a man being murdered, somebody who looks like Nyssa sleeping whilst a mysterious man spies upon her and then we see someone tied up on a bed.
It’s the same person – George Cranleigh – who killed the man, spied upon the girl and is tied up on the bed, but although there’s a cross-fade between the second and third sequence this isn’t particularly obvious. A little more time spent on the opening could have made this much clearer.
The TARDIS has landed in the 1920’s where, thanks to a case of mistaken identity, the Doctor takes part in a local charity cricket match (he is, of course, an expert at the game) and is later invited, along with his companions, to a party at Cranleigh Hall.
Sarah Sutton gets the chance to play two parts, as well as Nyssa she’s also Ann Talbot (who is engaged to Lord Cranleigh). The split-screen shots work very well, although some of the sequences when her double is also in the frame are less convincing.
The party is quite a sight. It was recorded in October and as might be expected the weather wasn’t terribly kind. There’s strong wind in virtually every scene and they clearly had some rain as well, but they do their best to convince us it’s a glorious summers day.
The mysterious man in the attic Is a very tidy chap. After taking the Doctor’s fancy dress costume, killing a servant and carrying off Ann, he then returns the costume to the Doctor’s room. This is so the Doctor can then put it on and be misidentified by Ann as the murderer.
With the Doctor suspected of murder and taken off to the police station, things look bleak. Ideally it would have been good for the Doctor to prove his innocence by uncovering some clues, but instead he shows the TARDIS to the police, which does the trick. This is a rather lazy piece of writing and indeed the whole trip to the police station is a little unnecessary, it would have been better if everyone had stayed at Cranleigh Hall until the truth was uncovered.
Eventually the identity of the mysterious man in the attic is revealed to be George, the elder brother of Lord Cranleigh. George Cranleigh had been engaged to Ann before his disappearance some years previously and he carries off Nyssa in a case of mistaken identity. There then follows a rather odd sequence. George Cranleigh has started a fire and has taken Nyssa to the roof. The Doctor and Adric run up the stairs but decide it’s too hot to follow them.
Everybody goes outside, then the Doctor goes back inside and does follow them this time (what had changed?). He also makes the point that Nyssa’s life would be in danger if George realised the girl wasn’t Ann. So what’s the first thing he does when he confronts George? Tells him that the girl isn’t Ann! Poor George, who didn’t seem to have had much of a life, then plummets to his death, so that this particular family secret is brought to a conclusion.
Black Orchid has some very decent guest actors (Barbara Murray, Moray Watson, Michael Cochrane) and it chugs along nicely, but the flaws in the plot are a bit of a problem. If you want an expanded take on the story then Terence Dudley’s novelisation (available as an audiobook read by Michael Cochrane) does help to fill in the background and make the story feel more coherent.