Perfectly ripping. Doctor Who – Black Orchid


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.

Another one goes for four
Another one goes for four

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.

Tegan is quite the botany expert
Tegan is quite the botany expert

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.

2 thoughts on “Perfectly ripping. Doctor Who – Black Orchid

  1. A lot of the flaws are down to behind the scenes problems. They ran out of time in studio and weren’t able to finish the opening sequence. We were meant to see the man watching Ann being dragged away, but it was never filmed, So they tried to cover by dropping in a shot of him tied up from later in the episode.

    Similarly, the Doctor was originally meant to climb up the side of the house, but stuntman Gareth Milne (whose main role was George Cranleigh) infamously injured his leg doing the fall from the roof when he partly missed the mattress and it was decided not to have him attempt the stunt. Thinking about it, it might have been best to just not show the Doctor inside the house so we could assume he found his way to the roof a different way. (Lack of sets causing a problem!)


  2. The author of Doctor Who Magazine’s History of Doctor Who in 100 Objects (a series which was shamefully cut short) has a thing about Black Orchid.

    In one article he suggested that there is a missing scene from Black Orchid where Nyssa ans Ann swap places. Nyssa stays on 1920s Earth and marries Charles Cranleigh, while Ann travel in the Tardis with the Doctor.

    If Black Orchid was being made now it would be made much earlier in the series. Then in one of the penultimate story when the Doctor and Sarah Sutton’s character are alone he addresses her has “Ann”. She then admits she is Ann, the Doctor says that he hasn’t known all along, but he has known for some time that Ann and Nyssa swapped places.

    He says that he has to take her back to her own time, however in the next story the land in present day Heathrow Airport where they meet Nyssa who is now an old woman. She says that this is the first time she’s met the Doctor since she stayed behind in the 1920s, so the Doctor can’t take Ann back to her own time, and Ann continues to travel with the Doctor.


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