Black orchid (1982)
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This is a two-part serial, first broadcast between 1st - 2nd March 1982. A brief and somewhat spoiler-ish summary of the plot: mistaken for a cricket player known only as 'the doctor', the Doctor visits a manor where a murder mystery awaits him...
'Black orchid' is the kind of story that could have been written by Arthur Conan Doyle, even if it's set in the 1920's rather than in the 1880's. It's also a straight-forward historical story, something Doctor Who (as far as I know) hadn't done since the Hartnell era. Unfortunately, the story has its problems.
One problem is that the story hinges on a string of coincidences. The more farfetched ones (and beware, there are spoilers ahead):
- the Tardis lands at a small country railway station, just when a train is leaving. A cricket player only known as 'the doctor' was due to arrive on that train in order to play a game of cricket at a nearby manor. Since the cricket player is a friend of a friend, neither the driver who is waiting for him at the station or anyone at the manor knows what he looks like. Since the Doctor is wearing a cricket costume he is mistaken for 'the doctor' and he and the companions are taken to the manor. Why 'the doctor' was supposed to be on that particular train is something of a mystery, as the game is already in progress when it reaches the station
- Nyssa is the spitting image of Ann, one of the other guests at the manor. After the cricket there's a fancy dress ball, and Ann just happens to have an exact copy of her costume for Nyssa to wear
- the costume that the Doctor is supposed to be wearing to the ball is the only one that has a full-face mask, since everyone else is wisely wearing either no mask at all or something that allows them to eat, drink and breathe. It's also the only costume that has mittens, another inexplicable addition to a costume that the wearer is supposed to socialise in. After taking a bath, with the costume lying on the bed, the Doctor discovers a secret passageway and accidentally locks himself out of his room. At that exact moment George, the resident murderous madman, wanders into the Doctor's room to find the one costume that will sufficiently hide his hideously deformed face and hands to allow him to go to the ball to do his mischief. He also manages to return the costume without the Doctor noticing its absence
The other problem is that, apart from the cricket, this isn't a good story for the Doctor (beware, more spoilers ahead):
- the Doctor spends much of part one getting lost in corridors and finding new corridors to get lost in, and much of part two being baffled by the plot and everything that happens to him
- when he gets wrongly accused of murder, what we'd want the Doctor to do is to use his wits in order to prove his innocence and find the real killer. Instead, he starts telling everyone he's a time traveller who has just happened to end up at the wrong place at the wrong time, proving his point by showing the policemen who have arrested him the inside of the Tardis. Astonishingly, this actually convinces the police of his innocence
- and although this is a minor problem compared to the previous ones, the clown costume that the Doctor wears to the ball is even uglier than his successor's
Don't I have anything positive to say about this serial? Well, actually I do:
- the story seems to provide a bit of R&R for the regulars: the Doctor gets to play cricket, Tegan and Nyssa get to flirt and dance the Charleston, and Adric gets lots of stuff to eat. Everyone seems relaxed and on their best behaviour, there's no bickering in the Tardis, and Tegan is positively charming
- the dresses that Nyssa / Ann and especially Tegan wear to the ball are nice, and I enjoyed the 1920s music
Flawed, forgettable fluff.
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