Top positive review
Great adventures from 1666 and 1925 Britain
on February 9, 2004
Two historical adventures, one quasi-, the other a period adventure set in 1920's Britain. The first, The Visitation, has the Doctor and his companions landing in the England of 1666, where they are mistaken for plague carriers and nearly killed if not for the intervention of Richard Mace, an itinerant thespian who has been taking refuge in a barn. Mace saw a comet as the sign of things to come. However, according to the Doctor, Earth isn't due for a comet for a couple years. And the discovery of higher technology pinpoints to aliens on Earth, and thus to the manor where the barn's owner lives. However, the manor is under control of the Terileptils, (inspired by the words territorial reptiles), whose leader becomes interested in the Doctor as he sees the Time Lord foil his servants, villagers controlled by a crude form of mental control.
At first, Richard Mace is skeptical at the Doctor's explanations for the strange occurrences, but he comes to trust the unconventional Time Lord. The representation of manners and customs of 17th century England is accurately shown in Mace, who tells the Time Lord that one should be humble and respectful of the gentry, particularly the owners of the barn the Doctor wants information on. The Doctor ripostes with "I've met kings, emperors, megalomaniacs in my time." And Mace's shock at Nyssa and the Doctor's breaking into the barn owner's house is again 17th century protocol. But Michael Robbins' plummy robust voice as well as his likeable character nearly makes him steal the show as Mace.
One reason why Tegan's among my least favourite companions is her bad temper. When the Doctor misses her own time by a good three centuries, she yells "Call yourself a Time Lord? A broken clock keeps better time than you! At least it's accurate twice a day which is more than you ever are!" Later, he gets his own back when in response to how she's feeling, Tegan says "Groggy, sore, and bad-tempered." He says, "Good. Almost your old self."
The Terileptils justify their plans of conquest thus: "It's survival. Just as these primitive kill lesser species to protect themselves, so I kill them." They also like war and say "War is honorable...even on this planet it is considered so." The Doctor counters with "Yet by your own admission, these people are still primitive. What's your excuse?" eliciting an angry growl from the Terileptil. Designing the Terileptil marked the first use of animatronics in the series, used in making the mouth, lips and gills move.
The Visitation's always been a favourite of mine due to the way the story gradually unfolds. One of Nyssa's more heroic moments come in during her task to convert the TARDIS's sonic booster coupled with a frequency accelerator to destroy the android. And the story ends with an event Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary. Look at the year: 1666. What happened in London then? (Rating: 5).
Black Orchid has the Doctor being mistaken for a doctor at nearby Guy's Hospital and expected at the manor of the Cranleighs for a cricket match, giving a "perfectly ripping performance." Hey, the Doctor isn't wearing that cricketing outfit for nothing, and the montage that shows him batting, pitching no-hitters, and cries of "Howzat?" is a triumph. However, who is the unknown man in beige trousers and brown shoes and guttural hiss who strangles a man at the beginning and who later infiltrates the Doctor's room?
A further surprise is that Nyssa is an identical twin of Ann Talbot, fiancee to Lord Cranleigh. Sarah Sutton plays both Nyssa and Ann, and the latter's clever idea of having identical purple butterfly costumes at the masked charity. However, the Cranleighs have a dark secret which blows open and sunders the festive atmosphere when Doctor is accused of murder by Ann.
One observation of the aristocracy arises when the Cranleighs try to figure out where Nyssa's from. They think Worcestershire, and the identification of class to region, when they say Nyssa's lack of knowledge of Esher shows good taste is telling of the snobbery they exhibit. The implied trust given to the aristocracy by the police is shown as the Doctor is disbelieved and Ann believed in her accusation.
One flaw is how the British police of 1925 know of police boxes when none existed back then.
Despite being a two-parter, Black Orchid works better than expected. Adric and Nyssa's lack of understanding Earth culture is accompanied by Tegan feeling right at home, and in a good mood for once, even doing the Charleston at the ball. (Rating: 4) Overall rating, 4.5, rounded to 5.