Top positive review
Four time travellers and a murder mystery
on August 6, 2008
Black Orchid isn't a bad piece of Doctor Who, but it's not a shining example of what the show is all about either; if you were to show an episode to someone as an introductory adventure, this would hardly be the one you would choose.
Back in 1982 when this was made, 2-part stories were rare and only a few writers attempted them. Writer Terence Dudley penned not only Black Orchid but The King's Demons the year after, and where Demons was criticized for trying to do too much, Black Orchid takes a very slow pace to get to where it is going, with the Doctor and company arriving in England in the summer of 1925 and going to a charity cricket match, then a fancy dress party, and discovering a murder mystery in the process. Identity is the key element to this one: companion Nyssa is a dead ringer for society debutante Anne Talbot, and the Doctor is immediately mistaken for someone else. And then there is the mystery killer, credited only as "the unknown" in the first episode's closing sequence.
Aside from the presence of the TARDIS - the Doctor's time machine - there isn't much science fiction to this episode, which is an interesting turn for a science fiction series. Such an attempt at a purely historical adventure had not been attempted since The Highlanders, a lost classic from 1966. Highlanders, though, and previous historicals had a major event to work with, be it the Jacobite uprisings, Marco Polo's journey to China, or even the story of the Aztecs before the arrival of Cortez, but Black Orchid is a simple period piece with the usually stunning BBC costumes, and location shooting at some nice country spot.
BBC Video was slammed for their choice to release 2-part adventures on single DVDs rather than pair them with the adjacent 4-parters as was done with the VHS releases (Black Orchid accompanied the previously transmitted story, The Visitation, in that format), but the bonus features included with Black Orchid make it's standalone format and price point a bit easier to take; deleted scenes, a vignette about the fifth Doctor in comic book adventures, technical demonstations of how the original film sequences were restored for the DVD, and the big shining bonus: the commentary. All 4 lead actors (Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Matthew Waterhouse) are all there in the sound booth without a director or a moderator and they just let fly with some of the most hysterical commentary I have heard on a Doctor Who DVD to date. Unlike the commentary for Resurrection of the Daleks where Davison and Fielding were obviously smacked down between episodes for their vocalized thoughts, here there is nobody to stop them from totally taking shots at their least favourite moments (usually their own work).
If you're a fan you're going to get this anyways, if you're not a fan and you're curious, get something with the Daleks in it because Black Orchid is not typical of Doctor Who at any time in its history; like the lead actors, you'll need to look at it with a sense of humour.