DOCTOR WHO Pure Historicals - BLACK ORCHID

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15 years after the last pure historical story (The Highlanders), Doctor Who finally returned to the genre. Christopher Morley is your guide for the Fifth Doctor 2-part adventure, Black Orchid. 


A word of warning- you may never look at period dramas the same way again. If you can live with your impressions of the genteel likes of Downton Abbey being absolutely ruined ( or improved if you consider yourself to have an over-active imagination), step into our TARDIS & prepare to learn more about the true nature of the English aristocracy that you could possible ever want to know. 

Bill Bryson's jokey discussion of the differences between his own dearly beloved baseball & our cricket would sting the Fifth Doctor to his very core. What, then, is the biggest of these sporting schisms?

According to Bill -'The answer is simple. Both are games of great skill involving balls and bats but with this crucial difference: Baseball is exciting, and when you go home at the end of the day, you know who won.
I'm joking, of course. Cricket is a wonderful sport, full of deliciously scattered micromoments of real action. If a doctor ever instructs me to take a complete rest and not get overexcited, I shall become a fan at once. In the meantime, my heart belongs to baseball. '

But has he ever seen ' Black Orchid'? Probably not. We should point out to all those who've never experienced the joys of bat on ball in its most English of forms- be it the Ashes, County Championship,Twenty20 etc- that masked balls & murder don't tend to come as part of the package, disappointing many of the crowds flocking to Lord's, the Oval, Edgbaston or indeed a pavilion near you. They do however work beautifully together when Five, Adric, Nyssa & Tegan step from ' Sexy' into 1925.....



Where could they be? They're certainly caught somewhere in time,so in theory anywhere is possible! The Doctor is quick to burst the bubble by confirming that they find themselves at Cranleigh Halt railway station, most likely fearing a comeback by the Great Intelligence & its Yeti (The Web Of Fear). If indeed the being also known as Yog-Sothoth- one of many Whovian additions to the pantheon of the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos as originated by Howard Phillips ' H.P' Lovecraft- is hanging around waiting to nab the Doctor once more, it'll be most displeased to learn that its clutches will be escaped once more.

A chauffeur by the name of Tanner is waiting for our Fab Four. The Doctor is to have a chance to show off not only his entirely appropriate cricketing wardrobe...



...but quite some skill on the field of play. To see just why the ECB might have been on the phone begging him to play at least a few games as a ' ringer', take a look at this...



No wonder Lord Charles Cranleigh was so keen to have him play!

Luckily Five has his game face on & even after turning up late is able to help his new friend's team turn defeat into glorious victory. By way of a thank you & maybe apology for terrifying the Doctor with mention of the Master...



...he invites the Test Match Special-loving Time Lord & pals to a masked ball later that evening. While its never established that the Master the Doctor knows is at the afternoon's match, the ' real' one idolised by the crowd would undoubtedly be proud of the sporting prowess shown by Cranleigh's new friend.

William Gilbert ' W.G' Grace played first-class cricket for a mind-blowing 44 seasons ( 1865-1908 if you were wondering), amazing when you consider he was born in Bristol & not on Gallifrey! Soon its time for the ball, everyone partying like its 1925- the Doctor reluctant to reveal his name when asked as part of a formal introduction to Charles's mum. She still misses her other son George, a renowned botanist presumed dead following an expedition to South America to find the rare bloom which gives our story its title....



Adric, Nyssa & Tegan are more upset at not having costumes for the party- which confuses Lady Cranleigh, who thought they'd come prepared. She's also convinced she knows Nyssa from somewhere, a prior meeting perhaps. 

In walks Charlie with his fiancée Ann Talbot- a dead ringer for Nyssa! Preparations are soon well under way for the evening's ball. The Doctor's been given a full harlequin ensemble, everyone else possibly convinced that his cricket gear is far too dirty to wear to such an occasion after events on the field earlier in the day.

Trying on the mask that comes with the outfit makes him look a little like a Mexican luchador (masked wrestler). Before he can seriously contemplate a career in the ring, though, he's caught up in a quickly developing web of intrigue- someone pinches his costume & locks him out of his room! Ann & Nyssa decide to switch places to fool the other guests, & Tegan helps out her Trakenite friend by teaching her the Charleston.



Much as he'd like to, Five can't join in the dancing. He does, though, find his way out of his personal pickle & into a hidden section of the Cranleigh mansion..its not a Batcave either. Something's not quite as it seems amid the old books & clothes..that'd be the body in the cupboard, then? Everyone else is enjoying the party downstairs until whoever stole the harlequin costume takes ' Ann' for a dance...then in a display of ungentlemanly conduct that would have most aristos reaching for the smelling salts he attacks her & kills a servant, James.

In what might be the biggest faux pas ever the Doctor dons the costume after the killer returns it to his room- the dope! But the mystery deepens- who's the real killer? A mystery man with no tongue & terrible skin. Doesn't help that everyone else is convinced that the man in the cricket gear is the one who got to Ann & helped poor James become an ex-servant. In desperation he reveals that he's an alien who's just been mistaken for another more conventional doctor who's similarly blessed with bat & ball skills.

He & his companions are carted off to the local police station, where a rather key piece of evidence awaits- its 'Sexy' herself! Being policemen, the bobbies were naturally keen to explore a police box that seemingly won't open- until the Doctor produces his key & takes everyone back home to Cranleigh Hall. Just who is the murderer? It's George! He's not dead, as everyone else believes, just horribly disfigured & a little mad having been kept away from the outside world since his return from the Amazon.



Given all that you might think it no surprise that Black Orchid is one of the most fondly remembered stories of Peter Davison's time holding the key to the TARDIS- but he & co-stars/companions Janet Fielding, Matthew Waterhouse & Sarah Sutton are all said to have disliked it. If nothing else it does at least give writer Terence Dudley a chance to work in an explanation of just why the Doctor chose such a seemingly odd outfit post-regeneration (Castrovalva). Sticky wicket averted!

Previous Pure Historicals

The Reign Of Terror 
The Romans
Warped Factor
Words in the key of geek!