Black Orchid, by Ian Millsted (and Terence Dudley)

This is the eighth of the Black Archive brief monographs on Doctor Who, on a two-part 1982 Fifth Doctor story which I well remember watching at the time (it was the month before my fifteenth birthday). When I returned to it in 2008, I wrote:

I did catch Black Orchid first time round in 1992, and it was and is a rather charming story, the Doctor and friends relaxing in a 1920s country household and uncovering the family secret. Davison, playing cricket, and the two girls, partying and in Sutton’s case playing two roles, are great; Waterhouse as Adric won’t dance but will eat. I am left a bit uncomfortable, however, with the idea that you should hide your disabled relatives upstairs and then let then fall to their death off the roof.

When I went back to it for my complete rewatch in 2011, I wrote:

Having had four entire years without a story set in Earth’s past (other than a few scenes in City of Death), we now have two in a row, with Black Orchid taking us forward to the 1920s. There’s not a lot to comment on here; nice characterisation of the regulars, but regrettably the Tardis becomes a taxi again to transport some policemen, appropriately enough given its external appearance, for a distance of only a few miles. The behaviour of the Cranleighs is actually rather reprehensible, and while I hope that the inquest attributed some blame to them, it probably didn’t, since the dead people were only two servants and a disabled person and they had the Chief Constable’s ear.

This time round, for whatever reason, I left it a few days between watching the two parts (they were shown on successive days in 1982; I watched them on the same day in 2008, and on consecutive days again in 2011), and I found myself liking the second episode much less than the first. I have become increasingly annoyed over the years by police procedural fiction where the police do not actually behave like real police would do, and here, having fixed on the Doctor as the likely suspect, they let him hang around the crime scene and bleat on about his innocence, and then while transporting him to custody, stop off to have a trip in his time machine – the TARDIS as taxi, another thing I hate about this era of the show. And, as noted above, the twist is that Cranleigh’s disability turns out to have been morally corrupting as well.

But I will shout out to Ivor Salter as the police sergeant here; he was also the local policeman in several episodes of Here Come the Double Deckers.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terence Dudley’s novelisation is:

‘It could have been made for me,’ said the Doctor. He dropped the costume onto the bed and picked up the head covering which was all of a piece. The pale green cap that covered the head was fronted by a white face mask. This provided holes for the eyes and nostrils, and two blood-red triangles accentuated the cheeks. The Doctor put the head piece on and his identity promptly disappeared.

When I first read it in 2008, I wrote:

Two-part stories give a lot of space to add more to the narrative when it comes time to write the novelisation, and this has been done well (Ian Marter) and badly (Nigel Robinson). This is definitely more at the Marter end of the spectrum. Dudley adds much detail about the cricket match (as incomprehensible to me as to Adric and Nyssa) and roots the story in the class structure of the Britain of the period, the Dowager Marchioness coming across as a particularly memorable personality. He even succeeds in giving Adric a couple of memorable character moments.

It’s a good book – my favourite Fifth Doctor novel so far – but let down by lousy proofing: repeated references to “Portugese” and “Venezuala” (and by the way, the first is not actually spoken much in the second); also we have someone dressed as “Marie Antionette”. A shame that Target couldn’t take more care.

Still my favourite Fifth Doctor novelisation, though I like the comics of the era and the later Big Finish audios rather more in general. Dudley came very close to making me understand cricket. (But still did not quite succeed.) You can get it here.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Ian Millsted’s Black Archive analysis of Black Orchid is:

The identification of the Doctor as part of a race called Time Lords did not happen until nearly six seasons had been broadcast. However, from the outset, the Doctor always seemed happier in the company of whoever made up the ruling class of whatever place the travellers found themselves. In Marco Polo (1964) he befriends Kublai Khan. In The Keys of Marinus (1964) he opts to travel straight on to the advanced civilisation while the others slum it in icy wastelands. (To be fair, that was a plot insert to allow William Hartnell a couple of weeks’ holiday.) Even when aristocrats are out of favour in The Reign of Terror (1964), the Doctor manages to ingratiate himself with, and as one of, the new rulers of France. He talks with Robespierre on more or less equal terms.

I thought this was one of the better Black Archive books, though Millsted misses the point I make above about the unrealistic behaviour of law enforcement. The chapters are as follows:

  • an introduction, in which we learn that writer Terence Dudley actually pitched a story to Doctor Who at the very beginning, under Verity Lambert;
  • the story’s roots in Agatha Christie, Murder Must Advertise and Jane Eyre
  • the roots of the horror elements of the story in Frankenstein, The Elephant Man, and the presentation of mental illness and disability in Jane Eyre (again), The Woman in White, East Lynne, The Secret Garden and also other Doctor Who stories;
  • class, race and (briefly) colonisation in Black Orchid and in Doctor Who as a whole;
  • cricket in Doctor Who as a whole, and how Black Orchid successfully rises to the challenge of making it look interesting in a short TV story, despite awful weather on the day of filming;
  • doubles in Doctor Who, from The Massacre to Osgood, circling back to Black Orchid
  • a brief note on two-part stories in Old Who and 45-minute stories in Who generally;
  • an appendix asking if Black Orchid is a true historical story (answer: more or less);
  • another appendix on the Cranleigh family in spinoff fiction, most notably in Justin Richards’ The Sands of Time (which I loved
  • a final appendix responding to critique of the story by the “Watcher” column in Doctor Who Magazine (but mostly agreeing).

Like I said, one of the better Black Archives, with a lot to think about for a very short story. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Black Orchid, by Ian Millsted (and Terence Dudley)

  1. atreic says:

    I saw it first, instead of reading it (well, it was a staged readthrough with friends), and the bit with the horse and the water, and ‘but don’t take the horse in the water!’ while completely out of keeping with the high and beautiful bits, was absolutely hilariously funny. [It embarresses me to admit this].

Comments are closed.