Monday, August 11, 2008

Review of Story 121: "Black Orchid"

This past Tuesday saw the release of two more classic Doctor Who stories, "The Time Meddler" (starring William Hartnell as the First Doctor) and "Black Orchid" (starring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor).  Because it is shorter (only two 25-minute episodes), I have already had a chance to watch "Black Orchid," so I'll be discussing that story first.

First off, I think this might the first classic two-parter that I've ever watched (not counting the two-parters during Colin Baker's tenure as the Sixth Doctor, which ran 45 minutes an episode).  At two episodes of 25 minutes apiece, this makes "Black Orchid" roughly the same length as a modern episode.   So, is this 50-minute story the same level of quality as an episode of the new series?  Well, no; but, then, this was made in 1982, over 25 years ago, and television programs were quite different beasts then than they are now.  If the story was made now, for example, it almost certainly wouldn't begin with an overly indulgent five-minute cricket match or a plot that fails to coalesce until the second half.  Taken for what it is, though, I found "Black Orchid" to be quite enjoyable.  Yes, it plays out like an underwritten Ms. Marple episode of Mystery, but that's okay with me as a change-of-pace Doctor Who episode.  Actually, it kind of reminded me of this season's Agatha Christie-centric episode, "The Unicorn and the Wasp."

To quickly recap the episode, then, The Fifth Doctor and his entourage (consisting of Adric Nyssa, and Tegan) land on an English train platform in 1925.  Immediately, The Doctor is mistaken for another cricket-playing, local doctor and is carted away to a country estate to take part in a friendly match.  As The Doctor and crew arrive at the Cranleigh Hall, Lord Charles Cranleigh marvels at how much Nyssa looks like his young fiancee, Ann.  That afternoon, as the TARDIS crew enjoys a Roaring 20s-style kegger, a series of murders takes place at the estate.  All is not as it seems at Cranleigh Hall....

This story takes place during an odd time in the history of Doctor Who, during which The Doctor traveled with a crew of three companions, which was probably two too many (I'll let you decide which ones should go).  With four people in the TARDIS, two of the crew members invariably end up just standing around, getting a line or two per episode.  Adric and Tegan, for example, just eat and dance, respectively, throughout this story.  Neither adds anything to the plot or action.  Personally, I think Adric could have been an interesting protege for The Doctor, but he was crowded out when the two ladies arrived.  Thankfully, the crowded  TARDIS only lasts for one more story -- and then Adric gets blasted to Kingdom Come by the Cybermen.

"Black Orchid" revolves around a series of mistaken identities.  First, The Doctor is mistaken for a different doctor.  Then, Nyssa is mistaken for Ann.  Next, The Doctor (or his harlequin costume, anyway) is mistaken for a killer (really George Cranleigh).  Finally, the "unspoilt" George Cranleigh (as he appears in a portrait) looks exactly like his brother Charles.  Whether they are twins or not is never mentioned, but I think George can be seen as the flipside of Charles regardless.

Oh, one last thing; I simply cannot end my discussion of this story without mentioning possibly the worst "special effect" in all of Doctor Who's history.  No, it's not some futuristic spaceship. It's not a cheesy laser beam.  It's not even K-9.  It's the South American "Indian" Dittar Latoni's bottom lip.  I'll post a pic later so you all can enjoy it.

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