Monday, 23 January 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Black Orchid

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Lord Cranleigh, The Doctor and Nyssa mourn George.
Doctor Who - Season 19, Story  5 - Black Orchid

There's a show that I mentioned during the Summer called Jeeves and Wooster, a wonderful period drama-comedy based on the works of P.G. Wodehouse and set in the Edwardian era. Its running time, funnily enough, is fifty minutes long. Today's serial was an experiment by JNT, shortening the length of the serial and returning to a type of story not seen for 15 years and never seen again afterwards. Black Orchid is a rare example in Doctor Who of a story known as the Pure Historical, a story without any aliens or science-fiction influences besides the TARDIS and crew.
     This story gets a lot of derision from the Who community because of this format, which leads many to accuse the story of being boring. Poppycock, I say. Black Orchid is a visual and audible delight, bolstered by brilliant acting the BBC's absolute love of period drama. I often wish that we could have a modern-day Historical story, just to mix things up - the last time anyone came close was the pseudo-Historical "The Unicorn and the Wasp," which then ruined it all with a massive alien bumblebee.
     The Doctor and crew, having come from the events in London, arrive in 1920s rural England. Despite The Doctor's irritance that the TARDIS brought them to England once again, they head off from their train-station landing site and run into a cricket game hosted by one Lord Cranleigh. The Doctor, already wearing cricket whites, is a natural. They further travel to Lord Cranleigh's estate, where they are invited to their annual fancy-dress ball. Lord Cranleigh's fianc√©, Ann, is a dead-ringer for Nyssa and they have fun at the fancy-dress party by wearing identical costumes.
     Meanwhile, The Doctor has happened upon a passage where he finds a corpse in a cupboard. After a strange figure uses The Doctor's costume to commit a murder, the gang find themselves framed. Luckily, The Doctor shows the Constable his TARDIS, and as they travel back to the Estate the lord reveals, reluctantly, the secret that he has been hiding - his disfigured brother, George, who committed the murders and whom was set to mary Ann before his accident. George is accidentally killed, and on a bittersweet note the foursome leave, with a copy of George's book on the Black Orchid.
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The Doctor proves his innocence.
     I'll admit that the story is fluffy; very fluffy. But it's not boring in the least, quite the opposite. Our characters, people that we (should) care about, are simply having a break and a fun time. It works better in context, I suppose. The story comes between The Visitation, in which the gang fights aliens and starts the Great Fire of London, and Earthshock (a revisitation next week!) in which Adric dies. This series has a great sense of continuity, and the only episodes that aren't linked by a narrative thread are the first two, and that was because of their splintered scheduling. I don't mind our characters having a break once in a while, and I found the period drama and environment an acceptable method of showing that. It's inoffesive, it's comforting.
     There's not a lot to say about Black Orchid, but it's not the horror that the fandom so often portrays it as. It's light and fluffy, but it's the enjoyable kind of fluff and it's a light 50 minute break in what is otherwise a rather busy season. The BBC is brilliant at period drama and even though it's not a genre that I particularly enjoy, Black Orchid is a pleasant detour from Doctor Who's norm.

Thanks.

NEXT TIME: We revisit a certain Cyberman story that saw the end for the series' biggest annoyance... meet me next week, for Earthshock Revisited.
P.S. The weather continuity is terrible.

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