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DVD Review

Doctor Who
Black Orchid


Starring: Peter Davison
RRP: £12.99
Certificate: PG
Available 14 April 2008

The TARDIS lands in a quiet rural backwater of 1925’s England. The Doctor, along with his companions Tegan, Nyssa and Adric, are mistaken for expected guests and are taken to a cricket match where the Doctor's performance wins the match for his host Lord Cranleigh. Invited back to the house for a fancy dress party, Nyssa is surprised to discover that she is the twin to Cranleigh’s fiancée Ann Talbot. But there are deeper secrets contained within the corridors of Cranleigh’s manor and as the bodies start to pile up the Doctor finds himself under suspicion for murder...

Black Orchid was the fifth story of Peter Davison’s first season and was originally transmitted in March 1982. Written by Terence Dudley and directed by Ron Jones the story is little more than a one act period melodrama stretched, overlong, to two episodes. The story was originally available on VHS paired with The Visitation; it is here presented, on its own, with a digitally enhanced picture.

The story covers some very familiar ground as it unfolds, borrowing much from the works of Daphne Du Maurier and stealing the whole central mystery from Charlotte Bronte’s Jayne Eyre, though this time the secret in the attic isn’t the mad Mrs Rochester. That said, Doctor Who was well known for nicking the central plots of some of the best horror and fantasy novels.

Although I am a particular fan of Davison’s era I can’t help but feel that Black Orchid is a little out of place as a Who story. On the plus side it is a much smaller story, so the actors don’t have to overact so much allowing them to stretch their thespian muscles. However, ultimately, it feels more like Who being superimposed on a genre story where the essential elements of the Who universe are superfluous. This leads to an ill fit between the various parts, making the story feel more like a guest appearance by the Who team in someone else’s series. It’s not the worst Who story ever made, but it certainly isn’t the best either and goes a long way to explaining why this type of story was not often produced.

As ever, the team do what they can with their parts. Matthew Waterhouse, as Adric, comes off worse having little to do in the story except for asking stupid questions and eating himself silly. Janet Fielding’s Tegan gets a slightly bigger slice of the pie, but the largest parts go to Peter Davison, as the Doctor, and Sarah Sutton, who get to play both Nyssa and Ann Talbot - something which she does convincingly, giving each of her two characters distinct personalities.

As ever Auntie Beeb have produced another excellent DVD with a bucket full of extras. As usual there is a full length commentary with actors Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Matthew Waterhouse, whose amusing and often irreverent comments are well worth listening to and betrays the affection that they all obviously have for this period in their lives. Now and Then (9 min 4 sec) is another one of those short documentaries which looks at locations and contemporarily reshoots the surviving structures - a kind of watch once affair unless you still own an anorak. There are Deleted Scenes (7 min 5 sec) and a short featurette (2 min 42 sec) about the films restoration.

The next extra is an odd, but nevertheless welcome feature, Stripped for Action - The Fifth Doctor (16 min 10 sec). This looks at the comic strip which covered Davison’s tenure as the Doctor, with contributions from Dave Gibbons - who, as a comic book artist, has stolen more of my time than I care to remember with his prodigious talent - editor Alan McKenzie, Alan Barnes and Gary Russell.

There is the usual couple of old programs which featured Doctor Who, in this case Blue Peter (8 min 39 sec), which looks at costumes, and Points of View (2 min 27 sec) with viewers complaining about the rescheduling of the show.  You get a picture gallery with an impressive fifty-two pictures, a mixture of publicity shots and behind the scenes stuff, a quick look at the forthcoming Trial of a Time Lord (I’m thinking expensive box set for this one) and a PDF of the Radio Times. There is an Easter Egg for you to find, but what it is I cannot say, not because it’s a great secret, but because I am notoriously naff at finding those things and as the PR blurb didn’t say what it was, I gave up after half an hour.

Ultimately, this is one for Davison fans only or those that want to have a complete collection. As a stand alone story it is weak - great extras though.


Charles Packer

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