Black Orchid (Doctor Who)

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120[1]Black Orchid
Doctor Who serial
  • Michael Cochrane – Lord Cranleigh
  • Sarah Sutton – Ann Talbot
  • Barbara Murray – Lady Cranleigh
  • Gareth Milne – The Unknown/George Cranleigh
  • Moray Watson – Sir Robert Muir
  • Ivor Salter – Sergeant Markham
  • Andrew Tourell – Constable Cummings
  • Ahmed Khalil – Latoni
  • Brian Hawksley – Brewster
  • Timothy Block – Tanner
Directed byRon Jones
Written byTerence Dudley
Script editorEric Saward
Produced byJohn Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s)None
Incidental music composerRoger Limb
Production code6A
SeriesSeason 19
Running time2 episodes, 25 minutes each
First broadcast1–2 March 1982
← Preceded by
The Visitation
Followed by →
List of Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)

Black Orchid is the fifth serial of the 19th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast on BBC1 on 1 and 2 March 1982.

The serial is set in an English estate in 1925. In the serial, the alien time traveller the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) investigates the murder of two servants during a fancy dress party.

This story was the first purely historical adventure for the Doctor—featuring no science fiction elements save for the TARDIS and the regular cast—since The Highlanders (1966). Sarah Sutton plays two characters in this story.


In an English country house, two figures struggle before one of them falls dead. A young woman sleeps as a figure enters her room. The figure is then seen tied to the bed guarded by a South American Indian.

It is 11 June 1925, and as a train departs Cranleigh Halt railway station the TARDIS materialises. The crew encounters Lord Cranleigh's chauffeur, who has been expecting "the Doctor". Lord Cranleigh asks them to stay until the annual ball and offers them costumes. They are introduced to Ann Talbot, Lord Cranleigh's fiancée, who looks identical to Nyssa.

When Tegan admires a black flower, Lady Cranleigh explains it is a Black Orchid and was found on the Orinoco by her son George. Tegan recognises the name as George Cranleigh, a famous botanist and explorer. Lady Cranleigh says that George never returned from his expedition into the Brazilian forests. Ann was engaged to George.

The bound figure struggles against his bonds. When the Indian inspects the figure, he is knocked unconscious.

The Fifth Doctor picks a Harlequin outfit to wear to the ball. Ann comes to their room, presenting Nyssa with a dress identical to her own; the ball attendees will be unable to tell them apart.

As the Doctor prepares for the ball, a figure enters his room from a secret passage. Hearing a noise, the Doctor returns to the room, but only sees the opening. He enters the secret passage, but the panel closes behind him. The figure takes the Harlequin costume.

The ball has started. Lady Cranleigh talks with the Indian. He tells her his "friend" has escaped. The figure wearing the Harlequin costume dances with Ann.

The Doctor enters a room full of botany textbooks, finding the secret room where the figure was bound, a book written in Portuguese, and a corpse. The Harlequin enters the building with Ann. Ann tells it they should return to the party, but it grabs her by the wrist. Ann screams for help and a butler rushes to her assistance. The Harlequin strangles him, causing Ann to faint.

The Doctor returns to the secret room, finding Lady Cranleigh and the Indian, whom she introduces as Latoni – a Brazilian friend. The Doctor shows them the corpse, which she identifies as one of the servants. She requests he not inform the guests. The figure returns the Harlequin costume to the Doctor's room then goes to a room where Ann is lying, and a hideously deformed face is revealed. Ann awakes and seeing the figure flees into the room where Lady Cranleigh and Latoni are. Latoni gathers rope, advancing on the deformed figure.

The servants inform Lord Cranleigh of events inside the house. He finds the dead butler and Ann's mask. The Doctor arrives wearing the Harlequin costume and Ann identifies him as her attacker. Ann implores Sir Robert to arrest the Doctor. The Doctor proclaims his innocence, suggesting that someone else has an identical costume. Ann states there was only one Harlequin. He looks to Lady Cranleigh to provide an alibi but she stays silent. Sir Robert questions the Doctor regarding his identity, and he says he is a Time Lord and that he travels in time and space. Looking to Lady Cranleigh he mentions the other body, but she denies seeing it.

Showing Sir Robert the cupboard, the body has been replaced with a doll. Lord Cranleigh receives a telephone call from his friend "Smutty" Thomas who he thinks sent the Doctor to meet him, and he realises it is the wrong man. Lord Cranleigh informs Sir Robert that the Doctor is an impostor; the real doctor missed his train. The Doctor is arrested for murder, his companions accused of being accessories. They are driven to the police station. The Doctor asks the sergeant to divert to the railway station to show Sir Robert the TARDIS, but it is not on the platform. They find the TARDIS at the police station.

Lady Cranleigh tells Lord Cranleigh about the other body, that of Digby the servant, establishing his innocence. In the secret room, the bound figure slips his ropes and kills Latoni, after Latoni has hidden the room key. Unable to find the key, the figure starts stuffing newspapers under the door then sets them on fire.

The Doctor invites Sir Robert and the police sergeant into the TARDIS. Astounded by what he sees, Sir Robert offers the Doctor an apology, but is still concerned about the murder. Lord Cranleigh telephones the police station, informing them of the second body. The Doctor uses the TARDIS to return to Cranleigh Hall. The secret room is ablaze with the fire started by the deformed figure, who breaks out and goes to the main hall where Lord and Lady Cranleigh are talking. The figure grabs hold of Nyssa and drags her upstairs. The Doctor cannot follow because the fire has spread. Sir Robert demands to know what the deformed figure is, and Lady Cranleigh reveals it is George. She insists George would not harm Ann, but the Doctor points out he has the wrong girl.

George carries Nyssa onto the roof. The Doctor asks Lord Cranleigh to distract George while he finds a way to their position. Lady Cranleigh confesses to Sir Robert: George's injuries were caused by Indians, who removed his tongue because they held the Black Orchid sacred. Losing his mind, he was rescued by another tribe of Indians, of which Latoni was a member. She admits that George killed Digby. Lord Cranleigh climbs onto the roof to confront George, and the Doctor also reaches the roof. The Doctor implores him to release Nyssa, telling him to look down and see Ann. George releases Nyssa. Charles approaches his brother to thank him, but George recoils and falls off the roof to his death.

Before the Doctor departs Ann gives Tegan and Nyssa their costumes as presents and Lady Cranleigh presents the Doctor with a copy of George's book.


This serial was commissioned by producer John Nathan-Turner during a period when the series did not have a Script Editor. Nathan-Turner had originally considered directing this story himself, which would have made him the first producer to do so since Barry Letts during the early 1970s. However, due to time constraints, Nathan-Turner abandoned the idea and hired Ron Jones to direct.

Cast notes[edit]

To avoid giving away the plot surprise, Gareth Milne's character was listed as "The Unknown" for Part One[2] and in Radio Times, and as "George Cranleigh" for Part Two. Michael Cochrane, who plays Lord Cranleigh, also appears in the 1989 Seventh Doctor serial Ghost Light. He also appeared in the audio plays No Man's Land and Brotherhood of the Daleks. Ivor Salter had previously played the Morok Commander in The Space Museum[3] and Odysseus in The Myth Makers.[4]

Broadcast and reception[edit]

EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [5]
1"Part One"24:561 March 1982 (1982-03-01)9.9
2"Part Two"24:412 March 1982 (1982-03-02)10.1

The story was repeated on BBC1 on 31 August and 1 September 1983, achieving viewing figures of 4.4 and 5.0 million viewers respectively.[6]

In the DVD commentary, Peter Davison and Janet Fielding revealed that Black Orchid is not a particular favourite episode of theirs, because they disliked the lack of a science fiction element and thought the script was generally trite.

Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping gave the serial a positive review in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), writing, "A little piece of 20s whimsy sampled into Doctor Who with surprisingly satisfying results."[7] In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker said that the story had high production values and were disappointed it did not lead to more historicals.[8] In 2012, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times praised the story's variation on the Doctor Who formula and the cast, especially Sutton, who was given more to do.[9] The A.V. Club reviewer Christopher Bahn noted that the story was not realistic and paced in a way that not much happened in the first episode, but felt that this decision allowed for leisurely moments between the TARDIS crew. Though he wrote that the low stakes were a refreshing change, he said that the story's problem was its reliance on Agatha Christie-like source material, which led to casual racism and discrimination.[10] DVD Talk's Justin Felix gave Black Orchid three out of five stars, describing it as "a breezy excursion into a melodramatic murder mystery".[11]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Black Orchid
Doctor Who Black Orchid.jpg
AuthorTerence Dudley
Cover artistTony Masero
SeriesDoctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
PublisherTarget Books
Publication date
September 1986 (Hardback) 19 February 1987 (Paperback)

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terence Dudley, was published by Target Books in September 1986. An unabridged reading of the novelisation by actor Michael Cochrane was released on CD in June 2008 by BBC Audiobooks.

Home media[edit]

Black Orchid was released in a twin VHS set with The Visitation in July 1994.

On 14 April 2008 it was released on DVD.

On 10 December 2018 it was released as part of the Doctor Who: The Collection - Season 19 boxset, which included an optional extended cut of Episode One running over two and a half minutes longer than the televised version at a total of 27:32.[12]

Critical analysis[edit]

A book length study of the serial, written by Ian Millsted, was published as part of The Black Archive series from Obverse Books in 2016.[13]

The serial was covered in volume 35 of the Doctor Who: The Complete History book series, which reprinted Andrew Pixley's 'Archive' features from Doctor Who Magazine and the various Doctor Who Magazine Special Editions, as well as new articles created specifically for the book.[14]


  1. ^ From the Doctor Who Magazine series overview, in issue 407 (pp26-29). The Discontinuity Guide, which counts the unbroadcast serial Shada, lists this as story number 121. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
  2. ^ "BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Black Orchid - Details".
  3. ^ "Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Space Museum - Details". BBC. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  4. ^ "Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Myth Makers - Details". BBC. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  5. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  6. ^ "Doctor Who Guide: broadcasting for Black Orchid".
  7. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "Black Orchid". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5.
  8. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-40588-7.
  9. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (20 January 2012). "Doctor Who: Black Orchid". Radio Times. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  10. ^ Bahn, Christopher (22 July 2012). "Black Orchid". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  11. ^ Felix, Justin (24 August 2009). "Doctor Who - Black Orchid". DVD Talk. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  12. ^ "Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 19 coming to Blu-ray boxset". Doctor Who. Retrieved 2019-06-12.
  13. ^ Millsted, Ian (2017). Black orchid. Place of publication not identified: Obverse Books. ISBN 978-1-909031-46-3. OCLC 949751196.
  14. ^ "Doctor Who: the complete history". Doctor Who : The Complete History. 2015. ISSN 2057-6048. OCLC 978424294.

External links[edit]

Target novelisation[edit]