Chapter 112. Doctor Who – Black Orchid (1987)

Synopsis: A case of mistaken identity leads to the Doctor playing for Lord Cranleigh’s cricket team. Invited for a post-match party at Cranleigh Hall, the TARDIS team are startled to meet Lord Cranleigh’s fiancee Ann, a young woman who appears to be an exact double of Nyssa. The party comes to a sudden halt as a murder is announced – and Ann has conclusive proof that the killer is the mysterious Doctor.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. A Doctor to the Rescue
  • 2. Nyssa Times Two
  • 3. The Doctor Loses his Way
  • 4. The Doctor Makes a Find
  • 5. The Pierrot Unmasked
  • 6. The Pierrot Reappears
  • 7. The Doctor Stands Accused
  • 8. Under Arrest
  • 9. The Secret of Cranleigh Hall
  • Epilogue

Background: Terence Dudley adapts his own scripts from the 1982 serial. This completes the run of stories from Season 19 for Target.

Notes: In the prologue, the servant, Digby, is given a first name – Raymond – and his family don’t know where he’s working (as revealed in a letter from home found on his person by the Doctor); he survives the attack by ‘the creature’, only to be murdered a little later on (but still within the prologue), when ‘the creature’ uses the secret passage to spy on a sleeping Ann and then attacks Digby silently and fatally. There’s a very telling paragraph within Ann Talbot’s introduction, that suggests she’s engaged to Charles purely out of a sense of duty:

She had loved George as she knew she could never love his brother, but this was something Charles did understand, or said he did. She would come to love him in time, he said. He would make her love him.

Lord Cranleigh’s formal name is ‘Charles Percival Beauchamp, tenth Marquess of Cranleigh’, inheriting the title from his elder brother George, the ninth Marquess’. Charles’s friend at Guy’s Hospital is Smutty Handicombe (not Thomas as on TV) and he’s both a celebrated cricket player and one of the top brain surgeons in the country. The captain of the opposing cricket team suggests Cranleigh’s team bats first, to allow his last-minute guest to arrive.

Adric’s insatiable gluttony is introduced when he longs for pie and gravy as illustrated in a poster at the station advertising Bisto gravy. The Doctor shamelessly name-drops Don Bradman, which impresses Tegan for once; making his first-class debut two years after this story is set (1925), Australian cricketer Sir Donald Bradman is widely recognised as the greatest batsman of all time. Tegan is a huge cricket fan, and tries to explain the game to her friends at length – but refuses to elaborate on the finer details of the Oxford-Cambridge boat-race. During the match, Tegan sees Latoni from a distance.

A new scene shows Charles and Ann choosing the costumes for their guests together, so Charles also knows there is only one pierrot costume, which he selects for the Doctor. Adric is treated with great empathy here. His appetite for food is actually one of curiosity, not greed, as there are so many foodstuffs he’s never encountered before and he wants to try them all. Then there’s the matter of dancing.

The last thing he wanted to be was conspicuous; more conspicuous than he felt in this ridiculous costume, that is. He’d suffered the last straw when a young man, dressed as what he discovered later was an eighteenth-century pirate, had approached him and asked him to dance. All he’d done was to open his mouth to say ‘thank you’ and the pirate had blushed, cleared his throat, muttered something about being sorry and beat a hasty retreat. It really was the limit. 

Adric does eventually join in with the dancing and enjoys himself immensely. He’s confident that he can spot Nyssa by the look in her eyes; he is wrong and completely fails to recognise that he’s talking to Ann. He has slightly more luck elsewhere though, and he feels uncomfortable when he first sees the figure dressed as the Pierrot.

When Ann is abducted, she sees the disfigured man and is distressed by his appearance, but does not connect him to the attacker in the Pierrot costume, especially after Lady Cranleigh tells her a blatant lie, claiming that the inhabitant of the attic room is an explorer who suffered a similar fate to George and was brought to England as a penance to make up for the loss of George.

Tegan tells Adric that the penalty for a murder convition in 1925 is a hanging. The Doctor is permitted by Sir Robert to change back into his normal clothes prior to being taken to the police station. He ponders whether he has been sent to this time by the Time Lords (though it would seem a trivial case for their attention) and he recalls the events of The King’s Demons, even though they happened in his future (but the book of that story was published first). He makes his way to the roof of the house by retracing his steps through the secret passage.

Latoni’s role is much expanded; he’s a tender companion to George and believes him to become agitated by the coming of the full moon (much to Lady Cranleigh’s irritation). Though badly injured after he’s attacked by George, Latoni survives the story, helped to safety from the fire by Charles. George realises that the woman in his grasp is not Ann when he sees that Nyssa does not have a mole on her shoulder. He falls to his death after reaching out to Ann and losing his balance. The epilogue tells us that the news of the terrible treatment endured by the famous explorer at the hands of South American natives and his subsequent death is received with some sympathy by the public. The Doctor and his friends leave after George’s funeral, which takes place just three days after his death. It’s not stated that they get to keep their costumes, though the Doctor does receive a copy of George’s book.

Cover: On the lawn of Cranleigh Hall, a harlequin juggles balls in front of a parked police box – an eye-catching piece by Tony Masero..

Final Analysis: It’s a fairly small-scale story on television, where the story would pretty much play out as it does with or without the Doctor’s involvement. This adaptation provides background to the family secret and to Latoni’s motivations for helping George to get back home and Dudley tries to make the cricket scene as engaging as possible by contrasting Tegan’s enthusiasm with her friends’ utter bewilderment, highlighting how ridiculous the activity really is. There is an unfortunate element though, in the way the mystery is maintained: The victim of torture and violent abuse is labelled ‘the creature’, initially from Ann’s point of view but the description persists. We’re also back in the realms of exploitative body horror here.

The head was hairless with exposed and alternative livid and puce puckered skin. Human facial features were barely acknowledged. There were no recognisable ears. The eyes were hideously shot with blood, the right one almost submerged in folds of livid morbid flesh. A fleshless ridge with two perforations and a lipless gash beneath it was small evidence of a nose and mouth. The obscenely puckered forearms supported hands, the fingers of which were welded together, giving a grotesque prominence to the thumbs.

Doctor Who doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to portraying disability and mental illness, but at least here we might make an excuse for what is effectively a literary pastiche, blending Jane Eyre and Agatha Christie. Putting the politics aside though, it’s a beautifully crafted novel that does a satisfying job of expanding on the original source without introducing huge amounts of padding or waffle. Dudley goes to great lengths to provide a sympathetic approach to each of his characters – even Lady Cranleigh, whose ruthless pragmatism could place her in the role of genuine monster were it not for the way the Doctor justifies her more callous actions in the pursuit of protecting her eldest son. For once, Adric is shown some kindness too, even if (as mentioned above) he’s too obsessed with grazing through the buffet to notice how close he comes to being given a romantic subplot with a clumsy pirate.

One thought on “Chapter 112. Doctor Who – Black Orchid (1987)

  1. Sadly it seems like the “pirate” thought Adric was a girl from the “ridiculous” costume and only realised his mistake when Adric spoke. So it’s not exactly an RTD moment, we’ll have to wait a while for the “gay agenda” to appear and the anti-disabled/disfigurement agenda will permeate the 1980s more than ever before. The current series still hasn’t really redressed it.

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