Doctor Who: Black Orchid
August 23, 2008

I can’t believe that my very favorite of the original Doctor Who series is now available on DVD. And because of the length, it’s the cheapest Doctor Who DVD out there, which is a lovely plus.

Doctor Who: Black Orchid cover
Doctor Who: Black Orchid
Buy this DVD

I think I like it so much because it reminds me of the Agatha Christie mysteries I read so many of when I was younger. There’s a 1920s house party, and a fancy dress ball (where the Doctor, then Peter Davison, is given a creepy twisty-mouthed harlequin costume, even though his cricketing togs fit in perfectly already), and a mysterious plant brought back by an explorer from the Amazon, and a shocking family secret, and one of the characters happens to look just like the Doctor’s companion Nyssa… it’s so very British.

It’s only two episodes, meaning that the total story time is about the equivalent of one episode today, but there are plenty of extras. The four main players — Davison, Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), and Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) — provide a commentary which is nothing but how they didn’t care for the story or the filming or the characters or the costumes or the weather or much else, but Sutton liked playing two roles and Davison liked playing cricket.

There are also a few minutes of deleted scenes (with period title cards!), a trivia track, and short features on the filming locations, costumes (via Blue Peter, a children’s show, which put me to sleep), and comic strips (with Dave Gibbons). Also amusing are two minutes of some stuffy presenter responding to viewer complaints about the show’s scheduling and a 12-year-old wanting to get rid of the screechy girls.

Rewatching it, as I feared, the acting is terrible. These shows were clearly writing for kids, with everyone speaking very clearly and a bit over-pronounced, and saying obvious things. The threats are cheesy and the sense of menace eye-rolling, especially since there is no mystery, but the costumes and scenery are lovely. It’s a big help that so many of the scenes are outdoors. And when the interchangeable young man says, after the cricket game on the lawn, “Ripping performance, old boy! Come up to the house and meet the mater,” well, that touches all my Anglophile buttons.

Here’s a much more detailed review of this episode.

5 Responses  
David Beard writes:  

I prefer to imagine the acting as “theatrical,” with all the gestures and pronunciation required to reach an audience at the back of a hall, but shot for TV.

But thanks for pointing this out!

Nick writes:  

David Beard is correct. The acting is the way it is not because the show is for kids, but because of the strong theatrical influence on the BBC. Pretty much everyone – actors, directors, etc. all came from the world of theatre when the BBC first started doing TV shows, and it was a long, long time before television broke away from its stage-y origins (the growing influence of American television in the ’90s had a huge effect, for one).

It’s similar perhaps, to early Hollywood talkies, where they did much the same thing – got theatre directors (and actors) in to make the films, thus giving them a very stage-y look and feel. Really, we were just 30-40 years behind you in a different medium. :)

Johanna writes:  

Oh, good point. It did remind me of the 1929 film I watched last night in how everyone was declaiming to the balconies.

odessasteps magazine writes:  

So, did you like the Agatha Christie episode from this season’s Dr Who?

Johanna writes:  

I did, although I remember having a quibble at the end, but I don’t remember what it was. But yes, I especially like the way she was played.


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