Unfairly criticised for its lack of monsters, Black Orchid may not be one of the best episodes ever, but I can’t help but love it. It’s great to see the TARDIS team having a great time for once (especially this bunch considering the amount of turmoil they’ve been through over the past series and a bit). It’s particularly nice to see Tegan having a good time too. Sure she was a gobby Australian for a few stories, but here we really start to see her change into the Tegan we all know and love today. Oh, and the Doctor plays cricket!
This story is often put down amongst fans for having no serious threat or sci-fi elements. It’s almost like they’ve forgotten the brilliant historicals we used to get during the First and Second Doctors’ eras; Marco Polo, The Aztecs, The Massacre, the list goes on. So why is it they don’t like it during the Fifth Doctor’s era? Thing is, when it was first broadcast, it had been 15 years since the audience had seen a historical episode and it probably seemed a bit of a let down after all the aliens. However, even now, when we can mix and match the eras to watch 1st Doctor historicals alongside 5th Doctor historicals, Black Orchid is still unfairly put aside, which I don’t get. It’s such a refreshing change amidst the death and destruction surrounding it and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.
The trouble with four crew members taking part in a small two-parter is that they don’t all get a major part to play; but all them will make you smile in some shape, way or form. Adric, though pretty useless in this story, has a great time at the buffet table. Tegan, who also doesn’t really do a lot for the story, finally lightens up and does a nice solo on the dancefloor. Nyssa, who discovers she has an uncanny lookalike named Ann, casues mischief by dressing up in the same fancy dress costume as her Earth counterpart. Finally, The Doctor shows us why he wears his cricket whites with a sterling performance on the cricket pitch.
While it’s a nice change to have a nicer story for once, the trouble is that it’s hard to write a menacing cliffhanger. While it’s quite scary for a guy dressed up as a Doctor to go around killing people, we can’t exactly be on the edge of our seats when the credits roll in because we don’t even know if it’s Nyssa or Ann laying unconscious on the floor. One thing’s for sure though, if you ever fancy a Doctor Who story to cheer you up or make you smile, I reckon Black Orchid is the one for you (even if the end/resolution is a little sad).