Black Orchid (Doctor Who)

120[1] Black Orchid
Doctor Who serial

Ann Talbot, who looks remarkably similar to Nyssa
  • 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 by Ron Jones
Written by Terence Dudley
Script editor Eric Saward
Produced by John Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Roger Limb
Production code 6A
Series Season 19
Length 2 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast 1–2 March 1982
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Visitation Earthshock

Black Orchid is the fifth serial of the 19th season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in two daily parts on 1 March and 2 March 1982. 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. 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 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, and Sir Robert asks the remaining guests to go home. 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, returning them 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 story was the first two-part serial since The Sontaran Experiment (1975); each Peter Davison season would include at least one two-parter. This was the first purely historical serial (with no science fiction elements beyond the Doctor and his TARDIS) since The Highlanders in 1966–67; unlike previous ones, it does not revolve around a well-known historical event. To date, it is also the last purely historical story. The next televised story taking place within the Doctor Who universe to contain no science fiction or supernatural elements at all is "Countrycide", an episode of the spin-off series, Torchwood, broadcast in 2006 and taking place in the present day.

The character of Ann Talbot reappears in the spin-off novel The Sands of Time by Justin Richards as Lady Ann Cranleigh.


This serial was commissioned by John Nathan-Turner during a period when the series did not have a Script Editor. Producer John 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

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 and Odysseus in The Myth Makers.

Broadcast and reception

Serial details by episode
EpisodeBroadcast dateRun timeViewers
(in millions)
"Part One" 1 March 1982 (1982-03-01) 24:56 9.9
"Part Two" 2 March 1982 (1982-03-02) 24:41 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

In print

Black Orchid
Author Terence Dudley
Cover artist Tony Masero
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date

September 1986 (Hardback)

19 February 1987 (Paperback)
ISBN 0-426-20254-6

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

Black Orchid was released in a twin VHS set with The Visitation in July 1994. It was released on DVD on April 14, 2008.


  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.
  3. Shaun Lyon; et al. (2007-03-31). "Black Orchid". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-07-31. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
  4. "Black Orchid". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Archived from the original on 2008-07-18. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
  5. Sullivan, Shannon (2007-08-07). "Black Orchid". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
  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.

External links

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Fifth Doctor


Target novelisation

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