Sunday, 4 October 2009
Doctor Who: Black Orchid
“Medium pace? Slow?”
Another script by Terence Dudley, and I’ve no idea what to expect. Will it be another good ‘un, like Four to Doomsday? Or more drivel in the style of K-9 and Company? One thing’s for certain: he certainly watched Brideshead Revisited on ITV last year. It’s the 1920s, and the BBC does this period even more splendidly than it did the 17th century in the last story. Everything about this story looks sumptuous. It’s just that its roots are showing rather obviously, what with its being set largely in an aristocratic country house in the ‘20s.
I had to laugh at the TARDIS landing a mere second after it would have been seen by the porter on the platform. Still, it’s a charming setting from the off. So much so that apparently even Tegan has now decided she’s not in such a hurry to get back to Heathrow after all, and wants to stick around a bit. All well and good, but it feels rather sudden.
There’s dialogue about the Great Fire of London which our heroes started at the end of the last story, which tends to deepen the sense of paradox even further- apparently the fire would have happened anyway. Eh? Even if the Terileptils had been left to get on with things? Perhaps we can retcon this to be a fixed point in time, but the only way the fire would have happened anyway is if the Terileptils’ plan was inevitably doomed, which rather does away with any sense of threat.
Anyway, back on topic. Our heroes are unexpectedly picked up by Lord Cranleigh’s chauffeur, and driven away in a rather fab looking car. The Doctor is expected, and is charged with a task of the utmost seriousness; Cranleigh himself is out for a duck, and his team is in the midst of a batting collapse. Can the Doctor save the day?
It’s an odd premise, and above all an odd idea for a Doctor Who story. This is often stated to be the first “pure historical” since The Highlanders, and obviously that’s true in the literal sense. But it doesn’t really belong in the same category as all those stories from all those years ago, being neither a comedy nor a serious rumination on history. I suppose it could be said to be a pastiche, doing for Brideshead Revisited what The Smugglers did for Doctor Syn, but this is no swashbuckler. No, this is a real oddity- not necessarily a bad thing, and this season has shown a commendable variety in types of story.
There’s a lot of fun with the period, with words like “mater” and “ripping” being thrown around with abandon, Traken being “near Esher” and the party scenes are great fun, with Nyssa at last allowed to let her hair down a bit courtesy of Anne’s scheme. Plus Michael Cochrane’s great, and Tegan’s having fun, and is thus great again.
But after the initial fun of the party stops and the plot starts, it’s all quite slow, with the scenes of the Doctor lost in the priest hole dragging interminably.
“Where the nuts come from…”
There’s some fun at the start, with Adric being a pig and Nyssa having fun, but sadly things become very tedious indeed as soon as the Doctor is accused of murder. I hate it when the device of our heroes being wrongly accused of things is used as a cheap dramatic hook- it’s lazy, and frustrating in a way which simply isn’t at all entertaining. The story never recovers from this, with the final revelation being that the story may look like Brideshead Revisited but it is in fact Jane Eyre with a touch of King Kong. But the lack of any significant clues early on in the story means the resolution comes out of left field.
It’s also annoying to once more see pretty much most of the characters in the story being invited into the TARDIS for a short hop back to the house. This sort of thing is starting to become a real problem.
So overall, in spite of some charmingly amusing scenes at the beginning, in the end the story doesn’t really work dramatically. It looks great, but left me feeling rather annoyed with things. 2/5.