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Black Orchid was the fifth serial of season 19 of Doctor Who. It was the shortest story of the season at just two episodes. For the first time since Season 4's The Highlanders, the only science-fiction elements in this story were the TARDIS and its occupants.

Black Orchid was notable for being the highest-rated story of the Davison era. (REF: The Fifth Doctor Handbook) It also gave Sarah Sutton a chance to play two different characters, Nyssa and Ann, and Davison the opportunity to actually play cricket — thereby justifying his costume.

According to the DVD commentary, none of the regular cast truly enjoyed the script — though Sutton admitted to "disliking it less" than Davison, Janet Fielding and Matthew Waterhouse. Collectively, they believed it to be comprised of Edwardian era stereotypes and no mystery or dramatic tension whatsoever.


The TARDIS arrives on Earth in 1925 where, due to a case of mistaken identity, the Fifth Doctor ends up playing in a local cricket match. The travellers accept an invitation to a masked fancy dress ball, but events take on a more sinister tone as murders are perpetrated at the country home of their host, Lord Charles Cranleigh.


Part one[]

In the corridor of a stately home, a servant called Digby is strangled to death by a horribly scarred and disfigured man. The murderer is later overpowered and left tied up on a bed by Latoni, a South American Indian with a lip disk. Elsewhere in the house, a young woman named Ann Talbot sleeps soundly, unaware of what has happened...

The TARDIS lands in 1925 at Cranleigh Halt, a small railway station in rural England. Tegan wonders where they are and the Fifth Doctor explains their location, saying he always wanted to drive a train when he was a boy. They walk out front to find a chauffeur named Tanner, who says he has been waiting for the doctor, much to his surprise, telling him he's expected for a cricket match. Though the invitation is unexpected, the Doctor is keen to play; soon he, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan have arrived at Cranleigh Hall, home of the Cranleigh family. The Doctor is immediately put into the game and does superbly — bringing the team back from defeat to a win and delighting Lord Charles Cranleigh, who invites the travellers to a fancy dress party that evening as thanks for a splendid performance.

After the match, the cricketers and spectators retreat to Cranleigh Hall for introductions. The Doctor is asked what his name is, but Charles explains the Doctor wishes to remain incognito. In an opulent sitting room that contains a display case housing a magnificent black orchid, Lady Cranleigh laments the loss of her botanist son, George, who was killed on an Amazon expedition to find the rare bloom. When told that the party would be a costume party, Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan say that they do not have costumes to wear; Lady Cranleigh is confused as she believed they were already wearing costumes. While everyone asks for a drink, Lady Cranleigh wonders about Nyssa's origins, thinking she may be from a rich and prestigious family she knows, but Nyssa repeatedly asserts she is not from around there. Much to everyone's surprise, Charles walks in with his fiancée, Ann Talbot, who is almost an exact double of Nyssa, aside from a mole Ann has on one shoulder. The travellers set off to their rooms to prepare for the ball.

The Man in the Mirror

The Doctor tries on the harlequin mask while preparing for the dance.

Charles provides the Doctor with a costume for the party: a harlequin suit with a full mask. The Doctor removes his frock coat and tries on the mask to see how he will look before putting the costume on his bed and heading to the bath to freshen up. Someone uses a secret passage to enter the Doctor's room and hides nearby while the Doctor emerges from the bathroom wearing a robe, wondering what caused the noise. He finds the secret passage and ends up locked out of his room, stuck in a secret passage. At the same time, the unknown person takes the Doctor's costume.

Upstairs, Nyssa, Tegan, and Ann Talbot prepare for the party. Nyssa is confused on what to wear when Ann has a copy of her costume brought in for Nyssa to prank the guests as to which one of them is which. As Nyssa is not from Earth, she is unsure on how to dance at the party, so Tegan decides to demonstrate the Charleston — a dance popular in 1925 — for her friend's benefit.

In the meantime, the Doctor finds his way out of the corridor and into a hidden area of the mansion. He finds closets of old clothes and books, as well as a more shocking discovery: a man's body in a cupboard.

Elsewhere, the Doctor's companions are enjoying the party. Nyssa is enjoying having people guess whether she is Ann or not, and Tegan is loving the dancing, while Adric is far more interested in enjoying the food. They begin to wonder where the Doctor is. The person who stole the harlequin costume walks out of the mansion, taking Ann in a dance, during which he leads her inside to the hallway and she tries to excuse herself. However, the figure grabs Ann's wrists and she shouts to James, a servant, for help. James attempts to comes to Ann's aid, but the figure grabs him around the neck and throws him violently to the floor. Ann faints, while the figure turns and closes in on her; his white-gloved hands reaching for her neck...

Part two[]

The Doctor finds Lady Cranleigh and her servant Latoni in one of the secret passages, and shows them the body. He agrees to not tell the guests to avoid causing panic and returns to his room. The Doctor's impostor carefully returns the costume. The Doctor arrives back at his room and dresses in the costume set out for him, unaware it has just been worn by a killer.

Lady Cranleigh and Latoni come to a locked door in the secret passages; on the other side of the door, Ann wakes and panics at the unfamiliar surroundings, while a mysterious figure hides under her bed. Ann runs out of the room and into the arms of Lady Cranleigh. Latoni enters the room and ties up the figure, a horribly disfigured man with dead, drooping skin on his face and no tongue.

James's body has been discovered, and the servants alert Charles and Sir Robert Muir, the Chief Constable. As the Doctor descends the stairs, Ann identifies him as her assailant. The Doctor defends himself, saying he has just put the costume on and had only just come down the stairs after being lost in the secret passages of the house. However, Ann is adamant that the Doctor attacked her and killed James. Sir Robert asks Charles to conclude the party early, saying he should tell the guests there has been an accident and ask them to leave. The Doctor asks if "he" wore the mask during the attack. Ann confirms this, and the Doctor says someone may have worn an identical costume to his. However, Ann points out she was in charge of giving out the fancy dress costumes, and there was only one harlequin outfit. The Doctor asks Lady Cranleigh to help him establish his alibi.

Strangely, Lady Cranleigh refuses to corroborate the Doctor's presence in the secret corridors, the existence of the other body or introducing him to Latoni. Charles receives a telephone call from his friend "Smutty" Thomas, who apologises that the doctor who was supposed to play in the cricket match missed the train. Having been exposed as an impostor, the Doctor tells them that he is a time-travelling alien. The family naturally do not believe him and send him away with the police along with Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric, believing them to be accessories to his "crime".

This one will

The Doctor tries to avoid a murder charge.

The police stop at the railway station after the Doctor says evidence to prove his story is there, but the TARDIS is missing from the platform and they have no choice but to go to the police station. There, a policeman tells Sir Robert they have found a police box which no key can open. The Doctor says this time he can prove his story and opens the TARDIS with his key, telling everyone to get inside. Sir Robert is amazed by the spacious TARDIS interior and apologises to the Doctor for his wild accusations, but there is still the matter of the murders. Sir Robert decides to head back to Cranleigh Hall, but the Doctor tells him he can get him there more quickly than a car and activates the TARDIS.

Back at the house, the disfigured man has broken free of his restraints. He violently attacks Latoni who, in his last moments of consciousness (it is unclear whether Latoni dies or not), manages to slip the key into a crack in the floor. Unable to unlock the door, the man piles paper beneath it and sets fire to it so he can escape. The TARDIS lands right outside the mansion as Ann runs out to Sir Robert. Upstairs, the unknown man breaks through his door and goes downstairs where Charles is assuring Lady Cranleigh that he will look after Ann.

As Charles approaches, telling him everything will be all right, the disfigured man backs away into the Doctor and the others who just entered. In a panic, the man grabs Nyssa and takes her with him upstairs, into the burning part of the house. The Doctor, Adric and Charles try to follow, but the stairs are ablaze and they are forced to come back down to the hallway. Lady Cranleigh tells Sir Robert that the scarred figure is George, her son. However, the Doctor points out that George has taken Nyssa and not Ann, possibly due to his bad eyesight, and she will be in danger when he realises his mistake.

Outside on the terrace, Lady Cranleigh explains everything to Sir Robert: George was not killed during his search for the black orchid in the Amazon, but was captured and tortured by the Kojabe tribe, who considered the bloom sacred and themselves its guardians. After George's maiming, Latoni's tribe rescued and looked after him. Latoni brought George home, where his family preferred that he stay out of sight and pretend to be dead. Chafing under these restrictions, George only wanted to speak to Ann, his former fiancée — which was why he was stalking her.

The Doctor attempts to reach George through the house, while Charles climbs up the side. They confront George on the roof, where the Doctor calms George down by explaining that it is not Ann he is holding; Ann is below in the garden. George realises this, and releases Nyssa. Charles thanks George, and attempts to embrace his previously lost brother, but a frightened George recoils from Charles and overbalances — falling over the edge of the roof to the terrace below. Sir Robert hurries forward to check on the sprawled figure, then looks up at Lady Cranleigh and shakes his head sadly: George is dead.

After attending George's funeral, Charles, Ann and Lady Cranleigh say goodbye to the Doctor and his companions outside the TARDIS. Tegan has a large box containing their fancy dress costumes, which they have been given as parting gifts; while the Doctor receives a further gift from Lady Cranleigh: a leather-bound copy of George's book Black Orchid, which the Time Lord says he will treasure.


Uncredited cast[]




The Doctor[]

  • The Doctor claims he always wanted to drive a steam train as a boy.


  • Tegan learnt the Charleston for a play when she was in school.
  • The song the Doctor is singing as he gets ready for his bath is "I Want to Be Happy" from the musical No No Nanette which is fairly apt as that production had its debut the year this story was set — 1925.


  • Charles Cranleigh says his team was "taking a terrible thrashing" and that he had "made a duck".

Foods and beverages[]


Story notes[]


  • Part one - 9.9 million viewers
  • Part two - 10.1 million viewers


  • Black Orchid is the first historical Doctor Who story since The Highlanders. (Although the story takes place in an earlier era, it is not explicitly a history-based adventure, unlike The Highlanders — i.e. it is not set around an historical event and features no characters from history. However, it is correctly the first non-science fiction serial — disregarding the TARDIS and the presence of the Doctor and two non-Earthling individuals — since the earlier story and, to date, the last.)

Filming locations[]

  • Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, Quainton, Buckinghamshire
  • Buckhurst House, Withyham, East Sussex
  • Bewdley (Steam Railway), Worcestershire
  • Quainton Road, waddesdon, Buckinghamshire
  • Withyham Cricket Club, Withyham, East Sussex
  • BBC Television Centre (Studio 3), Shepherd's Bush, London

Production errors[]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • In the rooftop shots, it's clear that the film was horizontally flipped, because of the odd angle of the smoke's ascent.
  • George miraculously loses his seemingly permanent hunchback stance while dressed as the harlequin.
  • Because of the aforementioned weather problems, the patio where the dance is held goes from bone-dry to wet from one shot to the next.


Home video and audio releases[]

DVD releases[]

Black Orchid was released on DVD in April 2008. It was originally scheduled for May but changed at the last moment, and The Invasion of Time was moved to May.

Special Features[]


Blu-ray release[]


  • Audio commentary by Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) and Matthew Waterhouse (Adric)
  • Info Text
  • Extended Version - Part One with deleted sequences re-integrated.
  • Making-of Documentary - Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding, Matthew Waterhouse, Michael Cochrane (Cranleigh), Eric Saward and Rosalind Ebbutt (Costume Designer) discuss the making of Black Orchid. Hosted by Mark Strickson.
  • Behind the Sofa
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Blue Peter - A visit to the theatrical costumiers responsible for period costumes used in Black Orchid.
  • Points of View - Barry Took airs disgruntled viewers' letters about the rescheduling of Doctor Who.
  • BBC1 Continuity Announcements
  • Now and Then - Featurette on locations used in the story.
  • DVD Film Restoration - Short featurette from the 2008 DVD. This Blu-ray supersedes the DVD, however, with a brand new HD film transfer.
  • HD Photo Gallery
  • PDF Written Archive

Video releases[]

This story was released as Doctor Who: The Visitation / Black Orchid with The Visitation as part of a two-tape set.


PAL - BBC Video BBCV5349

External links[]