I’ve been rewatching Peter Davison’s first season as the Fifth Doctor on Doctor Who. It’s the season I saw that first got me hooked on the series. It’s always good to revisit your old haunts. Well,maybe not always, but usually. Tonight I watched the two-part story “Black Orchid.” It’s definitely not the best story of the season, but it’s also not the worst (I’m looking at you, “Four to Doomsday” and “Time-Flight”). It gets a lot of negativity because besides the Doctor, the TARDIS, and his companions, there’s no science fiction in it at all; it’s set up to be a classic 1920s mystery story, but the mystery is never much of a mystery; as a rare two-part story, it’s all a bit rushed, but there’s also not enough story to stretch it out to the typical four episodes. But aside from all that, I think it’s a fun one to watch. So here are the good things about the story:
- It’s the first purely historical episode since the 1960s and the last one the show would ever do. Some people might not like that, but I find it kind of refreshing to have an episode set in Earth’s history that doesn’t involve an alien menace or time travelers from the future messing around with the timeline.
- It’s one of the few stories in the season where none of the TARDIS crew get mad at each other, all of them act intelligently, and they’re all in a pretty good mood.
- Tegan is in a good mood. She’s usually the one complaining the loudest, getting easily frustrated and angry, sniping at the Doctor and Adric and any guest stars who get in her way. Here she’s chipper and charming, she drinks cocktails, dances the Charleston, and playfully flirts with a much older man.
- We get to watch Peter Davison show off his mad cricket skillz. I don’t really understand cricket, but you can see he’s playing well and having a great time doing it.
It’s easy to dwell on the negatives of the story (there isn’t much plot and what plot is there is pretty thin, and you can clearly see that the weather was pretty bad when they were shooting and the cast don’t look thrilled about it), but while the story never really amounts to much in the larger context of the season, I’m okay with that. It’s a breather episode, and a pretty fun one at that. Sometimes that’s all I need.