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120[1]Black Orchid
Doctor Who serial
Ann Talbot.jpg
Ann Talbot, who bears a remarkable similarity to Nyssa
Guest stars
  • 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
Writer Terence Dudley
Director Ron Jones
Script editor Eric Saward
Producer John Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s) None
Production code 6A
Series Season 19
Length 2 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast March 1–March 2, 1982
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Visitation (Doctor Who) Earthshock

Black Orchid is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in two parts on March 1 and March 2, 1982. This story was the first purely historical adventure for the Doctor — featuring no science fiction elements save for the TARDIS — since The Highlanders, and it has been the last to date.



The Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric arrive in England in 1925. At a masked ball at Cranleigh Hall a series of murders begins, and Ann Talbot, who is the spitting image of Nyssa, is abducted. The Doctor must uncover the secret the Cranleigh family is hiding from the world.


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 June 11, 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, dying.

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.

Cast notes

  • Michael Cochrane, who plays Lord Cranleigh, also appears in the 1989 Seventh Doctor serial Ghost Light.
  • To avoid giving away the plot surprise, Gareth Milne was credited as "The Unknown" for Part One and in Radio Times, and as "George Cranleigh" for Part Two.


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


Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewership
(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 working title for this story was The Beast.
  • 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.
  • This serial was commissioned by John Nathan-Turner during a period when the series did not have a Script Editor.
  • 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.

In print

Doctor Who book
Book cover
Black Orchid
Series Target novelisations
Release number 113
Writer Terence Dudley
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist Tony Masero
ISBN 0-426-20254-6
Release date September 1986 (Hardback)

19th February 1987 (Paperback)

Preceded by The Seeds of Death
Followed by The Ark

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terence Dudley, was published by Target Books in September 1986. It was the final Fifth Doctor story to be novelised, but did not complete the Fifth Doctor's era - Resurrection of the Daleks has to date not been novelised due to disputes with the estate of Terry Nation. An unabridged reading of the novelisation by actor Michael Cochrane was released on CD in June 2008 by BBC Audiobooks.

Broadcast, VHS and DVD release

  • The serial was repeated on BBC One in August/September 1983, (Wednesday 31/08/83 & Thursday 01/09/83) at 6.25pm. This story was released in a twin VHS set with The Visitation in July 1994.
  • The story was released on Region 2 DVD on April 14 2008.
  • The story was released on Region 4 DVD on June 5 2008.
  • The story was released on Region 1 DVD on August 5 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.
  2. ^ Shaun Lyon et al. (2007-03-31). "Black Orchid". Outpost Gallifrey. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  3. ^ "Black Orchid". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  4. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2007-08-07). "Black Orchid". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 

External links


Target novelisation

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