The BBC science fiction series Doctor Who is a powerhouse legend in television. It initially ran almost continuously from 1963 - 1989. That's 26 years! After a lengthy hiatus (filled by a plethora of novels and Big Finish full-cast audio productions), the series recently returned to production with great success. David Tennant is a splendid Doctor. It can be seen on the Sci-Fi Channel here in the States, and, of course, on DVD.
My first experience with Doctor Who came in the 1980s, when WVIZ, channel 25, a PBS station in Cleveland, aired the show each Saturday night. I grew up with the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Doctors, and the program remains close to me as it was an important component to my childhood imagination.
For the uninitiated, Doctor Who follows the exploits of an alien Time Lord named the Doctor as he travels through time and space in a cavernous vehicle called the TARDIS. Typically, he goes on adventures with companions - often from Earth. His ability to regenerate when facing death allows for a new actor to assume the role, perhaps in part explaining why the series has been able to last for 45 years. Thus, each new actor becomes a numbered Doctor. David Tennant is the tenth actor to assume the role, for example, so he is the Tenth Doctor.
In Black Orchid, a 2 part serial from 1982, the Doctor is played by Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor. Most stories during this time period were told over 4 25 minute episodes, so Black Orchid is an unusually brief story. In it, the Fifth Doctor and his companions (Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric) materialize in 1925 England, where he is mistaken for a doctor who has agreed to play a cricket match at Cranleigh Hall. After performing well at the match, the Fifth Doctor and his friends are invited to stay for a costume ball with the wealthy Cranleighs' other guests.
However, Cranleigh Hall has a deadly secret, and before the first episode is through, two servants lie murdered inside. When it's revealed that the Doctor is not who the Cranleighs were expecting, suspicion falls upon him. So, it's up to the TARDIS crew to solve the mystery of Cranleigh Hall. The story is complicated by the fact that Cranleigh's fiance is a dead ringer for Nyssa.
I remembered Black Orchid quite clearly, and it was nostalgic fun to watch it again a couple decades later. I suspect the same would be true for other fans of the original series when it first aired. The story is missing the science fiction elements that typically populated the Peter Davison era of Doctor Who, but with a total running time of approximately 49 minutes, it remains a breezy excursion into a melodramatic murder mystery. The acting and production values are so-so, and typical of television shows of its time - but that's part of the Doctor Who appeal.
On the merits of the television program itself, I'd probably have given this a "recommended" rating and maybe suggested that this could've been included with another, longer story arc on DVD. However, the generous extras (covered below) on this disc warrant a bump up to a "highly recommended" rating - especially for Doctor Who fans young and old.
As a side note, if you have fond memories of the original Doctor Who, you might want to check out Big Finish's full-cast audio range. For the last 10 years, they've been producing new stories of Doctor Who starring the show's original actors. In this case, Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) have returned to their roles for a lengthy series of adventures set shortly after Black Orchid.
Doctor Who: Black Orchid is given a full frame presentation that represents the original aspect ratio of the program's television broadcast. A restoration team has worked on the original source material to improve clarity and color, and clean the image as well. The results are a huge improvement over the television airings I grew up with (and the VHS release, I'm sure). There's an interesting short extra called Film Restoration that reviews the restoration process in some detail - and side by side comparisons in that extra vividly demonstrate the improvements.
The sole audio track is mono Dolby Digital 2.0. Yes, it's obviously decidedly limited, but it is reflective of how the television series was recorded at the time. It's very clear and well-delivered, however.
Subtitles are presented in English for the hard of hearing.
Classic Doctor Who DVD releases are typically plentiful in extras. Black Orchid is no exception.
When the disc is played a trailer for the third season of the revamped Doctor Who series precedes the main menu.
Actors Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), and Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) provide a lively and fun commentary track. Additional information and commentary is provided through an "Info Text" option, which provides subtitled comments through the two episodes.
Now and Then (9:04) is an interesting short that traces the locations used for Black Orchid - and as the title suggest, it includes shots of the locations as they are today.
Four deleted scenes (7:05) are offered in a very clever manner. In keeping with the 1920's setting, each deleted scene has a title card. Footage used in the episode's final cut is in black and white with the deleted scenes then inserted where they would have gone and presented in color.
Blue Peter (8:39) has a light news feature on a large collection of period costumes - and briefly mentions the Black Orchid episode.
Stripped for Action: The Fifth Doctor (16:09) isn't an extra about Black Orchid per se, but it's still an interesting look at the Doctor Who comic strip series over the Peter Davison era with the creative talent involved behind their production. Unlike the other extras, this is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
A short Film Restoration extra is discussed in greater length in the Video section of this review.
Points of View (2:26) has several viewer complaints about the time Doctor Who aired from a 1982 news program.
Photo Gallery (4:39) has a slideshow of images from Black Orchid's production accompanied with music from the show.
Coming Soon (1:17) is basically a commercial for upcoming DVD releases of classic Doctor Who episodes - in this case, The Trial of a Time Lord season.
Finally, a PDF file of the Radio Times Billings is accessible through a computer's DVD-ROM drive.
Long-time fans will enjoy re-visiting the Fifth Doctor and his first crew in this breezily short two episode story. Fans of the new Doctor Who series curious about the original series can sample this era without the lengthy time involvement of the then-traditional four episode story arc. Plentiful extras increase the "repeat" value of the release. Highly recommended.