Review: Doctor Who: Books: The Black Archive 8: Black Orchid

5797-doctor-who-the-black-archive-8-black-orchid-paperback-bookBy Ian Millstead

Obverse Books, out now

How are Jane Eyre, Robin Hood and Margot Robbie all linked to “the first Doctor Who historical since 1967”?

Ian Millstead’s treatise on the Season 19 two-parter deals with the obvious query that’s almost always raised when this story comes up – whether it is a historical or not – as the subject of the book’s Appendix, rather than being front and centre where most would expect it to be. His answer I think will surprise no one by the time you’ve reached that point.

The book starts with an examination of “the Known” – the story’s roots in Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Charlotte Bronte, and the adaptations that would be known to the audience watching Black Orchid in 1982 – before jumping into “the Unknown”. This deals with the Frankenstein elements of the story (with a rather fun description of the stages we all go through when we first encounter Shelley’s tale) as well as other literature of a similar ilk to this – some of which will be familiar to many, others that show a solid degree of research. There’s a look at mental illness in Doctor Who up to then, with particular reference to Kinda and Genesis of the Daleks, and then a question as to whether Black Orchid is a monster-free story…

Chapter 3 takes us into a discussion of “Class, Race and Colonisation” which brings together a lot of information about the show up to his point on the subject, and in places builds on Steven Moffat’s thoughts on the Doctor’s status. Class is a topic that’s been debated in Who fandom for decades now (I can remember a piece by current Third Doctor comic writer Paul Cornell on the subject for DWB back in the mists of time when fandom was less than half its present size) and while interesting, this doesn’t say much that’s new. (The discussion of colonialism could have perhaps been longer than we get.)

Cricket of course is an obvious topic for dissection and we get an explanation as to whether the Doctor really is a fast bowler or not. Other cricketing moments – including those in the spin-off media, unusually – are also discussed. That’s a prelude to the two most interesting chapters: the one on twins (more for its thoughts on the 2015 Zygon story!) which could have perhaps done with its final paragraph being expanded considerably; and one on the Harlequin, where the same point applies. The final chapter discusses the use of the two-part structure and notes just how different this story might have been had it been made for the current show.

After the aforementioned appendix on the historical category or otherwise, there’s another that deals with the spin-off mentions and the final one examines DWM writer The Watcher’s apparent obsession with this story.

Verdict: A lot of interesting ideas about this often overlooked Season 19 story, some of which perhaps could have been expanded further. 7/10

Paul Simpson

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