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Audio Book Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who
Black Orchid


Author: Terence Dudley
Read by: Michael Cochrane
BBC Audio
RRP: £17.99 (CD), £10.80 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 405 68764 5 (CD), 978 1 405 60956 2 (download)
Available 12 June 2008

On a lazy June afternoon in 1925, the TARDIS materialises at the tiny railway station of Cranleigh Halt. Warmly welcomed by the local gentry, the time-travellers look forward to a well deserved rest. After a stunning performance at a friendly cricket match, the Doctor, together with Tegan, Adric and Nyssa, is invited to a masked ball by Lady Cranleigh and her son, Charles. But a dark menace haunts the secret corridors of Cranleigh Hall. Before the ball is over, the quiet summer will be shattered by the shocking discovery of a brutal murder...

These audio books always take me ages to listen to. Oh well, this one is based on a two-part Peter Davison story (the first Davison novelisation to be released in this series of unabridged readings) so it shouldn’t take long, right? Wrong! The serial’s writer, Terence Dudley, managed to expand his 50-minute drama into a 140-page book (originally published in 1986), which has now been reissued as a five-hour talking book, spread over four CDs. The cricket match alone takes up most of the first disc.

However, this audio book isn’t dull or tedious - far from it. Dudley adds lavish details and descriptions, including the rules of cricket, the often hypocritical values and sensibilities of Edwardian society, the thoughts and fears of Ann Talbot, and a particularly gruesome description of the disfigured “creature”, who has “puce puckered skin”, one eye “almost submerged in folds of livid morbid flesh” and “fingers ... welded together, giving a grotesque prominence to the thumbs.”

The story, which in 1982 was the first pure historical (meaning no science fiction elements apart from the time-travellers themselves and the TARDIS) since The Highlanders in 1966 and the last one the television show has ever attempted to date, pilfers popular fictions, as Doctor Who often does. Though there’s an element of Agatha Christie murder mystery in the setting, the plot owes more to the works of Daphne du Maurier and purloins the whole central mystery from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre - though this time the secret in the attic isn’t the mad Mrs Rochester.

Michael Cochrane, who played Charles Cranleigh in the television serial, is the perfect choice for narrator. His genial yet enthusiastic reading fits the mood of the piece splendidly, his luxuriant tones immediately capturing the listener’s attention and carrying it unerringly through the entire story.

My only real criticism of this adaptation (apart from a couple of minor discrepancies concerning Doctor Who chronology as a whole) is that, unlike the original two-parter, its duration gives the listener plenty of time to guess (if one didn’t already know) the identity of the “creature”.

Nicely timed to cash in on the period murder mystery appeal generated by the recent episode The Unicorn and the Wasp and to enable comparison with the original Black Orchid serial, released earlier this year on DVD, it’s well worth mounting an expedition to the deepest reaches of your local bookstore in order to track down this fine specimen.


Richard McGinlay

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