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Time Flight

story 123 | season 19 | serial 6c
Paul Clarke

'Time-Flight' is bloody terrible.

All right then, I'll elaborate, although it's hard to know where to start. The plot is a mess, the involvement of Concorde seemingly a contrivance to allow the production team to show off the fact that they've, well, got access to Concorde. With this initial plot albatross, which frankly is an absolute gratuity, Peter Grimwade delivers a story that might cause you to believe that he's never seen Doctor Who before. Given that he's actually directed two stories already in Season Nineteen however, it rather raises the question of what the hell he thought he was doing by writing a script that requires not one but two Concordes to crash land on prehistoric Earth. Not judging Doctor Who by its budgetary limitations is one thing, but when a writer who should know better strains the budget past breaking point, the gloves are off. 'Time-Flight' looks and feels cheap and nasty. The location filming around Heathrow airport looks fine, but given how bad the story is it serves only to bring back fond memories of 'The Faceless Ones'. The horrible sets used to depict prehistoric Earth on the other hand are by far the worst of the season, even given how cheap the jungle sets used in 'Kinda' look. Frankly, having accepted the dodgy script, the production team would have been far better off using their location time to film in a quarry… By Episode Four, things get even worse, with crap model work that seemingly includes Corgi models of Concorde.

The Xeraphin subplot is potentially interesting, but their psychic abilities means that Grimwade resorts to a deluge of tedious technobabble, and makes further demands above and beyond what the production team can achieve. The Plasmatons, aggregations of protoplasm created using the psychokinetic power of the Xeraphin, are alternately realized as giant grey turds or soap bubbles; the cringe worthy appearance of the Xeraphin themselves is even worse, as two men stand in a box dressed in silver body stockings with lumps of polystyrene stuck to their faces. This is almost forgivable, since the simplistic and ultimately facile division of the Xeraphin into Good and Evil, and the painful plot exposition that they spout usually distracts me. Speaking of which, the script is uniformly ghastly, resulting in horribly stilted dialogue throughout; nearly every line is exposition (or to be more precise, laboured pseudo-science), which means that the characterisation is abominable as a result. Especially bad examples include Scobie and Bilton discovering Angela Clifford and another colleague, during which painful dialogue ensues - do any of these characters sound like real people to anybody?

Speaking of characters, there are only two of any real note aside from the regulars and the Master. Captain Stapley is quite likeable, and Richard Easton makes a real effort with his crap dialogue (the same is actually true of Michael Cashman's Bilton, although he does little except stand around so that Stapley can explain bits of the plot to him). Equally well acted but far less likeable is Nigel Stock's Professor Hayter. Hayter essentially occupies the same role as Tyler way back in 'The Three Doctors', but whilst I've made no secret of the fact that I consider 'The Three Doctors' to be about as entertaining as being diagnosed with syphilis, at least Tyler was done right. Both characters are present to offer skepticism, something that companions tend not to be well suited for after the various extraordinary sights that they've witnessed. Tyler worked well in this regard because he was good natured and likeable; Hayter is merely an arse who spends a great deal of time moaning and wanting to abandon his fellow passengers in order to save his own skin. Frankly, I'd have suggested that if he really wanted to run away, he should bugger off and see how he likes prehistory. Presumably, this unpleasant characterisation is intentional in order to make his sacrifice (and posthumous rescue of the TARDIS) seem more noble, but in a story as turgid as 'Time-Flight', unsympathetic characters merely serve to rub salt into the wound.

Then there is the Master. Given that his entire scheme revolves around repairing his TARDIS and escaping from prehistoric Earth, the Master's motivation here is fairly sound. What is rather less sound is his reason for dressing up as some kind of unconvincing Arabic zombie, which Grimwade makes no effort to explain whatsoever. Except of course that we know the real reason: it's to provide a cheap surprise at the cliffhanger to Episode Two. It's absolutely ridiculous, especially given that he stays in character as Kalid even when he's alone, drooling and giggling like some kind of imbecile. I suppose it hammers home the point that Master is, to quote The Completely Useless Encyclopaedia, "nuttier than squirrel shit", but frankly, 'Logopolis' already proved that. By Episode Four, the entire story has degenerated into a bog-standard runaround in which the Master and the Doctor annoy one another, whilst the rest of the cast stand around and play with aeroplane parts. In addition to which, the Doctor's eventual defeat of the Master, which strands him on Xeriphas is not only pure technobabble, it isn't even very convincing - his TARDIS can't materialize because the Doctor's is already at its target coordinates. For one thing this contradicts the fairly recent 'Logopolis', and for another, it blatantly does materialize, since it appears hovering nearby. So how the Doctor knocks it back into time and space is anyone's guess, although at least it brings the whole sorry mess to an end.

As for the regulars, Davison's breathless enthusiasm is the only reason 'Time-Flight' is worth watching at all, as well as his manic optimism in Episode Four as he struggles to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Nyssa gets to demonstrate vague psychic abilities, which were then promptly forgotten until Lance Parkin wrote 'Primeval', which again illustrates that Grimwade shows no fear of plot contrivances. Tegan gets very little to do, except recite air stewardess spiel for no good reason when the passengers board Concorde towards the end. One of the many, many problems with 'Time-Flight' is that, rather than capitalizing on the loss of Adric to give more time to Nyssa and Tegan, it brings in Stapley and his crew to act as surrogate companions, meaning that the pair instead spend a great deal of time standing around waiting for a plot development. Speaking of Adric, his death is briefly glossed over near the start in a horribly shallow way before everyone decides to stop grieving and try and have some fun. Clearly they miss him as much as I do then…

To summarize all of that, in case I wasn't clear enough, 'Time-Flight' is pants. After a generally very strong debut season for Davison it's terribly disappointing, and to add insult to injury it has a very half-arsed ending in which the Doctor and Nyssa abandon Tegan seemingly by accident. Apparently this was intended to provide a cliffhanger ending to the season before she returns in 'Arc of Infinity', but instead it just makes it looks as though the Doctor is grabbing the opportunity to be rid of her. Nevertheless, she does return, and as a result the potential of the Doctor and Nyssa travelling together without other companions remained untapped. Until nearly twenty years later that is, when Big Finish entered the picture…