Hello everyone! 🙂
This is more or less an extended version of my review on ‘Time-Flight’ on my ‘Bradley’s Basement’ blog. I hope you’ll enjoy and find this post interesting and entertaining about why I like this poorly-rated ‘Doctor Who’ story so much. There are plenty of good moments to look for in this TV story if you know where to find them.
Poor ‘Time-Flight’! No one likes ‘Time-Flight’ very much. I like ‘Time-Flight’. No one wants it.
It’s this uncherished, unloved ‘Doctor Who’ story that was tagged on at the end of Season 19 (Peter Davison’s first season as the Doctor) in March 1982. Yet despite its faults; dodgy dialogue and dodgy effects; it’s a story that, for me, does have plenty of good moments and deserves more examination.
To start, ‘Time-Flight’ is a story that despite its weak plot did manage to gain 10 million viewers when it was shown on TV. Also the plot itself contains a simple premise that is quite exciting to watch.
A Concorde plane gets zapped back in time; the TARDIS gets caught in its impact; the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are summoned to investigate the plane’s disappearance; they with three air pilots get zapped back in time; find themselves in the pre-historic age; come up against a terrifying villain; and have to find a way to get themselves and the Concorde passengers to return…back to the future!
To me, those are the ingredients for a good ‘Doctor Who’ story. It’s all there. It’s just a shame that the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ and the scientific explanations and concepts aren’t so well executed enough.
This four-part story by Peter Grimwade (who directed ‘Earthshock’) was the first one he wrote for ‘Doctor Who’. It was a pretty ambitious story and required a lot of time and effort. But being made at the end of the season, more money was spent on ‘Earthshock’ and less was spent on ‘Time-Flight’.
‘Earthshock’ should have been the season finale and ‘Time-Flight’ would have made a nice season opener. Also the story being directed by Ron Jones may have spoiled the writer’s interpretation of the piece. I know Peter Grimwade wasn’t happy with what Ron Jones did with directing ‘Time-Flight’.
There are some interesting concepts in this story. I liked how Grimwade used the Concorde planes to great effect. I also liked how he introduces the Xeraphin as an alien race with a split personality inspired by Jekyll and Hyde. I also liked it that they have the power to create illusions and to hypnotise their subjects. Some of the scenes with the Doctor and friends seeing things are intriguing.
When the Doctor and his friends arrive back in time, they think that they’re back at Heathrow Airport until Nyssa screams and spots the dead bodies. This gives the clue that they’re not where they are. It is a frightening concept to think that people can get caught in a hypnotic effect like that and you have to break through the trance. I found it quite mind-boggling and disturbing when I saw it.
Sometimes the scientific explanations on the concepts of the Xeraphin and the perception induction in ‘Time-Flight’ aren’t done justice. But somehow, I was able to get the gist of what was going on.
I liked the opening scene with Nyssa, Tegan and Doctor in the TARDIS as they lost Adric in ‘Earthshock’. I wanted to know what happened next after Adric got killed and how the Doctor and his friends dealt with his death. It’s an effective scene, as they’re terribly upset and miss Adric.
Nyssa and Tegan beg the Doctor to go back and rescue him, but the Doctor refuses. I found it a tense and moving scene when the Doctor tells Nyssa and Tegan why he can’t go back to save Adric. The Doctor’s anger rises when he gives his reasons to Nyssa and Tegan. He simply can’t go back as he knows it would change history. He insists Nyssa and Tegan reframe asking him such a request again.
The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan have to move on and honour Adric in their memory with his heroic sacrifice. The scene was wonderfully played between Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton.
I liked the Heathrow Airport scenes in the story. The Doctor has tried to get Tegan back to Heathrow Airport for some time and now he’s finally done it. The Heathrow Airport scenes are nice as they provide a familiar atmosphere that we can recognise and are probably the best scenes in the story.
I liked the snowy scenes with the Concorde plane as the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan embark and disembark. I felt sorry though for Sarah and Janet who braved through the bitter cold in those scenes. I wanted to put my arms around them and keep them warm, as they do look blue on screen.
I love Sarah Sutton as Nyssa. I’ve chatted to Sarah about ‘Time-Flight’ at conventions including the ‘Collectormania Glasgow’ event in August 2012 and at ‘Pandorica 2015’ in Bristol, September 2015. I told Sarah I quite liked ‘Time-Flight’. Sarah was surprised and recently told me ‘I was mad’ that I liked it. 😀
Sarah doesn’t like this story very much, I’m afraid. In fact, Sarah considers ‘Time-Flight’ to be the worst ‘Doctor Who’ story ever made instead of Colin Baker’s ‘The Twin Dilemma’. But I remember telling Sarah why I liked this story so much. I told Sarah that I was convinced by her amazing performance. I don’t think Sarah believed me, but she was pleased and glowed at my compliments.
I can sympathise with Sarah not understanding the story as it must have been hard for her when she, Peter and Janet made it. But to be honest, this story contains some really good Nyssa moments.
Nyssa’s latent psychic abilities get touched upon in the story. She gets taken over by the Xeraphin who use her as a medium to speak their messages of warning to the Doctor. You do wonder what’s going on with Nyssa and hope that she’s okay as her psychic abilities are used to great effect in this.
Nyssa seems to know more about what’s going on than the Doctor and Tegan. I liked it when Nyssa gets to lead Tegan into the Inner Sanctum of the Xeraphin stronghold. She becomes adamant and insistent when she has scenes with Tegan. I found Nyssa to be a stronger character in the story especially when she’s prepared to sacrifice her life for the Doctor. It was very effective and dramatic.
Janet Fielding is also good as Tegan and has managed to get back home to Heathrow Airport by the Doctor. She’s willing help out in this adventure as she travels back in time on the Concorde plane with the Doctor, Nyssa and the three air pilots. I liked it when she shares an adventure with Nyssa.
Tegan also gets to show off her air stewardess skills when she directs passengers to board the Concorde plane. This was something I wanted to see. Tegan has been travelling in the TARDIS for some time now. She wanted to go back home at first. Now Tegan seems uncertain about whether she should leave the TARDIS and return to Heathrow Airport to become an air stewardess or not.
One of the sequences I liked is when Nyssa and Tegan encounter visions of Adric and past monsters they’ve met. They journey through the tunnels of the Inner Sanctum and are tempted by Kalid not to go further on. It got tense when Nyssa and Tegan see a vision of Adric, who they saw blown-up and killed in ‘Earthshock’. They have to make the painful decision to go through him and ‘kill’ him again.
The past monsters that Nyssa and Tegan encounter included the Melkur from ‘The Keeper of Traken’ and a Terileptil from ‘The Visitation’. This sequence brings together all that we know and love about the Fifth Doctor’s first season and it’s so fitting to have those lovely moments in this season finale.
Peter Davison delivers an energetic performance as the Doctor in this story. Peter has managed to find his feet as the Doctor by this point. Despite his disapproval of the special effects, he still pulls off a pretty good performance. The Fifth Doctor is enthusiastic and energetic throughout this story.
I liked those scenes when the Doctor tries to get his friends to concentrate and break through the perceptual induction that’s on them. I liked his scenes with Kalid when he confronts him in his lair and the moments when the Doctor ridicules Kalid’s powers and refuses to give him the TARDIS key.
I also liked the ‘new series-like’ moment the Doctor has when he reacts to Captain Stapley’s sabotage of the TARDIS. I thought Peter’s Doctor was going to go boiling mad with Stapley. But it turns out he was pleased with what Stapley did. I really like that moment with Peter’s Doctor as it’s much like what recent Doctors such as Christopher Eccelston; David Tennant and Matt Smith would do.
The story’s villain is the conjuror Kalid who happens to be controlling the Xeraphin’s power, played by Leon Ny Taiy…oh hang on! That actor doesn’t exist. Who’s playing Kalid then? Oh, wait a minute. He’s not Kalid. He’s Anthony Ainley as the Master. When I first saw this with my Mum, she knew it was the Master all along. It was a magic moment when we got to the reveal at the end of ‘Part Two’.
The Master is on top form in this story with an evil elegance and I enjoy what Anthony Ainley does in the role, although I don’t know why he had to disguise himself as Kalid in the first two episodes. It’s meant to be a surprise for the audience, but I didn’t understand the logic of that aspect in the story.
Perhaps the Master needed to disguise himself as Kalid in order to control the power and convince the Xeraphin. It would have worked better if Kalid was seen in silhouette than in full view as he looked like a fat conjuror in front of the Doctor. The green ooze out of the nose when Kalid ‘dies’ in ‘Part Two’ was very unnecessary and rather disgusting when I saw it in the TV version of the story.
The reasoning behind the Master disguising himself as Kalid is better handled in the novelization of ‘Time-Flight’ by Peter Grimwade compared to the TV story. In the book, it’s described that Kalid is a Plasmaton version of the Master and it’s a disguise to hide not just the Master but also to hide the evil Xeraphin that are in the Sanctum. I wish that had been shown in the TV version of the story.
Aside from this, it was a joy to see the Master in ‘Time-Flight’. Anthony Ainley provides the classic villain role and I get great pleasure seeing him do maniacal deeds and laughing away so delightfully.
The TARDIS trio are joined by three air pilots who become their allies. They are Richard Easton as Captain Stapley; Michael Cashman as Bilton and Keith Drinkel as Scobie. I liked these three guys. They’re such good characters to join the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan in this adventure in ‘Time-Flight’.
Some say they’re not convincing as air pilots, but I found them convincing as they’re played by such fine actors. I like how each of them reacts to being in a prehistoric environment as they’re astonished and bewildered. They slowly get used to being in this strange world and accept the Doctor’s words.
I like how Stapley puts his trust in the Doctor, no matter how absurd the situation is. I also liked how Bilton follows Stapley’s orders and joins him when they try to hijack the TARDIS to stop the Master. I also liked Scobie’s scenes with Angela, the stewardess of the earlier Concorde, as he tries to help her keep focused and not fall under a trance again. I enjoyed what these three did in the story.
They’re also joined by Nigel Stock as the sceptical Professor Hayter. I liked this character and Nigel Stock plays him well. He’s a well-learned man who’s able to break through the Xeraphin’s hynoptic suggestions. But he’s also sceptical and tends to dismiss the Doctor’s theories and anyone else’s aside, saying that they’re either mad or hallucinating. It annoys the Doctor when this happens at times.
Yet Professor Hayter gets to follow the Doctor and the others despite his scepticism. He’s curious and wants to know about what’s going on. He is intolerable at times, but is a good soul and cares about others. He’s willing to sacrifice himself despite not knowing what he’s letting himself in for.
By the end of the story, the Doctor defeats the Master and brings everyone home. But Tegan gets left behind and it’s too late for her when she tries to head back to the TARDIS. Earlier, Tegan wandered off and seemed to want to go back to Heathrow Airport. But she’s uncertain and is torn between wanting to become an air stewardess and joining the Doctor as well as travelling in the TARDIS.
Tegan’s upset when she’s left behind as the TARDIS leaves without her with the Doctor and Nyssa inside. I really liked those moments with Tegan’s character as it feels ‘new series-like’ and what they do with companions today. It also comes ‘full circle’ as to what Season 19 has been about with the Doctor trying to get Tegan back home. I really felt for Tegan as she had tears in her eyes at the end.
‘Time-Flight’ isn’t a great ‘Doctor Who’ story. It’s complex and hard to follow, but I like ‘Time-Flight’ as it features some lovely moments in it, especially for Nyssa. I can’t help like ‘Time-Flight’ in a strange way as it features great performances by the actors who braved through making this story.
For me, it’s a decent finale to Peter Davison’s first season as the Doctor, especially with Tegan’s journey. I know how poorly rated it is in the ‘Doctor Who’ poll, but I can’t help defend it in some way. If you watch ‘Time-Flight’ again or see it for the first time, do appreciate some of its good points.
Thanks for reading!