Time-Flight ★

Even a school-panto Master and two Concordes can't save this "unmitigated drivel"...

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Season 19 – Story 122

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“With the Xeraphin at the centre of his Tardis, there’s no limit to his powers” – the Doctor

Storyline
A Concorde on its descent into London Heathrow vanishes into thin air. The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan join the crew of a second Concorde as it retraces the missing plane’s trajectory, and a time contour conveys them to a barren landscape 140 million years ago. In a nearby citadel a bizarre genie-like conjurer, Kalid, is soon revealed to be the Master in disguise. He intends to harness the powers of an ancient race, the Xeraphin, to recharge his Tardis. The Doctor thwarts his plan, returns one of the Concordes to Heathrow and accidentally leaves Tegan behind in the 1980s.

First transmissions
Part 1 – Monday 22 March 1982
Part 2 – Tuesday 23 March 1982
Part 3 – Monday 29 March 1982
Part 4 – Tuesday 30 March 1982

Production
Location recording: January 1982 at Heathrow Airport
Studio recording: January-February 1982 in TC8, February 1982 in TC6

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Davison
Nyssa – Sarah Sutton
Tegan Jovanka – Janet Fielding
The Master – Anthony Ainley
Kalid – Leon Ny Taiy (anagram of Tony Ainley)
Professor Hayter – Nigel Stock
Captain Stapley – Richard Easton
Flight engineer Roger Scobie – Keith Drinkel
First Officer Andrew Bilton – Michael Cashman
Horton – Peter Dahlsen
Sheard – Brian McDermott
Captain Urquhart – John Flint
Andrews – Peter Cellier
Angela Clifford – Judith Byfield
Anithon – Hugh Hayes
Zarak – André Winterton
Adric – Matthew Waterhouse

Crew
Writer – Peter Grimwade
Incidental music – Roger Limb
Designer – Richard McManan-Smith
Script editor – Eric Saward
Producer – John Nathan-Turner
Director – Ron Jones

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
Defiant is the word that springs to mind with Time-Flight, but only in the sense that it defies the viewer to keep watching and defies the critic to attack it, unless he or she enjoys kicking a hound on its last legs. But, seatbelts fastened, doors to automatic and cross check, as we proceed to tick-off.

Triumphs have often been followed by flops in Doctor Who, but never more jarringly than Earthshock by Time-Flight. What’s galling is that Peter Grimwade proved a masterly director of the foregoing adventure but is devastatingly out of his depth as a scriptwriter here.

JN-T and Grimwade were so cock-a-hoop at being able to film at Heathrow Airport, and on board Concorde, that they forgot to ensure a coherent narrative. They also seem to have overlooked that just the previous week we’d seen a space freighter under alien influence being flown back to the dawn of time.

The disappearance of not one but two Concordes should engender all manner of mayhem and high drama, but it comes across as a minor inconvenience. Air traffic control is rendered by one radar operator in a darkened corner of the studio. The few passengers we see stranded on prehistoric Earth look like bemused supporting artists who’ve been bussed down from Crossroads (Central TV’s dire motel soap).

A similarly lacklustre standard of acting permeates almost the entire cast, from the airport controller down, with the possible exception of Nigel Stock as a scientist who, unusually, refutes the evidence before his eyes, and Richard Easton, who tries to invest his Concorde pilot character with some gusto.

Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton struggle valiantly in the face of wretched material, but coming off worse is Anthony Ainley. Whereas his predecessor Roger Delgado maintained dignity and gravitas as the Master, Ainley comes across like an incompetent headmaster obliged to fill in at short notice at the school panto.

He spends two episodes pointlessly and unconvincingly disguised under a massive quilted robe and what looks like a grey plasticine mask, babbling incantations, before he collapses on the floor with a torrent of snot oozing from his mush. He then gets up “triumphantly”, sniggering like Muttley, telling his enemy, “No, Doctor, you never do understand. You never do.” Well, neither does the viewing public, love.

As well as this numpty, we’re treated to lumbering, blobby, spittle-covered Plasmatons and two effete gentlemen called Xeraphin. The convolutions of the plot make my head hurt.

Episode three is one of the poorest 25 minutes of Who to date, with so much to-ing and fro-ing, yet all of it agonisingly dull. Ron Jones’s pedestrian direction and Roger Limb’s parping score only exacerbate the chore of watching this unmitigated drivel.

Soaring above the almost impenetrable technobabble is the question of how two Concordes managed to land intact on a rugged terrain, and how one of them then takes off again. In the event, one just doesn’t care.

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Time Flight billings

Despite my antipathy to this story and Anthony Ainley as the Master, I evidently sent him an “extremely kind letter”. In October 1982, he sent an extremely kind reply on a page of script from Time-Flight. (He always tried to answer fans using bits of old scripts.) Reproduced here for the amusement of followers of this guide.

Anthony Ainley letter 1982
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[Available on BBC DVD]