THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Castrovalva
BBC
Time-Flight

Episodes 4 A spider at the end of his web
Story No# 123
Production Code 5X
Season 19
Dates Mar. 22, 1982 -
Mar. 30, 1982

With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton.
Written by Peter Grimwade. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Ron Jones. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.

Synopsis: A Concorde disappears from its flight path into the distant past, and the Doctor must trace the source of the time disruption.


Reviews

A Review by Jen Kokoski 27/3/97

How do you recover from a painful blow? That seemed to be the problem of this story. Coming off a grim and tragic adventure (Earthshock), this one pales in comparison. The Master reappears as his archetypal horrid self leaving one feeling like they've seen it all before. Perhaps too much Anthony Ainley in one season. And the arbitrary ending, leaving Tegan behind on Earth, left one feeling as hung out to dry as she was.


What's a Few Million Years Among Friends? by Dennis McDermott 12/4/97

Unlike Jen, I liked this show better than I did Earthshock. It's a nice little story that moves swiftly along and has something to say about the dual nature of humans beings (a well-worn path, 'tis true, but nicely done here.) The threat -- the Master managing to make his TARDIS all-powerful through the Zeraphim -- is both credible and original. And I thought the supporting cast was top-notch. The ending, the old I-got-here-first-so-I'm-zapping-you-somewhere-else, was a bit anti-climatic, but Tegan wandering off and getting left behind was a nice twist, I thought. This show is recommended.


A Review by Michael Hickerson 3/5/99

Time-Flight has always held a special place in my heart. It was, after all, the first Who story I watched all those years ago...

But sentimentality aside, you've got to admit Time-Flight is a prime example of really bad Doctor Who. Easily the weakest of the Davison era stories, Time-Flight suffers on a lot of levels from the sheer unbelievability of the plot, to a greater than average reliance on technobabble to some flat performances by not only the guest cast but the regular cast as well.

Starting off with the plot. I've seen this one at least seven or eight times over the years and I'll be darned if I can yet figure out just what the plot is. Apparently, the Master manuevers Concord back in time to kidnap a slave labor force so he can steal a new power source for his TARDIS is the best I can figure out. Why he needs four episodes and a disguise to do this is a question that remains largely unanswered. Add to it that we're never given any concrete reason for him to need the new power source (funny, I thought a TARDIS power source was pretty much self-sustaining) and it adds up to a plot that needed some serious script editing.

Another beef with the story is the dumbing down of the Master. His plot is fairly superficial--get the Xeraphim to his TARDIS. If he gets to destroy the Doctor in the bargain, all the better, but it's not integral to the plot. Which is a harsh change from the meancing Master we've come to know and love in the Pertwee era. Gone are the long ranging plot to not only humilate the Doctor but also destroy the universe. Instead, we've got a carbon copy of Snidley Whiplash--running around, twisting his hands will glee and cackling manically. Also, one questions his logic of keeping the human passengers to make more Plastmatons while disregarding the pile of potential raw material in the bodies of the Xeraphins... it looks like he's just not thinking things through very well.

The script also falls short because it paints itself into such a corner by the time episode four rolls around. The final episode requires such a suspension of disbelief that it fold under its own weight, descending into luncacy and plot contrivences.

And this is easily Davison's weakest performance as Doctor. There are times he seems to be phoning the performance in as does the usually reliable supporting cast of Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton. You almost get the feeling they are exhausted from Earthshock and looking toward the summer break more than their pefromances here.

Added all up, and you get one of the weaker Davison stories and an overall disappointing Who story...


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 8/8/99

Time-Flight has been slated before and will be again, so my review isn`t going to be very different. The major problem is the plot, it is too convoluted for four episodes and should have been cut down by at least one. Peter Grimwade`s scripts make unfair demands of the production team (particularly for an end of season story) and they aren`t particularly engaging either. The production values as a result suffer from this, giving a somewhat false atmosphere to the story.

The cast just seem to be going through the motions, although the three regulars are much better at the beginning of the tale. Strangely, Anthony Ainley is better when disguised as Kalid (for which no reason is readily apparant than he is as The Master), while the supporting cast might just as well have stepped out, with no previous acting experience whatsoever.

Time-Flight does have some redeeming features however; the opening episode sets up an intriguing mystery, the scenes filmed at Heathrow are excellent and reminiscent in some ways of The Faceless Ones, the idea of the Xeraphin is something that could have been put to better use, as is the death of Adric and its consequences, and Tegan`s apparant departure is also quite refreshing. Despite all this, however Time-Flight is deservedly one the worst Doctor Who tales.


Time Flight and randomness by Liz Stockwell 10/8/01

I can just see the writers now; "This villian isn't working out. What can we do? I know, we'll make him really be the Master. What about continuity? Continuity?! We don't need no stinkin' continuity!"

And the rest is Doctor Who history.

After the exciting conclusion to Earthshock, Time-Flight is a real hoot. From Nyssa's Deanna Troi impersonation to killer bubble baths and old rubber costumes left for dead in a BBC closet somewhere, only to be found and reused one more time along with Mathew Waterhouse, ths is a very silly story and I laughed through the whole thing.

Then I realized, it wasn't intentionally funny. That's when I passed out from oxygen deprivation.

From the very beginning one can see trouble on the horizon. I could see that the Doctor and his companions are very upset over Adric's death. The Doctor's excuse for not going back is rather lame;

"I ah can't break the laws of time like I do every story...including this one."

For the rest of the story there's only one mention of Adric, in a scene which suggests the Mathew Waterhouse still had one story left on his contract. After that it's like, "Adric? Who's that?"

I guess they were working through their grief.

Then there is Nyssa's incredibly apearing and disapearing psychic powers, which was later ignored like the plot convenience it so obviously was. After the Master is revealed for the clever imposter (or something) that he is, her miraculous powers are thrown out along with the continuity of the plot (or whatever it was that was happening).

In short, this should not be considered a great Doctor Who story, but merely something to watch when you're not up to heavy thinking and badly in need of a laugh.

If, however, you find yourself watching it and find that the millions of inconsitancies are bothering you...

"Just repeat to yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax!"


A Review by Mark Irvin 11/12/01

Amongst Dr Who fans the season 19 story Time-Fight is obviously exceedingly unpopular, constantly turning up in worst story lists and target of considerable criticism. Whist I agree that it's certainly very average, I think that there are many examples that are worse or at least in the same league. The fact that Time-Flight is constantly singled out as the worst in Davison's era is in my opinion is a little unfair.

I honestly believe that it had potential the be a decent tale as the first two episodes are actually quite good. The scenes at Heathrow are plenty of fun and are something a little different. The puzzling dilemma of the missing Concorde's is also rather interesting and mysterious. In addition I also liked the idea of the visual hallucinations and it is certainly a surprise when you finally learn what's really going on.

Kalid was an intriguing character and although it was of great shock value to discover that he was in fact the Master, it was really a bad idea as it wasted a potentially entertaining villain.

From this point on Time-Flight unfortunately falls flat on it's face, the plot falling into the depths of stupidity. It's complicated in a bad and unnecessary way, not in a clever way that provides thought-provoking twists, surprises or themes. A simpler and more accessible second half storyline was certainly the way to go, minus the overly excessive techno talk. In Tom Baker's episodes techno babble was as a sort of self joke, actually being highly amusing. In this case it takes itself far too seriously and is at times slightly annoying.

Perhaps someone could explain exactly what the Master is up to here because I sure as hell don't understand. Come to think of it, any of Ainley's Master's schemes in general - they all seem devoid of any plausibility, logic or common sense. (Castrovalva?)

This one deserves a 6.5> for the reasonable opening half and 2.5 for the poor concluding half - resulting in a average of 4.5 overall.


Thus spoke the Xeraph... by Andrew Wixon 22/5/02

It wasn't until midway through part four on my latest viewing of Time Flight that I realised what the story reminded me of. Here's a story that bears a vague resemblence to Doctor Who as we know it, but suffers from a massively far-fetched premise, silly dialogue, a general lack of coherency and dopey guest characters. Brothers and sisters, the writer of all those bizarre stories from late 1970s Doctor Who annuals stands revealed - it was Peter Grimwade all along!

Grimwade was the best director of DW in the early 80s but unfortunately one of the weaker writers. His scripts tend simply to be overreliant on coincidence and silly plot devices and come with more than their fair share of holes. To wit: why does the Master bother to dress up as Kalid and do a highly inflammatory Benny Hill impersonation? Why, later on, does he bother to materialise his TARDIS around the (cheap model of) Concorde? How can the Doctor's TARDIS operate with what looks like half the innards of the plinth missing or jumbled around? There's at least one plot device too many (the Master has to conveniently visit 1981 Heathrow, but of course he arrives after the Doctor for no adequately explained reason) and the story is topped and tailed by hurriedly passed-over improbabilities: why can't the Doctor rescue Adric, no-one actually saw him die and his death was not a historical necessity? And the Doctor seems rather too keen to bugger off without Tegan at the end of episode four for it to be convincing. (I suppose we can blame JNT for that.)

The best DW takes a recognisable real world setting (contemporary or historical) and clashes it with an alien presence or setting of some kind. One of Time-Flight's major problems is that the 'real world' setting is utterly unbelievable. Captain Stapley and the boys are high-camp ciphers. Stapley's performance is particularly rich, by the end his utter adulation for the Doctor borders on the lustful. And the words 'British Airways' are not and have never been evocative of high-concept SF thrills.

But more seriously, Time-Flight marks the first time that continuity is used instead of good storytelling, rather than as a garnish to it. I'm referring to episode one where a quick mention of UNIT saves Grimwade from having to find reasons for BA to entrust a second concorde to a total stranger with terrible dress sense. A very bad precedent has been set.

Time-Flight is horribly contrived and a bit of a mess in all departments. One can only imagine that Grimwade pitched the idea to JNT including the magic words 'BA... Concorde... loads of publicity...' at which point, one presumes, the bearded one's eyes glazed over happily and the story just had to be made, no matter how poorly it might (and did) turn out.


"Why do I love this adventure sooooooo much" by James D 11/11/02

Now before I got Time-Flight on vidieo I was under the impression that it was the worst of the Davison era so I was preparing myself for the worst but when I actually watched this little masterpiece I loved it sooooo much. Just the idea of Concocorde traveling through time is enough to keep me amused as its such an original idea, I do think many people forget that when they critisise this, also people have said Davison's performance isn't very good but I don't agree I think Davison is magic in Time-Flight and always is (I just think people were having a grump because they didn't like an EXCELLENT story)

Now I have not forgotten about the contrived appearance of the Master but it does provide a good cliffhanger (something which I love in DW) so it really didn't bother me. OOOOOOOOOH yes the bad special effects, well never in my life have I seen a DW story with BAAAD special effects ever, oh no that's just pure wrong. Good god if you watch DW for good special effects then you're gonna have some hatred watching so some more unfounded criticism.

So all in all I love this adventure and everything in it soooooooo there!!!


A damp squib ending for the season by Tim Roll-Pickering 1/4/03

It is difficult to know where to begin with this story. It shows a degree of ambition and an attempt to bring more realism into the series through its use of Concorde, but at the same time the story is poorly structured, contains several inconsistencies such as the complete disappearance of Angela Clifford (though Judith Byfield's performance is so unspectacular this oversight is not exactly missed) or the Master adopting a disguise for no apparent reason that he abandons some considerable time before his goal has been apparently achieved. The story also contains a lot of technobabble that makes very little sense and might as well be magic, whilst the Doctor initially establishes himself with the authorities not through his actions but by name dropping about UNIT. [Those who get wound up on UNIT dating might nitpick for this story clearly having a contemporary setting yet it appears to be set some years after the Doctor's time with the taskforce and then wonder why Mawdryn Undead gets all the flack for this but who cares about that can of worms anyway?]

Peter Grimwade's script is fundamentally flawed from the outset and is further let down by some atrocious dialogue. The story starts with the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan still coming to terms with Adric's death in Earthshock but quite quickly they stop their tears and seem to forget about their late friend. It would have been better to have established that some time had passed since the events of the previous story rather than this half-hearted attempt at characterisation which fails to satisfy any of the conflicting demands of the story and the ongoing narrative. Apart from this switch, both Peter Davison and Janet Fielding give competent performances but they are not at their peak, indicating perhaps a dissatisfaction with the whole production, whilst Sarah Sutton is noticeably weaker than usual as Nyssa. Anthony Ainley returns as the Master but gives first an almost comical performance as Kalid and then fails to make a strong presence whilst the disguise is shed. None of the guest cast make much of an impact at all.

The production values feature some good filming at Heathrow, but it is clear when stock footage of Concorde is being used, whilst the intercuts of film of the cockpit interior or closeups of the engines with the videotape of the prehistoric studio set or CSO illusionary Heathrow result in many shots being ineffective. he stock shot in Part Four of Concorde taking off with the landscape CSOed in front of it is particularly poor. The studio sets generally show little imagination at all, whilst the Plasmatrons seem to be little more than lumps of grey plasticine with legs that just stand jump around when they appear. The result is that much of the story is tired and so the season limps to a conclusion. The only noteworthy point at all comes when it appears that the Doctor has abandoned Tegan when he and Nyssa escape in the TARDIS. This apparent departure makes for a memorable final shot for the season, but otherwise Time-Flight is a complete damp squib for Peter Davison's first year to end on. 1/10


A Review by Will Berridge 26/5/03

There's really lots of words that spring to mind when reviewing this story; insipid, boring, drawn out, farcical, dull, badly acted, etc,etc. I could just encompass all of these into one and say crap. There's only actually one colour that defines it though: grey. Not the grim, mystical grey that enchants Warrior's Gate, but a sort of ugly, splodgy grey that seems to permeate all throughout the design and you really don't want to look at. The daft "Khalid" costume the Master is wearing; the plasmatons, or virtually anything the Master creates with his psychokinetic wotsimejiggery; the Jurassic landscape (I really had something more verdant in mind when I read the synopsis. And where were all the dinosaurs?); and also the set design, though this also suffers from the odd garish splodge of green and red here and there.

This is what really brings Time-Flight down; usually, I can enjoy a story even though the plot is ridiculously far-fetched and the characters uninspired, but this is so visually uninvolving I didn't really want to turn my eyes toward it. Incidentally, though, the plot is ridiculously far-fetched and the characters are largely uninspired, even the regulars aren't great on this occasion. Tegan gets on my nerves in her good stories, of which this is not one. Still, at least too much attention isn't paid to her, but this doesn't shift the emphasis onto Nyssa, whose remains as bland and undefined as ever. I still enjoyed bits of Davison's performance as the Doctor - such as "I don't know what English cricket is coming to", but then I always seem to take something out of the Doctor's performance whoever's playing him whichever adventure it is. Davison is, however, on this occasion, seriously below par, as seen in his complete failure to evoke any dramatic tension in the 3rd episode cliffhanger as he states "It means the Master has finally defeated me". (I also, rather tangentially in an earlier review, had a go at Davison's delivery of a similar piece of dialogue for the 3rd episode cliffhanger for Terminus. It seems he isn't very good at these.)

The TARDIS crew as a whole also participate in one of the least convincing "mental battle" sequences in DW just before this cliffhanger. It seems that from the sight of 3 people, standing slack-jawed and open-eyed, we are supposed to conjure up in our minds images of evil aliens intelligences being dispelled away. Well, I can't. The supporting cast aren't really up for it either. The aircraft crew behave like comic book characters throughout the whole story, and the obvious reason Angela Clifford was disappears half way through the story was that the director took her off to try and explain she'd recovered from the mesmeric influence and should start acting like a real person. When the production team realised that she was only capable of acting as if under a mesmeric influence, they shot her. Hayter rises above the rest in that he actually has defining characteristics, such as his obstinacy and thirst for knowledge, and his notion that the planes have landed "behind the iron curtain" is about the funniest moment in a fairly turgid plot.

As for the Master... this version started getting good in The Five Doctors, and not before. It's the writing that really lets him down here though, not Ainley. It's not that having the Master fighting for his survival rather than conquering the universe is a bad idea, as was demonstrated in... erm, Survival. But, here, stranded in a barren wilderness and trying to escape, he shows a great deal less savage desperation than that particular serial. In fact, I've never seen him less ruthless - he doesn't murder a single character in the entire story (though one compressed Xeraphin corpse is found.), though he has plenty of opportunities. He's a fairly generous bargainer, too, giving the Doctor most of the parts he wants back for nothing in return. And once the Doctor gives him the temporal whatever-it-was, why oh why doesn't he just gun him down? I mean he's got the tissue compression eliminator on him, hasn't he?

The plot, quite apart from being indecipherable, is also thoroughly unengaging. It takes till virtually the end of Episode One for the adventure to actually start when we the second Concorde materialises in what the designers think Jurassic England looked like. Apart from a lot of babbling about "the force", annoyingly reminiscent of Star Wars, nothing particularly interesting happens for the next 50 minutes. In fact, the only reasoning behind the Master's simulation on this particular occasion seems to have been to save the writers producing a decent cliffhanger for the end of Episode 2. The mysterious alien entity behind the whole plot then appears, disappears, and we spend the whole last episode watching the Master and Doctor discussing politely how they can both get out of the predicament they're in.

It doesn't really get much worse than this. 2/10.


"So you escaped from Castrovalva..." by Joe Ford 3/7/03

Peter Davison gives a passable performance in this story, the last of his first season as Doctor Who. He'd had his ups (the elder gent of The Visitation, the action hero of Earthshock) and he'd had his lows (the schizo from Four to Doomsday and the bland observer of Black Orchid) but on the whole in this he settles down and proves to be quite watchable if hardly anything to shout home about. It would be next year that the real damage started but here we are treated to some enjoyable histrionics (his frantic yelling and organising in episode four) and some almost-funny humour (the million "I'll explain later!"s!). His chemistry with Nyssa and Tegan is quite good as well and Peter Grimwade writes all three of them as sensible, rational and intelligent people. What's more, Davison seems to be enjoying the material, or at least trying to make an attempt to make it work. So ner.

There is something enjoyable about the first ten minutes of this story, having the TARDIS back on contemporary Earth in a setting as recognisable as Heathrow with mentions of UNIT being thrown about casually. All the shots of the Concorde, inside and out, are stylish and give the sense of an impressive budget and it appears for a while it was entirely sensible to not end the season on the cliff-hanger of Adric's death.

Unfortunately things proceed in a downwards spiral of ineptitude the second the Concorde leaves the runway.

The real monster in this story is the budget that just cannot reach the heights of Peter Grimwade's scripts. The scripts themselves aren't at all bad, the idea of a Concorde being trapped on prehistoric Earth and a battle between the two Time Lords is appealing but the production does not treat the story with the same affection and style it lavished on Earthshock. The worst example is that horrible backdrop prehistoric set with the ONE boulder in the centre, so obviously false and the team pass it so many times but from different angles that attempts to cover up its repetitiveness by episode four is just hysterical. The sets for the Citadel are much better but still a bit on the shiny side, it is clear early on the are only three real sets and it limits the action somewhat.

Then there are the FX such is the miniature Concorde and the Plasmatons, surely one of the worst ever monsters to appear in the show. They have no arms, no legs, they are just some guy dressed up in a rock costume jumping about. Hardly fear-inducing stuff.

Annoyingly this Roger Limb score is quite good which is a shame because I really do enjoy bitching of about his horrible music. Early scenes of vanishing aeroplanes are treated to an eerie whistling score and the score is punctuated by some unnerving stings, especially in scenes concerning the hypnotised passengers.

It is so frustrating because this story has the cast Earthshock so clearly needed! Forget laughable characters like Briggs and Kyle and Scott, all one-dimensional stereotypes... here we are treated the highly engaging team of Stapley, Scobie and Bilton. Stapley especially is a terrifically acted part by Richard Easton, assured and level headed, he makes a completely believable pilot. And the crotchety old Professor Hayter is great fun, his acidic barbs are a joy. Plus one of those pilots is pretty cute. Not bad going really.

Oh look! It's that intergalactic party pooper the Master! What a wally! He's dressed up as a pot bellied genie who babbles on and on in nonsense speak! Why oh why is he disguised even before the Doctor shows up? How the hell does he know the Doctor WILL show up? That's what I call forward planning! Seriously though, that plodder Ainley just blows any sense of credibility he might have salvaged in the far superior Castrovalva with his pantomime performance. I cannot believe they actually asked him to play it this way? All chuckles and villainous twitches of the mouth. Pur-lease. All memories of the gorgeously suave Delgado are insulted here.

The plot rattles along harmlessly, trying to succeed despite the obvious lack of money. The thing that surprises me most is how much more watchable I find this story than much of the Davison era and not just because of the shoddy production values. There is some nice twists along the way and you never really know how the crew are going to escape right until the end. The surprise return of Adric is sweet and it is very un-Doctor Who to have a first scene like this one discussing repercussions of the last story. And of course any story where Tegan gets left behind at the end is okay by me. My boyfriend has a high up job at Gatwick so all this stuff with aeroplanes is quite appealing to me. Let's put it this way I would rather watch Time-Flight than Arc of Infinity, Terminus, The Kings Demons, Warriors, The Awakening and that ripe old turkey Four to Doomsday. It might not look as good as any of those stories but by God it's a hell of a lot more engaging.

So surprisingly I'm giving this story a thumbs up despite all its faults. It might be crap but its well played crap with a big heart.

I quite like it.


A Review by Paul Rees 9/7/03

Time-Flight must be one of the most maligned stories in Doctor Who's history - in my view, undeservedly so.

It's never going to be a classic, agreed, and some of the acting is less than top-notch. The effects have not aged well (the use of CSO is particularly noticeable at times) and this story consequently has a high 'cheese factor'. It also has to be said that the plot here is a bit of a mess: in particular, the Doctor's eventual defeat of the Master seems to rely upon a combination of meaningless technobabble and random explanations.

On the positive side, however, the story is generally well-paced, with the regulars being in particularly fine fettle. This is their first outing without Adric and, to be honest, they are the better for it: without Adric's brooding presence, there is certainly less bickering and squabbling amongst the TARDIS crew. It has to be said, however, that they get over his death remarkably quickly - Davison's reference to the need for a holiday to "cheer us all up" being particularly crass.

As the Kalid, Anthony Ainley is wonderfully off-the-wall. The ending of episode two (when the Kalid is revealed to be the Master) is particularly effective - even though I'm still not quite sure why the Master decided to disguise himself in the first place. I'm also unclear as to whether the Doctor has fallen into an elaborate trap set by the Master, or whether their near simultaneous arrival on pre-historic Earth was just an amazing coincidence.

The idea of the Master's interference provoking a schizoid split within the Xeraphin gestalt was an interesting if underdeveloped one. Also worthy of note is Nyssa's previously unmentioned psychic ability; this was a potentially interesting development, which was unfortunately not followed up in later stories. A missed opportunity, I feel.

To conclude, Time-Flight is certainly not one of the best Who stories - but neither is it one of the worst.


A Review by Ron Harmon 16/8/03

Many people have slammed Time-Flight for having too much plot, but I'm going to stand up for it because it was forced to go through so many changes. To begin with, Peter Grimwade originally wrote it for Tom Baker's last season, but was forced to temporarily cease work on it to direct Full Circle and Logopolis. Then, JNT asked Grimwade to replace the 4th Doctor, Romana, and K9 with the 5th Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan. Then Grimwade was asked halfway through the serial to replace Kalid with the Master. Finally, he was asked to write out Tegan so she looked like she was going to leave the show. Despite the many changes the scripts went through it's still an ok story. Many people on this site when giving Time-Flight a bad review seemed to forget that Grimwade was forced to make many changes to the script like Planet of Fire.


A Review by Brian May 22/9/03

Time-Flight begins with an interesting - and relatively original - premise. The idea of a Concorde disappearing in time and the subsequent expedition to follow it is rather intriguing. Unfortunately the premise is the only good thing going for this shockingly woeful tale.

The plot, while straightforward and potentially interesting - a trapped Master seeking to awaken and utilise a dormant alien power - its execution is unengaging, boring and quite pointless. Only the first ten or fifteen minutes hold any interest - the disappearing Concorde, the discussion of Adric's death, the arrival at Heathrow and the Doctor using his UNIT credentials make for some interesting viewing. Not enthralling, but with some promise. Unfortunately after this, the descent into tedium begins.

There is no dramatic tension, there are no memorable moments, and the only real attempt at a plot twist, Kalid revealing himself to be the Master, is indicative of the now tired "recurring villain" element of the show and the pantomime character the Master had become (not the fault of Anthony Ainley, but the production team who veered his role in this direction). The Master has no reason to disguise himself as Kalid in the first place; it is merely a means for a trite "it was the Master all along" cliffhanger - one of a number of such tiresome moments in the Davison era.

The cast does not help much either. Peter Davison and Janet Fielding deliver competent but unenthusiastic performances. It's not Sarah Sutton's best day as Nyssa and apart from Nigel Stock as Professor Hayter and the Xeraphin brothers (Hugh Hayes and Andre Winterton) the rest of the acting is mediocre at best, dreadful at worst. There are some dreadful lines - Angela Clifford's "I didn't know you had a New York stopover" - and some unnecessary ones - Bilton inside the TARDIS regarding the door control: "I wouldn't have thought it was that" - an attempt at irony, as the control in question is for the door, but in fact a stupid excuse to further the plot, which at this stage requires the Master to re-enter. The end of episode three, simply a close-up of the Doctor saying "The Master has finally defeated me" is also poor, both as dialogue and as a cliffhanger.

There is no real climax either. The use of technobabble - fiddling with a few wires, an incomprehensible explanation, the use of an assortment of gadgets and components to bring an adventure to a close - has occurred before. Sometimes it can spoil the end of a good story (e.g. Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Masque of Mandragora) but doesn't ruin the tale as a whole. In Time-Flight, a series of convoluted, technical explanations from the Doctor IS the climax. There is no real showdown with the Master - his TARDIS just vanishes and the Doctor explains his fate. The expulsion of Tegan from the TARDIS is also poorly executed - the Doctor hurries inside to evade the police officers (surely they would have known he had security clearance?) - he shuts out his Australian companion without even noticing, then asks where she is - next scene we cut to Tegan strolling through the terminal.

The story is also indifferently directed. The puppet hydra-like monster that appears near the end of episode two is laughable - if its teeth were better designed that would have made all the difference. The Plasmatons look like huge pieces of used chewing gum (with legs!) The only remotely interesting alien components are the aforementioned Xeraphin, who don't appear for very long. And what about Professor Hayter in the TARDIS? Is he just a mental projection? So what happened to him/it in the end? Peter Grimwade has made some impressive contributions to Doctor Who as a director (Full Circle, Logopolis, Earthshock). I believe this is his forte, not writing.

The lack of any action or suspense leaves the viewer uninspired and uncaring. After the tension and pace of the previous story, Earthshock, a quieter, recuperative story is probably a good idea, but not a lifeless venture such as this.

The question stands, could it have been better? Probably not. The chance to film in and around a Concorde was too tempting for John Nathan-Turner and the BBC. According to the blurb on the video release (which I read upon renting it - I certainly wouldn't buy it!), this was the first time any production team had been allowed to film Concorde - indeed, a major coup for Doctor Who, but all the recorded scenes seem extremely gratuitous and self-congratulatory, like the travelogue Amsterdam scenes that occur in the following story, Arc of Infinity. These indulgent moments prove the worse for wear later, during the studio bound scenes in the final episode when the Doctor and company stand around the plane's wheel preparing for take-off. It is painfully obvious they are all standing beside a model wheel, without access to the real thing. The blending in of stock footage Concorde vision as it takes off from the prehistoric earth is also dreadful.

A most forgettable story. Definitely one of the weakest tales of the Peter Davison years. 1.5/10


The beginning of the end by James Aanensen 2/10/03

The first season of the Davison era just had to be good.

Why? There are two obvious reasons:

  1. Tom Baker had been the man for seven years and had arguably made the role his own. For the lead character to change again, especially one of immense popularity and high regard, a good replacement had to be found and provided with good material.
  2. The 1980's. The last season of the Baker era had been the "new look" Who - after this it was only expected to get better.
The realisation of these two issues was crucial to maintaining not only the popularity but also quality of Doctor Who in the new era. Season 19 came close to achieving this, but ultimately ended with one of the biggest travesties ever conceived let alone produced. I think I can safely say that the first six stories of the season were not bad and the productions were gradually meshing with the new Doctor's persona. Then in the seriously tear-jerking end to Earthshock, for the first time a long(ish) term companion was killed. This scene and the following one in the TARDIS were executed brilliantly.

However, after this is where the production team seemed to lose hold of what they were doing. The death of a long-term character in any program is a massive plot element to introduce. The next episode therefore needs to be equally as competent in the way it deals with the events of the previous episode.

To say that this theme in Time-Flight was handled disastrously is an understatement.

The TARDIS crew show a token moment of grief then forget all about it. Even Adric's phantom appearance in episode 2 conjures minimal emotion in Nyssa and Tegan. Even if as a character he was not that popular (which is arguable anyway), the production team should have shown more respect to the intelligence of their audience. The Doctor's refusal to change the situation does not make sense and ridiculously Tegan's argument does. How many times has the TARDIS de-materialised in the nick of time before a tremendously bad "something" happens? The Doctor talks about not interfering, but ahh..., ahem. Removing Adric from the bridge before the freighter crashed would not have changed the outcome or history.

This is one of far too many plainly ridiculous plot holes throughout Time-Flight. Yes, the script asked too much of the budget, it also asked too much of our imaginations. Being Who fans we are all quite imaginative, but this was too much. The reliance on continuity is one all too convenient element, but a false and contradictory continuity is just bad management. At this particular point in the series' history, I believe they proved near fatal mistakes. Some purely horrid dialogue, an incomprehensible and convoluted plot, below par effects and the bad characterisation following Adric's death undoubtedly led to many viewers switching off forever. Thus ratings began to decrease and while nothing else in the Davison era scraped the barrel like Time-Flight, nothing was good enough to repair the damage either.

Add an equally poor start to the C. Baker era in The Twin Dilemma and Bob's your uncle, we got the shortest season ever then cancellation, from which the series never recovered. To be fair, the late McCoy era finally saw some cracking Who return to the screen (namely Ghost Light and The Curse Of Fenric) but by then it turned out to be too late.

Why this story was produced given the budgetary restrictions after Earthshock is interesting, however I am inclined to agree with Andrew Wixon in his review of the story. Also, some note must go to the review by Ron Harmon who points out the problems faced by the crew when commissioning Time-Flight.

For a story that starts quite promisingly, Time-Flight ultimately evolves into the first link in the chain that began to hold television Doctor Who back.


A Review by Keith Bennett 28/4/04

A number of critisms of this story are, by now, well known in Doctor Who fandom; why does the Master dress up as Kalid... the story's oversized demands on the budget... the co-incidence of the Doctor arriving just when and where the Master is doing his dastardly deeds (although that last one is a bit silly - without co-incidences, we wouldn't have very many Doctor Who adventures at all).

This story is, indeed, pretty ordinary, which is a shame, seen in the light of its good points, of which it does have a few. The scenes at Heathrow are excellent (apart from the ones showing a dark, tiny traffic control room), the premise of the concorde disappearing is intriguing, and (unlike most fans, it seems), I really like the three-member crew who get caught up in the events - they're natural, believable and likeable.

The quick dismissal of Adric's death at the beginning is certainly kind of iffy, but what is the alternative? Have "The Funeral Of Adric" as the next installment? I suppose the production crew could have done better at trying to find some kind of happy medium.

The plot's "devolopment" in the second half becomes weary and confusing (I know... that's old news too...), resulting in a tired and pretty forgettable story which, as I said earlier, is disappointing, as a lot more could have come from this.


And it all comes crashing down by Thomas Cookson 14/7/07

So this story is coming out on DVD now, with Arc of Infinity and Snakedance together in a Tegan-centric box set. Snakedance is one of the sharpest, most tactile stories of the show, and completely blew me away first time I saw it. If I didn't have it on video I'd have said it was worth the price of the box set alone. Whenever I'm hard on the Davison era, watching that story completely wins me over to it.

Arc of Infinity on the other hand isn't so good. I could watch it first time easily enough without grumbling but I'm never going to be in the mood to watch it again. It's not offensive, just dull and uneventful. But Time-Flight really is a shocker of a story to be releasing on DVD. Mind you, this year we've also got Timelash coming out. I have a theory that they're saving the good releases till next year, being the 45th anniversary and all, so hopefully the release of turkeys isn't going to be the rule for long.

So what's my problem with Time-Flight?

As I said in my Graham Williams review, the John Nathan Turner era was a killjoy from day one. But throughout Seasons 18 and 19, the show had been doing quite well. Even though stories were moving at a snail's pace and the new batch of characters were unlikeable in the extreme, they were overall worthy and in some instances very rich (Warriors' Gate, Keeper of Traken, Kinda and Earthshock), and the drama was good enough to justify a po-faced tone and characters that failed to endear.

But this is where it all hit disaster. This is the absolute nadir of the Davison era. Quite simply, this is where it proves to be a major mistake to have such a po-faced tone, because without a sense of fun or humour there's absolutely nothing to get me through this atrocious story.

The word 'stale' is often bandied about in reviewers' circles when considering the stories of this era, but this story actually leaves a stale aftertaste. I could even describe it as being a corpse of a story and feel like I was using the right figuratives, and it'd be most appropriate in summing up how obsessed the JNT era seemed to be with dead wood.

Season 19 has seen quite a few atrocious and tacky scenes, usually involving the companions (makes me begin to understand why Romana left). Castrovalva had Nyssa and Tegan in an artificial conversation on the word "If", and the scene where they accidentally drop the Doctor's wheelchair into a pond, which was one of the worst pieces of padding ever written for the show. Four to Doomsday had that scene where Tegan beats up Adric - alas it was the closest that boy ever came to copping a feel - and The Visitation saw Tegan at her most shrill and unlikeable.

But I was patient. The show was in search of a new direction and a new voice, which is why the characters and dialogue came off as so unnatural a lot of the time. That's probably why Kinda has always seemed a bit iffy and unrefined to me. It was a different type of Doctor Who story that didn't seem entirely sure of how to take form, which is why its sequel Snakedance seems more accomplished and sharp. Like I said, I could be patient but my patience could only stretch so far.

Strangely enough I still cared about the characters during this season, unlikeable and unnatural though they were, and I was fairly moved by Adric's death, even though I hated the pretentious silent credits. But the scene where they are discussing Adric's death is really the nadir of the season. Tegan's remark that the Doctor may as well be checking off a shopping list reads as an in-joke to the kind of tick box approach that was taken to making the show at this point (more on that later) and she is again at her most shrill and melodramatic, and yet had they ended that scene with Tegan's "I'll miss him" and the Doctor's "As will we all", it would have been worthy of tagging onto the end of Earthshock.

But what happens instead? The scenes carry on and the mood just changes rather unnaturally and crassly. Nowhere else does Janet Fielding seem to be any more blatantly performing by numbers so that when the dramatic scene is over she quickly sounds bored and unengaged. Now see I can believe that the Doctor's moment of frivolity and his later moment of reading the cricket scores are just a cover or coping mechanism for him after Adric's death. The alienness of the character gives him a pass to do so, the same way I can choose to believe that it is Nyssa's alien psychology that enables her to cope well with the tragedy of her lost homeworld and to bear no vengeance against the Master. But Tegan really shows up how inept and false the characterisation is.

Oh, speaking of the Master? No, never mind, I'll come to that later. I don't want to get started on him just yet.

In terms of story, what we have is just a very uninvolving rehash of The Three Doctors with its own Gel guards, except they look worse now than they did in 1973. The cliffhanger to part one, where the Gel guards are first unveiled and unleashed on the heroes and the crew is shoddily directed and acted, and even Peter Davison looks embarrassed (and indeed this is more of a certainty in the third cliffhanger where he has to deliver that awful line "The Master has finally defeated me"). It's one of those moments that defies belief at how embarrassing and atrocious it is (see also Warriors of the Deep, Twin Dilemma, Time and the Rani and Love & Monsters).

Alas when the show carried on without Williams, one of its first casualties was a sense of humour. It was no longer cheap and cheerful entertainment. By this point, of course, it was going cheap but it wasn't getting any more cheerful. For all its dullness and embarrassing effects Time-Flight might have been halfway entertaining if it had been done with a bit of tongue in cheek. It might be remembered as having the same kind of cheesy charm as Horns of Nimon, but its deadly earnestness - complete with buttoned shirt, stiff professional flight crew characters seemingly held hostage in children's television at its worst - makes it simply embarrassing and painful to watch. Now fair enough, the bubble wrap in The Ark in Space wasn't done for laughs, but somehow it works on a conceptual level to be genuinely disturbing. By this point, the show seems to have lost its touch for making the cheap effects symbiotic with the whole, and the effect is akin to car-crash television.

It really is the point where the show suffers the worst of John Nathan-Turner's tick box approach to seasons (an approach that hasn't gone away today). So Concorde was inserted into the story because it was something to modernise the show and say '1980's'. So never mind how the show could cover abstract alien worlds and universe-reaching concepts or voyages into history or the future that could speak to any generation inclined to have their mind expanded. All things considered about how Doctor Who is getting repeats and home video is coming out in this period, let's do something that is going to date the show in decades to come anyway.

In principle though the idea of a plane literally vanishing from the present was a potentially spooky idea and in keeping with the show's remit of taking the ordinary and familiar and dipping it head first into the strange and dangerous. But there seems no effort to capitalise on that. The mystery of where the plane disappeared to is revealed in episode one, and its prehistoric Earth which, to be fair, feels very redundant and hardly otherworldly. The story feels far too much like business as usual in order to work. They're all alive and merely have the Master's hold of hypnotism to deal with, and all you have to do is talk to the slaves and they snap out of the trance. It should be easy enough to just stroll through this adventure then. The Doctor has a TARDIS, so all he has to do is get everyone in and take them all home. Except that the Master has sabotaged the TARDIS and so the Doctor is called upon to trade parts with the Master.

Not exactly the height of excitement is it? Not exactly universe shattering. Once it's revealed that its just the Master's old tricks that took the plane out of time, it loses all its intrigue and potential wow factor. When we meet the lobotomised cast of cipher characters performed atrociously we have even less reason to care, or feel involved in this supposed battle of mind over matter.

And of course there is the Master. And now it's time for me to rant.

Let me stress this first. Anthony Ainley was actually rather good as the Master, but he was cursed by a mass of redundant and poor stories that caused familiarity to breed contempt.

Nevertheless, this is one of those stories that makes me wonder why no-one thought and realised that the Master was actually never originally intended to outlive the Pertwee era, and certainly shouldn't have outlived the Tom Baker era. It makes me think of how Deadly Assassin could have been a great story for the Master to go out in, or how if Graham Williams disliked the Master, instead of spending his entire era avoiding the character, perhaps Williams should have given him one story for the sake of killing him off for good.

The thing is that the Master Returns Trilogy was impressive stuff (a story arc that I respect rather than like) and seems to indicate that the writers understand from the example of Deadly Assassin that the Master works best after a long hiatus of rethinking the villain, and hatching up the kind of grand story that makes him seem more powerful and dangerous. And yet, come this story they're already squandering that completely, and it's been barely a season on. Logopolis really had upped the ante by making the Master a force of annihilation on a galactic scale, and that should really have changed everything, and would be very hard to follow up and such a follow up should have been done with proper care. But they didn't even bother acknowledging any of that.

All part of the checklist of course. That's why there's no adequate explanation for how the Master survived Castrovalva, and why the Master was disguised as Kalid. Originally Kalid was supposed to be a character in his own right but the writer was forced to include the Master and so that's why the disguise comes off as so contrived. There is a cost to using the Master here. Perhaps if they hadn't used him and had saved him for next year instead, maybe fans would be less inclined to see him as overused. Maybe his escape from death in Mark of the Rani would have made him seem genuinely indestructible and frightening rather than a cop-out.

Personally though I think if they weren't going to leave the character for dead after Castrovalva, they should have only brought him back twice again, namely in The Five Doctors and Survival. The fact is that after Logopolis, the rules should have changed. The Doctor and Master can't have their amiable little gentlemen's duel anymore like they did in the Pertwee era. That's why I think the Master should have been used sparingly. They both have to be poised to kill one other, and they both should seem convincingly able to. Once the Master has caused the atrocities of Logopolis, the Doctor should really consider him to be an enemy to urgently eliminate, just like he did with Sutekh and Morbius. Sadly, that becomes forgotten by the Doctor, but then again the Master forgets the Doctor's actions in Planet of Fire and that should have changed everything too.

Throughout most of Season 19, the Fifth Doctor came across as fairly tough and capable. He did manage to vanquish the Master with the power of words in Castrovalva (encouraging the people of Castrovalva to think as individuals and rebel against him), he seems to have lost none of his wisdom in Kinda, and in Earthshock he is still able to make quick calculations and take decisive action with lightening speed, and seems to know when violence is called for. But here he could easily tackle and vanquish the Master but doesn't seem up to the job. A contrived excuse so that the Master can escape for his next story.

The Master himself seems completely harmless (unlike the Pertwee era where he was resourceful at finding powerful allies) and you never feel he's a real threat to the passengers. But then this story contrives an off-screen reason for the Master to be not quite up to his capabilities. See, his TARDIS is depleted and he needs the extra power to escape. Last time we saw him he was the great destroyer, bringing worlds to ruin. But they've kept him around and made him a more comfortable harmless villain who isn't all powerful anymore, but isn't out of the picture either. They want to have their cake and eat it too and it doesn't work. And it would get worse in Planet of Fire where the Master has shrunken himself and needs an elixir of life, making it fairly handy for the Doctor if he happens to be in a position to burn him to death. Really, outside of Castrovalva and The Five Doctors, the Davison eras made the worst Master stories with the most contrived elements.

Though for the record, in the Colin Baker era, the Master was only enjoyable because he was sidelined, and the stories were so bad he couldn't have been anything less than a highlight.

Now, granted, in Deadly Assassin the Master was emaciated and disfigured, but if anything, this made the Master more dangerous and savage, like a wounded animal. Survival would use the same approach. That's why I think it should have been a case that after the genocide of Logopolis, the Doctor has to make sure the Master is imprisoned in Castrovalva, and then must continually thwart his escapes, and when the Master does escape the collateral should be distressing. This is why I like the idea of following it up with only The Five Doctors and Survival. That way the Time Lords release him from Castrovalva but keep him on a leash. Then Rassilon exiles the Master to the Cheetah planet and the Doctor has to prevent him from escaping to modern-day Earth. I'm kind of tempted to add Mark of the Rani, because it's one story where the Doctor puts up a proper fight against his foe, but that would bugger up the continuity, unless we used the idea that this was a Master from a previous timeline.

All that considered though, it's still a terrible face-off in its own right. It's not just that the Master's plans are incoherent, but the Doctor's plan with which to thwart him is even worse. The Doctor manages to beat the Master with a bit of unconvincing technobabble that doesn't make sense or engage because he simply describes a solution with a lot of 'ifs' in it and expects us to be content (and my father always used to say that 'if' was the most important word in the world). He doesn't even bother to go to Xeraphus to make sure the Xeraphins escaped and that the Master's TARDIS stays broken. We become invested in the fate of the Xeraphus but we never see the outcome for them, which is so frustrating. These things aren't resolved, they're simply turned off with a flick of the switch and talked away very ineptly.

80's stories were supposedly full of fresh ideas from the Season 18 rennaissance, but boy were they done in such a cumbersome way. But there's a sense here that there's actually nothing beneath its stuffy dialogue and protracted parts exchanges.

I don't really know what to say. As I've said before of the Davison era, not only is this a bad story, but it's one we're not allowed to forget the same way as we could if this were The Time Monster or Creature from the Pit because it's tied in with the linear lore of the now soap-like show. Tegan leaves, and comes back in Arc of Infinity, as a seemingly more upbeat and fun character leading many fans to speculate that she found herself a decent sex life between seasons. The Master supposedly meets Kamelion because of the events in this story, and that leaves quite a plot arc. That's why much of the bad stories of the Davison era tend to weigh down the era as a whole as if the stories are chained together on a sinking boat. In which case this is the deadest weight of them all.

It's the kind of thing that makes me wish that someone had watched this before broadcast and realised that it couldn't go out and that the show was losing the plot. If only they'd ditched this story, and in its place done a final story where the Doctor takes Tegan home. You could have the TARDIS land on Concorde mid flight if you really wanted to use the gimmick. Then the Doctor and Nyssa retire to Gallifrey where the Doctor vows he will never place his friends in danger again and he will become president and encourage his people to take action against the evils of the universe. The end.

And then have Eric Saward join forces with Terry Nation to do a Dalek spinoff series, and maybe do the odd one-off story like The Five Doctors and Remembrance of the Daleks at anniversary intervals.

I can dream.

Well, in conclusion, all thumbs down. If I was watching this back in 1982, I'd have tolerated the bitchy companions up until this story but this is really where my patience would run out and I'd see the show as a dead loss. Time-Flight is one of the worst, most demoralising stories of Doctor Who ever.

I can't believe it's coming out on DVD.


A Review by Finn Clark 5/8/09

I remembered this story as being worthless. Timelash and Time and the Rani at least entertained me, but my memories of Time-Flight were merely of boredom. Rewatching it was thus quite a surprise, since in many ways it's rather good.

Best of course is the magnificent Peter Davison. Have you ever noticed how it's the good actors who always seem to find the good lines? Davison here finds humour even in dialogue like, "That's right," "I try to be" and "I'm thinking about it." However, the script deserves credit too. Having just explained to the Heathrow authorities that there's a time warp eating their aircraft, the Doctor adds that "We can't have a navigational hazard like that hanging around the galaxy." This is an absolutely shocking script in certain ways, as I'll be explaining soon, but I like its witty dialogue.

While we're talking about Davison, incidentally, note the way he lowers himself into the TARDIS in Concorde's hold as if it's not just the BBC's Police Box prop lying on its side. I like most of the actors, in fact. Sarah Sutton is bad, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised to see her do quite a nice job of being possessed. She manages some facial expressions, anyway. "An intelligence is controlling Nyssa!" Maybe it can give her acting lessons! "Kalid." Um. So we have a charmless Tegan and a dull, unconvincing Nyssa, but on the upside at least Adric's dead. I still don't see why materialising on the freighter was against the rules, given that no one saw Adric blow up and for all we know a hundred TARDISes could have landed to take him away, but what the hell.

The story even makes use of all this. Blink and you'll miss the first scene with, "Adric wouldn't want us to grieve... hey, who wants to visit Crystal Palace?" However, I liked the hallucinations in episode two. Adric and the Melkur are both meaningful nods to the past, the latter being one of the few times when the tragedy of Nyssa's background was acknowledged in the Davison era, although I think seeing a Cyberman would have had more significance than the Terileptil. It's odd how often the Terileptils got seen or namechecked under Saward. Someone must have liked them. You've got The Visitation, The Awakening, the tippexed one in Mindwarp and also this.

Meanwhile, Ainley is a lot of fun, as always, while the only guest actor I don't like is Nigel Stock. However, him I hate. Professor Hayter is theoretically the story's eccentric, but in the event almost none of his performance even gets past his beard and glasses. He should have been great. He's the only non-regular who isn't simply airline staff. The script gives him all that Cold War humour and even a moment of heroic sacrifice, but Stock simply isn't bringing anything to the party. He's just a waste of space.

On the other hand, Peter Cellier appears briefly in episode one. He was Sir Frank Gordon, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, in Yes, Prime Minister. I liked him.

This story is witty, lively and even more hippy-trippy than Kinda. Any fan of Snakedance and Enlightenment should theoretically treasure it as another of those spaced-out Davisons. Nevertheless, it has two completely different problems that make it boring. The first is that its first episode is a 1970s UNIT story, in all the worst ways. It looks impossibly 1970s. The moustache, the suits, the office sets. The name-dropping of UNIT, followed by the Doctor acting as an adviser for people who stand around self-importantly and have underlings who look at radar screens. It's lots of officials in offices. Basically it's The Claws of Axos episode one, or maybe The Hand of Fear. The only significant difference between this and its siblings is that, unlike Pertwee, Davison's Doctor looks embarrassed to be telling them gobbledigook.

The other problem is, um, episodes 3 and 4. The first half of the story moves surprisingly fast, but everything grinds to a halt when the Master shows up. What does he want? Why, he's exhausted his dynomorphic generator! The Xeraphim nucleus is the perfect substitute and infinitely more powerful. What he hadn't taken into account was the Doctor's temporal limiter! It's two episodes of nothing. The dialogue and the plot are all technobabble. The Master does nothing except fool around with bits of TARDIS innards, which has the additional side effect of bogging down what should have been a mystical fable of Oriental magicians, inner sanctums and an alien supermind at war with its own dark side. I love the ideas in these scripts. They're completely mad; for instance, in their proliferation of impossible magical monsters. Plasmatons. Xeraphim. Psychokinetic rubber snake-creatures. If only they'd been put in a story instead of a fifty-minute wodge of exposition, this could have been extraordinary.

Unfortunately, they didn't. That second half has the worst plot in televised Doctor Who, so much so that it feels wrong to be using the word in the first place. I've been making comparisons with Bob Baker and Dave Martin stories, which is apt since like them it's bursting with cool ideas but can't turn them into a satisfying story. Episode three is a 25-minute info-dump. Nyssa and Tegan get some passable scenes en route to the sanctum, but Grimwade's completely lost it by the time we get to the cliffhanger.

"The Master has finally defeated me." Yes, and live monkeys might fly out of my arse. The unfortunate thing is that the Xeraphim and their schizophrenic superpowers might have been able to almost justify that claim if we'd been introduced to them properly instead of the line coming out of nowhere like the world's biggest "eh?" Thus, instead of The Arabian Nights, this technobabble-choked mysticism feels more like Star Wars. "I shall soon have total control of the Force." There's a crossover to make the eyes water.

The story's most obviously lacking dinosaurs. It's 140 million years ago! What kind of lunatic sets a Doctor Who story slap-bang in the middle of the dinosaurs' 160 million year reign and doesn't at least have a pterodactyl flying overhead? We don't even hear anything roar! C'mon! DINOSAURS! DINOSAURS! Am I asking too much? Man, that was lame. In addition, what we now know as Heathrow was still being deposited at the bed of a shallow tropical sea in that era, while the Doctor's line about an ice age would seem to be about 140 million years premature.

The Plasmatons are a nice idea, but they should have been more eerie and mysterious. The return of a dead man is spooky, though. I particularly liked the bit where someone's molecular structure breaks up and they become a Plasmaton, although it should have been nastier. I also thought the Xeraphim look amazing, with those cracked zombie heads and shoulders.

Time-Flight needed many things. Firstly, the Master needed to get more stuff to do and preferably kill people. Secondly, it needed better monsters. I actually quite like the designs we got, especially given that they're all essentially cameos, but it can't be denied that the Plasmatons look like walking turds. It's The Hand of Fear again! No, I'm being frivolous. The Three Doctors is actually a much closer parallel, since both stories involve a trapped Time Lord pulling humans from a contemporary UNIT story into a fantasy realm of the imagination policed by psychic blob monsters. Kalid's citadel even looks a bit like Omega's. It's grey instead of orange, but it's also about as far as you can get from anonymous BBC corridors. It looks great! Believe it or not, this is one of the best-lit sets of its era, with lots of lovely atmospheric shadows. Hell, it's even dark in Concorde's hold.

This story surprised me by being much more interesting than I'd expected. It's still comfortably Ainley's worst story, just as The Time Monster is Delgado's, but it's also full of good stuff and is managing to be original with it. There's Davison's coin-tossing gag. Even the bits that don't make sense are too mad to be easily dismissed as mere plot holes. Why does the Master dress up as Kalid? He looks so fake! I like both of Ainley's performances a lot, but I'd like him as Kalid more if he wasn't doing that voice. It makes for a good episode two cliffhanger, though.

Ainley gets to say, "I am the Master and you will obey me" and Davison says "I'll explain later" twice That was good. However, this is a story so directionless that its dramatic climax involves a plane taking off. The Master is defeated with meaningless technobabble and the Doctor abandons Tegan so offhandedly that it's almost hilarious. I can't believe he wasn't aware of what he was doing, but then again she'd been moaning all season about wanting to get back to Heathrow. The moral of the story: be careful about what you bitch for. This story is tedious and yet also mad, sometimes both at the same time. It's drab, yet also often surprisingly good-looking. Someone should do a fan edit that cuts it together with footage from Airplane! One of the flight staff is even called Roger.

Episode one is a 1970s UNIT story. Episode two is quite good. Episodes three and four lose it completely, but you might yet enjoy them if you go in prepared for that. The technobabble is one of several horrible mistakes, but Ainley and Davison are always worth watching. Is there another famously bad story like it? Not in the 1980s, I think. Its nearest bad cousin might be... hmmm, The Time Monster.


British Airways circa 140,000,000 BC by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 8/6/12

Is it just me or is Time-Flight a BA advertising campaign masquerading as a Doctor Who story?

This might actually explain why it's all a bit crap.

When I purchased Time-Flight on video, I'd only seen it once before about eight years previously. I remembered that I'd enjoyed it as an 11 year old, a memory which was somewhat at variance with the mountain of negativity that this story seems to have attracted over the years. Rewatching it in 2004 only confirmed what I felt about it in 1996: that it's an unfairly maligned and essentially enjoyable adventure which is (almost) free from the taint of Adric. Watching it again in 2011, having seen it quite a few more times, is another matter entirely.

You see, the more you watch Time-Flight, the more its flaws become glaringly obvious and ergo the more you start to dislike it. My most recent viewing led to several conclusions, none of them particularly enthusiastic. First, I wondered why on earth this was being filmed in a studio rather than on location. A quarry may very well be a quarry I hear you cry, but I think that it would have worked wonders here. Why on earth would anyone try to create a prehistoric set on an end-of-season budget that was evidently so low it existed only as a concept in John Nathan-Turner's head? I suppose we should be grateful that they didn't attempt to extend the tableau one step further and incorporate dinosaurs. We all know where that kind of thing leads... Secondly, I pondered why the direction is flatter than Hull. Was Ron Jones manically depressed? Was he on a course of tranquilising medication? Actually, the latter explanation is my favourite since Time-Flight bears all the directorial hallmarks of a man wandering around in a chemically induced fog and flat direction wedded to a visual palette that makes heavy use of various shades of grey is not a happy union.

I also began to wonder why Roger Limb was ever allowed anywhere near the Radiophonic Workshop. His score for The Keeper of Traken was okay, but it doesn't make up for the rest of his Doctor Who 'input'. Time-Flight is full of the same turgid, dreary, tuneless noise with which he filled up Four to Doomsday, Arc of Infinity and Terminus. It adds nothing to scenes, it has no variety and it makes no comment on the story, it just gets in the way. Anyone who doubts that he should have had his keyboards taken away should try sitting through all four episodes of Arc of Infinity.

It did occur to me that there was a distinctly pro-BA attitude running throughout the story. Captain Stapley is a jolly hockey sticks type who describes Concorde as the best aircraft in the world. Stapley, Scobie and Bilton seem to spend the entire story larking about and generally being jolly nice, and there is a very much an attitude of 'fear not, we'll get the passengers home'. Perhaps JNT thought that maybe they could get free flights on BA if they made a story about Concorde. You know, just like he thought having an Australian air hostess would get them free flights on Qantas and having the Doctor and companions all wear the same costumes constantly would be a smart move in terms of marketing. Hands up who thinks letting an accountant run Doctor Who was a good idea...

Let me just see if I've got the plot right because it all seems a bit ridiculous to me:

The Xeraphin come to Earth after their own planet is devastated in a war. They build a citadel and decide to go to sleep for some time. The Master comes along and decides that with the Xeraphin Nucleus in his TARDIS he will be invincible. In order to facilitate this, he generates a time contour and hijacks a Concorde so he can use the passengers to break into the Xeraphin inner sanctum and access the Nucleus. So far so stupid. This is all very well, but it does lead to some utterly inexplicable 'nuances', the most ridiculous of which is the Master dressing up as Kalid and spouting all that quasi-mystical crap. I can understand him wanting to deceive the Doctor to some degree, but he obviously isn't doing it solely for the Doctor's benefit as we see him as Kalid long before the Doctor does. The real reason is to mislead the audience so as to have a surprise return of the Master. That's all well and good, but they could have done it in a way which was at least a bit more thought out. Is there any good reason for him to collapse with snot running down his face only then to get up moments later and reveal his true identity? Have I spectacularly missed the point of all this? Has the Master gone barking mad and resorted to impersonating characters from the Arabian Nights purely for his own amusement? Or was it all some clever postmodern joke about the Master's penchant for pantomime villainy?

Acting is decidedly questionable on all fronts. In fact, the one person who feels like a safe bet in all this is Anthony Ainley, chewing the scenery as reliably as ever. It's not a great story for the regulars and the guest cast are plain ridiculous. The Xeraphin are utterly boring, so let's be thankful that they get little screen time. The Plasmatons are an interesting idea but the execution is lame.

I wasn't exaggerating when I mentioned the grey colour scheme. The citadel interior is grey, the outdoor set is grey, the Plasmatons are grey, the Xeraphin are grey. It's endless.

The only thing I like about this story is that all-too-brief scene when the Doctor and Tegan approach the wreck of the spacecraft with the sound of the wind in the background. It's pretty eerie and should have been extended. The scene probably lasts about ten seconds. Yes. I thought ten seconds of this story were worth keeping.

Nine-tenths of fandom hate this story. They're probably right.


A Review by Robert Fuller 9/2/13

This story has often been a target of abuse by most of fandom and, devil take me, I can't particularly see why. I don't think it has much to do with whether or not the story is enjoyable or well-written or if it's interesting. It seems to boil down to the fact that there is a lot going on, so most people at some point, throw their hands up in the air and say "I give up, it's crap." I myself found it fairly easy to follow and have rarely found myself operating against convential wisdom when it comes to Doctor Who stories. For example, I enjoyed The Caves of Androzani, and yet I thought Four to Doomsday was a waste of potential. So I guess this is my chance to play devil's advocate.

Let's start with the plot itself. I found the fantastic ambition of the whole thing remarkable. A supersonic jet lost in a time contour emanating from an SOS sent 140 million years in Earth's past by an old arch enemy of the Doctor's, stranded and posing as an alien mystic requiring the Doctor's TARDIS so that he might have full access to a mysterious dualistic gestalt alien energy source containing the whole knowledge of an ancient race who crashlanded on prehistoric Earth in flight from a war in which their home planet was caught in the crosshairs, now having used the same psychokinetic energy being used by the Master, though not entirely within his control, to contain, preserve and manifest the total sum experience of their entire race and its collective consciousness into a sarcophagus occupying a single room in an inpenetrable inner sanctum.

It's the stuff of lavish, large-scale science-fiction novels and adventure. Even Time Flight's critics would not accuse the story of slow pacing. Within that, there are so many more interesting nuances. The psychic projection and hypnosis, the way the Doctor breaks it, Nyssa's relationship to the intelligence, the role of the plasmatons, the drama as the crew fight to break the hypnosis, the cat and mouse game between the different sets with members of the crew evading the Master through the Doctor's TARDIS, the stuggle to get to the inner sanctum, all the different tricks that the Master uses against the Doctor and the crew or vice versa... I could go on all day.

There are many interesting story elements here beyond the main plot points mentioned. The personification of the Xeraphin life force and its communication with the other characters was quite effective. Kalid would have been an interesting character all on his own. The story of the Xeraphin and how it relates to the Master's plan was also handled well. Stapley and Scobie and their misadventures in the TARDIS (and subsequently successful attempts at thwarting the Master) are especially enjoyable, as were the action scenes where different members of the crew are split up hiding from the Master as the Doctor tries to stay with them while at the same time having often to part ways while he looks for a solution. All the different teaming up and splitting up as the characters have to move from one place to another, one situation to another, to accomplish the next goal, makes for good character interplay in different pairings or groupings. There are more than a few memorable lines. "It's times like these I wish I still had my scarf," "Psychotronics, was it Doctor? I call it electronics," "It seems you still prefer the company of fools, Doctor," "The force must be resisted," "Remember the Indian rope trick," and, last but not least: "I shall know everything."

The character interactions are top notch all around. Nigel Stock gives an excellent performance as Professor Hayter, supplying great intellectual foil for the Doctor. Their transition from an adversarial relationship to a more friendly one is parcelled out quite nicely. Both share an intellectual curiosity and a sense of caring for the other characters as well as a dramatic sense of immediacy in each performance, working on the same side, even when they don't get along. Some particularly nice touches occur when Hayter mistakes the landscape for Siberia and when he encourages the poor impressionable Angela Clifford (a well-acted performance by Judith Byfield) to fight the hypnosis that allows the Master to trick her and the others into thinking they are still on Concorde; she must break the spell by focusing on something she is sure of, even if it's just fish and chips.

Captain Stapley, admirably and capably portrayed by the fatherly and gentlemenly Richard Easton, is hands down one of the the most lovable characters in any Doctor Who story. How I wish he could've stayed on as a companion! Some of his greates moments include hiding with Scobie in the TARDIS while the Master decides whether to use the Doctor's machine or merely just take parts from it. Other highlights include his caring for the Doctor's compainions, his wide-eyed enthusiasm and curiosity, his ability to think on his feet, gentle sense of humour, rapport with his crewmates, his kind and loving nature which makes him a classic lovable good guy (those big wide eyes just say it's going to be okay, my wit and charm will get us out of this), not to mention the fact that he's a first-rate pilot. One of the sweetest and most genuine characters ever in the series, and portrayed with competence and intelligence.

Keith Drinkel gives energy and a first-rate performance to the blue-eyed, wide-eyed loyal sidekick Scobie, the flight engineer. You're pulling for him as the plucky adorable character stands by his captain through the crazy hijinx of trying to pilot the TARDIS or attempting to break hypnosis and stay loyal to his friends and the Doctor. Sarah Sutton gives one of her best performances here both when possessed and when not possessed. Janet Fielding, who tended to be overtly assertive, is kept at somewhat more of a respectable distance, reading her lines with flare but thankfully not eating up the screen every five minutes as she tended to do in some other stories. Her role in the surprise ending was an interesting twist. Michael Cashman has both wonderful comedic and dramatic moments in his role as Bilton. His delightful sense of humour comes through in interactions with Nyssa and the crew. The moral grounding of the character comes through as he bravely waits while Stapley and Scobie are in the TARDIS or when he consoles Angela as she fights off the hypnosis. The interplay between Doctor and company/crew with the officials and technicians at Heathrow in the begining and at the end was brimming with dynamism and humour.

The dramatic flow and pacing of this story are two of its most appealing features. From the very start, with the TARDIS in a spot, the emergency landing right in the middle of the airport, is marvellous. The Doctor telling them to contact UNIT and the eerie sense of calm before each plane is swept away in the time contour is just amazing. From there, we have the genuine sense of atmosphere as the Doctor helps to break the delusion that they are back at Heathrow, as corpses are seen by Nyssa, who is sensitive to what's going on, in this prehistoric world. The Xeraphin life force takes more of a hold over Nyssa as the plasmatons manifest themselves. The drama here is exceptional. Sarah Sutton's sense of poise and timing, Professor Hayter's stubborn dynamic honesty (resisting hypnosis, distrusting others and their stories), and the earnest loyalty of the crewmen to the Doctor whom they now trust. The Doctor learns more about the mystic and the power that he doesn't control as the others in different teams (Nyssa won't stay behind) make their way to the citadel, which has superb design.

The hypnotized crew being used as slave labor to penetrate the sanctum of power makes for excellent drama, as the endearing crew attempt to free them while others traverse the corridors of the citadel. Hayter, who doubts everthing around him because of the horror of what's happened, becomes an unwilling adventurer, while the Doctor is forced to relinquish the TARDIS key to help save his friends as more adventurous wandering through the citadel corridors continues in an attempt to thwart the Master before he can make good on his plans. Hayter's reincarnation after being consumed by the Xeraphin life force, whereupon he aids Stapley and Scobie by piloting the TARDIS, is wonderful. The Doctor, with the help of the superlative wit and genuine emotion from Stapley and the others, is able to beat the Master to the sanctum, where we see the Xeraphin life force at war with itself; as good and evil conciousness clashes with the fate of the Xeraphin life force and our beloved characters hanging in the balance. There are compelling dashes back and forth as different characters attempt to evade the Master in the corridors or as they attempt to get to the sanctum, and it never drags. The induction loop from the Master's TARDIS as an indirect route to the sanctum's power is inspired, as is the ingenuity shown by the crew to use a little excavation to create a workable runway so the plane can make it back to the future. Stapley's idea of putting "a spanner in the works", thwarting the Master's plan to raid the Doctor's TARDIS for spare parts (thanks to Stapley's quick thinking, the Master has the wrong parts) was yet another especially nice touch.

Time Flight is one of the most enjoyable Davison stories and easily the strongest of his first season. It's a lavish adventure with many compelling elements, whose bad reputation is most undeserved. 10/10