Episodes 4 Concorde!
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.

Back to page one (the first twenty reviews)


Back to the Beginning by Jason A. Miller 18/10/22

It's fitting that, for a story about a time-traveling airplane, any time I watch Time-Flight I'm transported back to November 23, 1984, the first time I tried to watch Doctor Who. That episode was Time-Flight Part One, screening that night on my local PBS station. I only made it about 90 seconds -- encompassing a scene in the Concorde cockpit, the Doctor climbing into the TARDIS, and then lying down on the console room floor -- before deciding, at age 11, that this show was ludicrous and not something I needed to be a part of. I clicked over from Channel 21, PBS, to Channel 22, Nickelodeon, and watched the rest of that half-hour's You Can't Do That On Television.

My friends kept pestering me to give the show more than 90 seconds. I went back a week later for Arc of Infinity, Part Two, and, well, here I am and now it's already November 2019.

Any time I put on Time-Flight now, I'm reminded that this was where it all began for me. I can also remember my first episode of Star Trek (Arena), and my first episode of The Twilight Zone (Kick the Can), but I don't get nostalgic when I watch those now. On the other hand, Doctor Who's had such an outsized influence in my life that, even though Time-Flight is typically considered a disaster, I still love talking, typically on convention panels, about how this is the episode that brought the Doctor into my life -- Time-Flight, of all things -- and I always get the appropriate laughter back.

Thing is, Time-Flight is good Doctor Who, I'm convinced of this. It might not be well-made, it can be a bit of a chore to watch, but it's a good example of what Doctor Who should be able to do. Part One does good work cutting back and forth from Concorde Golf Victor Foxtrot to Heathrow Air Traffic Control to the TARDIS to Terminal One to executive offices to Concorde Golf Alpha Charlie to a CSO screen of Heathrow to a Jurassic-era cyclorama. And that's just inside the first 15 minutes. The bickering between airport officers is crisply done and amusing. Davison in his bonkers cricket costume dealing with a boardroom and a stiff airport security commander and a balding bureacrat is close to magical. The cyclorama representing Earth 140 million years ago looks great.

Of course, then enter Kalid and the Plasmatons and things get ridiculous, but, look, a lot of Doctor Who is objectively ridiculous. The point is, Part One of Time-Flight (excepting the 90 seconds that caused me to change the channel 35 years ago) is a brisk and inventive bit of business. Ratings Guide head honcho Stacey Smith? (the question-mark is intentional) always tells us that "Doctor Who can survive being bad, but it can never survive being boring." Well. Time-Flight may be bad, but it ain't boring.

The plot, of course, needs a lot of work. Peter Davison has made a second career in trashing this story. Jon Blum in the first Outside In volume contributed a remarkable essay about Time-Flight, applying Russell T. Davies-era emotional beats to give the story a punch that it otherwise lacks: capitalizing on the fact that it begins the way that the previous story, Earthshock, ends (a crashed spaceship down a time contour onto the Earth of the dinosaurs), and doing more with Adric's brief return to the series only a week after he was killed off.

And, let's face it, the story contains some stunning illogic -- why is the Master in disguise? If the Master never penetrated the Inner Sanctum, why does the Sanctum contain the corpses of Xeraphin that the Master had previously killed? Why does the Doctor think he's defeated the Master if the Master still gets away with the entire Xeraphin consciousness in his TARDIS at the end?

But, while I acknowledge all those points... there is a line, in this story, which I swear I've never heard before until this viewing, 35 years after my first glimpse: Kalid in Part Two calls Nyssa "my child". Kalid is a disguise for the Master, and the Master is, technically speaking, the mind of renegade Time Lord occupying Tremas' body, and Tremas is (was?) Nyssa's father. So, technically speaking, when Kalid calls Nyssa "my child"... well, biologically, she IS his child. Brr.

The guest cast is also quite good in this. When all else fails in Doctor Who -- plot, budget, monsters, Anthony Ainley's cackling -- then you can still take comfort in Peter Davison's non-verbal acting (I love his tossing a coin to choose a direction, and then cheating on the results) and in what the guest cast is doing. Nigel Stock, while not quite one of JNT's infamous guest-casting stunts, played Dr. Watson for years, and is probably the highest-profile actor from The Great Escape to do a turn on Who (following Ian Chesterton, and shortly preceding Tom Adams), and he's got an interesting part here -- a tweed-clad academic whose remarkable stubbornness both stymies the Master and irritates (and then, later, rescues) the Doctor. Nobody ever mentions Stock as one of Who's best guest stars, but he is an island of sanity and normalcy in the otherwise half-hallucinogenic and half-shoddy Time-Flight.

Something else to commend the story is the way it pivots at the halfway mark, the Part Two cliffhanger. Most complaints about this story, broadly speaking, have to do with the Plasmatons and Kalid -- but both of those are written out for good at the Part Two cliffhanger. Instead, Kalid is revealed to have been the Master, and Anthony Ainley can spend the back half doing his cackling thing, unencumbered by Kalid's grotesque and racist mask. Instead, the Plasmatons are replaced by the Xeraphin, a more interesting idea for an alien race, and one represented (briefly) by human actors rather than by wobbly blobs.

Of course, even that mid-point flip is undercut somewhat. The Xeraphin don't appear in any form in Part Four, and we never learn which side wins their civil war. We see Professor Hayter "atomized" in Part Three but then reappear as a wordless ghost in Part Four; Nyssa later speculates that he was absorbed into the Xeraphin lifeforce, but it might have been better for the script had Hayter been given a proper final scene, with dialogue, to acknowledge that he did retain his consciousness. The three credited Golf Victor Foxtrot crewmembers (Captain Urquart, Dave Culshaw, Angela Clifford) all disappear from the story and are never mentioned in Part Four, so we never do find out if the Master melted them down into "protoplasm". Part Four is too busy being a commercial advertisement for Concorde; Nigel Stock may not be stunt casting, but the Concorde sure is. Imagine if Patrick Troughton had turned to the camera in 1967 during Episode 6 of The Faceless Ones and, winking to us in mid-climax, said "BOAC takes you away!". So that's ridiculous, too.

In short, Time-Flight has witty dialogue, and many enjoyable isolated moments, but as a full script it's easily the weakest of Grimwade's three. As with Earthshock, though, I find myself not minding the plot holes so much 35 years later. I still like the raw emotion of the season-ending Tegan-left-behind cliffhanger, with Janet Fielding nailing her plaintive final line, "So did I." Time-Flight is not a good story, it's not in my top 10 or top 20 or even my top half, but it's an honest effort to stretch Doctor Who's format, and it's full of interesting ideas, even if the whole winds up being a heck of a lot less than the sum of its parts.