Doctor Who – Time-Flight

Doctor Who Story 122 – Time-Flight

Written by

Peter Grimwade

What’s It About?

On its final descent to Heathrow Airport, a Concord vanishes. The Doctor, Nyssa, and Teagan investigate by trying to recreate the conditions under which the plane vanished. The Doctor’s theory: the plane flew through a time warp.

This Thing Is Smaller on the Inside Than on the Outside
The Doctor and the Master do an equipment hand-off.
Source: Wikipedia

What did I just watch?

Like most of this season, this was my first viewing of “Time-Flight.” In general, I try to avoid fan opinion going in to stories. I want to decide for myself, especially after watching a few stories that are not well-regarded by fans that I actually enjoyed. More and more my interests in Doctor Who are rooted in the 1960s, and while I like pockets of Doctor Who from the 1970s – present, I can’t say that I love ALL Doctor Who. This is probably why I divide the show in to producer-defined or script editor-defined eras rather than Doctor-defined eras. I can’t say that I love the Tom Baker era, but I can say that I largely enjoyed the Hinchcliff era. I like Bidmead’s era, but not so much the Douglas Adams era.

But seasons like this one are hard. From story to story my opinion has varied widely. After Christopher H. Bidmead successfully redefined Doctor Who in the previous season, this season failed to really take that definition and build on it. In fact, once Eric Saward fully stepped in to script editing the show, he and JNT started looking backward, reversing course. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but what we had just seen was so interesting, so compelling. And so season nineteen has tripped, stumbled, occasionally danced, and now it staggers across the finish line with “Time-Flight,” a story that really isn’t very good. Not. At. All.

This is a huge disappointment because I like Peter Grimwade. But apparently I only like him as a director. Granted, it isn’t fair to judge him on a single story. In television and film, the name attributed to the script can be misleading. Changes could have been made by script editors, producers, or directors. The script could have been commissioned to include specific elements, giving the writer a list of elements to include, thus putting restrictions on the story that may be absurd.

“Time-Flight” has absurdity in spades: the Master’s plan, the Master’s disguise, the exceedingly dull final episode, the attempt to re-fit the Concord with parts from the other plane in a matter of hours. But “Time-Flight” does have some things that work. Captain Stapley and his crew are a joy. I get the impression that Stapley had the time of his life on this adventure. His enthusiasm made him a compelling character, and I would have loved to see him join the TARDIS crew. Similarly, the Arabian mystic idea is interesting (so long at the racist undertones are removed). A compelling story was set up, but then abandoned for a far less interesting story. And, of course, I love how the Doctor gets involved in this story. Who needs psychic paper when you can just say, “Call UNIT. Tell them the Doctor is here.”

At the end, all I can really say in defense of “Time-Flight” is that it has a lot of interesting ideas thrown in to it. They never really go anywhere, which makes them deeply unsatisfying, but they are creative.

My Rating

.5/5

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4 thoughts on “Doctor Who – Time-Flight

  1. I purchased this on DVD mostly because I was curious to find out just what sort of treatment the cast gave this story in the audio commentary. And, boy, did they go to town on it! I enjoyed the commentary about a dozen times more than the actual story which, as you say, is a mess.

    A number of Doctor Who fans like to argue that The Twin Dilemma is the all time worst Doctor Who story. I will acknowledge, it does have its problems, and it is unfortunate that it was Colin Baker’s debut as the Doctor. But it is not without its charms, and I rather like it. I would make a very strong case that, instead, it is Time Flight which should be a serious contender for the worst Doctor Who serial ever made.

    • I haven’t seen The Twin Dilemma, but I’m tempted to agree with you. While I have felt some stories in the past have been boring, I didn’t think they were particularly bad. Time-flight really does set the bar low, which makes me sad in a way.

      I’ll need to check out the commentary on this one. I had forgotten how funny Davison could be (I love his commentary on The Five Doctors), and I would love to see what he does with this story.

      • You haven’t seen The Twin Dilemma? Well, I definitely look forward to reading your reactions to it, as well as the rest of 1980s Doctor Who. It’s been really interesting to read your blog, because most of these stories are ones I, and many other fans, have seen numerous times over the years. It is really great to receive a different, fresh perspective such as yours on them.

        For instance, I think that a significant part of my opinion of Earthshock, of my liking it so much, was that I first saw it on my local PBS channel in 1983 and, in those pre-Internet days, I had absolutely no damn clue that A) the Cybermen were going to appear and B) Adric was going to die. So it was genuinely surprising & dramatic. But, yes, as you accurately point out, anyone watching it for the first time three decades later is almost certainly going to know about both those twists ahead of time, and that is going to color how they perceive it in 2013.

        Anyway, keep up the great work.

      • Most of my early exposure to Doctor Who was in the early 80s, and my local PBS channel almost exclusively played Tom Baker stories. I know I saw some Davision, but the only one I have any memory of is The Five Doctors. Once I got back into DW in college, I similarly focused on Baker I, but occasionally I tried out other Doctors as DVD/funds were available. At that time, the only Doctor who won me over (other than 4) was the Troughton Doctor. But since working through all the stories, I have grown to appreciate what each actor has brought to the role, and I have completely changed my view of preferred Doctor Who.

        All this to say, almost everything from here on out is new to me, which is really exciting on the one hand, but a bit sad on the other. Sad because fan opinion tends to look down on the show from here on out (except for the slight upturn near the end of McCoy’s run). And so, on some level, I’m wanting to enjoy these stories. But I also know that fan opinion is really down on Hartnell, but I grew to love his Doctor, so I’m hopeful to find jewels in 80s DW.

        Thanks for the feedback. I always enjoy your comments.

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