Time-Flight

DVD NTSC
1-story disc
Region 1


for North America
DVD PAL
2-story box set
Region 2

for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC
PAL
(Doctor Who Story No. 123, starring Peter Davison)
  • written by Peter Grimwade
  • directed by Ron Jones
  • produced by John Nathan-Turner
  • music by Roger Limb
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan investigate the inexplicable disappearance of a concorde jet full of passengers, and soon find themselves engaged in psychic battles involving an ancient alien race on prehistoric Earth. Do we need to say that everything is not as it seems?

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by actors Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), and script editor Eric Saward.
  • "Mouth on Legs" - Janet Fielding interview (13 min.)
  • excerpts from a 1987 interview of the writer, the late Peter Grimwade (4 min.), previously recorded for the "Mythmakers" video series.
  • "Jurassic Larks" - behind the scenes footage of studio recordings (19 min.)
  • Out-takes and Bloopers (14 min.)
  • Deleted and extended scenes (4 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery
  • 1983 Doctor Who Annual .pdf file on DVD ROM

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


While this story definitely has a few weakpoints later on, I regard them as minor things in comparison to the abundant plusses of this story. In particular, I really enjoy the ideas that are explored in this tale, in addition to the large roster of pleasant characters. I will buck the trend in fandom by declaring this adventure amongst the ones that I like.


Opening Excellence

This story has the best first episode of the season. Mystery, exploration, a problem-solving Doctor, and good introduction for the regulars and the TARDIS. A lot of characters are thrown at us in the first 25-minutes, but since their functions are all easily understandable in human terms and foremost in their appearances, one is able to take them in easily.

I suspect much of Time-Flight's bad rap comes from those fans who simply want a scary monster to hide behind the sofa from. Sorry, Time-Flight will ask the viewer to be a bit more sophisticated and follow some slightly more complex concepts while keeping up a decent pace. It targets a smarter demographic, and I think it's all the more commendable for it.


Peter Davison's Doctor also shows his vulnerable side, in particular his obvious concern that the authorities might not believe his fantastic theories. One can easily imagine Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee's Doctors being loud and proud at such a moment, not caring what anybody else thought. Both approaches have their merit; you can decide for yourself which one you prefer. Davison's sensitivity will no doubt benefit him even more in other situations.

And the Doctor need not worry that he'll get caught in the red tape story beat of convincing local authorities that he's on their side, as happened in so many of Malcolm Hulke's scripts, with the airport setting of "The Faceless Ones" (story no. 35) making it the most obvious comparison. This is neatly and logically side-stepped, much to the improvement of the story.

Just when you thought time-space warps à la the Bermuda Triangle might rule this tale, mental illusions begin to take over and become a central challenge. The location footage with the concorde on the tarmac gives the earliest footage great believability, but interestingly, we switch to a CSO trick video shot as the Doctor calls attention to the fakery of the illusion. Nice.

Nyssa has a vision of the real landscape before anyone else because the good Xeraphin are trying to contact her and help wake up everyone in her group. But why does she see decaying corpses in her vision? Are they Human or Xeraphin? Where do they fit in with the story? (Do they need to?) They seem to be well-forgotten later on.... My best guess: a snapshot of a resurfacing memory disturbing to the Xeraphin themselves as they watched each other being absorbed into the single organism - from what we learn later on the corpses would be gone within a few seconds and unavailable for the Doctor's party to find later on. Whew.

The pre-historic landscape they find themselves in works for me. It is particularly atmospheric in the first episode, when it suddenly appears out of nowhere and throws many images and ideas at the audience: the mausoleum, with Kalid inside directing events at some sort of altar, mysterious remnants of a space pod, and of course plasmatons. What the heck are plasmatons, and how much should we fear them and what they can do? Tune in next week to find out. Lots of wonderful elements to tantalize the viewer. All excellent.

Excessive intercutting begins during this stage, but it is far more tolerable here now that we know the characters, than the quick cuts attempted in "The Claws of Axos" (story no. 57) during character introductions.

As Time-Flight continues, however, it becomes less and less polished, as though Peter Grimwade's work directing "Kinda" (story no. 119) and "Earthshock" (story no. 122) prevented him from giving his script for Time-Flight another draft, which it could have benefitted so well from.


Alien Mausoleum

There is a lot of interesting set design in this story. The exterior landscape is surprisingly effective for a set, and suitably alien to boot; it would have been great for an alien planet. There are also a number of fascinating interiors for the mausoleum, with Kalid's chamber being perhaps the most successful, and the corridors and the sanctum interior being fascinating as well. The larger room outside the sanctum is just as interesting to look at, but doesn't completely fit the story very well. Darker lighting might have been one minor improvement, bringing it more in line with the corridors and Kalid's chamber, not to mention making the plasmatons look more menacing. The real problem is the ridiculously thin walls separating the interior and exterior of the sanctum. It never does look like anything that would cause the amount of hard labour and headache that the script requires it to.


"I am Kalid!"

Episode Two escalates really well, particularly when Peter Davison gets to confront the mysterious magician villain in his lair, and discover the methods and limits of his powers while aiding his friends in their psychic battles against Kalid's pawns. And just when you think all that might be building to a predictable cliffhanger, revelations continue and an even better one is delivered. One of the most memorable and enjoyable surprises ever from my earliest remembrances of watching the show.

The Master's most basic motivations are sufficiently fleshed out in this story. Peter Grimwade has him primarily struggling to regain his previous mobility via his TARDIS, while along the way he finds additional ways to increase the power of both the machine and his own skill as a master hypnotist. Great stuff. Revenge doesn't seem to be anywhere on the menu today, and I don't miss it one bit.

However, the Master spends the first half of this story under what looks like a very uncomfortable disguise, and, though it works wonders for the audience of the story, it remains very unclear what the Master himself is getting out of it.

If indeed it ever was a disguise to being with. There is much to suggest that, technically speaking, it is formed by the same material as the plasmatons and the cocoons that surrounded the Doctor and Nyssa. This is why it falls apart when the "power" vanishes at the end of Part Two. Perhaps the Master got coated with the stuff as a side effect from his continual focused use of the power, and then when seeing that his lifeline had ensnared the Doctor, and being a fun-loving kind of villain, he decided to throw on a moustache and play an Arabian magician. Roger Delgado's version of the Master, particularly in "Colony in Space" (story no. 58), often suggested that he would much prefer to convince the Doctor over to his side than eliminate him. He seems to be harbouring similar hopes here again as Kalid, believing that the Doctor is easier to convince if he doesn't recognize the Master's true self.

Anthony Ainley himself turns in his usual good performance as the Master in this story, but is even more fun and exquisitely enjoyable to watch as Kalid. Nicely done. Give the man his round of applause!


Character Success

In the end, I think a large part of Time-Flight's success is the fact that all the characters are so easily likeable, and that they immerse themselves in futuristic ideas, settings, and challenges which most often arrive with interesting bits of video trickery. Richard Easton's charismatic Captain Stapley leads a jovial crew, aiding the Doctor on his explorations, investigations, and rescue attempts. More than most other offerings this season, this story becomes the one with the characters you want to watch, doing the things that define this show within the science fiction genre. All this helps enormously when, later on, the plot becomes far less tight and satisfying than it deserved to be.

Professor Hayter and Angela Clifford are important characters in letting us know the story of the missing flight and its passengers and crew, and Hayter in particular is a welcome addition to the cast of characters. At times one questions the value of all the technobabble thrown about in this story, both for discussions and debunking of the psychic challenges, and the nuts and bolts of maintaining and flying a Concorde jet. Sometimes it seems that better scenes could have been constructed dealing with the character interactions in the plot and their ramifications.


I have you in my power absolutely, Doctor...

I would call attention to the dynamic of having a villain point a gun, or in this case Tissue Compression Eliminator (did Grimwade coin this phrase in this story?), at the hero and his friends. The rule popularized in "The Dalek Masterplan" (story no. 21), which is the "you can't shoot me with that because you'd destroy the rare item you want" is certainly in play, saving the Doctor. The TCE has always shrunk clothes and other objects right along with tissue. However, the rule best demonstrated in "Destiny of the Daleks" (story no. 104), which is "okay I'll just start knocking off the innocents and your friends until you give me what I want" is definitely working against the Doctor in this tale.

So take a good look at what unfolds. At the beginning of Part Three, the Master has the Doctor and friends at TCE/gunpoint, he wants the key from the TARDIS, and demands it. He gets his way.

At the crux of Part Four, the Master has the Doctor and even more friends at TCE/gunpoint, he wants the Temporal Limiter from the TARDIS, but now he bargains for it with the Doctor. Why bargain? What has actually happened in an episode and a half that weakens the Master's position so much that he has to bargain where he previously demanded? This end-game barter is Time-Flight's biggest flaw by far, in not only is it illogical for the Master, but it leaves the Doctor unable to resolve all challenges in a satisfying way.


Xeraphin Peak

The strong sense of mystery in the story comes to a climax at the end of Part Three, when the whole backstory comes out - a very enjoyable wallowing in extra-terrestrial culture. Very nice. I think it could have done without the sacrifice with the Saward touch on top, making the "absorption" painful and agonizing. Time-Flight might just be able to sneak into the group of elite few Doctor Who stories in which no one dies, if we don't count the backstory with the compressed Xeraphin whose corpses the Doctor and Hayter casually play with. However, Hayter's transformation is so graphic and protracted that I don't think Time-Flight should really qualify. A pity; for all we eventually get out of the Xeraphin and their mental powers, there's no really good reason for a "sacrifice", as far as I am concerned.


Roger Random

Time-Flight is the second instalment in the run of Roger Limb's four least successful Doctor Who incidental music scores, and thankfully is the most pleasant of the bunch. I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of attempts at light-hearted melodies and more than a few half-decent cues. There is even a four-note motif running through the whole score for those keen enough to listen for it.

The chief failing of this score is the apparent aimless randomness of what is being played. Limb basically chose his radiophonic synthesizer instruments three stories ago, and he appears to be just playing a lot of random notes on them a lot of the time. It fits in well enough with each scene, so nothing is ruined - far from it. But the repetitiveness of it becomes a bit much - the four note motif and the semitone drops really saying nothing musically. The Doctor discovering Kalid is perhaps the best use of this style, and my favourite cue of the story, while the melancholy melody and organ-grinder baseline backing Tegan's wistful tour of the airport becomes another highlight. Some of the deeper synth notes add dramatic undercurrent to the story here and there, and the exotic gongs during Kalid's entrance are a nice touch. Not bad. As I say, the most pleasant of Limb's bottom four.


End Transition

Once revealed, the Master doesn't have a heck of a lot to do, beyond using equipment by himself and issuing the odd order to a hypnotized zombie. Most disappointing is the near complete disappearance of any hypnotic or mental challenges in Part Four. (The psychic force and the Master's TARDIS need time to adjust to becoming part of one another, or so goes the convenient excuse. One wonders additionally if the Master would be able to use the force psychically without the plasmaton material caking up around him again and making him more Kalid-like.)

Transportation becomes the main focus, as Time-Flight becomes a dazzling display of how TARDISes can come and go, finely demonstrating cross-dissolves and sound effects, interior/exterior relationships, what chameleon circuits can do (rather pointlessly), and hinting at some unknown disaster that occurs when one TARDIS exists inside another. Not to be outdone, the Concorde aircraft also flexes its wings, occupying many of the characters in an industrious repair sequence and having a successfully dramatic flight itself. All wonderful stuff in itself, but it is all a bit transitional, while the conflict with the Master is reduced to barely tangible ideas of outsmarting each other in the dialogue, and the conflicts involving the Xeraphin get barely a passing mention.

Part Four can't help but be disappointing in this respect. Giving the Doctor more to do, tangibly, on-screen, to help the Xeraphin is perhaps the biggest hole, while giving Anthony Ainley a stronger screen presence during the finale also feels important. In fact, expanding this tale into a six-part story, with the last two episodes on modern Xeraphas, a tenser mental stand-off between Doctor and Master, and a fully realized beat rescuing the nucleus of the Xeraphin would have been sweet icing on the cake. Ah well, at least the story has inspired the dream of such things.

The sequence of that classic Greek pillar hovering above the Doctor's TARDIS also has its charm. Echoing a similar scene in Part One of Castrovalva (story no. 117), it neatly book-ends the season, only this time the Doctor is alert enough to do something about it. Nice.

Time-Flight largely gets away with having such a transitional final episode because it is directed and imbued with such a high-spirited emotional energy, delivering a double-helping of something that the previous story could not aim to do. This helps make it ideal to follow "Earthshock" and close off the season. Nice work from director Ron Jones indeed.


As you can tell, I like this story, and never fail to enjoy it and its eye-candy on repeat viewing. Whatever its failings may be, it speaks loudly of the essence of Doctor Who, and has a whale of a time at it. Ladies and gentlemen, your flight is now ready for boarding. Enjoy your trip!



Season 19 Rankings:

Favourite Story:

  • Earthshock
  • Time-Flight
  • Four to Doomsday
  • Castrovalva
  • Kinda
  • The Visitation
  • K9 & Company: A Girl's Best Friend
  • Black Orchid

Best Director:

  • Peter Grimwade
  • Ron Jones
  • Fiona Cumming
  • Peter Moffatt
  • John Black

Best Music:

  • Malcolm Clarke - Earthshock
  • Peter Howell - Kinda
  • Roger Limb - Four to Doomsday
  • Paddy Kingsland - The Visitation
  • Paddy Kingsland - Castrovalva
  • Peter Howell - K9 & Company
  • Roger Limb - Time-Flight
  • Roger Limb - Black Orchid

Best Writer:

  • Eric Saward
  • Christopher H. Bidmead
  • Christopher Bailey
  • Peter Grimwade
  • Terence Dudley

Best Lasers:

  • Dave Jervis - The Visitation
  • Dave Chapman - Earthshock
  • Dave Chapman - Four to Doomsday
  • Dave Chapman - Castrovalva
  • Nick Moore - K9 & Company
  • Dave Chapman - Kinda

Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
DVD NTSC Region 1
single-story disc
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
2-story box set
for the U.K.:
VHS Video
NTSC U.S. (and Canada)
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Arc of Infinity"



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