Aired 22 – 30 March 1982
Following the highly-praised ‘Earthshock’ that saw the devastating departure of Adric and the grandiose return of the Cybermen in a rather traditional base-under-siege format, ‘Time-Flight’ is tasked with closing out a fairly solid introductory season for Peter Davison that has proven how versatile, commanding, and charismatic he can be. Unfortunately, for all of the ambition that ‘Time-Flight’ boasts, the nonsensical plot, clumsy dialogue, and financial limitation result in the season going out with a whimper remembered for all of the wrong reasons.
The underlying concept of a hijack in time as a Concorde jet is transported to prehistoric Earth is an immensely intriguing one amid a story bursting with clever ideas, but the script is so visual and reliant on its settings that there is no realistic way that the limited BBC budget could ever hope to accomplish anything passing for realism. At the same time, few of the ideas are ever really allowed to flourish with any sense of depth and cohesion. Accordingly, an organism that is an amalgamation of an entire race with one personality never gets the depth of exploration it begs for, its existence instead awkwardly brought up and later more directly explained by the Doctor to clear up lingering confusion. Likewise, while filming on a Concorde adds an incredible breath of realism, it makes the studio sets all the more noticeable, again taking away from any sort of cohesive whole the narrative may have.
Of course, sometimes-disappointing production values are certainly not a rarity, but even with the unexplored avenues not taken, the plot of ‘Time-Flight’ is simply too disappointing to overcome any sort of visual shortcoming. The loss of Adric should be an emotional catapult for these characters going forward, a catalyst for drama and conflict that have received only the briefest moments aboard this crowded TARDIS throughout the year. Instead of dealing with any real internal repercussions, however, the script bypasses the opportunity to immensely develop its characters by instead opting to have a quick discussion about it and then moving on with those invovled for the most part unaffected. And while it’s understandable that perhaps the decision was made to keep personal drama out of a distinctly family programme and to highlight the Fifth Doctor’s ability to distract his companions from loss in order to keep momentum moving and the plot fresh, the appearance of the Master in the ancient past wearing a poor, stereotyped disguise for no discernible reason is similarly frustrating and disappointing. After a fantastic outing in ‘The Keeper of Traken,’ the Master has been turned into simply another insane villain with no grounded motivations, appearing here simply to service a hole in the script rather than a true purpose.
Yet even as ‘Time-Flight’ draws attention to the flaws around its own production and some of the core concepts behind Doctor Who itself, the serial never quite manages to escape with its knowing wink. Instead, what might be forgettable plot holes are instead quite overt plot holes brought to the forefront, and the end result is a very uneven serial full of ambition with its scope and imagery but also full of far too many missed opportunities to offer something wholly more personal and satisfying.