I’m reasonably sure our son’s the only person to ever be thrilled by “Time-Flight.” He thought this one was fantastic, and really loved the Concorde’s unlikely takeoff from a barren prehistoric plain. I was reminded that he was also thrilled by that episode of MacGyver where our hero gets a plane airborne under very implausible conditions.
I’m not going to kick “Time-Flight” any more than I did last time. Watching it wasn’t fun, and reliving it isn’t either. Our kid liked it a lot, and that’s what matters. He enjoyed wrapping his brain around the idea that the missing Concorde wasn’t actually salvageable (like one of the characters joked) after 140 million years. He got to sneer the Master a little and be surprised by the out-of-the-blue ending. It’s a win in his book.
I really think this ending was a huge missed opportunity. The producer intended the scene of Tegan realizing the Doctor has dropped her back in London without a goodbye as a cliffhanger, but it sure doesn’t come across that way. There’s barely any buildup, and no sense that this was a big moment. It doesn’t feel like the end of the season. It doesn’t even feel like the end of the story!
But what if they had swapped “Time-Flight” with “Earthshock” and dropped Tegan off one story early? It’s not like she and Nyssa are really both required for the story of “Earthshock” anyway. You get “Time-Flight” with Adric and “Earthshock” without Tegan, and then you get Adric’s death and the silent credits as your season finale. Wouldn’t that have been interesting?
The bubble had to burst eventually. It’s just a shame that two very, very solid and entertaining seasons of Doctor Who had to crashland with one of the all-time misfires. “Time-Flight,” written by Peter Grimwade, had been in development for so long and rewritten so many times that the author had asked “Look, do you mind if I direct a few stories while you’re waiting?”
There’s a school of thought that says that Grimwade’s original idea about two “tribes” of mental aliens who exist only as energy – a concept we won’t even encounter until part three of the story – might have been pretty interesting before the producer started shoehorning two missing airplanes and the return of the Master into the narrative. Part one at least begins promisingly, with the Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa discussing Adric’s death, and then there’s some nice location filming at Heathrow Airport while the Doctor just tries to read the sports page, a moment that I’m pretty sure is unique in the program.
After a reasonably promising beginning, it all falls apart. “Meglos” in the previous season certainly wasn’t very good, but at least it felt coherent. This is just scene after scene of the Doctor reciting technobabble in a succession of stunningly fake and very small environments. We’re back to character actors again this time: Nigel Stock, who had been so very entertaining in the late sixties as Watson to Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes, is so very tedious as a professor who thinks they’ve been hijacked to the Soviet Union instead of the Jurassic period. Michael Cashman, who had been one of The Sandbaggers and is today The Rt Hon. The Lord Cashman CBE – now there’s an interesting career arc – is a British Airways co-pilot.
And there’s the Master. When he’s revealed at the cliffhanger of part two, our son’s response was as follows: “Oh, come on! Come on! Not the Master! He’s so annoying!” Perhaps because the villain of the piece had possibly originally been a villain in the style of the Arabian Knights, everybody decided to just let the Master disguise himself as an overweight grey-skinned magician with packs of green slime under his mask. He must have figured the Doctor would show up… although I believe there’s genuinely no part of his plan that requires him pretending to be anybody else in the first place. Let’s see what happens tomorrow night in the second half and see whether I’m wrong!
“Some of that was kind of hard to understand,” our son told us. I agreed; British colleges and universities are pretty strange for us, too! I still can’t get over the downright palatial residence of fourth-year students in places like this. Patrick Mower’s character, who’s a really nasty piece of work, lives in a space that would have fit six or eight of us from my time at dear old Reed Hall.
I took a break from reading 2000 AD when I went to college; at least one of the students at St. Bode’s has kept up his subscription to the venerable Lion. Mrs. Peel’s checking out the latest adventure for Robot Archie in the issue in the lecture room. Archie was the spiritual antecedent for the Vision and Jocasta in those other, lesser Avengers.
But even if our son had been more familiar with the ins and outs of colleges like this, I think the central thesis of this adventure might have been a little over his head. I like the way that Martin Woodhouse’s script is very subtle about the issue between one set of economists who envision a future of “Europia” and the anonymous author of a paper called Economics and a Sense of History. Steed immediately sees something in the paper that brings the word “jackboots” to mind, and many of the students at St. Bode’s, including Mower and future star Jacqueline Pearce, are thugs-in-training. They’re downright awful to one of their lecturers, played by John Barron, who contends that no one person can alter the inevitable course of history.
The show was much more his speed when the students’ Rag Week festivities got violent. At one point, Steed and Nigel Stock’s character have to take refuge under a caravan in the woods while masked ruffians fire arrows at them. One flaming arrow pierces Steed’s bowler hat; that was the high point of the episode for him!