Monday, 23 March 2015

Story 122 - Time-Flight

In which a Concorde supersonic aircraft vanishes as it approaches Heathrow Airport. In the TARDIS, Tegan has decided that she would actually quite like to travel for a while longer. However, the ship gets caught up in the temporal disturbance which led to the Concorde's disappearance and - instead of Hyde Park, 1851 - the TARDIS materialises above the runway at Heathrow, in 1982. The Doctor relocates the ship to the nearby terminal building. When faced with the airport authorities, the Doctor invokes his UNIT membership, and he is invited to help investigate. He decides that the flight of the missing aircraft be replicated precisely with another Concorde, with the TARDIS stored on board to monitor what happens. The Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa join Captain Stapley and his crew on board the second Concorde. They take off and repeat the flight path. The TARDIS registers temporal displacement - and at the airport they are also seen to vanish from the air traffic control monitors - but their aircraft seems to make a normal landing back at Heathrow. The Doctor urges everyone to disbelieve what they are seeing, and the scene dissolves around them. The Concorde has really landed on a stretch of desert, millions of years in the past. The other aircraft is here. In the distance is a pyramidal structure, and there is a spaceship wreck nearby.

The Doctor comes under some form of attack, surrounded briefly by some plasma creatures. After these vanish, he decides to go to the pyramid. The passengers and crew of the initial Concorde appear and start to carry the TARDIS to the same structure. They are under some hypnotic control and believe they are still in 1982. Stapley's crew also come under hypnotic attack and have to fight to remember where they really are. The Doctor meets one passenger who has not been affected - Professor Hayter. He thinks they have been abducted to the Soviet Union. In the pyramid, the Doctor meets a bizarre figure named Kalid, who claims to have magical powers and is in control here. Hayter discovers that Kalid is using advanced technology. When challenged, the magician proves to be the disguised Master. His TARDIS is damaged and stranded here, and he means to escape using some technology left behind by the occupants of the wrecked spaceship - the Xeraphin. The passengers and crew of the first Concorde are under his mental dominance and he is using them to help him break into a sealed vault. He has seized the Doctor's ship to raid it for spare parts. Nyssa falls under the influence of the Xeraphin who compel her to go to the pyramid. Tegan joins her. Mental images appear to try to force them to turn back - including a Terileptil, the Melkur, and even poor Adric.

The Doctor manages to get into the sealed vault with Tegan, Nyssa and Hayter. They discover that the Xeraphin homeworld was devastated in the cross-fire of an ancient war. The race chose to amalgamate themselves into a single organic entity, which now lies in this chamber. The Master intends to use it as a new power source for his TARDIS. He has allied himself with the negative side of this combined life-form, whilst the positive aspect has been guiding Nyssa. Hayter elects to join with the Xeraphin, and appears to be destroyed. Stapley and co-pilot Bilton find themselves trapped in the TARDIS when the Master sends it off into space and time. However, Hayter appears in the console room and guides the ship to the sealed vault, enabling the Doctor and his companions to escape from it. Hayter was actually a projection of the "good" Xeraphin. The Xeraphin casket has been transported to the Master's TARDIS. The Doctor agrees to help the Master on the condition he frees the people under his mental control, and they exchange TARDIS components. All of the original Concorde passengers and crew get aboard Stapley's 'plane, which is repaired and made ready for take-off. The Master thinks the Doctor will be trapped in prehistory, but he has sabotaged things. The Concorde takes off and is able to repeat its earlier flight path to return through the temporal anomaly to 1982. The TARDIS materialises at Heathrow and prevents the Master's ship from landing at the same location. The Master is then sent hurtling off to Xeriphas, where the aliens will be able to re-establish themselves. To avoid the airport authorities and explain what has happened, and why the first Concorde is now buried deep beneath Heathrow, the Doctor hurriedly departs with Nyssa - but leaving Tegan behind...

This four part story was written by Peter Grimwade, and broadcast between 22nd and 30th March, 1982. It marks the close of Season 19. Grimwade was already known as a director on the programme, having been an Assistant Floor Manager on the show for many years previously.
Producer JNT was overjoyed at being able to film at Heathrow, and to get access to a Concorde for a day. This took priority over getting a story involving both that was actually worthwhile doing. Clearly JNT could not see past the publicity angle of the Concorde - and the possibility of free flights.
This story would have struggled at the best of times to be made well, but it had the added misfortune of being the last of the season - when all of the money had run out.
The Heathrow filming took place on a day when there was heavy snowfall - which as anyone using a UK airport will know means nothing takes off or lands. The prehistoric landscape is realised entirely in studio - and my goodness but it shows. A new monster was introduced - the Plasmatons - which are the worst design possibly of any alien creature in the show's history (which is saying something). They look like walking turds.
The actual storyline is overly complicated and difficult to follow in a single sitting. Biggest mystery is why the Master goes to all the bother of disguising himself as Kalid. Seems the only point is that there could be an end of episode reveal and for no other discernible reason.
The guest cast do the best they can with the material, but you can just tell Peter Davison knows that this is rubbish.

That guest cast includes Richard Easton as Stapley. He was best known for the road haulage drama The Brothers - from whence also came a certain Colin Baker. First Officer Bilton is Michael Cashman - soon to gain fame for the first gay kiss on a soap in Eastenders. A stalwart of the Stonewall campaigning group, he is now an MEP. Prof. Hayter is veteran actor Nigel Stock - best remembered as Dr Watson to Peter Cushing's Sherlock Holmes in a number of BBC adaptations,, and for the title role as Owen MD (a sort of Welsh Dr Findlay).
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor is suddenly surrounded by Plasmatons which appear out of thin air...
  2. Kalid collapses to the floor, apparently dead. Hayter discovers that he has been using electronics rather than magic. Kalid suddenly rises, and unmasks himself to reveal the Master...
  3. Trapped in the sealed vault, the Doctor believes that the Master has finally beaten him...
  4. Tegan arrives on the roof of the terminal building in time to see the TARDIS dematerialise without her...

Overall, an overly ambitious script that just shouldn't have been attempted on the resources available. Terrance Dicks would never have let it get past him. At the heart of it is an interesting enough story - so probably would have made a better novel than TV. A lacklustre end to what has been a strong season.
Things you probably don't want to know:
  • The main reason for Adric's appearance as a phantom image in Part Two was so that his name could feature in the Radio Times billings - and not give away the ending to Earthshock. It works within the narrative as well, of course.
  • Anthony Ainley was billed as Leon Ny Taiy for Parts One and Two, in his Kalid disguise - again to protect the "surprise" reveal that the Master was the villain. Not the first, nor the last, of his pointless anagrams, but certainly one of the worst.
  • Tegan's return in the next story was always intended from the start, so there was no change of heart by Janet Fielding or JNT in her staying on.
  • Ratings wise, Time-Flight did not do too badly - it gave JNT one of his highest ever hits when it cracked the top 30 for the first week. It did shed two million viewers over all four episodes, however. Of the seven Season 19 stories, DWM readers voted it fourth place in the season poll. Jump ahead to the "Mighty 200" poll in 2009 and it is languishing in 196th place. 2013's 50th Anniversary poll saw it at 237th (out of 241).
  • Naturally, Peter Grimwade is on record as stating that he could have done a much better job of directing it.
  • We hear the one and only mention of Department C19, under Sir John Sudbury, when the Doctor invokes his UNIT affiliation. Presumably UNIT have finally become a proper secret organisation, so you can't mention them directly by name any more. Gone are the days when the Brigadier could have his name painted on the sign at the gate of UNIT HQ.
  • So, things buried under Heathrow Airport so far - a Terileptil escape pod and sundry alien power packs, a Xeraphin spaceship, a Jurassic era pyramid and a Concorde. Where is Tony Robinson's Time Team when you need them?
  • If you took out all the techno-babble concerning the different bits of the two TARDISes which get mentioned, this would have been a two parter - and probably the better for it.
  • Xeriphas gets a mention in Viz comic's "Doctor Poo" strip - in which the Fourth Doctor travels time and space in desperate need of a visit to the loo - only to be continually interrupted by Sea Devils etc. Apparently Xeriphas has very good toilet facilities...

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