Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 606: Time-Flight, Episode Three
I really don’t know what to make of Time-Flight at all. This episode is clearly another not-so-great one, and yet I’ve reached the end of it with a sense of vaguely enjoying it. I’m not entirely sure what I’ve enjoyed about it, though, and I can’t pick out anything in particular to highlight. The sets are alright, but that’s down to their sheer size more than the design, I quite like the plucky air crew sneaking aboard the TARDIS and getting into a pickle, I suppose. Anthony Ainley slapping the door controls for the TARDIS, and being paid to mostly stand around fiddling with props is good for him, I suppose? It’s one of those episodes (and this is usually the mark of an episode that has failed to engage me), where I really have nothing of interest to say, because it’s not offered me any threads to pull on.
Never mind, though, because there’s something else I want to discuss today, anyway. After writing yesterday’s entry, I was thinking more and more about how botched the apparition of Adric was. As I’ve said, the idea of having his reappear briefly after his death is a great one, but it’s an example of John Nathan-Turner understanding the ‘showmanship’ of the programme (Matthew Waterhouse is only there to help hide his death in Earthshock, after all), while failing to grasp the dramatic potential of such an event. I also got to thinking how I would have handled the situation (one that I’ve already admitted is difficult), and so I’d like to present another edition of ‘This is How it Should Have Been (I reckon)’…
Instead of the TARDIS arriving at Heathrow more-or-less by accident (having spent several stories earlier in the season trying to get there!), it should be on purpose. Tegan and Nyssa should be more upset by Adric’s death, the way they are in those final moments of Earthshock. They should ask the Doctor to go back and save the boy, getting ever more frustrated with his refusal, until eventually Tegan demands to get to Heathrow right away. She should make some comment about not wanting to arrive centuries too early, or too late, or on a different world altogether, but just to get home. Adric’s death should be the catalyst for a huge row on the TARDIS - it’s been simmering all season, and it sort of needs the death to be a focal point that sorts everything out once and for all.
Arriving in the airport terminal, we should then have her saying goodbye to Nyssa - but not the Doctor - and leaving the TARDIS behind. With the Doctor ready to depart with his one remaining companion, he should then get caught up in the events of the story. Either you have the police arriving at the police box and questioning the Doctor (as in the broadcast version), or someone commenting that UNIT had advised the Doctor would be along.
Somehow, Tegan should end up with the Doctor and Nyssa on the Concorde flight, and not be happy about it. He just can’t let her go, can he? In my head, Tegan should be really hard on the Doctor, not happy at all. This would then culminate when they reach prehistoric Earth, with Nyssa being released from the Plasmatrons and having a heart-to-heart with her friend, telling her that it’s not really the Doctor’s fault, and that Adric chose to live the dangerous life aboard the TARDIS, and went out saving their lives. It would help to inject a bit more urgency to the proceedings, with the Doctor trying to find out what’s happening here, while also trying to deal with someone who’s so angry with him.
You then have the apparitions in the tunnels. Adric shouldn’t be the first, I don’t think. It could work as sheer shock value, but it’s directed so flatly here as to lose all effect. Instead, I’d start with the Melkur - Nyssa confronting her greatest fear. This statue represents not only the man who killed her father, but also the one who went on to destroy her entire world, and kill Tegan’s aunt. Nyssa’s faith in the Doctor should be the thing that gets her through - after all, the Doctor did give his life to stop the Master.
I’d then pick up with Tegan encountering the Mara, and the worry that it could still be inside her mind. It’s an idea that was planted during the end of Kinda, when she asks the Doctor if she’s free, and he fails to respond. It should all add to her wavering trust of the man. Maybe Nyssa can help to convince Tegan that the Doctor is a good man, and that they should support him. If need be, you can have the Mara transform into a Terrileptil, and Monitor, and even a Cyberman if you want - a snapshot of their adventures together - before…
It’s Adric. Taunting her. Clutching his brother’s belt, still, and staring sadly at his former companions. Tegan needs the chance to say goodbye, and to apologise for not always being the easiest person to get along with. It’s all part of bringing the emotions of the season to a head. Able to move past the apparition of Adric, the pair should encounter the Doctor in time to see the villain revealed as the Master. I know that they’re in an entirely different part of the complex at that point, and much of this episode is about them being there, but it just feels wrong that these two characters - who’ve both had relatives killed by the Master - should find out that he’s here simply by the Doctor throwing it into the conversation. The trio need to be there to see the reveal together - the Master was the villain in all of their first adventures, and bringing him back in the season finale has to be a real statement, and his inclusion should be more symbolic than anything else.
The rest of the basic story can remain unchanged, I think. You can have the Concorde being transported down a time contour. You can have the hypnotised crew, and the split-personality brain, and the flight crew heading off for adventures in time and space (or a mile above the planet). But the story needs to be about the Doctor and his companions, about them dealing with the loss of Adric, and using that event to strengthen them and move forward, overcoming the ultimate villain together. I’m not sure if the whole ‘leaving Tegan behind’ thing at the end of the story would work so well after a few episodes of bringing them closer together, though it could make all the more impact, if she finally decides to make that same decision - to travel with the Doctor no matter the danger to herself.
It’s probably not to everyone’s tastes, and I think it’s far more character-driven than anything Doctor Who tended to do around this point in its history, but it’s what Time-Flight is supposed to be in my own head. Even the bland, generic science fiction wouldn’t feel out of place if it’s simply a stock backdrop to the real story. As it is, that’s out main focus, and it’s just not up to scratch.