Doctor Who episode 576: Time-Flight – Part One (22/3/1982)
‘He wouldn’t want us to mourn unnecessarily. A special treat to cheer us all up!’ When the show spends more time dealing with the fall-out from Kinda than Earthshock, something’s not right behind the scenes. It doesn’t need everyone to be wailing and gnashing their teeth, but Adric’s death deserved more than a handful of lines, a non-explanation why the Doctor can’t go back and save him (presumably he just doesn’t want to), and a sudden switch in mood to everyone joking about going to the Great Exhibition (and then complaining when they don’t get there).
The solution is glaringly obvious – rather than the jarring tonal shift, have the Doctor’s argument with Tegan and Nyssa cut short when the TARIDIS gets caught in GVF’s time turbulence. Drop the Great Exhibition whimsy and begin this with some oomph. The scenes of the Doctor shrugging off the possibility of rescuing Adric to do a crossword aren’t charming, they’re crass, and the novelty of arriving in modern-day Britain for the first time this season shouldn’t involve some light comedy and a chance to name drop the Brigadier and UNIT, but some actual peril. It’s hard to warm to Time-Flight when it gets off on such a disastrous foot – although the blame can be squarely laid at the door of Eric Saward, who has done an extraordinarily bad job of addressing the consequences of his own story.
Looking past Saward’s failure, though, there’s lots that I like in Grimwade’s script. He makes the Doctor active and decisive, immediately offering to help find the missing Concorde, and coming up with various theories and practical suggestions to locate it and relying on his wits rather than herding everyone inside the TARDIS. Davison responds to this with his most confident performance so far, striding into the Heathrow board room and taking control. It’s well known he thought Time-Flight was a let-down (although he’s gone on record saying that’s because the money ran out, not that the script was poor), but that’s not at all obvious from his performance – if anything, he ups his energy.
JNT also comes up trumps, managing to get the use of Concorde for location filming. When I was a kid, Concorde was still the height of glamour and luxury, and the scenes on board GAC are great (plus Grimwade manages to sneak in a ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ gay in-joke). It’s only when they arrive on the prehistoric heath, which isn’t actually terrible but is a definite early Graham Williams throwback, that the story begins to look a bit threadbare. It also gets inadvertently comical when Bilton shouts out, ‘There’s Dave Culshaw and Andrea Clifford’ – although had Saward written it they would presumably have been called Announcement Man and Trolley Woman. Even given the dubious acceptability of Kalid (and people complain about the Celestial Toymaker) and his bar-of-soap minions, this is a pretty intriguing first episode.
Next episode: Time-Flight – Part Two