‘I’ll explain later.’ The punchline of The Curse of Fatal Death comes from its repeated use here to gloss over the need for more immediate explanations. It would be OK if these just highlighted Brigadier-style density on the part of the some of the flight crew, but it extends to the conclusion of the whole serial, which – having under-used the Master – doesn’t even feature him. Instead, the Doctor hand waves something to Nyssa and then, to get out of another mildly tricky explanation, abandons Tegan. Coming after Adric’s death, this just makes the fifth Doctor look like a careless idiot: the pay-off to a season when he’s continually been a bit useless.
It would be satisfying to conclude Time-Flight isn’t as bad as its reputation. I can’t: it is. I admit, there were moments during the first two episodes where it has potential, but the concluding half is so underwritten it barely qualifies as a first draft. The Xeraphin turn up, then disappear from the story having done their info-dump. Professor Hayter is briefly resurrected as a sort of Force Ghost to pilot the TARDIS and save the Doctor, then vanishes too. Anthony Ainley gets hardly any lines: the ones he does get are probably the most Delgado-ish he’s had, as he shows a sort of grudging acceptance of the Doctor, quietly nodding to accept his terms, and then also vanishes from the story.
It was probably too much to expect a proper pay-off to Adric’s death, for a story that actually addressed the implications of the Doctor’s failure. In the new series, we got things like The Runaway Bride or The Snowmen – stories that were about grief. I wouldn’t expect anything quite that planned. But the Doctor forgetting him after five minutes because the crossword is more fun is horrible. I think JNT and Saward shouldn’t have written out Waterhouse in that way if they weren’t prepared to think harder about the consequences. What this really needed was something like Grimwade’s next script, Mawdryn Undead – a story where the Doctor gets to contemplate sacrificing himself, reconnect with his roots, and save a boy from death in a crashing spaceship.
But we got this, an uneven end to the most uneven run since Season 15. Like Season 15, behind-the-scenes changes mean there’s no single creative vision of a Williams, Adams or Bidmead joining the dots between stories, putting a lot on the actors to try to develop consistent characters. I like the fifth Doctor, but more thanks to Davison’s always thoughtful performance than the scripted character, which is occasionally engagingly sarcastic and ingenious, but frequently aggressively cranky and ineffectual. I suppose at least they didn’t resort to a Gallifrey story.
Next episode: Arc of Infinity