THIS STORY TAKES
AFTER THE TV STORY
PRIOR TO THE NOVEL
"EMPIRE OF DEATH."
'TIME-FLIGHT / ARC
OF INFINITY' DVD BOX
THE TARDIS ARRIVES BY
ONE OF THE SUPERSONIC
DOCTOR, TEGAN AND
NYSSA SOON BECOME
INVOLVED IN A HUNT
FOR THE MISSING
AND WHY IS A
SO INTERESTED IN THE
DOCTOR'S TARDIS? A
FLIGHT THROUGH TIME
WILL REVEAL ALL.
22ND march 1982 - 30TH march 1982
Whilst a great many Doctor Who fans have been frowning on the BBC’s recent choice of serials for DVD release, somewhat furtively I have been quite chuffed. Hot on the heels of
the perpetually detested “Timelash” comes both “Time-Flight” and “Arc of Infinity” – a brace of tenuously linked stories that are sometimes referred to by more unforgiving fans as
“Time-Shite” and “Arse of Infinity”. I certainly do not think that they are anywhere near that bad; in fact, I rather guiltily like them both. I even considered “Time-Flight” worthy enough to
‘christen’ my new Sony Bravia with…
Peter Grimwade’s “Time-Flight” brought Peter Davison first tumultuous season as the Doctor to a close. Gimmicky in the extreme, the intricate story sees the Master (albeit unaccountably disguised as a vaguely Arabian magician for half the serial) take control over a powerful alien race for his own sinister purposes. Although the story begins and ends in eighties Heathrow, for the most part it is set 140,000,000 years in the past.
Looking at the story itself, I really do not see how Grimwade can be faulted for anything other than his complete and utter failure to grasp the realities of a Doctor Who budget. On paper, his story is both clever and entertaining, full of memorable characters like Professor Hayter and the amusingly camp Captain Urquhart as well as a fascinating alien race - the Xeraphin. The latter are particularly interesting as they are not of one mind; Anithon and Zarak are
used marvellously by the writer to show the two opposed faces of their race, one evil and
one good. Throw the Master into the mix and you have a story that, if anything, is a cut above the standard of many of its peers… at least on paper.
“…one has to be practical…”
– Peter Grimwade
“Time-Flight” originally came about when producer John Nathan-Turner obtained permission from British Airways to feature Concorde in the series and to carry out filming at Heathrow. Unfortunately, Grimwade seems to have taken this a green light to pen a story that even in 2007 would be outrageously expensive to credibly produce for television. This is doubly disappointing as Grimwade had himself directed Doctor Who prior to this commission and so he knew full well the limitations that director Ron Jones would be faced with. And this is where “Time-Flight” falls down. During the first episode two Concordes are transported through a time rift to prehistoric Earth; an ambitious special effect to say the least. Even so,
if just that one effect had looked a bit shaky then I think that most people would have been quite tolerant. However, what is absolutely indefensible is the ‘end of season’ cheapness of “Time-Flight” - the use of colour separation overlay, for example, is far more extensive than
in even the cheapest third Doctor serials, and here it looks far worse. At one point, the production team even use this technique to place the Doctor and his companions outside contemporary Heathrow Airport in broad daylight! The nail in the coffin though is the realisation of prehistoric Earth; it just looks so, so bad. And the story is bogged down there for so, so long. When realised so poorly, it was inevitable that “Time-Flight” was going to have a harder time than most earning the respect of both casual viewers and fans alike.
“There are some rules that cannot be broken, even with the TARDIS.
Don’t ever ask me to do anything like that again.”
The shockingly poor realisation seems to make fans dwell on the less impressive aspects
of the plot too; it is as if once a serial has the scent of death upon it, people cannot leave it alone. Small holes that would go unnoticed in more reputable stories are all ceased upon here and dissected – take Adric’s death, for example. This story is often criticised for not dwelling enough on his death at the end of “Earthshock”, but surely this is more of a condemnation of the tone of the series at this time rather than a criticism of this specific serial? I think it is safe to say that were “Earthshock” and “Time-Flight” written today, much more time would be devoted to the aftermath of Adric’s death.
That said, I do not feel that this matter is handled particularly badly by Grimwade (or Eric Saward, or whoever wrote the opening scenes in the TARDIS and that infamous ‘projection’ scene) anyway. Very concisely, “Time-Flight” manages to establish that the Doctor will not – or indeed, cannot – go back and save his friend and also that the Doctor will not – or
indeed, cannot – grieve as we human beings do. Always moving on. Always running away. He cannot bear the consequences.
Admittedly, there are some genuinely weaker elements in the story. The third episode contains about seven minutes of padded, circular plot; Nyssa mysteriously presents with psi-powers which - unless you are a Big Finish listener, that is - are never explained, and the cliffhanger ending that sees the Doctor and Nyssa depart together in the TARDIS, abandoning Tegan at Heathrow – unless, again, you are a Big Finish listener – is ultimately futile.
Above: Janet Fielding in the "Mouth on Legs" featurette
Speaking of Tegan, the DVD release is certainly centred heavily around her. I remember hearing horrible rumours that this DVD box set was going to be called “Tegan Tales” or something equally unpleasant, but thankfully the BBC settled on the much more apposite title “Time-Flight / Arc of Infinity.” The “Time-Flight” disc especially focuses a lot on Tegan – there is a fifteen-minute, surprisingly enjoyable, featurette entitled “Mouth on Legs” in which Janet Fielding desperately seeks to justify her 1983 hairdo: apparently, there was never any serious possibility that “Time-Flight” would be Tegan’s final appearance. The reason that she was abandoned at Heathrow was that the BBC did not want to have to pay her a
retainer fee. Understandably irked and not contractually bound to the show, Fielding chopped all her hair off to teach them a lesson.
“Oh my God look at that. That is so bad… it’s the Muppets!”
– Janet Fielding
Fielding also dominates the commentary, which she shares with Davison, Sarah Sutton, and script editor Eric Saward. Unfortunately she does not appear to hold the series in quite as high esteemas the other three do, and so subsequently the commentary is not terribly reverent. Even Davison, who usually provides astute and thoughtful commentary, is cajoled into tearing the story to shreds. And, as seems to be the current trend with recent DVD releases, Nathan-Turner gets an appalling bad press from his former colleagues – this time round for his sexist attitudes towards the fifth Doctor’s one-dimensional female companions!
Above: Some of the special features on offer
The rest of the special features are not very… um... special. Do not get me wrong, they are nice to have for the sake of completism, and the five-minute Peter Grimwade interview had me in stitches - “…one has to be practical…”, he says, having wrote a script that sends two Concordes back through a time rift several million years. There is also a nice selection of deleted scenes, quite a substantial chunk of studio footage, a few out-takes, plus the usual (and unequivocally fantastic) production subtitles.
On the whole I felt that the “Time-Flight” DVD stood up remarkably well, especially considering that I blew the twenty-five year old story up to fill a forty inch LCD screen! The story is great and the performances are wonderful, and should you be blessed with the
ability to suspend your disbelief (a pre-requisite of Doctor Who fans, generally) then - unless you are really determined - I cannot see how you can fail to enjoy “Time-Flight”...
...at least a little bit.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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