Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Doctor Who: Time-Flight

Part One

“Are you responsible for this box, sir?”

“Well, I try to be.”

Ah, a Concorde, that technological marvel! That dates this story immediately- this is set back in the days before the future became considered passé. Although the décor inside, and especially the glimpse of newspaper, date this story in quite another way. But oops- where’s it gone?

Inside the TARDIS we have a perfunctory discussion about going back in time to save Adric, but within what feels like thirty seconds all of this is over and they’re all off to the Great Exhibition. This is most awkward, and although it’s probably true to say there can’t be more than a certain amount of character stuff in a format where you’re never more than 25 minutes from a cliffhanger or story climax (something which doesn’t apply to the “new series”, where although the stories are shorter the episodes have time to breathe), it could have been better handled than this. I’m noticing more and more how much poorer the treatment of the current large TARDIS crew compares to the original lot. It’s not as though Ian or Babs got all that much character stuff either, just the amount that was required by the constraints of the genre, but it worked. For this crew, it doesn’t.

The TARDIS lands on a runway- please don’t let this be another Faceless Ones! It’s interesting to look for Tegan’s reaction here to finally being at Heathrow- will she stay or will she go, to paraphrase Joe Strummer at around this time? 

Thankfully, lots of tiresome scenes of the TARDISeers falling under suspicion from the authorities are curtailed by mentions of the good old Brig and some chap called Sir John Sudbury from “C19”, with some UNIT bloke at the end of the phone going so far as to insist the Doctor be briefed on the missing plane. On the other hand, it’s all a bit too continuity heavy. Perhaps they could streamline all this into, I don’t know, perhaps the Doctor carrying some paper that’s, I dunno, psychic?

So a second Concorde takes off, with the TARDIS, on its side, on board. And our heroes plus pilots end up in some illusory other world which turns out to be the Jurassic. We get a surprisingly highbrow reference to Berkeleyan philosophy for such a silly story (“That is why this tree / doth continue to be…”) and there’s some bloke in weird make up speaking an odd language in a funny voice. It seems he’s played by someone called Leon Ny Taiy. I wonder who he is?

Part Two

“Magic? Arabia?”

Sop, there are some squidgy, semi-corporeal things that control people and do other things required by the plot, except that some annoying professor bloke is able to resist its control. He thinks he’s in Siberia. Ho hum. Still, as time goes on he’ll become gradually less annoying until he morphs into an almost exact clone of Dr Tyler off The Three Doctors. Oh, and the Plasmatons are a bit like Gell Guards, I suppose.

Nyssa and Tegan have to pass through the obligatory illusory version of Adric, on account of he just snuffed it, and then they get a Melkur and a Terileptil, just to remind them of some of the more mildly disappointing of their recent adventures.

We get a decent retro-looking Ray Harryhausen monster conjured up by Kalid, but rather suddenly he’s defeated. And then turns out to have been the Master in disguise all along. Naturally, he had to disguise himself as a bizarre Aladdin style conjurer and speak in some weird made-up language, even when no one else was around, because, er, um, er…

Part Three

“The Xeraphin is calling us.”

We begin what will become a tradition of full frontal refusal to explain how the Master escaped from his last sticky situation with the obligatory “So you escaped from Castrovalva”. Then the plot starts all over again, this time with the baddie being the Master instead of some weird conjurer type. At least our villain, stranded here, now has a motive.

Two pilots muck about in the TARDIS for a bit, while the Doctor discovers the entire Xeraphin race is locked up in some column thing. The Prof sacrifices himself (yay!) and then we get a battle of wills between two random Xeraphins. Don’t get me wrong, it all makes a sort of sense, but it’s all a bit random, innit?

Part Four

“I’ll explain later.”

I don’t at all like the Doctor’s brief admission that the Master has finally defeated him, it’s unDoctorishly defeatist. I realise this Doctor is supposed to be less charismatic and less assertive- fair enough- but more and more I’m seeing something beyond the character of Davison’s excellent Doctor- a lack of respect for the character from the scripts. The Doctor should always be the hero- this is his show, after all.

It all ends with a bargain between the Doctor and the Master, manipulated by the Doctor to strand the Master on Xeraphas- it’s all strangely reminiscent of the conclusion to The Mind of Evil. It’s a nice touch, and at the same time a bit embarrassing, to see Tegan actually acting as an air hostess.

The story does tend to stretch credulity somewhat, even given the necessary conventions of the genre, with how easily the Concorde pilots adapt to the fantastic events they’ve witnessed, with their insistence on joking about it even when faced with scepticism from their superiors really pushing it.
Tegan gets wistful while wandering the terminal (Terminal 3 was new then, right?) but it’s a huge shock when the Doctor and Nyssa just take of without her without warning.

This is an odd story. For the first time in ages it’s obviously been written and performed as though purely a kids’ show- see the bloke playing the captain of the second Concorde- not a bad performance but one clearly tailored for a kids’ show. It’s a throwaway load of nonsense, of course, more like T-Bag or Emu’s Pink Windmill than Doctor Who, but actually on those terms it’s sort of ok. 2/5.

As for Season 19, at 3.429/5 it rather surprisingly ties exactly with its predecessor. But neither season has exactly scored well. This comes as a genuine surprise to me- I thought I actually liked this season quite a lot!

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