Doctor Who - Time-Flight by Peter Grimwade
Published: April 1983
Edition read: Target second reprint, 1984
Coolest Cover: That famous fan artist, B.B.C. Publicity-Photograph
The BBC Budget Wouldn’t Run To: Doing all the exteriors on location. They’re so much better on film in your head.
The TARDIS materialises and dematerialises... Without a single sound.
Childhood Recollections: This may be the first time I’ve read the book from end to end.
Ramblings: The original ‘Time-Flight’ was perhaps one of the supreme examples of writing to order in the history of Doctor Who- rather like some of the adventures of the 1960s and 1970s which were written around military assistance, the televised story was notoriously written to fit the availability of Concorde for publicity purposes. Suffering also from a certain end-of-season-ness, the story therefore doesn’t have the most glittering of reputations, not least because of the increasing trend of using Anthony Ainley’s Master as a villain when the writer couldn’t think of an original character. In the hands of its original script-writer, then, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the story to have a little more of the love and attention not afforded it on screen. Not only that, but not (as far as I know) having seen the original story since 1983, at least not properly, I found myself in the interesting position of coming to the book fairly fresh.
For a book published roughly a year after the original serial’s television transmission, Doctor Who - Time-Flight is, as one would expect from Peter Grimwade, firmly grounded in the ongoing saga of Seasons 18 and 19, with references back as far as ‘Full Circle’ and no attempt to hide the continuing backstory- the references to Adric, the Melkur and the Master’s history with both Nyssa and Tegan are amplified so we know where we’re up to, but not obtrusively so. The book also extrapolates some of the scripts’ more interesting themes- the duality of the Xeraphin could still be better developed, but Professor Hayter’s character does come across as genuinely interesting- an academic who isn’t entirely sceptical but still narrow-minded, his responses are unpredictable and make a difference from the Doctor waffling on about the border between psychic and scientific phenomena. There are also a few sly digs at the Concorde passengers and their value to society which probably wouldn’t have gone down too well with British Airways at the time. Nyssa’s possession is suitably unnerving, although if anything one of the problems with the story is that it almost tries to "do" psychic phenomena in a Doctor Who setting, backs off because it’s one element too many but doesn’t replace it with anything quite as interesting.
Rather than the execution, then, the weaknesses of the book are based around the pacing of the plot (next to nothing happens for the first half of the story) and a rather odd balance between clutching at ideas on the one hand and a very simple story concept on the other. As a book, it’s nowhere near as bad as the reputation of the televised story would have it, but while it seems at times to strive for the ideas-fuelled Who of the previous season, it doesn’t quite have the conviction to get there.