Time-Flight was the seventh and final story of season 19 of Doctor Who.
For those interested in viewing statistics, it’s a highly significant story, because different surveys of audience reaction have produced widely varying results. The most statistically valid of these measures — the actual television ratings — show that episode one was the most successful episode in John Nathan-Turner’s entire producership. The 26th-most-watched episode of British television in the week of initial transmission, it was the only time he cracked the top 30. However, the story also shed about two million viewers from beginning to end.
Fan opinion — which, of course, is never the subject of truly valid statistical investigation — has changed dramatically over the years. Those who responded to DWM 69’s season 19 poll held it in reasonably high regard, placing it as the fourth-best serial of the year, ahead of Castrovalva, Four to Doomsday and Kinda. Decades later, those fans responding to DWM 413’s “Mighty 200” poll in 2009 cited it as the 196th of the 200 stories that were then produced. Similarly, fan response to the “first 50 years” poll in DWM 474 in 2014 cited it as the 237th out of the 241 stories up to that point in time. A part of the explanation for this massive shift in negative momentum may be that fan leaders such as Paul Cornell and David J. Howe savaged the story in references works like The Discontinuity Guide and The Television Companion, whose influence multiplied when BBC1, and later BBC Online, incorporated those opinions into the official Doctor Who website. Thus people skimming the official site in the 2000s and 2010s could well believe that opinion of the BBC runs along the lines of, “Somebody, somewhere should have thrown this script in the bin the moment it had Concorde crash landing in Jurassic England…”
Narratively, the story contained what appeared, at the time of transmission, to be the final appearances of both Adric and Tegan. Tegan was left behind at Heathrow Airport at the conclusion of the episode. This appeared to end her story, since many stories that year had begun with a gag about trying to get her back to Heathrow, though she would later return.
On a regular flight from New York to London, a Concorde designated Golf Victor Foxtrot (GVF) is nearing Heathrow Airport when its signal breaks up. All trace of the aircraft is lost — the Concorde has disappeared. Arriving at Heathrow shortly afterward, still grieving for Adric, the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are enlisted by Department C19 to help in the investigation of the missing craft.
The trio board a similar Concorde, Golf Alpha Charlie, and follow the same flight path to try to discover the cause of the disappearing Concorde. The TARDIS is stowed on board. Stapley, the Concorde’s captain, and his senior crew welcome them aboard. The Doctor finds traces of disturbance. Although they arrive safely at Heathrow, they find they have traveled a hundred forty million years into the past.
The crew believe they have landed in modern Heathrow. The Doctor and Nyssa urge them to challenge this perception and realise the reality of the empty landscape. It is distorted by huge amounts of psychokinetic energy. They spy Victor-Foxtrot on the empty plain. Beyond it is an impressive citadel in the far distance and the remains of an alien spacecraft.
The Doctor and his friends find the crew and passengers of the first Concorde. They are moving his TARDIS toward the Citadel on the instructions of an alien entity. Everyone is totally immersed in the illusion of a modern Heathrow – all, that is, save one passenger, Professor Hayter. He has resisted the illusion. Andrew Bilton and Roger Scobie, Stapley’s flight crew, succumb to the illusion. They head for the Citadel with the TARDIS and the other confused passengers. Their progress is marshaled by the Plasmatons – blobs of protein from the atmosphere, assembled from random particles that are held together by the same kinetic energy.
The force in charge of this strange domain is Kalid. He seems to be an oriental mystic. He uses a glowing green globe to control psychokinetic energy and shape the prehistoric landscape of Earth.
Nyssa has a particular empathy with this energy. She starts getting visions and hearing voices. They are unwelcome to Kalid. He tries to cut her off from the others with a protoplasmic shield. Tegan stays with Nyssa while the Doctor ventures on to the Citadel with Hayter and Stapley. There they find the crew of Victor-Foxtrot, blindly trying to remove the walls of a sealed chamber.
Stapley and Hayter try to free the others from the mental illusion. The Doctor heads to the Citadel and meets Kalid. The green-tinged magician has evidently brought a slave force to prehistoric Earth. He taps into the psychokinetic powers of the place and uses the energies to menace Hayter, Stapley and the others to try to secure the Doctor’s cooperation in entering his TARDIS.
This exertion has broken Kalid’s mental hold over the plasmatons around Nyssa. They disperse. Nyssa and Tegan follow the former’s instincts and proceed through the Citadel. Along their way, they come across Adric, previously believed to have been killed when the interstellar freighter he was trapped on crashed into Cretaceous Earth. Adric warns that he will die again if Nyssa and Tegan continue onward, and urges them to retreat. However, Nyssa outs Adric as a mere apparition upon noticing his star-shaped badge, which the Doctor destroyed when he lethally grinded it into the late Cyber-Leader’s ventilation unit aboard the TARDIS. Knowing this, they press on, causing “Adric” to dissipate. Continuing on, they encounter apparitions of the Melkur (who was destroyed on Traken) and the disfigured Terileptil (who was burned to death in 17th-Century London); Nyssa and Tegan respectively denounce the villains’ existence and continue. Eventually, they enter a chamber in the Citadel that has been closed to Kalid and the mentally deluded passengers. Nyssa throws an artifact into the center of a tank-like structure in the center of the sealed room. The results are immense. Kalid’s mental channeling is interrupted and he collapses in agony. His disguise falls away to reveal the Master.
The Master is trapped in this time zone. He is looking for a way out and needs a new source of power for his TARDIS. The power in the closed chamber could be it, but the passengers are taking too long to get to it. He forces the Doctor to give him the key to the TARDIS and steals the craft to try to enter the chamber another way. The Doctor and Hayter rush to the chamber to reach it first. As they do, the Concorde passengers finally break through the wall.
Inside, the Doctor and Hayter are reunited with Nyssa and Tegan. The sarcophagus at its center holds a being of immense power. However, it has a split personality . It has let itself be used by the Master and Nyssa. Nearby are small shrunken bodies. The Doctor identifies them as the Xeraphin, a race of ancient beings believed destroyed during the Vardon-Kosnax War.
Instead, the entire race seems to have transformed itself into a single gestalt intelligence in the tank. It has phenomenal psychic abilities. Hayter sacrifices himself to the creature to let it communicate. He is absorbed into the entity.
The Xeraphin manifest as Anithon. It explains the entity came to Earth to escape the war. It came in the crashed spaceship on the plains. The Xeraphin were so harmed by radiation that they shed their bodies and became a single entity. The Xeraphin built the Citadel and planned to re-emerge from the sarcophagus once the radiation danger was over. The Master’s arrival disturbed the balance. The gestalt has developed a split personality of good and evil. Each side competes for their tremendous power, but yearns to become a proper species once again.
The Doctor has left the coordinate override switched on, and Captain Stapley has performed sabotage. The TARDIS won’t take the Master into the central chamber. His next gambit is to build an induction loop to remotely access the sarcophagus and exert his will over it. The bad Xeraphin responds. Within moments the sarcophagus is in the Master’s TARDIS, a new power source.
The Master tries to flee in his ship, with those passengers still deluded with him as slaves. He leaves the Doctor and his friends stranded. However, due to the sabotage by the Captain, the Master cannot leave prehistoric Earth. After some chaffering over missing parts, the Doctor has all the passengers released and some parts taken from his own TARDIS. In return, the Master gets a new temporal limiter.
Everyone leaves prehistoric Earth. The second Concorde is made serviceable. It carries Stapley, his crew and the passengers from the other Concorde to Heathrow. The Doctor reverses the track of the time contour and brings the plane back to Heathrow with his TARDIS. The Doctor programmed the temporal limiter he gave the Master to arrive after he did. When the Master tries to land, the Doctor’s TARDIS is already in the spot. He bounces the Master’s TARDIS away. The evil Time Lord is sent to modern-day Xeriphas, where the Doctor hopes the Xeraphin will exact their revenge.
In a rush to leave, the Doctor and Nyssa head off in his TARDIS. They assume that now Tegan is back in her beloved Heathrow she will be happy to stay. Her sorrow as she sees the TARDIS de-materialize tells a different story.