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Beyond the Sofa

Led Xeraphin

It's 1982! Maggie Thatcher is in the House and in a few short months a minor squabble in some little-known islands off the coast of Argentina will escalate into actual war. Meanwhile, the western world is entranced by the seductive sounds of Scots songbird Sheena Easton. Her baby took the morning train, but for Peter Adamson and Alistair Hughes it's a fateful trip on Concorde to Jurassic England.

Time-Flight

Part One

We open with a lone Heathrow air traffic controller guiding the approach of some British Airways Concorde promotional footage, Speedbird Concorde 192 Golf Victor Foxtrot for the purposes of this story. The rising volume soundtrack signals the approach of ‘something eerie...’ The Concorde promptly disappears.

A: Ooh — look at that! The clouds didn't change!

In fact, in the serial's most subtle and perhaps successful special effect, the BA footage of Concorde has been replaced with some BBC miniature footage of a Concorde model superimposed against an empty sky, and then faded out. For once, the shakiness of the model against the sky footage actually works in the effect's favour — making it look as if it was filmed from another aircraft in exactly the same way as the BA footage was shot — and we are completely taken in by it!

In the TARDIS console room, the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are grieving Adric's sudden demise from the end of the previous story. The Doctor then decides to take them all to London ...and Adric is speedily forgotten.

P: “Oh what a brilliant idea! The last time the four of us were there you only burned the bloody place down!”

A: I swear, you should write all of Janet Fielding's dialogue!

P: Actually what he could have done was take them to the British Museum of Natural History. That'd cheer them up. The section that contains all the extinct and stuffed animals is called the Waterhouse Way.

Back at Heathrow, the air traffic controller (who uncannily resembles a certain script editor of the time) notices the TARDIS on his scope — “Look at this!”

A: “Yes, Eric?”

P: “My scope's making that ‘Wok-wok-wokking’ sound again...”

The TARDIS materialises very unconvincingly above the Airport runway.

A: This is getting naff, already!

Tegan: “We could be in the path of an on-“

A: The Parthenon?

“- coming aircraft!!”

The Doctor dives beneath the console, explaining that he's about to activate an anti-collision device.

P: It's called ‘Ducking’.

The TARDIS materialises in the Terminal Building, and the Doctor advises the Airport security to contact UNIT to confirm his credentials.

A: All this mention of UNIT apparently had fans of the day sitting bolt upright in eager anticipation...

P: Whereas now it'd have them howling in derision. How times change.

Cut to a very small board room, where the airport director had discovered that he's obliged to brief the Doctor on the disappearance of Victor Foxtrot.

A: Who is this Victor Foxtrot guy, anyway?

The director is played by one of those actors who just doesn't seem to know where to put his hands or what to do with them, and he fidgets, wrings and clenches his way through all his scenes.

It's rapidly decided that the Doctor should be taken up on another Concorde, expendable as they are, to discover what has happened to Mr. Foxtrot. Will this aircraft also vanish, we wonder?

Exterior shot of Concorde on a snowy runway. Unfortunately, awful jangly music accompanies this lovely scene.

A: Arghh — I really hate the incidental music of this period!

P: But the snow's nice....

The second Concorde, Golf Alpha Charlie, is cleared for take-off.

P: This has all the excitement of a real airport!

A: Eric's back at his scope — is he the only Air Traffic controller?

P: You'd think that Heathrow would be able to splash out on a few more of them...

A: Well, there only seems to be one scope — this is hardly Pushing Tin, is it?

P: And do you really think they'd put him straight back on duty after losing a Concorde?

Golf Alpha Charlie takes off and soon we are treated to the infamous ‘Doctor entering the TARDIS while on its side in the cargo hold’ scene. Inside, he appears to enter the console room sliding along the floor, then presses a switch to tilt it 90 degrees. Tegan and Nyssa then walk in normally.

A: So how did they get in?

P: They just sort of lay flat and ‘belly flopped’ their way in...

A: Pity we weren't outside to see it!

Fortunately for the plot, the Concorde promptly disappears!

A: “This is Golf Alpha Charlie to Control. Permission to disappear from your radar screen?”

Everything appears normal as our heroes alight their aircraft after landing back at Heathrow, but Nyssa feels uneasy and screams at the sudden appearance of some rotting corpses...

P: It's the viewing audience!

We note that the actors are now CSO-ed against a still picture of the snowy runway

P: This is very clever you know, you can't see their footprints in the snow...

A: ...Because it's an illusion!

The illusion promptly disappears, leaving the cast in dishevelled, continuity-busting positions.

P: “Oooh — I wasn't standing up at all, I was sitting down, and you were lying down...”

With a conveniently placed ‘Concorde wheel’ next to them, the Doctor tells everyone that they've landed 40,000,000 years ago — “Definitely Jurassic — not far off the Pleistocene era“ The air crew enquire as to how they managed to land on the bumpy prehistoric heath...

P: On wheels!

A: (noticing distinctly diminutive prop wheel) But shouldn't they be bigger?

Nyssa notices the other Concorde, ‘in the distance’.

P: It's actually a small model of the other Concorde

A: The Master must have shrunk it — oops, have I given something away..?

Meanwhile in another set, Kalid, the obese Eastern conjurer and amateur vocalist, appears and chants melodically, but nonsensically over his crystal ball.

P: Apparently he mentions Chaka Demus and Pliers, it says in The Discontinuity Guide. I can't find it, but then I can't remember the name of their one hit single either.

Suddenly Peter realises what Kalid's voice really reminds him of...

P: (in best, It Ain't 'Arf Hot Mum voice) “You rahddeee fooool!”

Some of the crew from Victor Foxtrot is spotted — and then the Plasmatons appear!

A: Oooh — this is pretty bad...

P: They're kind of reminiscent of the Wilberforces in Under the Mountain. Now I'm showing my age...

P: There's a good deal of standing around yakking — why hasn't someone thought to climb up that rock and get their bearings?

Suddenly and without warning, the plot moves along. Captain Stapley issues a warning: “Doctor — behind you!”

P: Oh great, as if this wasn't pantomime enough...

There is nothing behind the Doctor, but he turns around anyway. Finally the Plasmatons reappear — and the Doctor is engulfed in foam!

Part Two

Professor Hayter, (Nigel Stock) one of the passengers from the first Concorde, has seemingly resisted Kalid's hypnosis.

A: This character attacks the Doctor's credibility throughout this story, doesn't he? I think he's a better actor than the rest of the guest cast — certainly the most experienced, anyway. He played Doctor Watson all the time.

Captain Stapley enthusiastically credits the Doctor for them having found Hayter.

A: He's a big fan of the Doctor, isn't he?

Meanwhile, back in the Citadel, ‘Kalid’ dances around the Doctor's captured TARDIS gleefully.

P: Ainley really seems to be enjoying himself, doesn't he? At least someone is. Everyone else just seems so po-faced among the regulars. The guest stars... phew!

They begin to set off for the Citadel, when Nyssa appears to suffer a sudden asthma attack Nyssa (croaking and gasping) Doctor... I can't... I can't...

P: Act?

Nyssa has become a Medium for the Xeraphin. NyssA: “We are... we are...”

A: “Fam-i-lee...”

Before she can finish her message, the Plasmatons reappear and foam Nyssa again.

P: She's been gobbed-on from a great height!

A: Fandom vents its rage!

The Doctor places his hand on Tegan's shoulder, and convinces her that it's safe to leave Nyssa.

A: He's a very tactile Doctor, isn't he?

They arrive safely at the Citadel...

Doctor: “Those ‘guards’ as you saw them are fully occupied with Nyssa.”

P: fnar fnar!

...to discover the hypnotised Air crew members and passengers from Victor Foxtrot toiling lackadaisically away at a wall. Its a desperate situation, comparable only to flying with Alitalia.

The Doctor explores the Citadel, tossing a coin to determine in which direction he should head. He fudges the result to get the way he wanted to go anyway.

P: Oh nice one! That's a reassuringly Doctor-ish moment there!

He finds Kalid's lair, and is confronted by the rotund conjuror who strikes an unflattering profile.

A: Who ate all the pies??

The scene is involving, with Davison's thus far oddly agitated and uncomfortable performance seeming to settle down at last, and becoming more ‘Doctor-ish’.

The Doctor doesn't appear to be taken in immediately with Kalid's talk of magic and Arabia, which makes for a neat parallel in Hayter not believing his scientific explanations.

P: Kalid really throws a bone to the Doctor here when he speaks of being spirited away by ‘Cherubim’. The natural association with Cherubim is Seraphim. From there you've virtually got the name of the aliens of the story.

A: The serial was originally called Xeraphin wasn't it — an even better give-away!

He asks Kalid why he doesn't just use the Plasmatons for the labouring (which would have saved all that faffing around with time contours and Concordes, after all, and possibly given us a more logical story). It's a jolly good question.

A: Well, clearly they don't have any arms, for a start!

P: They really are hopeless, aren't they? I'd sooner see a gaggle of Ergons helping him out. Same principle, surely. Even so, why didn't he think to abduct some of the passengers from Economy? Then at least he'd have had a chance at getting tradesmen.

The Doctor comes up with the best line so far... “I've always found domination a most unattractive prospect.”

To try and stop Tegan and Nyssa proceeding to the heart of the Citadel, Kalid has conjured up an image of... Adric!

P&A: Nooooooooo!

A: (shamelessly plugging his Myth article) You see, in terms of mythology, he's what you would call a ‘Threshold Guardian’

P: Like Jamie and Zoe, and Mike and Liz in The Five Doctors?

A: Exactly like that.

P: The first half of this story has that sort of quest feel to it, doesn't it? It's very reminiscent of the latter story what with its blasted heath, dead bodies, phantoms and ‘dark tower’. Still, if we can get through this without seeing a yellow brick road I'll be happy.

More Threshold Guardians follow, as Kalid summons an image of the Melkur. Nyssa dismisses it and it fades away.

A: No, come back! You're the best thing in this story!

The Terileptil Leader appears, and Tegan tells the apparition that it isn't real...

P: “You're a man in a suit!“

Tegan and Nyssa penetrate the sanctum, and Peter notes a distinct fried egg motif in the design of the sarcophagus. It's an odd choice, but to its credit it's not a derivative coffin-shaped stone box.

Meanwhile, ‘snaggly-toothed’ Kalid is frustrated. No one, not even he, has managed to penetrate the sanctum. Kalid conjures up the two-headed beast from the More than Thirty Years in TARDIS end credits.

A: When I first saw a photograph of the effects technician, covered from head to foot in a blue body suit and hood (to be CSO-ed out of the final shot) holding the ‘beast’ puppet aloft, I assumed that it was supposed to be some featureless alien brandishing the creature as an organic weapon. A twin-barrel flame-thrower, maybe...

It's not to be however, and we instead get what looks to be a blind, two-headed hot water bottle floating in front of the startled heroes.

A: RAAAA!

P: The tail should move more!

Tegan and Nyssa destroy the Nucleus fried egg sculpture, causing the two-headed dragon to disappear in a swirly Quantel effect.

A: A good effects shot at last — they should have kept that effect around the creature for the whole sequence!

These dramatic events have caused Peter to become all wistful about the setting of the story.

P: What if this hadn't been set in Jurassic times? What if they'd just been projected back to say, the 1940s? What if the Master had decided for once that humanoids were naff and went all out and disguised himself as a horse instead? I have so many questions...

A: I think you need to bear in mind that according to ‘the plot’, the Master needs human slave labour to break into the sanctum. A scarcity in Jurassic times, but not in the 1940s...

P: A velociraptor would make short work of all that papier mache and MDF.

A: What wouldn't?

Meanwhile, on screen, a notoriously awful (or awfully notorious, take your pick) plot twist has taken place. After suffering a sudden and terminally runny nose, the Master appears from beneath Kalid's circus tent robes, sniggering with what in hindsight might be extreme embarrassment. Undaunted, we join in his mirth with some enthusiastically OTT cackling of our own, as the credits roll.

P: Ewwww. It's just as well he did his laughing after he had that snotty nose, otherwise he might have blown a bubble, and then he'd've lost the moment.

Part Three

P: It was the Master all along!

A: This is hard going, isn't it? Ainley must have thought so, anyway. Apparently he nearly choked on all that mucus in Kalid's ‘death scene’, so I bet he starts this episode in a really bad mood.

Actually, the reason for the Master disguising himself in the first place has been a bone of contention since this story was first screened. There seem to be two main theories. Apparently Peter Grimwade explains in his novelisation that Kalid was a ‘Plasmaton shell’ which the Master cocooned himself in to better channel and use the Xeraphin energy. However the Xeraphin energy also uses him to achieve its ends (in some strange symbiotic way), creating a ‘prosthetic personality’. This is meant to explain why the Master is still behaving as Kalid even when no-one else is around. The other theory (as expounded in The Discontinuity Guide) is that Kalid was simply a real person, somehow ‘taken over’ by the Master, to exploit his knowledge of the Xeraphin. This version does tend to create more questions, however, such as, “OK, so who was Kalid?”

Doctor: “So... you escaped from Castrovalva.”

P: Oh brilliant. This as an explanation, after nearly half an episode telling us what a Plasmaton is.

Now that he realises he's dealing with the Master, rather than just an Oriental Zeppelin with shocking dental hygiene, the Doctor surrenders the TARDIS key to protect his friends. The Master wants to penetrate the sanctum, or something, and his departure in the TARDIS seems to finally shock Hayter out of his persistent scepticism.

The Doctor and Hayter proceed to the outside of the sanctum and converse with some of the passengers. They find that the passengers have been released from hypnosis and amusingly, take turns at trying to lead each other into having to explain the situation to the dazed crowd. We don't blame them. After some deliberation Hayter agrees to help the Doctor rescue Tegan and Nyssa, and they send them straight back to labouring on the wall anyway, so that the Doctor and Hayter can get inside.

Hayter: “It'll be the first honest day's work some of them will have done in their lives!”

P: You know I'm liking Professor Hayter more and more!

A: Make him a companion!

P: Poor old Tegan and Professor Hayter. For a TARDIS resident and a self confessed ‘man of science’ they've been left with nothing to do here.

A: As an airline employee you'd think that a story like this would actually centre on Tegan and play to her strengths. Sadly, it seems that exactly the opposite is happening, with Tegan in the background more than ever.

The Xeraphin try to absorb Nyssa, in their efforts to take on a true form, but Hayter offers himself instead, dying in a blaze of Quantel. The TARDIS crew then discovers that the newly re-hypnotised passengers outside have promptly walled them back up again.

A: They really should install a door-stopper in that place.

The good Xeraphin, looking like a silvered Mr Punch, materialises and explains that the Master's interference has caused the Xeraphin to split into two opposing camps, the goodies and the baddies, basically. A bad Xeraphin materialises and the two of them argue over who's right, There's some worrying explanation by the Doctor of ‘the black and white Xeraphin’.

P: Now there's an awful prospect: ‘The Black and White Xeraphin Show’.

A: And we're watching the ‘Zero Fun’ show.

Finally, unseen, the Master whips the fried egg nucleus away from under everyone's feet, transferring it to his TARDIS. Our heroes are trapped within the now empty sanctum. “The Master has finally defeated me,” mumbles a stunned Doctor.

A: This story has just about defeated me.

Part Four

P: There's an awful lot of expository dialogue in this isn't there?

The Xeraphin have disappeared and the Master is forcing a long line of passengers into his TARDIS at TCE point. The over-all effect is a little ridiculous, being the obligatory split-screen affair.

A: I hate to say it, but it makes you wonder why we watch Doctor Who!

Manifested by the powers of the ‘good’ Xeraphin, Professor Hayter reappears as a phantom causing Peter to speculate that ‘Harlequin Miniatures’ will have a hell of a time trying to make their Professors Chronotis and Hayter figurines look different from one another. Al desperately casts around for something complimentary to say about this rapidly worsening production and settles on the set.

A: Imaginative angles...

P: Yes. At least they didn't paint everything green or grey.

A: Actually, an awful of a lot more went into this set than you'd assume by its appearance. The designer decided that he didn't want to have to cut away to an obvious ‘table top’ model shot of the Citadel, but wanted the actors to appear in shot at the same time. So he actually incorporated the model into the physical set — suspending it and going to great lengths to ensure that the perspective matched up. There's also a glass shot utilised to extend the apparent size of the set, and finally the stage had to serve as a background for the miniature Concordes, as well.

P: This is all well and good, but did anyone think to tell the director? I've seen photos of the set, and frankly they almost make me weep. All that space wasted with minimal camera movement, few angles, grouping the actors together in huddles so tight that they may as well be back at Pebble Mill studios. Climbing that rock would at least be a nod to some sort of realism, and it would break the group up a bit.

A: Agreed. I'd make the cast eat garlic — that would encourage them to stand apart a little more.

Another shot with that strangely under-sized prop Concorde wheel snaps us out of our serious contemplation, however. The Doctor asks the captain if the aircraft is all right.

P: “Well, there's only one problem — we need the rest of the plane.”

A: “But we've checked this landing gear!”

Some even more tangled plot convolutions occur as the Master's TARDIS then materialises around Victor Foxtrot, taking on its appearance.

While the Doctor negotiates with the Master, Tegan appears to be having a very bad hair day — no wonder she cut it short for the following season!

A: This is the new Master's first appearance since his original ‘trilogy’ and already he's lost so much... status.

We are distracted by the passengers dreadful attire.

P: “Well, I might not believe I'm in Jurassic times, but my clothing certainly does.”

A: Look at that, it's a knitted Caftan!!!

P: And a whole lot of Open University Professors — if their wardrobe is anything to go by... “I say, could someone do something about my flares?”

Back to the Doctor/Master stand-off.

A: Why doesn't the Doctor just ‘Duff him up’? What kind of hero is he, anyway?

P: He doesn't want to get his cricket whites... un-whited!

A: So why don't the dozen odd passengers overpower the Master? The Castrovalvans did!

P: But they were imaginary. This lot are sadly all too real.

A: And British...

P: So it wouldn't be at all sporting!

The Doctor hands the vital component back to the Master, and then steps meekly back.

A: If this were ‘Pertles’ and Delgado — they'd have been grappling dramatically, by now!

P: If it were a Colin story some war-addled mercenary would burst in and shoot the Master in a self destructive display of machismo. The Doctor would look on. Which brings us rather neatly back to this story.

The Master sniggers as he triumphantly farewells the Doctor. We join in again.

P: He's funny, isn't he? I bet he breaks the ice at parties...

Tegan is inflating a Concorde tyre, which appears to be the same size as a Vauxhall Viva wheel. Having performed this demanding task, she then fulfils her hostess role, and ushers the tragically dressed passengers aboard. The aircraft engine sound rises steadily...

P: The scream of the engines is nothing compared to the sound of this brash Australian...

The infamous Concorde take-off scene ensues.

A: Are you ready for this...

P: Bird-strike!

We laugh at the scared little bird hurriedly crossing Concorde's path in the stock footage insert, but cry at the shot of the plane overflying the Citadel.

P: Why didn't they just animate that instead of using stock footage?

However, in the story's defence, Kenneth Branagh has since walked with the dinosaurs and found that birds did actually co-exist with them in the Jurassic period. Still, what I'd've given to see a pteranodon on that rock on the heath. K-klakk!

A: I'd pay good money to see a frightened Kenneth Branagh hurriedly crossing Concorde's path! Still, how can this be so bad? It's Season Nineteen, and it might as well be Season One!

A merciful cut to an interior cockpit shot, featuring the Doctor programming the flight computer sends us off on another of our characteristic favourite Doctor asides

P: (sarcastically) Now, if Pertwee were to programme the flight computer, he would have done it just like (snaps fingers) that!

A: Yes, and Colin wouldn't have fitted into the cockpit!

P: HAI!!!!!

Back at Heathrow, Eric picks up Golf Alpha Charlie on his radar screen. He looks a little jaded.

P: “Yawn... I've been awake for the entire 4 episodes“

Concorde lands and our heroes disembark. Al is seriously distracted by something, however...

A: (rewinding) Sorry to be so sad about this — but have a look at that!

In a serial already notorious for its shoddiness, a whole sequence seems to have been filmed with a hair stuck across the camera lens. We could be wrong though.

Tegan is happy to be back, and claims that flying is a fun way to travel.

P: More fun than this story.

“But it's not exactly dull travelling with the Doctor,“ she adds. After this particular set of episodes, we beg to differ....

The Master's TARDIS appears unconvincingly above the runway

A: So this is the climax of the story?

P: But he's still got the nucleus...

And then suddenly disappears, the nucleus having been reprogrammed to send him back to Xeriphas, or something. “Knocked back into space-time like a straight six down the pavilion,“ smirks the Doctor, never missing an opportunity to labour his ‘cricketing motif’ in his first season.

P: Who'd have guessed at this stage that such an action would inadvertently provide the TARDIS with a new companion? As the Master supposedly finds Kamelion back on Xeriphas...

The story does have a ‘sting in it's tail’, which features one of Janet Fielding's best acted scenes. But we'll leave this is a surprise to anyone who doesn't already know...

Oh all right. She gets left behind while the Doctor and Nyssa go off to have a slew of Big Finish audio adventures.

Summary

Al: A common criticism of Time-Flight is that ‘it tried to do too much’. “Peter Grimwade will write an excellent feature film script one day“ wrote DWM, or words to that effect, and then went on to commiserate over the difficulties of convincingly portraying prehistoric citadels and heath-bound Concordes. I can't agree with that sentiment — I really didn't care that these effects might have been less than successful, but what I really do care about is a story which engages my attention, with plot development which I enjoying following and meaningful use of the characters whom I like to watch.

As viewers we really couldn't really be expected to let the BBC's coup of extensive access to Concorde and the reappearance of the Master overshadow our need for an interesting story — what was the Production team thinking?

Thankfully, there is fun to be had, if you're in the right mood. Kalid is a ‘hoot’ (so much so that he almost makes the Master's unveiling an anti-climax) and certain scenes like the eerie disappearance of the first Concorde, Nyssa and Tegan's personal ‘Rogue's Gallery’ and the concept of an entire race becoming a single entity do make this serial notable. This is a story to be digested whilst in a good mood, with a minimum of expectations and a large serving of goodwill.

Pete: I recall, though somewhat dimly, that around the time Time-Flight screened in New Zealand I bought my first ever DWM. The comic strip inside was 4-D Vistas a Fifth Doctor story featuring a British Airways plane in distress in the Vortex, and a renegade Time Lord (this time the Monk, assisted by the Ice Warriors!) behind it all. At the time my young mind associated the television story with the comic strip, and upon reflection I think this is where Time-Flight would have worked better with its effects — in comic strip form. This is of course when the series itself was beginning to resemble a super hero comic more and more, with the regulars wearing consistent ‘uniforms’ and recurring villains coming out of the woodwork, heh-heh-heh-ing diabolically. As a television serial however, it has serious problems. There are those you mention above, plus too many scenes where the Doctor or Nyssa helpfully explain the plot along to everyone around them, rather than anyone actually ‘doing’ anything. And I just can't see why, after having just dropped a companion to seemingly help the TARDIS crew dynamics, the next episode has the survivors surrounded by babbling Concorde pilots and gormless passengers. Time-Flight has some good ideas at its heart, but as said elsewhere, the necessity for having the Master in it has weakened them, and the production just seems to be too trapped by its own jolly British Airways antics to concentrate on the story within. At the end of the show we know nothing more about the Xeraphin than we did halfway through. It's just a bit... smug for me I think.

I really liked Professor Hayter though!

This item appeared in TSV 61 (December 2000).

Index nodes: Beyond the Sofa, Time-Flight