14 Jul 2003The Faceless Ones, by Paul Clarke
01 Mar 2005The Faceless Ones, by Shane Anderson
15 Dec 2006The Faceless Ones, by Eddy Wolverson
15 Dec 2006The Faceless Ones, by Finn Clark

‘The Faceless Ones’ is a rather strange story. It is significant for being only the second story set on contemporary Earth thus far in the series, and of course heralds the departure of Ben and Polly. On the other hand, it is oddly forgettable and feels very padded, especially during the first three episodes. This “body snatcher” plot is hardly original, but the Chameleons are a novel threat in that rather than wanting to invade, they are driven by the need to survive by stealing the identities of humans. Their plan is also fairly plausible, although Chameleon Tours cannot have been long established prior to the start of this story or surely more relatives than Samantha would have started to make inquiries; nevertheless, it is suitably engaging and makes good use of the airport setting. As villains the Chameleon’s are reasonably effective, especially Donald Pickering (previously Eyesen in ‘The Keys of Marinus’) as the icy Captain Blade. Unfortunately, they are also rather incompetent in certain aspects, especially Spencer, who fails to kill the Doctor a few times and seems to rather hastily come to the decision that he is unbeatable. This is the problem with ‘The Faceless Ones’ – the script seems to genuinely be trying to impress on the viewer just how intelligent the Chameleons are, with even the Doctor warning the Commandant of this, but they just come over as arrogant incompetents. The Director is perhaps the worst example of this, as he refuses to accept that the originals of Blade et al have been found on Earth, even when “Jenkins” dissolves in front of him, and his rather unnecessary stubbornness over this matter results in Blade shooting him. Frankly, he should have been smart enough to be expecting that… So the Chameleons never quite seem to be the threat that they are made out to be. On the other hand, their plight would deserve of some sympathy and indeed on one level the conclusion works very well, with the Doctor allowing them to leave peacefully as long as they return all their captives to Earth first. But the same groundless arrogance that makes them less impressive than they might be also robs them of any real sympathy, leaving a faint feeling at the end that they get away with mass kidnapping and several murders rather too easily. Ultimately, the Chameleons aren’t nasty enough to be really impressive memorable villains, but they are too nasty to be likeable. 

On the subject of the Chameleon’s over-inflated opinions of themselves, Spencer does one of the stupidest things ever seen in Doctor Who; having decided that the Doctor’s death is of paramount importance, he shuns the use of his lethal ray gun and instead leaves him, Jamie and Samantha in an overly complicated death-trap from which he can, and does, easily escape. I can’t listen to this scene now without thinking of Austin Powers, but the fact is that it is utterly ludicrous. Not only is the slowly moving heat-ray trap daft, but also as soon as Jamie has destroyed the weapon, their paralysis wears off. At least Spencer has the good grace not to seem surprised when he learns that the Doctor escaped. More importantly, this is the most blatant example of the padding that plagues ‘The Faceless Ones’. During the first three episodes, there are multiple escapes, captures and chases, before the plot really starts to progress, and whilst padding can be entertaining in itself if done properly, here it just makes the story drag. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that pseudo-companion Samantha Briggs and the bad-tempered airport Commandant are the only really good supporting characters. The scenes of the Doctor trying to convince the Commandant of his sincerity (and sanity) work rather well, and the Jamie and Samantha team-up is not without merit, but Crossland, who discovers that the Chameleon Tours passengers are apparently vanishing and thus provides the cliffhanger to episode three, is rather dull, and nobody else aside from Blade stands out either. 

And what of the regulars? Rather like Dodo, Ben and Polly get a poor send off; after doing very little during the first two episodes, they are abducted by the Chameleons and don’t reappear until the end, when they promptly leave. Unlike Dodo, they do at least get a rather nice leaving scene, which shows the genuine affection between themselves and the Doctor. They are clearly happy to be able to return home, but the fact that they are more casual about it than Ian and Barbara were suggests that they’ve enjoyed their time aboard the TARDIS a great deal. Nevertheless, it is an annoyingly low-key departure for these most underrated of companions. However, the result of this is that Jamie really gets to shine again and establishes himself as one of the best companions. As in ‘The Macra Terror’, his bravery comes to the fore; initially wary of the “flying beasties”, by the latter half of the story he’s sneaked onboard the Chameleon Tours aeroplane to try and find out what their missing passengers end up. His airsickness, and willingness to admit to it to “Crossland”, distinguishes between bravery and bravado however. One of the most impressive things about Jamie is that, for all that he is from a pre-technological era and constantly finds himself challenged by things he can’t comprehend, he is both intelligent and adaptable; he might not understand aeroplanes or ray guns, but he is quick to assess the dangers of whatever environment he finds himself in and copes easily with the increasingly bizarre or monstrous sights that he encounters whilst traveling with the Doctor. Having dealt with his confusion about having traveled to the moon during ‘The Moonbase’, he readily accepts space travel and maintains his calm once on board the Chameleon satellite, and he will continue to prove his resilience, dependability, and resourcefulness throughout his tenure in the series. One scene that also stands out in ‘The Faceless Ones’ is Jamie’s initial embarrassment when Samantha flirts with him; he later returns the favour by kissing her to distract her whilst he pinches her ticket, which is a nice touch. 

The Doctor is, as usual, on form here, with Troughton putting in a performance that manages to rise above the frequently lacklustre scripts. His intense intelligence in the last three episodes as he works out exactly what the Chameleons are doing and what his best chance of stopping them is, is impressive, and the final episode, as he buys time on board the Chameleon satellite, is the high point of the story; for all that the Director believes his intellect to be far greater than the Doctor’s, the Doctor’s almost palpable confidence in his plan, which of course hinges on the success of the airport staff and Samantha in finding the originals of Blade and the others on Earth, never lets the viewer doubt that he can easily defeat the Chameleons. As in ‘The Macra Terror’, he continues to exude confidence, albeit often disguised beneath his clowning, and again gives the impression that he is enjoying himself. The Doctor persuading the Chameleons to leave Earth is a pleasant change to the usual conclusion, which ultimately results in the death of the villains, although I can’t help wondering just how much his confidence that Blade will stick to his side of the bargain once he gets safely changed back into his raw state is justified. In fact I recall reading somewhere that Steve Lyons joked that the Chameleons probably waited for the Doctor to clear off and then started all over again at a different airport…

Overall, ‘The Faceless Ones’ is neither a classic nor a turkey, but merely an oddity, with forgettable villains, conspicuous padding, and a criminally understated departure for Ben and Polly, but which makes good use of both Jamie and the Doctor. Following on immediately after the superb ‘The Macra Terror’ probably makes it seem even less impressive, and it doesn’t help that, immediately following it, the very best is yet to come…

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My purchase of the “Lost in Time” collection has reignited my interest in the early Troughton Doctor Who episodes. The surviving episodes are often far better than a story summary or Target novelization might suggest, leaving me eager to find out how the rest of the story plays out. Since it’s unlikely that all the missing episodes will turn up in the next few months, I’ve begun buying the BBC radio releases, starting with a story with which I was totally unfamiliar prior to LIT: The Faceless Ones. I knew a few things about the story of course. Ben and Polly make their final appearance and it’s set in an airport. Beyond that most of the story was completely new to me, so I’ve particularly enjoyed being able to see the two existing episodes and hear the audio, narrated ably by Fraser Hines.

The story starts off at a fast pace, but slows down rather quickly once events are set up. The opening scenes with the TARDIS landing on a runway in the path of an approaching jet are great, as are the scenes of the Doctor and Jamie crouched behind the airplane tires. The use of location filming always helps create a better illusion of reality for Doctor Who, especially in a location like Gatwick Airport. I’ve never been there, but I’ve been to local airports and so relate instantly to the locale. I don’t know how much of the other episodes use location shots, but episode three and especially one benefit greatly from the visuals that the airport location provides, widening the scope beyond what is available with studio sets. The attempt to anchor the story in a recognizable contemporary setting is worthwhile and effective. I’d love to have seen rather than heard Jamie’s exploration of the airport concourse in episode two.

As far as the characters go, there are some good and not-so-good ones. It goes without saying that Troughton’s Doctor is brilliant as always. Troughton always brings so much energy and enthusiasm to the role that his performance alone makes some of the less interesting stories worth watching. Jamie gets a lot more to do with Ben and Polly out of action for two thirds of the story. This and Evil of the Daleks are stories where his character really starts to shine. His chivalry towards Samantha in taking her place on the airplane (the flying beasties!) is wonderful. 

Poor Ben and Polly get very little to do overall, though Polly is integral to episodes one and two, since her witnessing of the murder is what draws the TARDIS crew into the events. Ben might as well not even be in the story for all the impact he makes. It’s a shame, since he’s such a good character. The story does make good use of the loss of the companions though, because as events proceed it really does feel as if the Chameleons are taking out everyone one by one. Polly is kidnapped in episode one leaving only her Chameleon double; Ben is taken at the end of episode 2, and Jamie is captured after infiltrating the space station, leaving the Doctor to deal with events without his usual crew. If it wasn’t for the Chameleons’ continuing failure to kill the Doctor over and over again, the story would have far more of a feeling of events spiraling out of the Doctor’s ability to control.

The Commandant of the airport is an excellently written and portrayed character. No-nonsense and very down to earth, his refusal to believe the Doctor’s wild story is entirely believable. Only as he is confronted with more and more evidence does he finally come around to the Doctor’s side, and once he’s convinced of the facts, he acts with as much surety of himself as ever, despite the strange circumstances. The Commandant is really the hero of the final episode as much as the Doctor. As for Sam, I’m very happy that she did not remain on the show. She’s a strong enough character, but I found her very annoying. Victoria’s sweetness is far preferable to Sam’s blustering. Sam’s flirting with Jamie is fun though.

The story is solid enough. Alien abduction on a mass scale isn’t necessarily original, but perhaps it was more so back in 1967. The concept still works well within the Doctor Who formula. I can only imagine that the abduction of people can’t have been going on for very long though, or more people would have begun to be suspicious. The Chameleons are a varied lot as antagonists go. Blade is pretty good, but the Director mainly talks a good game and gets shot in the end. Spencer isn’t too bright at all. He makes mistake after mistake. His worst blunder is having the Doctor, Jamie and Sam at his mercy in episode four, and rather than shoot them he puts them in the position where a laser will cut them in two and then leaves. Of course they escape.

Ben and Polly’s departure is far too short. At least they get a good final scene, unlike Dodo. Ben and Polly are great traveling companions, and their departure seems abrupt, though entirely understandable. They have to be some of the few who actually get back at exactly the point they left, so who can blame them for remaining behind? The farewell to Jamie and the Doctor is heartfelt.

It still hardly feels as though I really know this story well. I’m grateful to fellow fans who did what I used to in the pre-VCR days and tape-recorded these episodes so we can at least listen to them. The linking narration helps, but there’s no understating just how important the visuals are, and how much they are missed. The telesnaps help, but it’s never quite the same. Despite that, I’ll be kicking back in my recliner and giving this story another listen soon I imagine. It’s a good story for the most part, and worth your time.

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“The Faceless Ones” is, in my opinion, one of the strongest stories of the Patrick Troughton era. Sadly, with four of the six episodes missing, this serial is one that is often overlooked by fandom. In the last few years, the release of the existing episodes commercially (initially as part of “The Reign of Terror” box set on VHS, and then more recently on the Lost in Time DVD) as well as the release of the complete story’s soundtrack from the BBC Radio Collection, has helped the story become more widely known. Even so, it still lacks the lofty profile that other ‘missing stories’ like “Marco Polo,” “The Evil of the Daleks” and the Yeti stories enjoy, despite “The Faceless Ones” being every bit as good.

Doing my usual trick of watching the existing episodes and then cobbling together a primitive telesnap reconstruction on the PC (using the soundtracks of the missing episodes narrated by Frazer Hines in conjunction with the telesnaps from the BBC website) I was able to get a good visual feel for the story - a story way ahead of its time in terms of visual effects. Judging by the telesnaps, the ‘switchblade’ Chameleon Tours plane looks superb, as do the RAF sequences. Moreover, right from the word go, “The Faceless Ones” is a captivating story, at every turn doing exactly what Doctor Who does best. I mean, what better start could you have than the TARDIS materialising on the runway of Gatwick Airport, right in the path of an incoming jet?

For me, the story of “The Faceless Ones” works beautifully on two fronts. First off, the ‘Doctor Who’ part of the plot is brilliant. Like a lot of the best stories, it borrows from a lot of classic horror movies. The Chameleons with their blank, inhuman faces are absolutely chilling in themselves, but combined with the fact that they steal people’s identities they are even more disturbing, as is the sheer scale of their plan – 50,000 abductions! As the story progresses though, the writers allow the Chameleons to win our sympathy somewhat; their entire race lost their identities and faces in a planetary disaster and are dying out. Hulke is particularly good at creating alien menaces that the audience can sympathise with, and even understand. Would we not do the same in their position? It’s a recurring theme in Hulke’s Doctor Who stories, but it isn’t one that ever gets old.

Of course, the Chameleons having stolen the identities of many airport personnel, this results in a textbook ‘who can we trust’ scenario, with the Doctor put in the familiar position of having to try and convince the powers that be of the Chameleon threat. This brings me to the second aspect of why I like this story so much – the characters. Malcolm Hulke has a knack for creating very real, very sympathetic characters, but along with co-writer David Ellis he excels himself here, creating not only very believable supporting characters but also very amusing ones. The script sparkles – the first few episodes in particular are electric; the scenes between the Doctor and the Commandant (brought to life wonderfully by Colin Gordon) had me in stitches. The second Doctor is always good at playing the fool and lulling his enemies into a false sense of security, but at times in “The Faceless Ones” the innocent look on his face as he takes the Commandant’s sarcasm perfectly literally is wonderful to watch; hilarious stuff. It’s also very rewarding to watch, as in the first episode the Commandant wants the Doctor locked up for being completely mad, and by the end of episode six he trusts him implicitly to save the world. Fantastic!

Another thing that really makes this serial stand above many of its contempories is its setting. I don’t know exactly how expensive this story was to make, but on screen it certainly looks like it had more than its fair share of the season’s budget. The extensive location shoot at Gatwick really gives the story a unique sense of atmosphere and even in the studio-bound indoor scenes, aircraft noises etc. have been added to the soundtrack to really hammer home the location. Moreover, in shifting the action to a space station in the last couple of episodes the story really sustains itself well. There aren’t many six-parters than manage to hold the viewers’ attention throughout, but this is one of them.

The only real criticism I have of “The Faceless Ones” is how the companions are handled. Any story where two companions go missing for nearly four episodes is almost bound to suffer, though in fairness due to both Michael Craze and Anneke Wills leaving the show having their absence in the middle of the story with a brief ‘goodbye’ cameo at the end is preferable to Dodo’s inauspicious exit in “The War Machines” – “oh Doctor, Dodo says bye” – and also Ben and Polly’s disappearance does give a sense of urgency to the Doctor and Jamie’s search. I just can’t work out how they got Polly’s hair back to normal after “The Macra Terror”…?

In the absence of Ben and Polly, Ellis and Hulke come up with a makeshift companion in Samantha Briggs (played by Pauline Collins, of “Tooth and Claw” fame), who from watching the serial looked like a dead-cert replacement for Ben and Polly. Sam is a feisty young scouse girl who takes a definite shine to Jamie. There’s a lovely chemistry between that I thought would bode well for future stories – they even have a quick snog as Jamie picks her pockets and steals her plane ticket! For some reason though, Sam lost out to Victoria (who is introduced in the next story) so we’ll never know what might have been. Instead, we have a quick, understated goodbye to Ben and Polly, and then the Doctor and Jamie are off in pursuit of the stolen TARDIS, leading us into possibly the most highly-regarded story of Doctor Who’s monochrome era…

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Rightly overlooked. The Faceless Ones has points of interest, but as with The War Machines most of its good qualities are in the execution rather than the story. Admittedly I quite enjoyed the two surviving episodes, but reading the scripts almost sent me to sleep. It's thin even by the standards of six-parters and doesn't realise the potential of its ideas.

One problem is its use of the companions. Innes Lloyd wanted rid of Ben and Polly, so had them written out after two episodes here even though Michael Craze and Anneke Wills were still contracted to get paid through to Evil of the Daleks. That I don't mind. The Doctor, Jamie and their latest bit of skirt is a better team than Troughton's four-man TARDIS crew, even though I like the characters. Evil of the Daleks is certainly better for not having to make room for Ben and Polly. Nevertheless it's odd to see them simply disappear, not to mention a wasted opportunity. Make them evil! Creep out the audience! That's the whole point of Invasion of the Body Snatchers stories. You can't trust anyone, even your friends. However here the Gatwick staff are impersonal and officious from the beginning, so it makes less difference to see them get turned into Chameleons.

Admittedly there's thematic mileage in this. The 1978 and 1993 remakes of the 1956 film of Invasion of the Body Snatchers both dropped the original's "cosy small-town America" for a more impersonal setting, where you might almost think you were surrounded by pod people to start with. In 1978 they went for the big city (San Francisco), then in 1993 they went the whole hog by choosing a military base in Alabama. Nevertheless somehow I don't think the Doctor Who production office in 1967 were thinking it through that deeply. Having Ben and Polly duplicated isn't being treated as a story opportunity, but simply as a plot device to write them out in favour of the Doctor, Jamie and Samantha.

The latter's good, by the way. Pauline Collins is best known these days for a distinguished fifty-year acting career including Shirley Valentine and (for Doctor Who fans) Queen Victoria in Tooth and Claw. In 1967 Innes Lloyd asked her to become a regular, but she declined. It's a shame. She'd have been fun, with a Wendy Padbury-like cuteness. She's blatantly the Temporary Companion, chirpily tagging along with Jamie and the Doctor like a prototype Zoe or Victoria.

In fairness Ben and Polly pop back in part six for a rather good (but pre -filmed) leaving scene. That was a nice surprise. Nevertheless I wonder what the contemporary audience must have thought, not knowing everything in advance as we do now. If it's disconcerting for us, it must have been downright bewildering in 1967.

However the production is better than its scripts. It's an odd fish... contemporary to 1967 and so to modern eyes practically a historical. What's more, it has lots of locations and a good sense of place. You get a feel for Gatwick Airport and its petty officialdom that probably hasn't changed an iota since the sixties. All this background is vital, since it gives the Chameleons something to subvert when they start taking over. They work really well. They're sinister, albeit not technically evil. They're merely cold, ruthless and arrogant, in particular being confident in their superior intelligence to the point of stupidity. The production definitely gains atmosphere and verisimilitude for not being set on some cardboard-corridor alien planet. I like the whistling music too.

There are some nice performances. For all you Time and the Rani fans out there, this is the other Doctor Who story to bring together the lovely Wanda Ventham (also in Image of the Fendahl) with Donald Pickering (also in The Keys of Marinus).

I found it odd to see Troughton's Doctor so keen to run to the authorities, but maybe it's his experiences here that put him off doing so in the future. In fairness they find him exasperating too. It's also nice to see for once the Doctor letting the bad guys live! Overall, this story isn't worthless but it's an overstretched runaround that would have been infinitely better as a four-parter. Episode four in particular is just episode three cut-and-pasted with a slightly different sinister revelation at the cliffhanger. I can't even praise it for not being a Troughton base-under-siege story since 'twas only Season Five that went overboard with that particular formula. Personally I'd describe The Faceless Ones as the anti-matter twin of The Wheel in Space. The latter is an overstretched six-parter that really suffers from not being complete, since it has a David Whitaker script with a strong sense of structure and escalation even if it's as slow as molasses. On the other hand this story benefits from not being complete. There are things I like about its surviving episodes, but the sum of its parts is definitely greater than its whole.

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