Thursday, September 5, 2013

"The Faceless Ones"

Aired Apr 8 – May 13, 1967

6 Episodes

Story 35

Written by David Ellis & Malcolm Hulke

Directed by Gerry Mill


Synopsis

The TARDIS arrives on at Gatwick airport in 1966. Polly witnesses a murder in a nearby hangar and is then kidnapped by the perpetrator, Spencer of Chameleon Tours. Subsequently Ben also vanishes.

The Doctor and Jamie are left to try to convince the skeptical airport Commandant that there has been foul play.

It transpires that other young people have also vanished, all of them while on Chameleon Tours holidays. With the help of Samantha Briggs, the sister of one of the missing persons, the Doctor and Jamie uncover a plot by the alien Chameleons to kidnap humans in order to take their identities; the Chameleons have lost their own in an accident on their home planet.

After foiling their plan to replace a multitude of humans, the Doctor offers to help the Chameleons find another solution to their problem and the kidnapped humans are released.


The Doctor and Jamie are reunited with Ben and Polly. They decide to remain in their own time after discovering the date is the same as the day they first left with the First Doctor. The Doctor and Jamie head back to the TARDIS but can only watch as it is driven off on the back of a van!



Analysis

Reviewing the missing stories is always a challenge and often surprising in what they reveal. While you never escape the feeling that something is lost, some stories wind up working well in their audio form (like The Crusades), others suffer greatly. The Faceless Ones is one of the stories that suffers, I'm afraid, and it's a real shame because it actually is a cracking good story and an unusual one. However, it relies more heavily on visuals for its atmosphere and therefore you really lose a lot with their absence.


It's the first story to be written (in this case, co-written) by Malcolm Hulke, a writer that is among the best writers the classic series ever had. Hulke's major gifts came in two areas; he was skilled at injecting social commentary into his stories, and he was particularly good at creating villains whose motives were well-defined, personal and somewhat understandable. This prevents them from being merely "the baddies", making them more developed characters who are simply struggling to survive.

Such is the case in The Faceless Ones. The Chameleons are in a desperate situation and they think they have found the solution to their sorry state. If that negatively impacts what they see as lesser beings, well, that's too bad, but it needs to be done. The fact that it's not power they seek, but continued identity, a sense of self, makes the story far more novel and interesting than watching rampaging monsters. Their actual plan is kind of bonkers, but so are most of the baddies' plans in Doctor Who, so it's really a sliding scale. But the story itself is creepy and somewhat elegant in the fact that it relies on reversals, intrigue and mystery. The Doctor manages to resolve things based on ingenuity and tactical gambles, relying on his friends to hopefully come through, and in the end he's even allowed to try and help the villains rather than eradicate them.

What the Chameleons' plan does allow for is lots of terrific location footage around Gatwick, and a highly-pressurized environment to help keep the tension flowing. In fact, this is a very interesting variation on the base under siege format. Part of the tension comes from the fact that this base is not isolated, but is wide open, and that hustle and bustle of people coming and going is what facilitates the Chameleons' plan. But you still get a lot of the format's components; the surly commander who at first disbelieves the Doctor, the reusing of a few major sets, etc.

There's a number flaws to the story, of course, and they are typical to the series and especially so for six part stories. There's a lot of running from the hangar to air traffic control, then back to the hangar, then back to control, then over to the Tour desk, etc. It does get a bit repetitive. Also, there's a death trap in here straight out of "Austin Powers" and it's silly in the extreme.

But Troughton is superb, an accolade that starts to lose meaning as he is never less than great in the role. Frazer Hines has now truly come in to his own as Jamie, and by this point he and Troughton have cemented their remarkable chemistry. Jamie could seem dim, but it's always very real and sweet rather than annoying, and is mitigated by his wonderful loyalty and bravery.

It's a shame to say goodbye to Ben and Polly. Although it's fair to say that it was probably time for them to go (particularly Ben, who had been pushed to the side with Jamie's arrival) they were lovely characters that deserved more exploration than they ever got. Both of the actors gave good performances with more than a few standout moments, and their farewell appears to be genuinely heartfelt.

The Faceless Ones, in the final analysis, is one of the highlights of the season, that manages to take a different approach to a standard Doctor Who story.

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