The Faceless Ones
|Dates||Apr. 8, 1967 -
May 13, 1967
With Patrick Troughton, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills, Frazier Hines.
Written by David Ellis & Malcolm Hulke. Script-edited by Gerry Davis.
Directed by Gerry Mill. Produced by Innes Lloyd and Peter Bryant.
Synopsis: The Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie become ensnared in an alien plot
at Gatwick Airport.
|Note: Episodes 1 and 3, along with reconstructions of the remaining four episodes of this story, are available at Missing Doctor Who Reconstructions & Audios and at the Loose Cannon Reconstructions site.|
Anticipation + Potential = Slight Disappointment by Bryan Smith 13/12/98
After hearing so much about this "underrated" story in Doctor Who Magazine, I obtained a high-quality reconstruction and waited patiently for a day when I felt alert, nostalgic, and basically in the right mood for some vintage Troughton episodes. Over two hours later, I couldn't help but wonder how good The Faceless Ones could've been if it had been done properly.
The plot for this story was initially scripted at four parts, which, in truth, was all this serial really needed. Instead there are several scenes that are padded, and much of the action occurs at a deliberate pace in order to fill the story's six episode requirement. The plot was also initially supposed to take place in a department store, but the scripting changed, and the final result is a romp through Gatwick Airport instead. This is unfortunate, since director Gerry Mills is unable to fully create the atmosphere of a major airport. Rarely do we see large crowds of people inside, and only occasionally do we hear the sound of planes flying overhead outside.
Also, the old plot exposition method of "let's split the companions up and have them stumble onto various plotlines" is used to ill effect. In fact -- and this strange, considering the overlength of this story -- we hardly get to see Ben and Polly at all after episodes 1 and 2. This certainly came as an unexpected shock to me, considering that this was Michael Craze and Anneke Wills' last appearance in Doctor Who. Their leaving scene is semi-memorable, and their aforementioned lack of screen time does give Frazer Hines and Pat Troughton a lot more to do, but the absence of two major characters sat rather uneasily after awhile.
On the plus side, the Chameleons give off a definite sense of creepiness; they're completely devoted to their cause, and clearly see human beings as nothing more than a race of animals. The effects used in the "body-snatching" sequences in the medical wing are of a high standard, and serve to further allude to the Chameleons' alien nature.
Also, the very fact that this serial tried to overcome Doctor Who's usual claustrophobic limitations is welcome. Although not completely successful, it's nice to see scenes like the ones in the airport, with the Doctor and Jamie trying to escape from the authorities. (And speaking of Jamie, what Doctor Who fan could possibly resist seeing Jamie get a goodbye kiss like that from Jean Rock???)
All this (and an interesting cliffhanger or two) make The Faceless Ones worthwhile, although I'd say that just about any existing Pat Troughton episodes are worth a look. And, although only parts one and three survived the BBC's archive deletions in the 70s, the reconstructed version manages to supply enough interest to be, er, well, interesting. I just wish that the fascinating premises for this story were handled with more thought and less padding.
Classic Doctor Who Re-Faced by Carl West 27/2/99
The Faceless Ones is certainly the best reconstruction I have seen yet, probably because it is the first Joint Venture recon that I have seen. The telesnaps do look clearer than the ones used in the older Develyn projects, thanks to the high-quality scanner that the JV team has been using. There is still the occasional "foggy" image, but considering the hard work that these fine gentlemen are putting into restoring the best television program of all time-with practically no real budget-none of has room to criticize (not many of us could do a better job either, I'm sure). The occasional text captions are superb too--very professional looking--and they are a welcomed change to the older recon's in which you frequently could not quite tell what was going on in the story.
The real thrill is getting to see two more existing Troughton episodes: parts 1 and 3. Episode 1 is a real classic, in my opinion. The airport and its runways provide a very interesting, vivid on-location setting. Blade and Spencer are rather chilling in this episode--I kept imagining how strange and mysterious they must have appeared to the original viewers back in 1967 who probably did not know beforehand that these characters were aliens. The final scene of the episode is excellent and quite macabre: Blade and Spencer leading some infirm, disfigured alien (whom we only see from behind) into the "operating room," and as the evidently suffocating creature sits on the edge of the operating table breathing painfully, the end credits begin to roll across the screen. Classic.
Episode 3, although perhaps not as thrilling as Episode 1, is a pleasure to watch as well, breathing a little more life into this incomplete story. I found the episode to be in a relatively good shape, despite all the claims that it is damaged and possibly unsuitable for commercial release. The only shortcomings that I noticed were the occasional "jumps," where there appears to be a frame or two missing. I think this episode (along with Episode 1) would be a wonderful candidate for BBC Video--it has no more jumps than a vintage film such as, perhaps, Nosferatu, which appears to be quite a popular item on home video! No one expects archival material to be flawless, anyway.
As a whole, I would probably never put The Faceless Ones on my list of top ten stories, but I do not think it is as weak as certain others claim. The resolution of the conflict is rather rushed, and it seems a little disturbing that Blade would gun down the two dissenting Chameleons just so that he himself wouldn't be disintegrated: hardly a heroically redemptive turn for an antagonist. Pauline Collins is quite a pleasure as Samantha Briggs--it's really hard not to keep thinking of her as her outrageous character from Upstairs, Downstairs. Of course, everyone complains that the exit of Ben and Polly is achieved a little too quickly and with too little feeling. The production team obviously wanted to focus more on the classic Doctor/Jamie team at this point, however, and I sympathize with them on that decision.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 22/2/01
The Faceless Ones starts off strongly, setting up a mystery in Chameleon Tours. Separating The Doctor from his companions also helps, although the fact that Ben and Polly rarely appear until part six doesn`t. Gatwick Airport isn`t fully utilised either which is a shame, but the plot makes up for this.
The idea of stealing somebody's identity is quite horrific, and the closing moments of part one justify this. Samantha Briggs is pleasant enough and a good foil for Jamie, although for me Donald Pickering steals the show as he is quite eerie at times. Ben and Polly`s leaving scene is forgettable, and the story would`ve benefited from being two episodes shorter.
Strong and suspenseful by Tim Roll-Pickering 5/3/02
Based on the Loose Cannon reconstruction of Episodes 2, 4,5 and 6.
The opening moments of The Faceless Ones waste little time in getting the action started, with the TARDIS landing on the runway at Gatwick Airport and the Doctor and companions forced to immediately flee and then scatter to avoid being caught. Spread throughout the airport they immediately get caught up in the mystery of Chameleon Tours, which carries the story throughout its entire six episodes.
Although Polly and Ben have little to do beyond getting captured and then being absent for the bulk of the story, both the Doctor and Jamie are at the centre of the action. We also get to meet potential companion Sam Briggs, played by Pauline Collins, who gives a strong performance but doesn't make it to the TARDIS by the end of the story. Amongst the guest cast Donald Pickering (Captain Blade), Colin Gordon (the Commandant), Wanda Ventham (Jean Rock) and Bernard Kay (Inspector Crosland) all give strong performances that boost the story. The Chameleons are an interesting race and they come across as even more sinister in their human forms than in their original state, thus adding to the tension.
Each episode reveals another piece of the mystery as the Doctor seeks to discover what's going on. The early episodes are wonderful where he comes up against the airport staff who think he's little more than an illegal immigrant but the Doctor succeeds in evading security long enough to establish his credentials. There are a succession of traps set by the Chameleons that the Doctor evades, but each one helps to push the plot along as they show how close the Doctor is getting to the heart of the mystery.
The Chameleons themselves are portrayed interestingly. Rather than making them a bland race of same-minded aliens, David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke show all the main Chameleons as having different personalities and outlooks, as shown by the willingness of both Meadows and Blade to turn on their superiors when their own existence is threatened.
The Gatwick setting is an interesting one as it allows for the action to take place in a familiar environment and thus make the menace of the Chameleons even more threatening. The sets look realistic and provide a good contrast with the Chameleon satellite in the final episodes.
The brief scene at the end where it's revealed that it's exactly the same day as the end of The War Machines and so Polly and Ben can return home as though they have never left is a little hard to take, but there's no time to dwell on this as the Doctor then tells Jamie that the TARDIS has disappeared and they head off into a new mystery and a new adventure. Although Polly and Ben don't get a spectacular departure from the series, The Faceless Ones is an exceptionally strong story that never drags. 10/10
This reconstruction is a straightforward combination of the telesnaps and soundtrack, with the cine clip for Episode 2 appearing as well. Although the telesnap reconstructions inevitably suffer in comparison with the non telesnap stories due to the level of difficulty involved in the latter this is all in all a good way to follow the story and highly recommended. 8/10
A Review by Brian May 31/3/05
The Faceless Ones is a story I enjoy it to pieces. From the first time I read about it in The Programme Guide (god bless Jean-Marc Lofficier for all the Who information he introduced me to!), through to the novelisation in the late 1980s, I always thought the story was incredibly interesting.
The ultimate test is, of course, in the viewing. It's luckier than most Patrick Troughton adventures, for there are actually two full episodes in the BBC vaults - and when I finally saw them, I was still impressed. The scenes at Gatwick Airport do wonders - it helps to establish Doctor Who in a contemporary Earth setting, the same way The War Machines did earlier. Secondly, the location filming lends an expensive and impressive look to an infamously low-budget show. The existing episodes, one and three, make extensive use of the airport grounds; the scenes on the concourse from episode two would have been terrific to have seen. (The Doctor, Ben and Jamie posing in the photo booth looks a scream.)
The script is an intelligent one, justifying its six-episode length. There are some moments of padding, of course, such as the Goldfinger-inspired laser scene in part four, and maybe a few too many talky bits in air traffic control, but overall there's a good pace. Malcolm Hulke's first story for the show displays some of the distinctive features that made most of his Pertwee era scripts so good. Although there's none of his requisite two-sided moral arguments, he gives us aliens whose actions are motivated purely from survival, not malice. They're not seeking to invade; just preserve their species. The Director is certainly antagonistic and ruthless - however I'd call him amoral rather than just plain evil - but there are characters such as Blade and Spencer who are willing to listen to reason. And the resolution is uniquely astounding: the Doctor gains the upper hand against the Chameleons, but doesn't punish them; instead he allows them to seek an alternative to their plight; a plight that certainly demands sympathy, but of course, the ends cannot justify the means.
The story benefits from strong characterisations and acting. Patrick Troughton is excellent, as usual. Ben and Polly are shunted from the story, not appearing in episodes three to five, and only briefly in episode six for a departure scene. Anneke Wills and Michael Craze did not have their contracts renewed, and were actually paid out early, which is a bit sad, as they worked well together - and their final scene is very abrupt, and rather unceremonious, being a pre-recorded film insert. (At least it wasn't as insulting as Dodo's departure in The War Machines). But, as stories like The Moonbase proved, a TARDIS crew of four doesn't really work and, on a brighter note, this story sees Frazer Hines come into his element as Jamie. We see his bravery, when he stands up to Spencer by refusing to leave the injured Doctor; and we get to see his cunning and resourcefulness when he steals Samantha's ticket and takes her place on the Chameleon Tours flight.
Pauline Collins is terrific as the feisty Scouser; she has a great interaction with Jamie, especially her flirting and her challenges to his manliness. I agree that she could have been an excellent companion (but I still like Deborah Watling as Victoria, so I won't complain). In fact, this story has a trio of strong female roles and performances. As well as Samantha, there's the lovely Wanda Ventham as Jean Rock, and Madalena Nicol as Nurse Pinto (who unfortunately only appears in episodes that are missing). The other performances are uniformly good - Bernard Kay is excellent both as Crosslands and the Director; Donald Pickering gives an equally strong turn as Blade, whilst Colin Gordon is great as the longsuffering Commandant - he's such a normal, everyday character that you can see why he dismisses the Doctor as a rambling nutter - especially as the latter turns up at an airport immigration desk without a passport!
What also makes The Faceless Ones so good is the atmosphere. It's basically an adventure/thriller; the final episode is definitely a nail-biter; the urgency of finding the missing originals is emphasised to an agonisingly tense degree, made all the more edgy when the Chameleon Meadows attacks Samantha and Jean in the car park. But the story also has some true horror moments. Ben discovering the catatonic Polly in the crate is one: the look on her face is terrifying (and, sadly, only available as a telesnap). But it's the appearance of the Chameleons that's astounding. They're gruesome, which adds to the fact that they're a) alien and b) the victims of a horrible catastrophe. The first hint of one, after Blade and Spencer open the container in episode one and all we see is an arm stretching out, is one of many creepy scenes with these beings. The eerie special sounds work to establish this effect as well; the story really benefits from the lack of incidental music (and that stock music used for the aforementioned scene in the car park is just silly).
The only other criticisms I would level at the story include a sloppy moment in the direction in episode one - Polly is meant to stumble across the Chameleon Tours hangar whilst looking for a hiding place (as a catalyst for the whole story). Accordingly, she enters after spotting a policeman, but moments before she had exited the same hangar. The other fault is a script-related one: the Doctor has recognised the Chameleon Meadows as an impostor; in episode three he makes the alien flee from the airport control room after using the Chameleon ray-gun on him. But, in a later scene in the same room, he spots the same character and says, "You must have a double!" as if he hasn't recognised him before! Surely the Doctor couldn't be this unobservant?
But on the strength of episodes one and three, the telesnaps and the soundtrack, I am duly impressed by The Faceless Ones. I always enjoy watching and listening to it. Of the missing/incomplete stories, it may not be the most highly regarded, or the most sorely missed. But perhaps it's the underrated ones that hold the biggest surprises. 8.5/10
A Review by Finn Clark 31/5/06
A rightly overlooked story. 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 really 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 completely evil. They're cold, ruthless and arrogant, in particular being confident in their own 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 on later occasions. 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, since it's merely an overstretched six-parter. There are things I like about its surviving episodes, but the sum of its parts is definitely greater than its whole.
The Black Armband View by Hugh Sturgess 29/3/15
Finn Clark calls this story "rightfully overlooked", which is about as neat a summary as I can imagine. While I sympathise with the production team for the budgetary problems that gave the Troughton era its plethora of baggy six-parters, The Faceless Ones is overstretched even by the standards of the form. Not merely that, it's also a really stupid, nonsensical, poorly-thought-out story that soils the good name of Malcolm Hulke. The creator of the Silurians wrote this embarrassment? Shame, Hulke, shame.
The first issue is the contemptuous removal of Ben and Polly from the series. Innes Lloyd inaugurated the Ben-Polly era with the exit of Dodo, who was unceremoniously booted off the show after a few episodes' absence. Therein lay a warning for the new companions, who here are unceremoniously booted off the show after a few episodes' absence. At least they get a (pre-filmed) farewell, which is actually remarkably touching, given the Lloyd era's utilitarian approach to character development. Nevertheless, it's bizarre to see the most established characters in the show - they had eight stories under their belt, the new Doctor at this point had five - ushered out of the story so quickly. It's actually a bit disconcerting. Anneke Wills and Michael Craze were contracted through The Evil of the Daleks, which makes their early disappearance even weirder. I mean, a pre-filmed insert for their final scene? Could Lloyd not get them out the door fast enough? Innes Lloyd probably saved Doctor Who in 1965, by coming along just as its ratings were cratering and promising to right the ship. But, of all the producers who have worked on the show, none of them had such transparent contempt for the audience as he did. Other producers - RTD, JNT, even Verity Lambert herself - embraced spectacle and publicity, sometimes at the expense of drama, but none of them shared Lloyd's obvious belief that making a TV show is an ultra-cynical process of pandering to rubes.
This perfunctory departure bookends a story of immense and bottomless stupidity. This is a story about aliens who steal identities, and yet hardly anything is made of that power at all. We only ever see impostors after they've assumed someone else's identity, and never the originals. Meadows, the most prominent doppelgänger, is introduced lying unconscious on the Chameleons' table. The Chameleons kidnap Polly and duplicate her - but then when she makes a single, small slip, her doppelgänger is sent off to the satellite and never returns. What was the point of that? Did they need another pair of hands at the kiosk? Why not duplicate Ben and use his identity to get close to the Doctor? This story flows as though it was made up as it went along, with a series of set-pieces and "cool" ideas connected by mush.
Everything the Chameleons do is dumb. Blade orders Spencer to kill the Doctor, and instead of simply shooting him as he did Gascoyne, he goes through a series of Bond-villain murder attempts - locking him in his office and trying to freeze him (and there are two grills in the office to pump out icy gas, just in case they really needed to do that and one was broken), putting a button on him that Jamie takes five seconds to remove, and finally rigging up the "I expect you to die!" laser beam and leaving them time to escape. In a drama, you have to suspend disbelief, and for a while I theorised that Spencer is actually very squeamish and didn't want to get his hands dirty - but then I remembered that he killed Gascoyne at the beginning of the story. So why in blazes didn't he just shoot the Doctor the first chance he got? Go up to him and blow him away! The Doctor escapes the Freezer Room of Death by throwing his coat over the camera through which Spencer is watching him - and Spencer goes back into the office to see why the screen went black, thus giving the Doctor an opportunity to escape. Weren't you watching? You had one job! Spencer offers that the Doctor's intelligence is "far in advance of normal beings" as an explanation. "In advance of yours, perhaps," Blade pointedly replies.
The story seems to be made up from moment to moment. When the Doctor pretends to be the Chameleon-impersonating-Meadows-impersonating-the-Doctor, Blade laments the loss of access to air traffic control that Meadows allowed - but then asks the Doctor whether he has "forgotten" that Blade is taking all the Chameleons on Earth back to the satellite, including Meadows. So, umm, what good would keeping Meadows around for a few more minutes have done? When the Doctor attempts to trick Blade into revealing where he has hidden the other originals on Earth, Blade says that there isn't time to tell him. We later discover that they were hidden in the car park. So Blade couldn't have taken the time to say that? And on that note: the car park?! Blade thinks that NO ONE WILL EVER FIND THEM inside the coaches hired by Chameleon Tours - i.e., the airline that, if the plan had succeeded, kidnapped 50,000 people and vanished off the face of the Earth. Do they really not expect the police to investigate their effects? Why not just take them back to the satellite, as they did with Ben and Polly (and, of course, all the other kidnapped humans)? What possible reason is there for leaving them on Earth where anything could happen to them? Their plan only failed because they left them where the humans could easily find them! In Episode Six, the Director implies that eventually the Chameleons' new identity will "stick" after the process has "drained the life" from the originals, which sounds like a last-minute fix when the authors realised that the plan was a disaster waiting to happen.
The Chameleons are so dumb that their stupidity even becomes a plot point. It's hilarious listening to the Chameleons earnestly repeat to themselves that humans are dumb animals and no one will ever suspect them, only to constantly screw up, make mistakes and pratfalls and generally draw enough attention to themselves that the Doctor is scarcely needed to get the authorities' notice. My favourite is the moment when the Director, in the guise of Crossland, tells Jamie that the Director's intelligence is superior even to the Doctor's - complimenting himself IN THE THIRD PERSON to a being he holds to be as smart as a dog. The Chameleons are such rake-stepping losers that in the end the Doctor just scolds them into going away.
The script keeps coming up with ideas it likes and forgetting about them. The Chameleons' annoyingly duplicative arsenal of weapons - ray guns AND freezer pens AND ice-gas AND electro-buttons? - seems like the work of a kid who's so excited by his new idea for a sci-fi weapon that he's forgotten he'd already given his baddies ray guns. Meadows breaks free of his human captors and escapes, later attacking Sam and Jean, but this "desperate struggle" (as Frazer Hines's narration puts it) has no impact; he's simply subdued and that's that, just taking up a bit more screen time until the end of the episode. Also, during the fight, a plane can be heard roaring overhead, even though the commandant has suspended all flights. The Chameleons have kidnapped 50,000 people, and yet NO ONE apart from Sam has reported them missing? The Chameleons miniaturise their victims, but the process requires them to eat or drink on the plane. What if they're not hungry? What if they're gluten-intolerant or allergic to something and so bring a packed lunch? If the planes themselves are the miniaturisation chambers, then couldn't they pump whatever the agent is into the air as a gas or something? Out of 50,000 people, hundreds - thousands - wouldn't eat on the plane, particularly if it's a short flight (as, obviously, Jamie does). Is this a subtle dig at the stinginess of students?
The Faceless Ones is a fantastic example of a serial that can be shown in any order. When a review says that a certain story's episodes can shown in any order, it's obviously a slight exaggeration, but really, would it make any difference to the plot if episode three came after episode four? We know right from the beginning that Chameleon Tours is shifty - they kill Gascoyne and kidnap Polly - and the Doctor and Jamie are aware of this too. And yet the story somehow manages to run for another five episodes before our heroes act on that knowledge in a meaningful way. The Doctor, Jamie and Samantha go from the commandant's office to the hangar and then back to keep an eye on the kiosk half a dozen times, squeezing tiny drops of plot development out as they do so. Occasionally things happen, but it's random and unconnected to anything else. After Chameleon Tours has tried to kill her a few times and the Doctor has made a big deal about how it's sinister and otherworldly, Samantha blithely decides to get a Chameleon Tours plane to Rome so she can look for her brother there. It's a decision that comes from nowhere and makes her look like an idiot who hasn't learnt anything. Haven't we established that Chameleon Tours is kidnapping their passengers? It's as if the entire story is in a holding pattern, cranking out the required screen time before it can end.
There really just isn't that much to say about The Faceless Ones. It is eminently dispensable. I would rather have had Samantha in the TARDIS instead of Victoria, but she's hardly well-served by this story. The three protagonists move in a vacuum, bouncing off lame set-pieces and low-octane threats until finally the Doctor pulls his finger out and scolds the baddies into going away. It's as exciting as it sounds.
Faceless and Dull by Jason A. Miller 6/11/19
The Faceless Ones is not a story I ever watch by choice. It's honestly not an episode that I've ever rated very highly. It's got Malcolm Hulke's name on the script as co-author, yes, but there's not a whole lot of Hulke's signature outrage in the thing. For Doctor Who's 55th anniversary in November 2018, my random number generator selected Episode 4 of the story for me. I do this every anniversary, picking five individual episodes at random, but this particular choice was not very enthusing, and it's a reconstruction, to boot.
I don't think I'm the only fan to have a less-than-passionate opinion on The Faceless Ones. Before I submitted this entry, it had only seven reviews on the Ratings Guide, making it one of the least discussed Classic Series entries on this site. Pity The Savages, stuck in last place with only five reviews, but this one is pretty neglected, too.
For recons, I had a choice between Loose Cannon, Joint Venture and Elaphe, all of which are available out there on the internet. I chose Elaphe this time, mostly because it uses Fraser Hines' linking narration from the audio CD release of the story, wedded to the John Cura telesnaps. That choice of recon may have been a mistake, because that way I'm missing Loose Cannon's computer-generated recreation of the Chameleon Tours' jet airplane turning into a rocketship at the Episode 4 cliffhanger. Oh well, I guess I'm just having a bad day on all fronts...
Come to think of it, The Faceless Ones may well be a story that will work much better, if Philip Morris ever finds it, or releases it from his personal secret stash that people still assume him to have (2013 is long in the rear-view mirror, but the Omni-rumor refuses to die). Early in the episode, one of the alien bad guys decides to kill the Doctor and his two companions by zapping them into paralysis, aiming a slow-moving laser beam at them and walking away. This is a blatant steal from Goldfinger and is just one in a long line of many Doctor Who episodes to borrow liberally from James Bond, running from Mission to the Unknown all the way up through the Pertwee years. The laser-beam sequence is static and fidget-inducing in recon format, but maybe it crackles in live video. Recovery of this story might well do for its fan reputation what 2013 and Philip Morris did for The Enemy of the World... but for now, all we can do is suffer through the recons. And it's telling that, when the alien learns that the Doctor has escaped from the trap, he doesn't even seem to care that much.
The Bond lift is kind of the key to understanding what the production team thought they were doing with this story. The Faceless Ones is a transitional tale that moves away from the broad physical comedy that marked Troughton's earliest outings as the Doctor and towards a more grounded, contemporary style. "Mod" companions Ben and Polly were written out with this story, and neither one even appears in Episode 4. Pauline Collins is the guest companion, playing Samantha Briggs for this story only. It's a memorable appearance, and the writers are certainly very fond of her ("She's got a lot of courage, that wee lass, Doctor," Jamie informs us). I do like her talking back to the Doctor, reminding him sharply of her own missing brother after the Doctor laments the disappearance of Ben and Polly, and then pointing out that she can fend for herself better than the Doctor and Jamie have been looking after themselves.
One sequence that hasn't aged well, however, is where Jamie forces a kiss upon Samantha (right on the lips, to look at the surviving telesnaps), in order to steal away her airline ticket.
The rest of the episode has certainly got an interesting guest cast. Bernard Kay was practically a semi-regular during Seasons 2 through 8, turning up again and again in meaty guest roles, although this is probably the least interesting of his DW efforts, and he appears pretty subdued here. Benedict Cumberbatch's mom is vivacious in a supporting role, engaging in some subterfuge to help the Doctor break into the Chameleons' medical lab. And, hey look!, it's Chris Tranchell, in the second of his three Who roles, here identifiable pretty much only because he'll marry Leela in his third.
As for the plot, it's honestly very slight. An airplane has gone missing at the cliffhanger reprise. Another airplane takes off, and in this cliffhanger we learn that it's turned into a rocketship and docked at a space station. The intervening 24 minutes feature the Doctor prowling around the airport, while the airport commandant, a fussy bureaucrat, harasses an underling for placing a long-distance call to Athens, Greece without having obtained his approval first. Troughton is always watchable, but in recon form we're missing a lot of his physical presence and non-verbal genius, and the non-Troughton parts of the episode are either lost on video, or pretty dull in and of themselves. (Especially to the Ratings Guide's younger readers, who don't even know what a long-distance call is. Hi, kids.)
The most damning thing I have left to say about The Faceless Ones in recon format is that, because this is a story I've spent so little time with over the years, I don't remember much about the resolution in Episodes 5 and 6, and, after I had to move on to the next randomly-selected story on my list, I wasn't exactly sorry that I wouldn't be sticking around in order to find out how it all wrapped up.