Monday, 25 July 2011

The Faceless Ones


  1. First: What happened to Polly's lovely elfin hair? It seems to suddenly have grown long again. A shame, I loved the pixie look.

    Now the important stuff is out of the way, it's time to get on with the episode, and once again, we find ourselves in the real world. And it is the real world, with airports and "flying beasties" (planes, to those not out of time like poor Mr McCrimmon there) and location filming and once again I'm loving the way that Innes Lloyd's Doctor Who feels so real. The modern episodes feel so much more confident than the rest - see for example The Macra Terror which not only never catches fire, it never really gets warm.

    But with this story it's clear that we're now in a completely different programme to that of Verity Lambert and William Hartnell. You can see the connective tissue between them, but at this point it's definitely Innes Lloyd's show - and all the better for it.

    Suddenly, unexpectedly, a secret door appears in the Chameleon Tours warehouse. Nice reveal. And there's a lovely spooky atmosphere throughout the first episode. What's the thing in the box? Who are the creatures with ray guns? I don't know what's going on, and isn't that brilliant!

    (And speaking of which, I miss the term "ray gun". You so rarely hear it used these days.)

    Jamie and the Doctor seem to have gelled as a double-act by this point. With the hiding-behind-newspapers, the interaction with officials (and is this the first time that the Doctor has squared off against bureaucracy?), the fact that Jamie and the Doctor are together while Ben and Polly are... well... off. Somewhere. The faceless ones themselves get more screen time than Ben and Polly put together, and it's fairly obvious that they're on the way out.

    And Jamie seems to have a bit of an eye for the ladies, now, doesn't he? Witness all that flirting with young Samantha Briggs. You'd better watch that one, girl, he'll have your heart in an instant. And they seem to be getting on so well... Hugs. And more hugs. And some more hugs.

    Sadly, our villains seem to have the same problem that countless others have had before and since, to wit: the uncontrollable desire to put our heroes into a laser-based death trap rather than just, say, shooting them. With their ray guns.

    Episode four, and Jamie's giving Sam a wee kiss on the cheek! Now admittedly it's as cover for nicking her ticket, but still. Like I say - you've got to watch that Mr McCrimmon.

    Hitting the final strait, and we find out what's happened to the passengers - they've been miniaturised and put into filing drawers. This is classic Doctor Who, turning something ordinary and everyday into an obect of fear.

    And I think it's worth mentioning again, just how good and how different the Second Doctor Who is.

    Pauline Collins did a wonderful job, and it's a shame she didn't want to stay on. Still, Jamie's going to get another snog out of it at least. The chancer!

    Finally, Ben and Polly show up. Like Dodo in the story in which they were introduced, Ben and Polly didn't really do anything in their last show, but at least they get a sweet goodbye as they realise that they're home again. "We won't leave, Doctor, if you really need us."

    But he doesn't, and we must bid farewell to the two of them, Ben to return to his ship and Polly to robotically make hot drinks for any man who demands it of her.

  2. 'The Faceless Ones' has one truly great strength - the sense of genuine mystery that runs throughout it's length. It is rare for a story to sustain a question as well as this one does over what has happened and why to the unfortunate passengers of Chameleon Tours.

    The tale also has other things going for it. The contemporary setting lends it a realism that is rare in Doctor Who of any era I love the way The Doctor and Jamie bump heads with the Commandant early on and the way that the airport staff all gradually come to see The Doctor is the only one with a clue about what's happening. And of course his knowledge of 'ray guns' comes in very handy.

    His double act with Jamie is superb, The Doctors massive knowledge and experience perfectly matched by Jamies naive innocence, trusting nature and total loyalty to his friends. Jamie and Samantha Briggs, superbly played by Pauline Collins, also make a wonderful team and like Piers I too regret that she couldn't be persuaded to stay on so we could see more of them together. There is a genuine affection between them and the way she teases him is exquisite. In addition to the great performances by the regulars, the supporting players are all well cast and turn in sterling performances.

    The story itself is a traditional monster tale in many ways with the twist that the alien race in this case is not after power, riches or just keen on dominating or exterminating others but is simply trying to find a way to survive after a disastrous accident on their homeworld. Like the Sensorites and Rills before them, the show presents us with an alien race that is sympathetic and in this case it is an even greater achievement to do this as they are the villains of the story.

    So, what are the weaknesses of the story - well, I do feel it's too long at 6 episodes and there are a few dull or repetitive stretches. And as a goodbye tale for Ben and Polly it isn't great as they have disappeared for much of the tale. But they do get to come and say goodbye, unlike Dodo. I do feel they deserved a better send- off as they were a good pair of companions who did well in easing the transition from Hartnell to Troughton at a crucial stage in the shows history. For me they are at their best in Power of the Daleks and I like to imagine Ben returning from his latest voyage and coming home to Polly with a pot of fresh coffee ready and waiting, her obsession with hot drinks undimmed by her adventures aboard the Tardis.

    So, overall a story with much to commend it and a few weaknesses that don't spoil it for me too much. 8/10 from me

  3. A real mystery is built up in the first episode and the atmosphere is distinctly creepy. It's very modern and the airport setting gives it a fresh feel, we've never seen anything quite like this before.

    The 'chameleon' make up is a bit scary. I was sort of glad it was in black and white or the people might have been bringing their tea back up all over the country.

    This is the first Malcolm Hulke script (writing here with David Ellis) and you an clearly see that a new talent has arrived. The baddies have Genuine People Personalities, they're not just generic monsters. In fact that's key to the resolution as the Doctor negotiates and the baddies bicker.

    What an exceptional cast. Wanda Ventham, Donald Pickering, Pauline Collins, and trusty Bernard Kay. Bernard Kay is value for money here again as he gets to play the affable copper (love all the business with his pipe) as well as the coldly evil boss of the baddies. Collins too is a breath of fresh air. I wonder how she might have turned out as a companion if the opportunity had come about.

    Speaking of companions Jamie is fantastic in this. The rapport between him and the Doctor has really gotten into its stride and Hines has really become second lead. It was nice to see the culture shock aspect of a seventeenth century highlander arriving in 1960s Britain explored but it did strike me as odd that he was less affected by his trips into the future.

    Ben and Polly are less well served here. Again Polly has little to do and Ben gradually fades out as the story progresses. It's a strange way to write out companions and one we saw before with Dodo, who didn't even get a goodbye scene. The difference is that Dodo was a terrible companion while Ben and Polly have been great. It's sad to see them go but Jamie has established himself so quickly that it really does feel like the start of something special - especially when they are thrown straight into another adventure when the TARDIS goes missing.

    I love the way Troughton delivers the "lost the Tardis" line.

    Better than: The Underwater Menace
    Not as good as: The Power of the Daleks