Doctor Who Story 35: The Faceless Ones

Written by David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke
Directed by Gerry Mill

The Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie find themselves in one of the most soulless places known to man: an airport.  Polly soon discovers a dead Scotland Yard investigator, and The Doctor must uncover the mystery of Chameleon Youth Tours.

“It’s a flying beastie!”
What a great start.  Mystery, murder, brainwash, a conspiracy on an airline, and a mysterious creature being hidden by a private tour group.  Honestly, Chameleon Youth Tours seems to have chosen a poor hiding place if every lost person seems capable of stumbling in to their hanger.  Perhaps they should relocate.  That said, this episode is a great start with good amounts of menace.

“Jamie, I don’t think we’re very welcome here.  When I say run, run.”
Brainwash and betrayal seems to be a loose theme this season.  First Ben was brainwashed by The Macra, now Polly has been replaced by faceless aliens.  Hints of Invasion of the Body Snatchers permeate this story.  Is this another Cold War tale?

We also see that Patrick Troughton and Frazier Hines have begun to really hit their stride in working together, and the writers and directors are putting them together more.  Ben and Polly are on their way out.  Too bad they didn’t get more of a chance to work on their own.  I enjoyed Ben in the Hartnell stories.

It has taken me until this story to realize how much darker Doctor Who has become.  Sure, compared to Moffat-Who, it is still pretty light, but compared to The Hartnell Era, the last few stories have been conceptually dark and significantly less whimsical.

“All right, stay here!  After all, they can only murder me!”
It is rather funny to think that the first two episodes, which consisted of quite a bit of set up, were spent running around Gatwick Airport, avoiding the police while The Doctor attempted to convince the commandant that he had found a dead body in the Chameleon Tours hanger.  This is just the sort of situation that the psychic paper was created for.  In a way, I can see The Doctor either developing or adapting some other race’s technology out of frustration.  “I could get so much more accomplished if I could just convince people of my good intentions earlier.”  Although, sometimes the run-around adds more tension.  This story is rather drenched in it.  It has a very leisurely pace, but if I had been told to take six episodes to tell this story, I would probably take my time as well.  But we do get confirmation that Chameleon Tours is involved with kidnaping youths, abducting them, one might say.  And let me just throw some praise on Captain Blade’s performance.  He is wonderfully sinister.  Honestly, he reminds me of when Mark Gatiss plays villains, only without humanity or humor.  So basically, chilling.

I should probably also mention the new character Samantha Briggs.  She is quite obviously being tried out as potential companion material.  She is brash, sarcastic, mouthy, and cute (in a 1960s way).  Honestly, as I typed that sentence, all I could think of was Moffat Era.  I think that one day, if I can be bothered, there would be enough material to draw parallels between the RTD and First Doctor Eras, as well as the Moffat and Second Doctor Eras.  Just a thought.  But back to Samantha Briggs.  She’s fun for this story, but I don’t know that I want her hanging around.  Thankfully, Innes Lloyd must have felt the same way.

“That Doctor is a menace to our plans.”
I can’t think of someone being menaced by a laser without thinking of Goldfinger.  The Faceless Ones must be Bond fans.

Some of the action in this episode only confirms explicitly what we had already intuited.  The passengers on Chameleon Tours are being abducted by aliens.  The first aid post in the airport has been taken over by the aliens.  About the only thing of significance to occur in episode four is that Jamie sneaks about a Chameleon flight and Detective Inspector Crossland was abducted by the aliens.  These things probably needed to happen to lead toward the endgame (still two episodes away), but since we had already seen a mid-flight abduction in the previous episode, it felt redundant.

“Flippin’ ‘eck!”
The aliens are from a dead planet.  They had been scarred by an explosion and they are dying.  But their scientists have developed a process by which they can change their appearance to that of the humans they abduct.  The Doctor gains this information after outing Faceless Meadows, one of the air traffic controllers.  With the reluctant aid of Meadows, The Doctor exposes the nurse, rescues Samantha from being abducted, and learns that Jamie is on the satellite.

The Doctor creates a ruse.  The final flight of Chameleon Tours is to take the remaining Chameleons back to the satellite.  The Doctor, with the aid of the newly freed nurse, attempts to convince the Chameleons that he is a re-processed Meadows.  The Doctor sets the commandant to find the original humans in the meantime.  The Doctor hopes to negotiate with The Chameleons by holding the original humans as a threat.  If the originals are resuscitated, The Chameleons will lose their form.  It’s all getting quite exciting now.

Unfortunately, Chameleon Blade is not fooled.  After arriving on the satellite, Blade goes to the Chameleon director, who has just finished creating a copy of Jamie, and asks for permission to kill The Doctor and the nurse.  The director decides it would be better to capture The Doctor and make a copy of him.  What valuable knowledge must exist in The Doctor’s mind, he reasons.  Blade thinks this plan is foolishness, and we, the audience, know that he is correct.  The seeds of the director’s destruction have just been planted.  It seems this is almost always how masterminds are destroyed.  Rather than kill the hero outright when they have a chance, they decide to use or break the hero.  Always a bad idea.

“We won’t leave, Doctor, if you really need us.”
After the search party in Gatwick finds the original humans, The Doctor is able to successfully negotiate a peace, albeit one over the metaphorical gunpoint.  He turns the tables quite masterfully as he plants seeds of paranoia and distrust in Blade.  He points out to Blade that the director and his friends have stored their originals on the satellite, which is about to return to the Chameleon planet.  But everyone else, Blade included, have their originals stored in Gatwick.  They could be destroyed before the copying process is completed.  Blade sees The Doctor’s point.  They negotiate a peace.  The abducted teens are to be returned to Earth and all the Chameleons with copies must return to their original state.  The Doctor offers to help the Chameleon scientists find a way to stabilize the Chameleon form so they won’t need to use copies any longer.  All’s well that ends well.

Except that Ben and Polly decided to stay on Earth.  It is their home and their time.  Ben offers to stay if The Doctor needs them, but this adventure proves that he and Jamie are fine without them.  Ben and Polly have been absent much of the story.  Honestly, not a fitting ending for them, and almost an afterthought to give them a farewell.  Better than Dodo, but not much.  It’s a shame, really, as I think Ben could have been an interesting character.  He had shades of a young Steven, loyal, action-oriented, and fun.  Unfortunately, the addition of Jamie made him redundant.  And Polly didn’t work well with Jamie.  It isn’t that they had difficulties, they just didn’t click.  It was always Ben and Polly.  They entered together, they leave together.

The Faceless Ones was a great story.  It had a certain darkness to it with the abduction of young people and the idea of being replaced by duplicates.  But as horrifying as this idea could seem, the body count was relatively low, and the aliens accepted defeat and reproof in the end.  The Doctor gave them a second chance, and they took it.  The story was probably an episode or two too long, and Ben and Polly vanished for a large chunk of it, but it was well-paced and Blade was a great villain.  Patrick Troughton seems to have settled in to the role, and he and Frazier Hines have started to really work well in their double-act.  The groundwork has been set and I would say that The Troughton Era is officially beginning.

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