DAVID ELLIS & MALCOLM HULKE
'LOST IN TIME' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD1353)
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2004;
AND 'THE FACELESS ONES' AUDIO CD (ISBN 0-563-53501-6) RELEASED IN FEBRUARY 2002.
The TARDIS makes a hazardous return to contemporary Earth - materialising at Gatwick Airport in the path of an oncoming aeroplane! The travellers split up in order to evade airport security, but in doing so they become embroiled in a plot to steal the personalities of young human beings.
The Chameleons: faceless aliens who have lost their very identities following a disaster on their home world. Now they have infiltrated the airport, setting up the bogus Chameleon Tours in order to kidnap passengers and take over their very identities. As the Doctor and his companions become mixed up in the alien machinations, it soon becomes difficult for them to distinguish friends from enemies...
EPISODES TWO, FOUR, FIVE AND SIX ARE MISSING.
The Faceless Ones
8TH APRIL 1967 - 13TH MAY 1967
The Faceless Ones is, in my view, one of the strongest stories of the Patrick Troughton era. Sadly though, with four of its six episodes missing, this serial is one that was for a long time overlooked by fandom. However, in the last few years the commercial release of the existing episodes as well as the complete serial’s soundtrack has helped the story to become much more widely known and appreciated.
Practising my usual trick of watching the existing episodes and then cobbling together a primitive telesnap reconstruction on my PC using the soundtracks of the missing episodes narrated by Frazer Hines in conjunction with the telesnaps available on the BBC website, I was able to get a good visual feel for this 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. More importantly though, The Faceless Ones is a captivating story, at each and every turn doing exactly what Doctor Who does best. What better start could you have for a story than the TARDIS materialising on the runway of Gatwick Airport, right in the path of an incoming jet?
Malcolm Hulke and David Ellis’s script works beautifully on two fronts. The Chameleons with their blank, inhuman faces are absolutely chilling in themselves, but the fact that they steal people’s identities makes them all the more disturbing, as does the sheer scale of their plan – fifty thousand abductions. As the story progresses though, the writers allow the Chameleons to win our sympathy somewhat; every member of their race lost their identities and faces in a planetary disaster, and now they’re dying out. Hulke has a real knack for creating alien menaces that the audience can sympathise with – after all, might we not do the same in their position? It’s a recurring theme in Hulke’s work, but one that never gets old. Of course, the Chameleons having stolen the identities of many airport personnel results in a textbook “Whom can we trust?” scenario, with the Doctor put in the now-familiar position of having to try and convince the powers that be of the existence of a veiled threat – a situation that Patrick Troughton seems to delight in portraying.
Indeed, the script simply sparkles – the first few episodes in particular are electric; the scenes between Troughton’s Doctor and Colin Gordon’s wonderful Commandant 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 the Doctor’s face as he takes the Commandant’s sarcasm perfectly literally is downright uproarious. However, as well as being amusing, the unfolding Doctor / Commandant relationship is 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 the final episode he trusts him implicitly with the fate of the world. That’s quite a leap in anybody’s book.
Another aspect that really makes this serial stand out above many of its contemporaries is its setting. I don’t know exactly how expensive this serial was to make, but on screen it certainly looks like it might have eaten up more than its fair share of the season’s budget. The extensive location shoot at Gatwick lends 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. If course, in the last couple of episodes the action shifts to a more prosaic space station, but this is easily forgiven as the change of scenery helps the narrative to stay fresh across the six episodes. There are not many six-parters out there than can hold my attention throughout in just one sitting, but The Faceless Ones is one of them.
The only criticism that I have of The Faceless Ones is how the companions are handled, though in fairness this is plainly the result of inconveniences arising from Michael Craze and Anneke Wills’ expiring contracts as opposed to any fault on Hulke or Ellis’s part. Any serial where two companions go missing for nearly four episodes is bound to suffer, although in fairness losing both Ben and Polly in the middle only to have them return for a brief farewell at the end is infinitely preferable to Dodo’s inauspicious exit in The War Machines, particularly when Ben and Polly’s disappearance imbues the Doctor and Jamie’s search with a heightened sense of importance.
Furthermore, in the absence of Ben and Polly, Ellis and Hulke come up with a makeshift companion in the form of Samantha Briggs (Pauline Collins), who from watching the serial looked like a dead-cert replacement for the outgoing Ben and Polly. Sam is a feisty young Scouser who takes a definite shine to Jamie. There’s a lovely chemistry between them that I thought would bode well for future stories – they even enjoy 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 probably the most highly-regarded story of Doctor Who’s black and white era…
And so whilst The Faceless Ones still lacks the lofty profile that missing serials such as The Evil of the Daleks and both the Yeti stories enjoy, in my view it is every bit as good. If you have the patience to take on an adventure cobbled together from off-air audio recordings, linking narration, grainy telesnaps and a couple of surviving episodes, then you’re in for a huge reward.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.