Doctor Who – The Faceless Ones

Setting off from Gatwick Airport for parts unknown, The Faceless Ones was originally broadcast between April and May of 1967, the eighth serial of the fourth season of Doctor Who, and subsequently considered entirely “lost” following the wiping of the master tapes in the following decade until the first and third episodes were returned to the archive in 1978 and 1987.

The other four episodes never having been found despite extensive ongoing searches, following the animated recreations of the Patrick Troughton adventures Power of the Daleks¬†and The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones is the latest story to receive the same treatment, the new edition containing both black and white and full colour renderings of all six episodes in addition to the two extant recordings and alternative “telesnap” recreations of the four absent episodes.

It begins at the intersection of runways five and two at Gatwick, the appearance of a police box causing a hazard to incoming and outgoing flights; the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly’s next stop after saving a far-future colony of humanity from the Macra, immediately they exit the TARDIS they are forced to scatter to evade the unimpressed local law enforcement.

Taking shelter in the onsite unit of Chameleon Tours, Polly is witness to a murder, but when she conducts the Doctor to examine the body he ascertains that the weapon used was something beyond current Earth technology, but on the wrong side of the security gates with no passports it will be difficult for them to convince the authorities of the Doctor’s belief that “There’s something happening in this airport which may endanger human lives.”

The episodes written by David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke and originally directed by Gerry Mill, as with many six part Doctor Who adventures the pacing is the biggest problem, the Doctor and his companions making discoveries relating to the insidious plans of the homeless alien species whom they refer to as “Chameleons” then having to repeat that established information to the disbelieving commandant of the airport.

Unusually, although not revealed until the final episode, The Faceless Ones is set in a very specific time in the recent past of the first broadcast, July 1966, indicating that the Doctor was on the outskirts of London at the same time as his previous self was in the capital itself, dealing with the menace of The War Machines, the occasion on which Ben and Polly departed the Earth in his company allowing them to make a seamless transition back into their former lives.

While the recently defeated threat of WOTAN has not made any impact to the holidaymakers making their way to their continental destinations, the animated versions make reference in newspaper headlines, not the only “Easter egg,” to watch out for, with other background details including wanted posters for gentlemen who resemble Roger Delgado and Sacha Dhawan and an advert for Magpie Electricals, still in business despite the events of 1953.

The final story to feature Michael Craze and Anneke Wills as Ben and Polly and also to introduce the their proposed replacement, Pauline Collins’ determined and straight-talking Samantha Briggs, searching for her missing brother last seen departing with Chameleon Tours, her character largely eclipses Ben and Polly who are frustratingly absent from all but the first two and the final episode, also abducted by Chameleons.

Collins ultimately turning down the offer to continue the role of Sam who would have been a vastly different character to Deborah Watling’s waif-like dreamer and screamer Victoria introduced in Evil of the Daleks, in the commentary track Wills recalls of their departure, only marginally less rushed than that of Jackie Hill’s Dodo, that the producers “were ruthless, when you were gone, you were gone, goodbye,” but sharing the track with Frazer Hines (Jamie), Chris Tranchell (immigration controller Jenkins) and vision mixer Clive Doig, her memories are otherwise positive, especially of her co-stars and her fashionable costumes, all her own clothes.

The new version of The Faceless Ones directed by AnneMarie Walsh, in keeping with the modest production budget the animation is functional rather than dynamic, the gliding motion of the aeroplanes better than the characters, and the overlong “making of” documentary focuses solely on the animation rather than the more comprehensive analysis expected of a Doctor Who release meaning the most enjoyable feature is the full-colour stock footage of the Vickers VC10 airliner cruising over clouds into the sunset, hypnotic when accompanied by the eerie electronic score.

The Faceless Ones is available now on DVD and Blu-ray

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