Monday, May 28, 2012

Doctor Who Story 035: The Faceless Ones


Facing the Loss...

The Faceless Ones is six-part story that is yet another incomplete one, with only two full episodes surviving.   That being said, the two episodes that have survived are quite intriguing and have a strong pace to them.  It is unfortunate that The Faceless Ones (which saw the departure of Companions Ben Jackson and Polly) is so far lost to us.  However, I think the pieces we have hold up rather well.

The Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his Companions Ben, Polly, and Jamie (Michael Craze, Anneke Wills, and Frazer Hines respectively) have found themselves in Gatwick Airport.  The TARDIS has been taken from the runway as they are forced to separate.  Polly hides in the hanger of Chameleon Tours, and to her horror witnesses a murder.  She finds Jamie and the Doctor while Ben is still missing.  As the three begin to both investigate and try to convince airport officials of the crimes, Polly is taken by the killers.  The Doctor and Jamie convince the airport security that there is a body at the Chameleon Tours hanger, but to their surprise, not only is there none, but Polly has somehow 'just arrived' fro a Chameleon Tour plane.  This tour company caters to young people between 18 to 25, but to their surprise, she now no longer recognizes them.

Skipping about a bit, Ben is still not part of the story, but we have Samantha (Pauline Collins), a girl from Liverpool whose brother is among the young people who have disappeared.  While Chameleon Tours sends postcards ostensibly from the travellers saying that they've arrived, Samantha and Jamie discover that they are really fake: having been written beforehand.  Inspector Crossland (Bernard Kay) whose partner was the murder victim, is taken aboard a Chameleon Tours plane and finds to his shock that the young people have mysteriously vanished into thin air.

To wrap up The Faceless Ones (given that only Episodes One and Three are known to exist), the Doctor discovers the young people are being used as replacements by these aliens who have become disfigured after an explosion in their homeworld.   The Doctor offers to help them in exchange for returning all the missing humans.  To their surprise, Ben and Polly discover that the date is July 20, 1966: the very date they left with the First Doctor in The War Machines.  Taking advantage of that, they decide to stay on Earth, and Samantha decides to say farewell to a smitten Jamie.  The Doctor and Jamie would have left too, except that someone has just stolen the TARDIS...

The Faceless Ones, despite its incomplete status, should show the folly of giving the Doctor so many Companions.  In this story, as in the three stories after The Highlanders to now (The Underwater Menace, The Moonbase, and The Macra Terror), he had THREE Companions to deal with: sailor Ben, posh Polly, and Scotsman Jamie.  With so many characters, it was clear that some of them would get short-changed.  In The Faceless Ones, Ben and Polly were for all intents and purposes written out, appearing in only Episodes One, Two, and Six.  In other words, for half of the story, they were not there.  It's difficult to say how this would have worked if Jamie hadn't come aboard at the end of The Highlanders, but it shows that he was ascending while they were descending. 

The main focus was between The Doctor and Jamie, (who had supplanted Ben and Polly) and even guest character Samantha was more relevant to the story than the seaman and "Duchess".  In regards to Samantha, it was because her character was being groomed as a possible Companion herself, but Collins turned that down.  However, The Faceless Ones showed how well Jamie and the Doctor worked together, and here, we see how Jamie grew into becoming one of the better Companions. 

It should be noted that Jamie stayed on until the Second Doctor's forced regeneration at the end of The War Games, having outlasted not only Ben and Polly, but future Companions Victoria Waterfield and Zoe Hariot as well.  However, I digress.

We do see how well Jamie and the Doctor work together in The Faceless Ones, especially in how they work humor into the scenario.  For example, they are too involved in their conversation to realize that Polly had been snatched from behind them.   It's a credit to both Troughton and Hines that they managed to create a strong team between them.

Hines in particular, in the surviving episodes, shows a strong range: a worried friend when they are forced to separate, a frightened man whose had his first encounter with an aeroplane (a flying beastie he calls it), and even a slightly timid and smitten young man when with Samantha.

Collins, whose Samantha has only this episode to show for her work, played the character as a smart and brave girl, certainly Jamie's equal in courage and I suspect his better in the brains department (although on the whole almost all the women Jamie meets tend to be smarter). 

It is a clever twist (if one wants to call it) to make the Chameleons/Faceless Ones not real monsters but more desperate beings doing questionable things to preserve their people.  I don't know if making them sympathetic at the end takes away from doing such things as kidnapping or murder, but on the whole the idea holds well.  The idea of bringing Ben and Polly back on the exact same day similarly works.

If I were to fault David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke in their screenplay is that one feels the story is stretched a bit.  Even in its incomplete manner, one gets the sense that The Faceless Ones is a couple of episodes too long.  Granted, I find lengthy stories (anything over four episodes) a bit difficult, and on the whole it takes a great story to accept being of such a massive length.  Some stories, like the seven-part The Daleks or six-part The Dalek Invasion of Earth really build on the preceding episodes.  The Faceless Ones does have some of that, but on the whole it appears to be making the effort to make the story longer. 

This really is something that tends to happen with longer stories, and apparently the only times a story can go beyond five episodes is whenever a Dalek is involved.  We have yet to have a brilliant four-plus episode story that didn't involve them, and The Faceless Ones isn't it. 

Would I like to have seen all the episodes and have a complete story?  On the whole, yes, if only to see Ben and Polly make their farewells.  However, while we have good elements with The Faceless Ones, I can't say I'm passionate about it or desperate to have in my collection.  Truth be told, I thought The Underwater Menace was slightly better...but then again, it was shorter.  Still, The Faceless Ones holds well and has a good, though not great, story. 

In the end, it's worth giving it our attention and keeping our full face forwards.

Next Story: The Evil of the Daleks


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