Skip to main content

This man they call the Doctor. Where does he get his knowledge?


Doctor Who
The Faceless Ones: Episode One


 Fifteen years before that era-defining ‘80s story set at another London airport, The Faceless Ones brings full-circle the adventures of Ben and Polly. Unlike Ian and Barbara, they are returned to their time in the same year and (roughly) on the same day. Which may go some way to making up for the shockingly dismissive treatment the characters receive in their final story. Except that we’re used to that by now. The last new companion also received shockingly dismissive treatment in her final story. 


 The 1966 setting actually makes the story a historical so, if we’re to assume slightly futuristic UNIT dating, the next contemporary setting for a story after The War Machines is… Image of the Fendahl?

The Faceless Ones feels much less forced in its modernity than The War Machines. Placing it at the not-yet decade old Gatwick Airport probably granted it a certain shorthand, but in plot terms too it has the vibe of a gadget-heavy ‘60s spy thriller (just as The Enemy of the World would later appropriate a thick-accented Bond villain bent on world domination). Lloyd and Davis looking over their shoulders for inspiration? But, coming from Malcolm Hulke (and David Ellis), it positions itself against an easily diametric good vs evil outcome and so distinguishes itself from previous Troughtons. The script bears signs of an uneasy gestation, not least in being at least two episodes too long, but it feels sufficiently different from its predecessors to continue the approach of Season Four innovation. Troughton is at home in the ‘60s in a way that Hartnell never was (except in an Adam Adamant “highlighting the incongruity” way) and his rapport with Frazer Hines emerges here fully–formed, just as Wills and Craze are unceremoniously shunted from view.

The premise, identity-less aliens steal the personas of young Britstock (except that most of the Chameleons we see in the story are mid-30s or older), has been interpreted as a knee-jerk commentary on the dangers of immigration. I have to side with About Time in seeing any subtext as more of a straight Cold War paranoia tale, though. Particularly given that the aliens are making a point of “corrupting the minds” of our youth.

Superficially the story picks up the theme of sinister goings-on under the banner of recreational pursuits of The Macra Terror, but the most significant recurring element (in the first half anyway) is the repressive grip of bureaucracy. It’s more common for a ‘70s story to have the Doctor shut down by regulations and fine print, but in some respects it’s a more appropriate force to be reckoned with for the unfettered character of the second Doctor. It is far more of an anathema to his free spirit than the evils in some corners of the universe that must be fought.


And fitting that, no sooner has the TARDIS landed (on a decidedly scrappy looking bit of tarmac, avoiding a plane that first appears to be landing, then taking off) he instructs his companions to leg it from an approaching representative of the Filth. No attempt to appease the law (he later rejects reporting the crime to them, opting to look for the man in charge of the Airport). They’ve remembered to write Jamie as a fish-out-of-water (“It’s a flying beastie!”) while Ben, presumably due to his armed services training, scatters straight in the direction of the pursuing plod.


 One of the pleasures of this story, which allows it to coast relatively painlessly over the more padded sections, is the supporting cast. Colin Gordon’s dry Commandant is foremost among these (his interplay with Troughton later is especially enjoyable). He’d serve twice as Number Two in The Prisoner later in the year. Wanda Ventham has a less interesting role than Thea Ransome in Image of the Fendahl, but Jean Rock is a great name.

The reaction to the presence of the TARDIS is a signature comedy beat now, and I suppose it was then too (The Daleks’ Master Plan). There’s the suggestion that it was put there as a prank, and much show is made of the location filming in the first episode (airport police called out, TARDIS placed on the back of a lorry), although much of this amounts to hiding at the edges of hangars. But all it takes is one iconic shot, which is provided with Trout and Jamie crouched behind a wheel of an airplane.

All this running about was jolly japes back then, but from a present day perspective it is clearly the behavior of terrorists. There’s also the sinister undertone of ensnaring groups of young people to do unspeakable things to (Eli Roth would be proud). No time is wasted involving the TARDIS crew in the nefarious activities of Chameleon Tours (nice logo, but the name is rather on-the-nose), probably because Wills and Craze were only put down for two episodes (and a departure scene); at least Colin Baker had the chance to stick two fingers up at a four episode goodbye.


 Polly witnesses a murder with a ray gun (we later discover the victim is Inspector Gascoigne; Peter Whitaker appeared in five other stories)), but is so unobservant that she only describes it as a gun to the Doctor. Donald Pickering is smoothly villainous as Captain Blade (he was Eyesen in The Keys of Marinus and, alas for him, got to look a right tit alongside Ventham in Time and the Rani), although it’s a testament to his multi-tasking skills and the threadbare nature of the Chameleon Tours that he appears to be doing everything required Earth-wise. Issuing orders, piloting the space plane, putting stamps on postcards. He’s supported by somewhat incompetent Spencer (Victor Winding).

Polly: I’ve just seen a man killed.
Jamie: By one of the beasties?

This story must have been quite challenging technically, as a significant number of scenes rely on observation of video monitor feedback. While Gerry Mill deserves credit on that front, he doesn’t quite pull-off the transition from location filming to very basic studio sets. One might argue that Gatwick doesn’t need to look anything other than basic, but the real problem is that it feels so cramped compared to the expansive shots we’ve seen on site.

Polly is as ungraciously treated as in her last couple of episodes as in the last couple of stories. She is flustered and overwrought when describing the crime to the Doctor.

The Doctor: This man was electrocuted. His clothes are all scorched.
Polly; It was definitely some kind of gun, Doctor.
The Doctor: Maybe, but not one that has been developed yet on this planet.

The Chameleons big-up the Doctor’s insightfulness.

Blade: This man they call the Doctor. Where does he get his knowledge?
Spencer: He looks like a normal being.
Blade: More intelligent than most. He’s a threat to our operation.
Spencer: I’ll kill him.
Blade: No, get the girl. She can identify you. You can deal with the man later.
Spencer: He may talk.
Blade: So? Nobody will believe him.


 Spencer’s Polly snatch (!) is extremely fortunate to be successful, ducking out from a doorway and grabbing her in. The plan they hatch to “stop them worrying” about Polly’s disappearance is frankly baffling, since it does nothing of the sort.


 Rat-faced Chris Tranchell plays rat-faced Jenkins. He is best known as rat-faced savage-shagging Commander Andred in The Invasion of Time. The bureaucratic pettiness with which he responds to the Doctor’s urgency is most amusing.

Jenkins: Your passport, please.
The Doctor: You don’t understand. We have something important to report.
Jenkins: Yes, sir. When you’ve found your passport.

He responds with a shit-eating smile, informing the Doctor that a dead body has been found, and continues stamping passports. This Doctor would likely not be enamoured of biometric ID cards, since he refers to passports as “Some sort of official mumbo-jumbo”. Jenkins’ interest is only roused on mention of the police box.


 The scene with the Commandant shows off the comic timing between Troughton and Hines to good effect.  Jamie continually puts his foot in it, making their claims sound ridiculous (“He was electrocuted with a ray gun”) and the Doctor responds by hitting him every time he says the wrong thing. The Doctor and Jamie were expected to have arrived on Flight 729 from Madrid.


 Ben is very lucky to happen upon the Chameleon Tours hangar, of all the possible options. He’s even more sidelined than Polly, who at least gets to doppleganger.


 The appearance of the Chameleons in this episode is kept to brief glimpses; a syringe injected into a veiny arm (sticking out of a locker), a figure in a coat being led gingerly, possessed of terribly manky hands, a view of a scaly head and bandaged arms in the medical centre.


 The imagery is slightly queasy, not far off that of a burn victim, and the bandages and coats recall H G Wells’s The Invisible Man. The little we learn is intriguing and suggests a different agenda to the usual conquest plot. There’s a question over the Chameleon’s survival, and “He’s reaching suffocation point”.


 The Doctor leads the Commandant to a now empty Chameleon hangar, and he rejoinders with sarcasm at all of the former’s observations. The Doctor’s insouciant reactions in turn are just as well-timed.

Commandant: Oh, a man with nothing in his pockets?
The Doctor: Yes, I was rather surprised myself.

Then the Doctor finds an unused Spanish postage stamp.

Commandant: Oh, I’m sure that’ll make all the difference.
The Doctor: Exactly.

The Doctor also notes burn marks and burnt fibres.

Commandant: Ray guns, burnt fibres, foreign stamp.
The Doctor: Unused foreign stamp.
Commandant: I must be as mad as you are even to be listening to you.


 With the revelation that a packing crate contains nothing more sinister than plastic cups, the Commandant resolves to investigate the Doctor instead and why he is at the airport.


 The appearance of the decidedly non –Swiss Michelle Leuppi doesn’t make an enormous amount of sense on any level. Why didn’t the Chameleons simply copy Polly to be Polly Wright rather than someone who will only raise further suspicions? I suppose there’s an argument that it will make the Doctor look even less believable if a supposed friend denies all knowledge of him, but it seems very risky. And then they put her on the check-in desk during the next episode. They should be trying to deflect attention. It doesn’t help that Wills isn’t great in this scene, overdoing the puzzlement.



A solid opener that maintains interest due to the locations and the Doctor’s brushes with authority. The threat at this point could end up proving to be traditional villainy (the first we see of the bad guys has them killing someone) but showing sickly aliens suggests there might be more to this than common or garden evil invaders. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop.

Welcome to the future. Life is good. But it can be better.

20 to See in 2020
Not all of these movies may find a release date in 2020, given Hollywood’s propensity for shunting around in the schedules along with the vagaries of post-production. Of my 21 to See in 2019, there’s still Fonzo, Benedetta, You Should Have Left, Boss Level and the scared-from-its-alloted-date The Hunt yet to see the light of day. I’ve re-included The French Dispatch here, however. I've yet to see Serenity and The Dead Don’t Die. Of the rest, none were wholly rewarding. Netflix gave us some disappointments, both low profile (Velvet Buzzsaw, In the Shadow of the Moon) and high (The Irishman), and a number of blockbusters underwhelmed to a greater or lesser extent (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man, Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker). Others (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) were interesting but flawed. Even the more potentially out there (Joker, Us, Glass, Rocketman) couldn…

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

They seem to be attracted to your increasing nudeness.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was put in mind of Shazam! watching Pokémon Detective Pikachu, another 2019 tentpole that somewhat underperformed based on expectations. Not particularly due to any plot resemblance, but because both movies fall apart under the weight of an overblown and underwhelming finale. In the case of Shazam! that may be more damaging to its prospective sequels (if they keep the team of super-adult kids), whereas Detective Pikachu will simply have to struggle with a whole heap of unnecessary expositional baggage attempting to imbue the proceedings with emotional resonance.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

You’re a slut with a snake in your mouth. Die!

Mickey One (1965)
(SPOILERS) Apparently this early – as in, two years before the one that made them both highly sought-after trailblazers of “New Hollywood” – teaming between Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn has undergone a re-evaluation since its initial commercial and critical drubbing. I’m not sure about all that. Mickey One still seems fatally half-cocked to me, with Penn making a meal of imitating the stylistic qualities that came relatively naturally – or at least, Gallically – to the New Wave.