Skip to main content

This time he’s up against a mind superior even to his. The mind of the Director.


Doctor Who
The Faceless Ones: Episode Five


 The sudden galvanisation into activity during this episode reemphasises all the padding around the story’s midriff that has occurred. Ben and Polly might not have been so obviously short-changed if they’d be absent for one and a half episodes of a four-parter rather than three.


 The story opens up at last, both in terms of locations and interactions. The Chameleons were previously limited to Blade issuing guarded instructions to Spencer. But now boastful Blade is willing to hold forth, so there’s a bit more colour to the character and alien race. He also shows that the Chameleons are as guilty as the Cybermen of underestimating stupid Earth brains.

Blade: We could eliminate an entire squadron of their planes and they’d never get on to us. Their minds can’t cope with an operation like this.

That’s certainly fair comment on the Commandant.

Blade: Remember the teachings of our Director. The intelligence of Earth people is comparable to that of animals on our planet.

I imagine the Director as the Chameleons’ equivalent of L Ron Hubbard, given to imparting fanciful notions in his followers’ minds. There are certainly significant holes in his plan.


 Jamie’s brief scout round the Chameleons’ space station is further evidence of the story’s reinvigoration. The drawer full of human dolls precedes the Master’s rum activities by a good four years. The worst and laziest version of shrunken humans remains the action men of the Fourth Doctor era, though. It might have been nice touch to show a tiny Ben or Polly.


With faceless Chameleons lumbering about there’s an added frisson of tension. The Chameleons must be the most viscerally disturbing creation the series has seen up to this point. No one would think twice about them if they showed up in the Hinchcliffe era, but this is generally regarded as the programme’s “safest” period. They may actually be more frightening conceptually than anything Hinchliffe’s era came up with because they don’t represent evil (like, say, mangled madman Magnus Greel) or mutation and regression toward baser animal instincts (like the man-Krynoid, or the Noah-Wirrn). They represent a distorted reflection of us (regardless of their view of their own superiority), a nightmare imagining of the effects of atomic fall-out.


Fake Meadows is persuaded to provide further exposition of the Chameleons’ plan, under threat of reversion to his faceless state.

The Doctor: Why are you abducting all these young people?
Meadows: We had a catastrophe on our home planet. A gigantic explosion. As you’ve seen, we’ve lost our identities. My people are dying out.

It’s a curiously indistinct explanation. Presumably the explosion was of nuclear proportions, but the “loss of identities” is a strange choice of words. Identities as in physical distinctiveness, presumably. Or the director would not retain his status.

We learn that there are 50,000 of them “this time” (on the station?) but Meadows professes not to know how many originals are stashed at Gatwick. This is really very daft of the Chameleons. I can’t think of a good reason for them to be secreted at the Airport other than that it provides leverage for the Doctor to gain the upper hand in the final episode. It can’t be to do with proximity, as Blade heads off all over and beyond (including space) so they could surely have stashed them aboard the space station and all would have been well.


The Doctor: Because if we do find them we’ll find one of these on their arms, ay? And if we remove it, it will do something terrible to you, yes?

The Doctor establishes that the process can be reversed with the Chameleons’ machine, and that only Nurse Pinto knows where the originals are.

Meadows: She was cunning. She’s got her own original with her.

Ironically, considering their facelessness, the villains are imbued with more individuality than your average Who enemy. Each of them is fairly distinct, and having Pinto as a control-freak may just have been written to cover the reveal of real Pinto in the previous episode, but it fits.


The plan to copy Sam and use her to get close to the Doctor is feeble in the extreme, since the Chameleons could have done this with Ben or Polly ages ago. And they want to do this now, having tried to laser her last week.


 With fake Nurse Ratchet/Pinto apprehended then killed and Sam saved (every time she opens her mouth now, it’s like nails down a blackboard), thick Jamie is probed for information by the fake Inspector.


Jamie: Inspector. Have you escaped or something?
The Director: No one escapes from here.
Jamie: Surely the Doctor will think of some way of rescuing us.
The Director: Not this time, Jamie. This time he’s up against a mind superior even to his. The mind of the Director.

I half expected him to say “I am the Director and you will obey me!” when he reveals his true identity to Jamie. The name the Director does have the ring of a recurring villain.


The Doctor establishes that 25 personnel have been taken over, and comes up with an at-best dubious plan to pretend to be a Chameleon copy of the Doctor (taken over by fake Meadows) to get aboard the space station. And who should he team up with but companion surrogate number two, Nurse Pinto! Madelena Nicol would have made a much more interesting TARDIS traveller than Sam. Mature, brave and collected, and always in possession of a bottle of aspirin.

You can tell that Blade isn’t buying the story from the off, and it’s not surprising, but this is The Faceless Ones at its most engaging up to this point.

In another dramatic turn, Jamie has been copied.


The Director: Where do you come from?
Jamie Chameleon: From Earth. A place called Scotland.

After Ben in The Macra Terror, this confidence to play with identity in the series is becoming a minor running theme. Like Ben, and Crossland, the “possession” of Jamie is signified by a loss of regional accent. We also hear a bit of myth-spinning of the Doctor. Now this sort of thing has become far too commonplace, but its quite thrilling to get a whiff of the Doctor’s rep (at least, when it’s not Daleks doing it) at this point in the show’s history.

Jamie Chameleon: He’s not of Earth or this country. He has travelled through time and space. His knowledge is even greater than ours.


Blade, now arrived, informs the Director that the Doctor and Pinto are impostors (although that should be the other way round).

Blade: Director. This man is a danger to us. He must be destroyed.
The Director: And I say he should live. But as one of us.
Blade: You will regret it.
The Director: You have your orders, Captain Blade.

So the seeds of mutiny are planted even before the Doctor sets to work.


A huge step up from the previous episode, it splutters into gear and propels itself forward engagingly. If the possession of a companion so soon after The Macra Terror could be considered repetitive, it is feels sufficiently distinct. And the groundwork laid with the likes of Meadows and Pinto remaining peripheral in previous weeks now pays off. The lack of foresight regarding the bodies might be excused if the means of their concealment wasn’t so daft…

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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…

What do you want to be? Rich or dead?

Blake's 7 1.3: Cygnus Alpha

Well, the quality couldn’t last. Vere Lorrimer does a solid job directing this one, and the night shooting adds atmosphere in spades. Unfortunately the religious cult on a prison planet just isn’t that interesting (notably, big Brian Blessed was about the only well-known British thesp who wasn’t cast in the similarly themed Alien 3).

It’s Who-central from the off with lovely lovely lovely Kara (Pamela Salem – The Robots of Death and Remembrance of the Daleks) and the Caber, I mean Laran (Robert Russell, Terror of the Zygons) noting the incoming London. Which reuses a shot from Space Fall (the spinning object is a planet, clearly one with an unhealthy speed of rotation).
The length of journey issues in this story don’t bear much analysis. It’s now four months since the events of Space Fall, and poor old Leylan has clearly been affected badly by what went down. But he’s only now sending his report? Useful for the wayward viewer, but a bit slack otherwise.

So.…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

Isn’t Johnnie simply too fantastic for words?

Suspicion (1941)
(SPOILERS) Suspicion found Alfred Hitchcock basking in the warm glow of Rebecca’s Best Picture Oscar victory the previous year (for which he received his first of five Best Director nominations, famously winning none of them). Not only that, another of his films, Foreign Correspondent, had jostled with Rebecca for attention. Suspicion was duly nominated itself, something that seems less unlikely now we’ve returned to as many as ten award nominees annually (numbers wouldn’t be reduced to five until 1945). And still more plausible, in and of itself, than his later and final Best Picture nod, Spellbound. Suspicion has a number of claims to eminent status, not least the casting of Cary Grant, if not quite against type, then playing on his charm as a duplicitous quality, but it ultimately falls at the hurdle of studio-mandated compromise.

She's killed my piano.

Rocketman (2019)
(SPOILERS) Early on in Rocketman, there’s a scene where publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) listens to a selection of his prospective talent’s songs and proceeds to label them utter shite (but signs him up anyway). It’s a view I have a degree of sympathy with. I like maybe a handful of Elton John’s tunes, so in theory, I should be something of a lost cause with regard to this musical biopic. But Rocketman isn’t reliant on the audience sitting back and gorging on naturalistic performances of the hits in the way Bohemian Rhapsody is; Dexter Fletcher fully embraces the musical theatre aspect of the form, delivering a so-so familiar story with choreographic gusto and entirely appropriate flamboyance in a manner that largely compensates. Largely.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

The world is a dangerous place, Elliot, not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on, and do nothing.

Mr. Robot Season One
(SPOILERS) With all the accolades proclaiming Mr. Robot the best new show of the year, the tale of a self-styled “vigilante hacker by night and regular cyber security worker by day”, intent on bringing down E/Evil Corp, the largest conglomerate in the world (as opposed to multinational Comcast, the 2014 “worst company in America” which owns the USA Network, home of Mr. Robot), I expected something a little more substantial than a refitted Fight Club, “refreshed” with trendy (well, a few years old) references to Occupy, Anonymous/hacking incidents and a melange of pop cultural signposts from the last fifteen years. There are times when the show feels entirely suffused with its abundant derivations, rather than developing into its own thing, its lead character’s pervasive alienation a direct substitute for Edward Norton’s Narrator. And yet, it has a lot going for it, and the season concludes at a point (creator Sam Esmail’s end of first act) where it has the potential…