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…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

I didn't kill her. I just relocated her.

The Discovery (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Discovery assembles not wholly dissimilar science-goes-metaphysical themes and ideas to Douglas Trumbull's ill-fated 1983 Brainstorm, revolving around research into consciousness and the revelation of its continuance after death. Perhaps the biggest discovery, though, is that it’s directed and co-written by the spawn of Malcom McDowell and Mary Steenburgen (the latter cameos) – Charlie McDowell – of hitherto negligible credits but now wading into deep philosophical waters and even, with collaborator Justin Lader, offering a twist of sorts.

How many galoshes died to make that little number?

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)
(SPOILERS) Looney Tunes: Back in Action proved a far from joyful experience for director Joe Dante, who referred to the production as the longest year-and-a-half of his life. He had to deal with a studio that – insanely – didn’t know their most beloved characters and didn’t know what they wanted, except that they didn’t like what they saw. Nevertheless, despite Dante’s personal dissatisfaction with the finished picture, there’s much to enjoy in his “anti-Space Jam”. Undoubtedly, at times his criticism that it’s “the kind of movie that I don’t like” is valid, moving as it does so hyperactively that its already gone on to the next thing by the time you’ve realised you don’t like what you’re seeing at any given moment. But the flipside of this downside is, there’s more than enough of the movie Dante was trying to make, where you do like what you’re seeing.

Dante commented of Larry Doyle’s screenplay (as interviewed in Joe Dante, edited by Nil Baskar and G…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.