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…