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

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

That’s what it’s all about. Interrupting someone’s life.

Following (1998) (SPOILERS) The Nolanverse begins here. And for someone now delivering the highest-powered movie juggernauts globally – that are not superhero or James Cameron movies – and ones intrinsically linked with the “art” of predictive programming, it’s interesting to note familiar themes of identity and limited perception of reality in this low-key, low-budget and low-running time (we won’t see much of the latter again) debut. And, naturally, non-linear storytelling. Oh, and that cool, impersonal – some might say clinical – approach to character, subject and story is also present and correct.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c