Skip to main content

We’re the most intelligent race in the Universe.


Doctor Who
The Faceless Ones: Episode Six


 The final part unfurls its Malcolm Hulke colours more clearly than anything that has gone before. Now the characters can engage in conversations and, to some extent, reason. The villains are not allowed to be total villains, and justice is not served through their destruction. Indeed, it’s arguable that Blade and Spencer get off extraordinarily lightly by the standards of any era of the show.

The Director: What do you hope to achieve?
The Doctor: The chance to plead with you for the lives of 50,000 young people.
The Director: They’re only human beings.
The Doctor: What are you?
The Director: We’re the most intelligent race in the Universe.

I suppose this was only four years into the series, and such a claim might not have been quite so laughable then. But they’re so clearly not that much more intelligent than humans. Sure, they have superior tech, but it’s all to naught if they don’t have the dexterity to devise a fool (or human)-proof plan.


Even a Scouser is onto them (at one point she claims “Ah you haven’t got all the brains in London, you know”).


The Doctor’s judgement on replica Jamie is amusing, but he doesn’t pass similar comment on Crossland’s loss of regionality.

The Doctor: You’ve lost his Scots accent. I prefer the original.


He also manages to get these super-intelligent beings to admit that real Jamie’s in a safe place not far from there. Further cutting them down to size, he breaks with the blow ’em up approach of his stories so far and outwits them.

The Doctor: The special people up here feel more secure if their originals are actually in the satellite.
The Director: Be quiet.
The Doctor: The Director has nothing to worry about because his original, Detective Inspector Crossland, is actually on board.
The Doctor: (to Blade and Spencer) But, er, where’s your original? And where’s yours?


It’s a fairly crude scheme, but it does the trick. He keeps on chipping away, even as we cut to another scene then back to him as he’s being readied for copying.

The Doctor: Tell me, what happens if you disintegrate in the middle of my being processed?


The gambit of convincing them that the originals have been found at Gatwick isn’t overly convincing, but it’s just about excusable in buying enough time to actually find them.


And… they’re in cars. In the car park at Gatwick.  WTF? Perhaps the Director just had an overly optimistic view of the smarts of the rest of his species? But with fake ratface dissolving as evidence that they have indeed been found, the Director makes a fair point to his stooges.

The Director: You told me they were all hidden where they could not possibly be found until the life was drained from them.

I think this is the first time we have it spelled out that the process is gradual and that they don’t need to retain the originals indefinitely.


This turn of events means that internal divisions save the day, as Blade point his gun at the Director. And the Doctor shows that he is quite willing to negotiate with the terrorists who have taken planeloads of passengers hostage.


The Doctor: Stand by while I negotiate. I will guarantee your continued existence if you will return to Gatwick all the young people you have abducted.
Blade: What kind of continued existence would we have, Doctor?
The Doctor: In your former state, I’m afraid. Your scientists will have to think of some other way out of your dilemma.
Spencer: It’s better than death. We accept.
The Doctor: All right, we accept.

Trout isn’t set on dispensing justice, and he doesn’t define them as one the evils that exist in some corners of the Universe. The good guys don’t kill the bad guys. It’s Blade who shoots his leader dead.


The Doctor: I’m glad to see you alive.
Jamie: What do you mean?
The Doctor: I’ll tell you one day.


Given the rather messy situation, the Doctor might have been best to stick around and help mop up. But he leaves it to the Inspector. Presumably Britain will use the alien tech to develop their space programme during the Pertwee years.

The Doctor: Now, Ben and Polly and back to Gatwick.

Further evidence of the Hulkester at work is the Doctor proffering an olive branch; he will even try to set them on a course of self-improvement (does he do this before setting off to find the TARDIS?)

The Doctor: So long as you keep your side of the bargain, you may return to your planet unharmed. Perhaps your scientists will be able to find a way out of your dilemma. I may be able to, er, give them one or two ideas of my own.


Before the Ben and Polly’s exit comes my favourite line in the episode, maybe in the story. The Doctor and Jamie take their leave of the Commandant, who casually addresses the highlander.

Commandant: Goodbye, Scotty.


There’s also a snog between Jamie and Sam. She’s gagging for it, that Scouser. Puts Amy to shame.

Jamie: I better say goodbye.
Sam: I’ll see you around then.


Despite the half-arsed way that we arrive at the leaving scene, it manages to be quite affecting. It’s the same day that Ben and Polly left with First Doctor

The Doctor: You really want to go, don’t you?
Ben: Well, we won’t leave Doctor, if you really need us.
Polly: The thing is, it is our world.
The Doctor: Yes, I know. You’re lucky, I never got back to mine. All right then, off you go. Ben can catch his ship and become an admiral. And you, Polly. You can look after Ben.
Polly: I will. You will be safe won’t you?
Jamie: I’ll look after him.
Ben: I’m sure you will, mate.


Awww. Except for the bit about Polly looking after Ben. Because that’s all girls are good for isn’t it? The Doctor seems to have decided that they will become a couple while espousing some rather regressive sentiments.  She’d have been more liberated remaining in eighteenth century Scotland with F-finch.

While there are no shortage of lead-ins to the next adventure prior to this, the one here is fresh and attention-grabbing. Perhaps it’s due to the modern trappings, or maybe just the absence of any respite.

The Doctor: Well, I didn’t tell the others but we’ve lost the TARDIS. It was outside, but it’s not there now.
Jamie: You mean somebody’s stolen it?
The Doctor: I don’t know. That’s what we’re going to find out. Come on.


An enjoyable conclusion, which propels the story towards several unexpected destinations. There’s the odd clumsy plot development (the car park hiding place), but the conciliatory approach taken by Hulke is welcome.

Overall:


A rare six-parter where the best is saved for the last third. As a departure point for Ben and Polly, it’s lousy (particularly as the Doctor and Jamie remain on Earth as the next story kicks off). And Sam quickly becomes a source of annoyance. Ongoing adventures with Nurse Pinto and Detective Inspector Crossland aboard the TARDIS would have been much more appealing.

The escape and capture of the mid-section gives way to the revelation of more sympathetic villains than the era has been used to so far.  It’s just a shame Lloyd and Davis took their cues for the run of stories that followed from the most uninspired of the season (The Moonbase) rather than the more experimental approach here. 

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…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

What I have tried to show you is the inevitability of history. What must be, must be.

The Avengers 2.24: A Sense of History
Another gem, A Sense of History features one of the series’ very best villains in Patrick Mower’s belligerent, sneering student Duboys. Steed and Mrs Peel arrive at St Bode’s College investigating murder most cloistered, and the author of a politically sensitive theoretical document, in Martin Woodhouse’s final, and best, teleplay for the show (other notables include Mr. Teddy Bear and The Wringer).

Are you drinking the water?

A Cure for Wellness (2016)
(SPOILERS) Well, this is far more suited to Dane DeHaan’s slightly suspect shiftiness than ludicrously attempting to turn him into an outright action hero (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets). It’s not, though, equal to director Gore Verbinski’s abilities. One of Hollywood’s great visualists but seemingly languishing without a clear path since he was cast adrift from collaborating with Johnny Depp, unfortunately, he must cop most of the blame for A Cure for Wellness, since it was his idea.

There’s a whiff of Shutter Island’s pulp psychodrama tonally, as DeHaan’s unscrupulous finance company executive Lockhart is sent to a Swiss health spa to fetch back a board member vital to pressing ahead with a merger. No sooner has he reached the alpine wellness centre, resplendent in the grounds of historic castle with a dark past, than he’s involved in a car accident, leaving him with a leg in a cast and “encouragement” to recuperate on site, taking the waters …

Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.

Star Trek (2009)
(SPOILERS) If JJ Abrams’ taking up the torch of the original Star Wars trilogy had been as supremely satisfying as his Star Trek reboot, I’d have very little beef with it. True, they both fall victim to some incredibly ropey plotting, but where Star Trek scores, making it an enormously rewatchable movie, is that it gets its characters right – which isn’t to suggest it’s getting The Original Series characters right, but it’s giving us compelling new iterations of them – and sends them on emotional journeys that satisfy. If the third act is somewhat rote, its achievements up to that point put it comfortably in the top rank of Trek movies.

This here's a bottomless pit, baby. Two-and-a-half miles straight down.

The Abyss (1989)
(SPOILERS) By the time The Abyss was released in late summer ’89, I was a card carrying James Cameron fanboy (not a term was in such common use then, thankfully). Such devotion would only truly fade once True Lies revealed the stark, unadulterated truth of his filmmaking foibles. Consequently, I was an ardent Abyss apologist, railing at suggestions of its flaws. I loved the action, found the love story affecting, and admired the general conceit. So, when the Special Edition arrived in 1993, with its Day the Earth Stood Still-invoking global tsunami reinserted, I was more than happy to embrace it as a now-fully-revealed masterpiece.

I still see the Special Edition as significantly better than the release version (whatever quality concerns swore Cameron off the effects initially, CGI had advanced sufficiently by that point;certainly, the only underwhelming aspect is the surfaced alien craft, which was deemed suitable for the theatrical release), both dramatically and them…

You just keep on drilling, sir, and we'll keep on killing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
(SPOILERS) The drubbing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received really wasn’t unfair. I can’t even offer it the “brave experiment” consolation on the basis of its use of a different frame rate – not evident in itself on 24fps Blu ray, but the neutering effect of the actual compositions is, and quite tellingly in places – since the material itself is so lacking. It’s yet another misguided (to be generous to its motives) War on Terror movie, and one that manages to be both formulaic and at times fatuous in its presentation.

The irony is that Ang Lee, who wanted Billy Lynn to feel immersive and realistic, has made a movie where nothing seems real. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel is careful to tread heavily on every war movie cliché it can muster – and Vietnam War movie cliché at that – as it follows Billy Lynn (British actor Joe Alwyn) and his unit (“Bravo Squad”) on a media blitz celebrating their heroism in 2004 Iraq …

Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up.

Dark Star (1974)
(SPOILERS) Is Dark Star more a John Carpenter film or more a Dan O’Bannon one? Until the mid ‘80s it might have seemed atypical of either of them, since they had both subsequently eschewed comedy in favour of horror (or thriller). And then they made Big Trouble in Little China and Return of the Living Dead respectively, and you’d have been none-the-wiser again. I think it’s probably fair to suggest it was a more personal film to O’Bannon, who took its commercial failure harder, and Carpenter certainly didn’t relish the tension their creative collaboration brought (“a duel of control” as he put it), as he elected not to work with his co-writer/ actor/ editor/ production designer/ special effects supervisor again. Which is a shame, as, while no one is ever going to label Dark Star a masterpiece, their meeting of minds resulted in one of the decade’s most enduring cult classics, and for all that they may have dismissed it/ seen only its negatives since, one of the best mo…