Monday, 12 November 2012

Story 35 - The Faceless Ones

In which the TARDIS materialises at London's Gatwick Airport, in the path of an incoming aircraft. The travellers emerge and split up as a policeman approaches. The airport's Commandant assumes this is some student prank and orders the Police Box removed from the runway. Polly is hiding in a hangar belonging to Chameleon Tours. She sees a man shot dead by someone in flight crew uniform, using a futuristic weapon. When the travellers are reunited, she tells them what she has seen and they return to the hangar to investigate. The Doctor identifies that the man was killed by electricity. They are unaware that they are being observed via CCTV, from a hidden room by the killer, Spencer, and his colleague - Captain Blade. They abduct Polly, and later Ben.

The Doctor and Jamie see Polly soon after, amongst the passengers disembarking from a Madrid flight through Passport Control. However, she claims not to know them. Jamie meets a young woman named Samantha Briggs, who is demanding to know what has happened to her brother - last seen when he took a Chameleon Tours flight to Rome. A postcard was sent - but then no further word. Chameleon Tours operate very cheap flights across Europe, popular with young people. Also investigating is Detective Inspector Crossland, as other disappearances have been reported. It was his colleague, Inspector Gascoigne, who Polly saw killed earlier. The Commandant grudgingly allows the Doctor to help investigate. Crossland joins one of the flights and is shocked to discover that the passengers are drugged then miniaturised. The aircraft is really a disguised spaceship.

The Doctor learns that Blade's company is a front for the alien Chameleons - a race who lost their physical identities in some cataclysm. They have been abducting thousands of young people in order to take on their appearances - luring them onto cheap flights and getting them to write pre-prepared postcards before taking them to a space station in hidden orbit above the Earth. Some of the processing has been taking place in the airport sickbay, as Nurse Pinto is a Chameleon. When a special armband is removed, the duplicate perishes and the abducted human is freed. The Doctor frees Pinto and they travel to the space station pretending to be duplicates. The Chameleon Director has taken on Crossland's appearance. A search of the airport soon uncovers the hiding place of the real Blade and Spencer. If the aliens do not stop what they are doing and free the abducted humans, their Chameleon counterparts will be destroyed. The aliens decide to do as they are told and turn against the Director. They will find some other way of gaining new identities. Back at Gatwick, Ben and Polly realise that today is the very day they first entered the TARDIS back at Fitzroy Square. They can resume their lives, and so decide to leave.

This six part adventure was written by David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke, and was broadcast between 8th April and 13th May, 1967. It is significant for the departures of Anneke Wills and Michael Craze, and for the first contribution to Doctor Who by Malcolm Hulke. Only the first and third episodes remain in the archives, with audio and telesnaps covering the missing parts.
There was a change in the production team as the end of the season approached - with Peter Bryant joining as Associate Producer. He is credited as such on the first 3 episodes of this story, but actually held the post through to the middle of Evil of the Daleks, when he temporarily became Gerry Davis' replacement as Story Editor.
The story's origins lie with an unused story called The Big Store - in which similar body swapping shenanigans took place in a London department store.
The departure of Wills and Craze had been pretty much on the cards ever since Frazer Hines joined the cast. There were too many occupants of the TARDIS to offer them equal share of the action. Companions had to be abducted, confined to bed or share lines for a time - which was unsustainable. For their last adventure, unfortunately, both actors are absent for much of the story. Wills at least gets to play her Chameleon duplicate for a while. At least - unlike Dodo in their début story - they do get a leaving scene.
There is an obvious potential companion in waiting - in the form of Liverpudlian Sam Briggs. Pauline Collins would not return to the programme until Tooth and Claw in 2006 - playing Queen Victoria.

The rest of the guest cast is quite impressive. Returning for his third appearance is Bernard Kay as Crossland (and the alien Director). Also returning is Donald Pickering as Blade (he had been Eyesen in The Keys of Marinus). Another actor making a second appearance is Christopher Tranchell, who had appeared in The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Eve.
Making her début in the series is Wanda Ventham as the Commandant's P.A. Jean Rook. She will return as Thea Ransome in Image of the Fendahl, and as Faroon in Time and the Rani (reunited with Donald Pickering). The Commandant himself is played by Colin Gordon - known from many films and TV series of the 50's and 60's. (He's brilliant in the 1956 Alistair Sim comedy drama The Green Man).

The Chameleons are an impressive design - quite horrific in appearance. Their first sighting is a back of the head shot at the conclusion of Episode 1 - the only footage of them remaining. Their plan does seem to be rather doomed - they're easily destroyed by the simple removal of an armband. It's a rather convoluted plot, when simple prosthetics might have sufficed. Rather than destroy them at the end, the Doctor forces them to change their ways and look for alternatives - which they accept a bit too quickly after all they've been up to.
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. Spencer and Blade have helped a Chameleon through the airport to the sickbay. As they remove its hat and coat, we get a glimpse of the back of the creature's head.
  2. Investigating the hidden room at the Chameleon Tours hangar, the Doctor is enveloped by freezing gas.
  3. Crossland is talking to Blade on the aeroplane when the pilot pulls a strange gun on him. On a monitor, the policeman sees that all the young passengers appear to have vanished.
  4. The aircraft's wings fold into the fuselage as it transforms into a spaceship.
  5. The Doctor and Nurse Pinto have infiltrated the space station, but are captured by Blade and a group of Chameleons.
  6. Returning to the hangar where the TARDIS was stored, the Doctor and Jamie find it has gone...

Overall, not a bad story - though it might have made a tighter 4-parter. The Faceless Ones marks a watershed, as the final elements of the Hartnell era move on and Jamie gets promoted to chief companion. As with The War Machines, the programme is seen to work well in a contemporary setting.
Things you might like to know:
  • After Doctor Who, Anneke Wills did The Strange Report, then quit acting in 1970. She spent some time in Norfolk then travelled in the Far East. Whilst in India, at an ashram, she was known as Ma Prem Anita. She later lived in California and in an artists colony in Canada. She has since returned to the Doctor Who world with Big Finish audios and she has contributed to DVD commentaries and documentaries, as well as narrating some of the soundtracks to her lost stories.
  • Michael Craze continued acting on and off until 1994, including a regular stint in Z-Cars in the 1970's. In the 1980's he was also running a pub. On 7th December 1998, he had a fall on the stairs when collecting a neighbour's newspaper. Due to a heart problem, doctors were unable to operate and he died the following day. His brother, Peter, appeared in The Space Museum and Nightmare of Eden.
  • Wanda Ventham's son followed her into the acting profession. He's well known for some Steven Moffat / Mark Gatiss detective series... Yes, she's Benedict Cumberpatch's very proud mum.
  • After watching Episode 2 of this story, playwright Joe Orton wrote about it in his diary. He thought the story was "rubbish" - but did find one of the young actors worth looking at. This could have been Frazer Hines but, as Hines had been a regular for a while and was well known - and Orton had probably seen the programme before - it is more likely a reference to Christopher Tranchell.

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