Saturday 22 May 2010

The Faceless Ones

The Second Doctor and TARDIS crew meet a group of shape-stealing aliens at Gatwick airport.

We should be very grateful that episodes 1 and 3 of this story survive intact. It is always delightful to see Patrick Troughton moving onscreen.

The Faceless Ones is heavily influenced by Invasion of the Body Snatchers and captures a good deal of the creepiness of its inspiration. The idea of stealing an whole identity is rather disturbing.

The airport setting is interesting and creates a sense of claustrophobia, as well as inevitable tension between the Doctor and the authorities. Unfortunately, however, the real atmosphere of a busy airport is missing.

The use of a contemporary earth setting marks out one of the changes that had begun at the end of the Hartnell era and the Troughton. The Doctor was increasingly interacting with the commonplace modern world, a development that would culminate in the earthbound Petwee years. The realism of season 7 has its roots here, with the lack of alien visual elements for much of the story.

We see the unfortunate habit of the black and white period of getting rid of companions for whole episodes. Ben and Polly play little part in their own swansong and their departure is remarkably unmemorable.

The alien race is not well characterised as a whole, though unusualy they all have different personalities (which makes a change in Doctor Who), and come across as a little cowardly. The divisions amongst them are harnessed by the manipulative Doctor.

Patrick Troughton puts in a magnificent performance. He gets so flustered by the red tape of the airport. I love the fact that he is almost as much in the dark as Jamie is as to what a passport is ("It must be some official mumbo jumbo"). Jamie is also used highly effectively.

Jamie is given a love interest in Liverpudlian pseudo-companion Samantha Briggs (Pauline Collins). It is perhaps a little disappointing she was not selected as a companion, as she would have been a stronger figure than Victoria Wakefield. We also see some strong guest cast action in Colin Gordon, who plays the Commandent and Bernard Kay, who plays Inspector Crossland from Scotland Yard.

The Faceless Ones is undeniably heavily padded and slow, but it is a delight from a much unseen period of Doctor Who.

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