Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Serial 35: The Faceless Ones

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companion: Jamie, Ben & Polly

Written by: David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke

Directed by: Gerry Mill

Background & Significance:
It's basically Troughton's "Time-Flight"?

Straight off, it should be noted that "The Faceless Ones" continues the trend of badass Troughton titles. See, I'm a huge fan of titles in general, and different eras have different feels of titles and such. The Davison titles, for instance, have a grand feeling of mysterious/ominous adventures, be that for good or ill. Troughton's stories always feel like straight up sci-fi adventures that just feel really classic and pulpy such as "Tomb of the Cybermen", "The Moonbase", "The Mind Robber", "The Ice Warriors", and "Fury From the Deep". "The Faceless Ones" is no exception and it gives a clear cut answer as to what is the big worry of the story.

Hint: It's whatever "The Faceless Ones" are.

But even beyond the title, I suppose "The Faceless Ones" is........ a story? It's the first story written (co-written really) by the quite good Malcolm Hulke and it's the final story featuring Ben and Polly (although that's a really weird thing as I'm sure I'll make fun of as we go through it), so it's got some significance and all, but... man. I couldn't tell you the good or the strong things about this story, not after the first episode or two anyways. The story itself is about airplanes disappearing and is quite clever in a lot of respects, but....

Actually, I will say that producer Innes Lloyd broke some rules here and did a six part story after doing an entire season's worth (nine stories minus one) of four-part stories.

Ah, the trap of the six part story. How it fails you, I think. It's an easy and enticing proposition, but man does it screw you in the end because holy crap this doesn't need to be six parts. No way. Make this four and tight and it might be watchable, but me? Yikes. I'm hoping I don't lose interest partway through part three. Cuz this might be a long ass blog. Ugh.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

Perhaps it’s a fault of knowing just how much this story does and does not pay off, but I honestly can’t help but be thoroughly bored by it. And why is this a problem? Because there’s five more parts to go.

Watching through it, it’s interesting to think about this story as a turning point in the show as an entity. I know we always talk about that sorta thing here and it constantly feels like the show is turning and twisting this way and that, but this actually feels like it is. I mean, if you think about it, Ben and Polly are around PURELY to provide cool people who bridge the gap of a first regeneration, and by this point they’ve served their purpose. What have they done in this episode? Nothing, really. Which is sad.

What it does show is the opportunity for Troughton to cast off the last vestiges of the Hartnell run and really get to know who is his one and only real companion: Jamie.

It’s interesting watching first season Jamie. He very much is the fresh new face on the block and there’s something to be said about the way he calls airplanes “Beasties” here, mostly because in just the next story (and soon thereafter) Jamie learns how to take all of this in stride and just be a companion or at least the Veteran companion of the era. It makes me wonder at what point Jamie was realized to be the permanent (or whatever) companion, because the chemistry he has with Troughton’s Doctor is… magical and oh so very unique.

Ben and Polly get the short shrift. I’ll talk more about them later, but it’s unfortunate that they’re relegated to the background and ineffectualness throughout this first episode.

But in all honesty, what happens in this episode? I mean, really? We learn that Chameleon Tours is up to no good (with a double entendre name like Chameleon it’s not hard to see why or something? (and no, not that sort of double entendre. The sort of double entendre that’s clever because it sounds innocent but really isn’t)) and there’s a guy who gets shot and The Doctor (Troughton’s Doctor, no less) gets slapped by bureaucracy. Which is funny… But…

I don’t know. I’m left cold at the end of this and without a super whole much to say. It does what a first part needs to do but is mostly uninspired minus a few good moments. That ending bit? That’s good. Troughton? He’s good, but this isn’t Troughton at his best. He’s still finding his groove, I think. Although it’s interesting how good he gets with regards to the parts moving forward after this episode. I feel he’s better in later ones, but here’s it’s almost standard Troughton.

Which is unfortunate.

The rest is standard. Bring on the next part, I guess.

Part 2:

It’s a rough time watching a Doctor Who story when you look back on the twenty five minutes you just watched and realize that you don’t even really remember what happened.

Character by character, this story is already kind of a snooze fest. The only character who gets any sort of neat face time is Ben, and that’s only because he’s actively searching and ferreting out what’s going on with Polly. Jamie is relegated to sitting on a bench for half the episode watching as [Not-]Polly works at the Chameleon Tours kiosk. And The Doctor… well… he’s out… looking…. For… some sort of clue, isn’t he? I suppose… yeah? He is? Honestly, I don’t know, but we end on him in the cliffhanger, so that’s something I guess.

If nothing else, it is a good final episode (say what?) for Ben. I mean, he gets some detectiving out, and I love the gallantness of him as a sailor as he quests for Polly, which is the biggest constant I see from him. He’s always running after her, the shining knight or whatever. It’s… strong.

And then he gets zapped by a freezy pen gun and then disappears from the story. Ah well. We all need a week off every now and again, although it really does beg the question as to why he chooses to go missing next week especially since he’s leaving at the end of this six part story. I mean, I know he’s not Hartnell sick or nothing, because Hartnell got away with not being in his penultimate episode but it’s… yeah.

We are getting some more new things, too. The mythology of the Chameleons is coming forward and the way they freeze people is frakkin creepy, especially the bit where Polly looks like a catatonic loony who’s about to come get me. Yeesh. #shiver.

But the rest of it is all fairly blasé and boring. We are introduced to someone who is blatantly and obviously going to be a new companion (except she’s not so don’t get your hopes up) in the character of Samantha. Oh my god do they want her to be both Companion and love interest for Jamie. It’s a flirt storm or whatever, except Jamie’s too daft to get it, but the ground work is there… They just… never do anything with her.

All in all, it’s just more of the same. The Doctor’s in peril at the end and we’re still investigating without really getting into many specifics or learning anything new at all. You could almost condense this and the previous part into an episode and be just fine and all you'd lose is some dialogue.

But apparently that’s too clever for them and they seem dead set on a six part dealie. Ah well. Really can’t win ‘em all.

Part 3:

Gasp! Wait! Is the story finally starting?

I’d say so? But it’s also difficult because there’s still another three episodes left to go. And this episode just tells us that they are stealing the “young people” (more on that in a minute) and it does give The Doctor free reign to start/continue his investigation. Also, this episode exists, which certainly helps it in the long run because there’s only so much reconstruction we can watch before we get bored or whatever, but all of that is just window dressing to mask the fact that nothing’s really happening.

But the investigation’s continuing. Which is a thing, I suppose.

We’re getting more Jamie and Samantha, who is proving herself adept at being a real and proper Companion. Good for her and I’m excited to see this chick join the TARDIS crew and replace Ben and Polly. Because… well… I dunno. I’m not really a huge fan of her but I guess she’s fine. But that’s clearly where this story is going so that’s good, I suppose. And we’ve never seen a companion named Samantha so she’ll be unique and she has a bit of an off-kilter accent like Jamie, which is cool and progressive. Go Innes Lloyd and team.

Speaking of Ben and Polly… I still think it’s weird that they’re not in episode three of this story, which is their final story. So that’s… that’s weird. Anyway.

I think it’s interesting to watch The Doctor here. I feel like Troughton is still doing a good job, but it’s not the best Troughton I’ve seen. Like other Doctors you can feel the dip in quality when he’s in a story that isn’t very demanding of him or sparking his imagination. Sure, he does find those moments (like when he shoots the Chameleon air traffic controller’s cup of tea with that cold gun; that’s the Troughton I love).

That said, what is he doing here that’s amazing more than just being what is your typical, standard Troughton? I guess you could say that he’s not really playing good with general people as a whole, which is a really nice holdover from the Hartnell years (because he just has to grow into the compassion or whatever that he has nowadays). But this story really isn’t demanding anything from The Doctor and what we’re left with is a boring sorta walk around the airport and something that’s completely lacking in energy despite the fact that all these “young people” are going missing.

Honestly, that’s probably my favourite thing in this whole story. There’s something hilarious about the way that all these older people (suits and inspectors and air traffic controllers and even The Doctor himself) talk about how “All the young people are going missing” and “We have to find these young people.” God it reminds me how I love those anachronistic phrases.

Those crazy young people.

Can you tell I’m bored?

Part 4:

And now we’re back in the realm of nothing actually happening. AGAIN. COME ON. YOUNG PEOPLE ARE BEING STOLEN FROM PLANES AND WE’RE STUCK WALKING AROUND?!?!? PICK IT UP.

Sorry, I’m trying to inject myself with a healthy dose of adrenaline. Maybe I’ll make this more exciting than I feel. It’s called acting or something. Is there it possible to act within my own writing?

Anyways, so we have more of the same here. Jamie and Samantha continue investigating and flirting and doing all sorta crazy cool things that are leading to her being our new Companion (so it's good to meet her; everyone bank on that. It's a sure fire thing is what I'm saying because she's going to be super super awesome when she joins the ranks of companions; everyone look out), The Doctor continues investigating, there’s an airplane that gets chased by a military fighter (not as exciting as it sounds) and The Doctor, Jamie, and totally-about-to-become-new-Companion Samantha all get captured and tied up and shot at with a laser beam.

It’s totally not like Goldfinger at all. I know this because if it was and the bad guy was basing it on that he would have known better than to have left The Doctor and his Companions alone with the laser beam.

But no, they get out because totally-about-to-become-new-Companion Samantha is a woman and thus has one of those compact vanity mirrors because you know how much women love to look at themselves and make sure they’re all dolled up and down and ready to go if some gentleman suitor comes to call. Girls must look their best for their man.

Sorry. That was awful. Well, sorry sorta.

Speaking of friggin fantastic things? The best part of this episode is literally when the secretary in the air traffic control tower starts calling to all the airports to where Chameleon Tours is making flights to see what’s up with all the flights or what have you. And then she gets scolded by her superior for making long distance phone calls because it’s so expensive. Hahahahaha. Love that. If only they just had Skype. It is cheaper (free, even) and you save on long distance. Seriously, though. That’s hilarious. I’d be worried too. That’s gotta rack up the minutes and stuff.

Christ this story is boring.

I mean, if nothing else, the revelation at the end of this episode, that the planes are traveling to a space station that’s in orbit around the planet is… I guess that’s a nice revelation and is a hint that the story is about to kick into gear, which it FINALLY is, but man. Talk about slow awful. I mean, even the plane chase is slow and Jamie manages to escape the magic disappearing act that happens to all the passengers aboard the plane and all of this comes from Jamie’s... well…

Gasp! That’s the thing! Jamie and Samantha make out in this episode.

For those who don’t know, this is just another step to further establishing that Samantha is our new totally-about-to-become-new-Companion character. She totally macks with Jamie and he takes advantage of her so that he can steal her ticket so she doesn’t go on the dangerous Chameleon Tours flight. Yay! They’re giving Jamie a love interest in the TARDIS. Screw you, Steven Moffat. They did love interests traveling together in the TARDIS here first in 1967!

Speaking of companions, it’s really weird that Ben and Polly aren’t in this episode either. Man. I can’t wait for them to come back and just blow this story wide open. Maybe they’re on the big giant twist that we have at the end of this episode, which, by the way, is a space station.

So they’re aliens. Which we’ve known. Here’s my question. Why wait so long for this? By this point I literally don’t care. I’ve been beaten over the head with boredom so much over the course of this whole story that this… God. I just don’t care. This story has been such a slow burn that the flame has died (which I’ll talk about more in the next part I’m sure).

There’s still some creepy, though. Like the bit where The Doctor stumbles across sorta Nurse Diablo’s body double or whatever her name is. I don’t remember and I’m too lazy to care or look it up because I just don’t care. And besides. Nurse Diablo is a bad ass name that’s kinda awesome and makes this story more enjoyable in my brain. See, it’s the story of Nurse Diablo helping The Doctor. Isn’t that super super bad ass? I think it is. YAY Nurse Diablo!

Seriously, this story is mad boring, kids.

Part 5:

Okay. FINALLY. Things are happening. BUT. It’s too late. And that’s a fact.

Once we get to part five, you better have my attention, otherwise we enter into what’s essentially a “Time Monster” situation when this… it’s just too little too late. Finally we get all the information we’ve been waiting on when it comes to the Chameleons and what they’ve been doing, which comes from a very convenient captured Chameleon spilling the beans on EVERYTHING. Good god, haven’t you heard of state secrets dude? YOU’RE COMPROMISING THE MISSION.

So this leads The Doctor to trying to fool the Chameleons that he and Nurse Diablo are Chameleons and they get to go up on the last plane to the space station (which is MAD convenient, isn’t it, that it’s the last plane? Looks like The Doctor and Nurse Diablo got there just in the nick of time. That’s so lucky and fortunate for them. Lucky and fortunate indeed). Oh and then they’re taken hostage after being on the space station for twenty seconds. Which is frakking hilarious. Good god this story is fantastic and bad.

But it’s just too late. I can’t say I’m caring.

I will say that the plan of the Chameleons is something of an interesting sorta thing if only because it’s so immoral in the way only alien plots are ever so totally immoral. They literally steal the lives of all these young people just so they can have a proper form? That’s kinda silly and ridiculous. Treating humans so completely toss-away or whatever (dunno, my brain’s not quite working in my brain today) and the way The Doctor decides to fight them. But really? It takes them five episodes just to tell us this?

It’s interesting that this story is co-written by Malcolm Hulke, because he’s usually so good at structuring stories, especially long ones and doing the long con or whatever. But here it’s…. not so much. You can tell he’s rough. You can tell that there’s the idea of “We reveal the Chameleon at the end of episode one” and then “At the end of episode three we discover that people go missing from the planes” and then “episode four ends with the reveal of the space station.” Which is all well and good and fine, but this is insanely uneven, as best exemplified by the blabbermouth Chameleon who gave away THE WHOLE GAME IN THREE PAGES OF EXPOSITION.

Dear god, that’s bad.

Also, I’m starting to get suspicious of the absence of Ben and Polly. They haven’t really appeared since episode two and now that they’re on the space station, nothing seems to be happening and they don’t seem to be anywhere in sight. What does it mean?! WHY ARE THEY NOT AROUND? WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS. I AM UNSETTLED AND ANXIOUS TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED.

Thank god that we focus on other things like totally-not-about-to-be-new-Companion Samantha and the air traffic controller secretary broad rooting through desks at the Chameleon Kiosk in an effort to try to find any new information so they can blow this case wide open. But nope, they don’t find anything. And nope, what little things they do find are never touched on again.


Okay, when that’s a scene, when that’s a BEAT in your six part story DON’T MAKE IT SIX PARTS. That’s boring, undramatic, and AWFUL. That progressed the story not a beat, accomplished nothing character-wise, and just chewed the scenery while we waited for the story to go on. THIS IS SIX PARTS. Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING me. Ugh. That’s why this story is not good. Because it’s got pointless bits like this that don’t advance the story.

If this story was just five parts it’d be stronger, but my god. What the hell is this.

Part 6:

And then the story ends just like it started. By doing nothing special.

Now okay, fine. That's a bit disingenuous. It's not like this does anything bad, but it does lack the certain flair and excitement of Doctor Who. Not only that, but it also lacks any of the sort of depth or mind buzzing that Malcolm Hulke stories generally seem to generate with me. He does such a good job of writing people with perspectives and viewpoints and such and while the Chameleons definitely have a specific viewpoint and a goal that is all clear and well and good... It's not exactly developed and really only comes in the last two episodes of a six part story, so it's not the best.... showcase of these aliens and characters.

I can almost give it a pass though. It's early days for Malcolm Hulke and he does have a co-writer, so there's that, but at the same time... Man, what a wasted opportunity, especially because it shows how good he gets later on when he really gets into topics he wants to explore.

But how the Chameleons are dealt with is... goodness is it sketchy. The Doctor and Co. deal with it by killing Chameleons and turning them back into goo if the Chameleons on the station don't operate? That's... that's a mite sketchy and The Doctor basically sends them back home under the promise of "Try something else"? Because clearly "something else" was working so well for the Chameleons in the first place.

I question that. I really do. The Doctor here comes down so fiercely on the side of the humans whereas in other Hulke stories he seems to waffle (and rightfully so). I wonder if that's a Hulke choice here, or something that came from elsewhere?

So this all ends fairly quickly and it makes all the space wasting feel like that much more of a waste of time when you get down to it. I mean, The Doctor is already confronting the bad guys not even ten minutes into this part and he's brought them down five minutes later. It's... come on. I don't even know. It just makes the issue that much more of a dilemma and Ben and Polly have been gone so long that I just about forgot that's why we were here.

Wait a minute...

So Ben and Polly didn't come back and kick some ass and take names. No. We didn't even get to meet up with them until the last four minutes of the episode. I guess this was to avoid another Dodo situation (which, to be fair, is probably a good idea), but while it's better than Dodo (because frakking anything and everything is better than Dodo) it's still not that much of an improvement. It's still very shoehorned and VERY obvious that they haven't shown up in the last FOUR FRAKKING EPISODES. And it's a sad, sad sendoff to these characters who were.... well... Companions. For a whole year they were companions (and these were long seasons) and they still get shafted in the last ten minutes.

Now, I understand the reason for it. They really did want to just clean house and get rid of the last vestiges of the Hartnell era. And to a degree, it works. They weren't quite really necessary for this story because Samantha is our new companion who gets to trounce off with.... wait... wait, hang on.
No, no. That's bullshit. They were setting up Samantha to be our new companion and apparently the actress didn't want to. Well screw that. Oh well. Who cares? Only now we're left with an awful weak story for Ben and Polly to leave on, an unceremonious heave-ho and then Jamie getting unceremoniously torn away from this potential love interest and.... Ugh.

Just like Dodo, man. Story first, characters second. Pathetic.

Final Thoughts?: So apparently I'm in the vocal minority about this story but ummmm.... man do I not like this one.

It's a shame, really because I do so love Troughton and Troughton stories, but it's.... this isn't really much of a Troughton story so much as it's a proto-Troughton story.

They're still getting the feel down, still making it scary, still making it all... Troughtony. Troughton himself is strong as usual but it's not his strongest. If nothing else, it really is an occasion to show off the new and budding bromance between The Doctor and Jamie that will be prevalent on the show for the next two years. And unfortunately, if this means we have to cast Ben and Polly completely to the side and shut them down for their last story, then so be it.

Again with the unfortunate.

I'd say it's a good first showing for Malcolm Hulke, but I'm more interested in his later work because this feels raw and unrefined. Also six episodes, which I normally wouldn't complain so much about because Hulke is generally really good at doing a strong structure across many many episodes in a serial, but here it's handled not as well and all that fantastic gray area that Hulke is so interested in only comes about in the last two episodes when we finally catch up to the rest of the plot and the story is allowed to accelerate.

In short, it just goes to show that you can't win them all. Not all Troughton stories can be home runs. They can't all blow your socks away, and while I'm sad that this story mostly doesn't exist anymore (because I am sad for any story that doesn't exist) I can't say I'm losing any sleep over it not existing as much as, say, other stories. It'd be interesting to watch to see if it'd play better, but really... Man is this one mostly skippable because of most things. Odd choices, underdeveloped and drawn out story, and shaky character work. Most unfortunate and a sad blemish on Troughton's usually phenomenal era.

Next Time!: 5th Doctor! Kamelion! The Magna Carta! Robots! Only two parts! Shaky bad Master plans! AND A GOD DAMN SWORD FIGHT! Next Tuesday we'll talking about "The King's Demons"!


  1. I love how the Doctor gets so flustered and seems as confused as Jamie about what a passport is.

  2. Wow... so completely backwards. The Ice Warriors deserves this level of contempt, while this one deserves the level of praise lavished on that pile of tripe. Next to Mind Robber and Tomb of the Cybermen, this is probably Troughton's third-best serial! IMHO, of course.