Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones - Part 1

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...

Saturday 8 April 1967

This one gets off to a cracking start with the TARDIS materialising on an airport runway just as a plane is taking off. There's lots of airport-related hustle and bustle, a grumpy Commandant, uniformed staff, police motorcyclists... This is so unusual for Doctor Who - really 'urban'! The Commandant has received a report about the obstruction on the runway, which has left him less than delighted, and he's sceptical when told it's a police box. I'm not sure if the Doctor and friends legging it across the runway to avoid the plane was the best idea. Wouldn't it have been better to get back inside the TARDIS and dematerialise again? Still, I'm glad they didn't as this is shaping up to be an exciting episode.

They are spotted by the police so there's a bit of hide and seek. While the Doctor and Jamie hide behind the wheels of a plane, Ben and Polly have scattered in different directions. The Commandant has the obstruction removed. It's so odd seeing the TARDIS being driven away on a truck. Up till now there have only been two other stories set in the present day, and the last one, The War Machines, was almost a year ago. I must admit I like this mixture of sci-fi and everyday life, ordinary alongside extraordinary - they should do this more often.

Polly hides in a hangar labelled 'Chameleon Tours' but has to duck out of sight as she sees a uniformed man shoot dead another man with a futuristic looking space pistol. The killer goes into the adjoining room and talks to his captain via a monitor, so Polly investigates the body, but unbeknownst to her this sets off an alarm so the man comes out to kill her too, but she escapes and finds the Doctor and Jamie and tells them what she saw.

So let's talk about Polly's hair for a moment. In the last story The Macra Terror she was treated to a new short hairstyle in a salon at the colony. I complained that I didn't like it, and had assumed that Anneke Wills had had her hair cut for real as it looked very short and very closely cropped, even from the back. So I'm rather surprised to see her now with her long flowing locks restored to their former glory!

In the hangar, the killer and the Captain discuss the murdered man and discover he was a detective inspector. Oops. He was killed because he had "discovered the postcards." Postcard related murder would be quite rare I would think so I presume these must be of the exceptionally filthy seaside variety. They start to dispose of the body and evidence. I'm really enjoying this; airport staff behaving like this is effectively sinister.

The Doctor and friends return to the body and the Doctor deduces that the man had been electrocuted, therefore the gun can't have been manufactured on Earth. They march off to report the murder to the authorities but Polly, who is walking behind the other two, is grabbed and knocked out with some sort of sci-fi gadget 'thing' without the Doctor and Jamie noticing. I'm always sceptical of this sort of thing - it seems a bit unlikely that Polly wouldn't have let out a shriek and the other two would have heard her. But perhaps it was quite noisy out there.

Polly is interrogated by the two sinister men and the Doctor and Jamie retrace their steps to try to find her. The uniformed men spot them on their CCTV as its intruder alarm goes off again. The two travellers soon leave though, and go to an immigration desk where they try to convince the man at the desk that they've found a body. I have no idea why the man won't take them seriously! You'd think he'd at least have it checked. He's more concerned about them not having passports. When Jamie mentions the TARDIS the man is suddenly interested.

Meanwhile Ben is having his own adventure, making his way to the mysterious Chameleon Tours hangar. I love all this location footage around the airport, I feel as if I'm watching a film version of Doctor Who. He's confronted by the sinister Captain who was just nailing a large packing case shut.

The Commandant is summoned to interrogate the Doctor and Jamie. Jamie can't keep his mouth shut, having previously got them in trouble mentioning the TARDIS, he now blabs that the dead man had been killed by a "ray gun". Each time he starts to drop them both in it, the Doctor kicks him to shut him up! How does the eighteenth century Highlander even know the term 'ray gun'? I'll assume Ben and Polly filled him in on previous adventures whilst in the TARDIS between stories. "Is this some sort of joke?" says the Commandant, like a weary headmaster. I find this man very watchable! They all head to the hangar to see the dead body.

In the room with the monitors and control panels, the Captain is sticking stamps on some postcards. I presume these are the super-saucy ones referred to earlier. Why would an aircraft captain be sending postcards from the airport though? His accomplice then tells him that Polly has been "processed". I've seen enough sci-fi to know that 'processing' is never a good thing. They open this cupboard and stick a hypodermic needle into...someone. All we see is the arm, and judging by that, the occupant of the cupboard is not in good shape as what I can see of the skin is all weird and scaly. And why are they keeping a clearly unwell person in a cupboard anyway?

When the Doctor's party arrive at the hangar they discover the body is now missing. The Commandant doesn't believe a word of the Doctor's story of course. It made me smile the way the Doctor just carries on regardless of the scepticism, kneeling on the floor with magnifying glass in hand, oblivious of the Commandant's sarcasm. He finds an unused Spanish stamp which he seems to think is significant, though neither the Commandant nor I understand quite why. I mean, yes we saw a man licking stamps earlier, but I don't know why the Doctor would find it significant, except that perhaps it suggests a holidaymaker had been in the hangar.

More significantly they find burnt fibres and Jamie spots a scorch mark on the wall. The Doctor gives his new friend a verbal pat on the back for "using his brains"! Jamie also spots a suspicious looking wooden crate, but as they are about to pry it open the Captain arrives. He introduces himself as Captain Blade, chief pilot of Chameleon Tours. They persuade him to open the crate but the contents are only plastic cups. The Commandant has had enough by now so the travellers are hauled off for further investigation. After they've gone Blade fetches the creepy scaly skinned person.

As the airport staff are about to call the police to deal with the Doctor and Jamie, a new set of passengers arrive. One of them is Polly! She's acting as if nothing has happened. She doesn't even seem to notice her friends. This is very odd!

Elsewhere in the airport, Blade and the other pilot are escorting the creepy scaly person up an escalator, supporting him/her between them. I imagine this would be quite frightening for children, judging from the glimpse we saw and the fact that the person is being kept hidden. The fact that he/she can't walk properly is super-sinister.

Meanwhile Polly is denying that she is Polly! But she's dressed the same so it must be her. Jamie and the Doctor are as dumbfounded as I am. This episode gets more and more intriguing...

The shambling scaly figure is brought to what appears to be the airport medical centre. There has been a run of sickbays / medical centres in Doctor Who lately. The Underwater Menace had it's fish-conversion facility, The Moonbase it's more traditional sickbay and now this one. Are the production team trying to frighten children from visiting the doctor or dentist?! If so they're doing a superb job. The scaly character has it's disguise removed so we see the back of it's head. And I say "it's" because this fellow doesn't look very human to me. Either that or he's sustained some terrible burns or other injury. We just see the back of him (it definitely doesn't look female) appearing to struggle for breath. Roll credits.

Wow, the stuff of nightmares no doubt... That was very very good; full of mystery and intrigue, a gritty urban feel to it, sinister authoritarian figures, the Doctor in Sherlock Holmes mode, and a scary...thing. I'm hooked!

And finally as a completely unrelated aside, but to give this episode context: later tonight Sandy Shaw wins the Eurovision Song Contest for Britain!


Nick Brown
Nick Brown

I've embarked upon an open ended mission, pretending to travel back in time and watch classic television on (or close to) the fiftieth anniversary of original broadcast date; getting a sense of the context, the magic of that first viewing.

Now Reading
Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones - Part 1