Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones - Part 2

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

Saturday 15 April 1967

Ooh, the theme tune's changed! Just a bit. Some new 'twiddly bits'. I like it. Unfortunately the picture's gone again this week so I'll have to make do with audio and occasional images...hopefully televisions will be more reliable when they introduce colour later in the year!

There's a definite whiff of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers in this story, but I have to admit I'm a sucker for an 'evil double' story so you won't get any complaints here. Or is it about communism? It's certainly one of the more horrific plots we've seen in Doctor Who for sure. In fact the series has been getting notably more frightening during the last six months or so. Since the introduction of the Cybermen in The Tenth Planet in fact.

In the airport sickbay one of the air traffic controllers, Meadows, lies unconscious on a couch alongside a blank-but-scaly-faced alien creature on the other couch. 

Elsewhere in the airport 'Polly' is still denying that she's 'Polly', leaving the Doctor and Jamie bewildered. I like the way Anneke Wills plays this completely straight. It might have been tempting to do a sci-fi 'possessed' vocal style, but she completely convinces with a natural performance, giving the genuine impression of mistaken identity. She claims to be the delightfully named Michelle Leuppi from Zurich!

There's some silliness later as the Commandant calls the police to apprehend the Doctor and Jamie, and they do the old spy routine of hiding behind newspapers, Jamie's being upside down of course! First horror, then comedy, they've got the balance just right now. They make a great double act. I have to admit, I never really took to William Hartnell as the original Doctor but I absolutely love this current line-up.

The Doctor speculates that there might be a clue in the name 'Chameleon Youth Tours'. 18th century Jamie must have a spectacularly good memory to recall the word 'chameleon' I'd have thought. Polly only mentioned it once and it can't be a creature that Jamie would be familiar with surely? The Doctor explaining what a chameleon is confirms this.

In the sickbay it's like classic sci-fi 'mind swap', complete with elaborate headgear and electrodes. But in this case it seems to be the physical appearance that swaps rather than the mind. And the swap is only in one direction: the alien takes on the appearance of Meadows. I wonder if the production team got the idea for this story after the success of the Doctor's 'rejuvenation' scene. Because it's basically the same technique but scary! I must say the alien does look quite disturbing; I'm sure I'd have had nightmares if I'd been a young boy at the time.

It seems as though the alien is a sort of 'blank canvas' onto which a human character can be imprinted. Captain Blade and his assistant give the human faced alien commands and test it with questions. It's disturbingly convincing as an alien version of Meadows, especially with that rather chilling smile as it seems to improvise and elaborate it's background as air traffic controller.

Ben has caught up with the Doctor and they spot Polly working behind a booking desk. Or is it Michelle? Once again she's utterly convincing as the slightly haughty desk girl. But I'm a little baffled at something: earlier the Doctor indicated to Jamie that the girl might not be Polly. "But you saw her" insists Jamie. So I'm not sure why in this scene the Doctor tries to get Polly/Michelle to remember the murder of the detective inspector from last week. The girl then falters as she lets slip that the man was shot despite the Doctor not having mentioned that the man was killed. So...that means that this is Polly? Or does the Doctor think she's an imposter but with Polly's memories?

At Air Traffic Control alien Meadows takes a seat. And over with the Commandant and Jean Rock, is a new character. This is pipe smoking Detective Inspector Crossland who is investigating two missing persons: the murdered detective from last week, and a man who never returned from his holiday.

More comedy next as the Doctor, Ben and Jamie hold a conference...in a photo booth! An elderly lady pulls the curtain open and is confronted by three cheesy grins as they pose for a photo. The three of them agree to split up. Ben will investigate the hangar, the Doctor will revisit the Commandant, and Jamie will keep an eye on 'Michelle'.

I wish I could see the next scene as from what I gather, I think we see Jamie wandering through the busy airport, overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds. It's rare to see 'modern' life in Doctor Who and to see things from the perspective of 18th century Jamie might have been quite poignant.

At the booking desk, another new character: a Liverpudlian girl called Samantha Briggs. She's wearing a funny hat, is pestering 'Michelle' about her missing brother, Brian, and is not impressed with the customer service. 'Michelle' tries fobbing her off but she's having none of it and produces a postcard from Brian, posted in Rome. 'Michelle' goes into the office to tell captain Blade of the 'problem' but he's not there. Spencer takes a message.

Meanwhile Jamie's been chatting up Sam...or is it the other way round? They're sitting on a bench, and Jamie uses his newspaper disguise again as a policeman walks past.

The Commandant is not pleased to see the Doctor again and calls the police. Before they can stop him he throws something at them, yelling "One step nearer and I'll blow you all to smithereens!" In a 21st century airport of course this sort of thing would have a whole different connotation, but here it's actually a funny moment as the object the Doctor lobbed was a rubber ball!

Polly gets to speak to Blade who tells her to get rid of Sam, close the desk and get on the next flight. 

In the hangar Ben makes a sinister discovery: in an upright crate stands a catatonic Polly. That's really creepy the way her eyes are wide and staring. Ben runs to a phone and asks to speak to the Doctor, but he's immobilised by Spencer with his alien gadget thing, and this is witnessed by the Doctor via a monitor. He goes to the hangar but there's no sign of Ben. He does however find Meadows, in a similar state to Polly, and soon after is trapped in an office as shutters slam down. It looks like a jet of freezing vapour is pumped through a vent and the Doctor starts to shiver and fall to his knees. End credits! I can't remember the last time, if at all, that we saw the Doctor's life apparently in jeapody so directly like this. Cliffhangers have usually shown some sort of desperate circumstance of course, but this week it actually looks as though our hero could die...

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.

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Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones - Part 2