Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Faceless Ones

28 May 2004, 11:44 pm

The Faceless Ones 1:

Hmm. A good episode. A very good episode in fact... but with a few minor quibbles. Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first.

One - is that the wrong theme on the video? It seems to be the Hartnell one and it just feels utterly wrong with the titles. Is that how it was transmitted or is it mastering error? I dunno. It does show how different the new titles seem - this is the first time I've seen them remember.

Secondly, this is the first of the isolated episodes I've seen with the full RT treatment. It does slightly bring it home to you, the tragedy of the missing episodes. It looks so fresh and immediate that it's hard to believe the next episode doesn't exist.

Now onto slightly more substantial things actually related to the episode proper. The first half is way too frenetic. The TARDIS crew have barely landed before they run out of the way of a plane, run from a policeman, witness a shooting, discover aliens, get kidnapped. Within ten minutes. Whilst it does get the story off with a bang, it does leave the episode feeling a little busy. It almost becomes comedic - you begin to feel sorry for Captain Blade. He can barely start to act menacing and threatening without the alarm going off and someone wandering into his hangar (it's, what, four or five times by the end of the episode). Thankfully, the pace settles down as the episode progresses and we're allowed into the story properly.

One other criticism is the shameful treatment of Ben. It's clear that the production team are sidelining him and Polly like they did Dodo, but she at least get's something that resembles a traditional companion plotline. Ben doesn't even get that, spending the entire episode wandering around lost. He does get one half-decent scene with Blade, improvising his way out of trouble. But beyond that he barely features. You're lucky to get a glimpse of him in the first or last ten minutes.

What's good about it then? Well the contemporary feel, reminiscent of the War Machines impresses, even more so than that script. You see this is a story rooted in it's time and place in a way that War Machines isn't. For all it's use of iconic locations like the Post Office Tower, TWM's actual plot is fairly indifferent to them. Faceless One's is based entirely around the world we live in - it's telling that the macguffin of this episode, the detail that leads to the murder and sparks off the plot, is a set of postcards. The menace and weight accorded to something so mundane is disconcerting and weird - and utterly intriguing. Likewise, TWM was set in a fairly anonymous London. Essentially, it's streets could have been anywhere. Here they're an essential part of the story (a good deal of the menace of the cliffhanger is derived from this juxtaposition - a disfigured alien is led through a place we know, a place we understand. It's placing the menace beside us. rather than simply near us).

Other joys in the episode are the Doctor's dealings with bureaucracy - his conversation with the man who will become Andred is a joy, the man completely unfazed even when the Doctor tells him about a dead body, still caught up in his red tape. Likewise Jamie suddenly comes into his own - you can hear the writers start to have fun with his character, what with his talk of 'flying beasties' and his innocent giving away of practically everything the Doctor wants to keep secret. He's got noticeably brasher and dumber, but he's much more likeable and less bland, so this is no bad thing. The Doctor is really in his element too - smart and dry, with a genuinely alien feel (his scenes with the airport staff in the Chameleon Tours hangar are masterpieces of eccentric superiority... he thinks of the humans as means to an end, mainly ignoring and dismissing them whenever they're uneccessary).

And it functions well as a first episode too, intirguing and puzzling. The set up is established, and a good sense of mystery and threat is established - again, primarily using the contemporary feel. Aliens and ray guns are ten a penny, so the details that grab are details like the postcards, and the question of why aliens seem to be running a tourist plane - plus the chilling nastiness of the disfigured figure we never quite glimpse. All in all, good unshowy Who.


#29 29 May 2004, 3:13 am
Max K Wilkie
Time Lord


Originally Posted by Dorney
The Faceless Ones 1:
...is that the wrong theme on the video? It seems to be the Hartnell one and it just feels utterly wrong with the titles. Is that how it was transmitted or is it mastering error?...

The new titles were made for Macra, but they didn't switch over to the new theme until Faceless Ones Ep2.


Mind the gap.

#30 30 May 2004, 5:49 pm

The Faceless Ones 2:

Thanks for that. They really did feel amazingly out of place.

One of the great advantages of telesnaps is that on days like today - when it's been pretty much 24 hours since I listened to the episode in question - I can refresh my memory with a quick glance.

Episode two continues the settled pace of the latter half of part one... and I'm beginning to rather like this story. I remain convinced that judgement of whether a story is a 'classic' or not is always based on more than the quality of the script and production. In fact, my pet theory is that Dr Who fans go for stories they tend to consider more adult, perhaps in order to prove to themselves that it isn't a kids show... notice that they tend to go for stories that are more horrific, more gothic - any story set in Victorian times is a hit - the villains are always disfigured half men... etc. etc. As a result, the Faceless One's, a straightforward but not self-consciously 'adult' production tends to get left behind and forgotten. But it's really rather good.

This episode fulfills most of the structural requirements of a part two - elaboration and development. Some of the earlier mysteries are resolved (people are being duplicated, the postcards are explained) but these explanations offer further questions. It keeps you hooked and intrigued. Which I like.

One other thing I like is the distinct characterisation of the guest cast. All of the human's are recognisably people we know. You don't have the baddies, the goodies, or anything like that. You have real people. Colin Gordon's controller is a class act of weariness and annoyance, and Crossland is all pragmatism and pipe. They're distinct individuals without veering towards either cliche or being overly wacky. Likewise, it's nice to have villains with some personality as well. The refined aliens are still fairly traditional, but they seem smart and calm and ultimately something to be up against.

One of the other main parts of this episode is the introduction of the not quite companion Samantha Briggs. I'm sort of glad she didn't join, the character's nice enough as a one off but I suspect she'd get terribly wearying before too long. She's got a 'like me, I'm full of life and enthusiasm' feel that sort of reminds me of Dodo. But with a redeeming brassy humour.

The Doctor really has settled down by now. I thought this in episode one, and it's reinforced here. There's less of the wacky clown, more of an eccentric gravitas. He's odd, certainly, he wouldn't be the Doctor otherwise. But he isn't weird. It's a fine line between likeably strange and just a freak (hey there Big Brother producers), and Troughton's really cemented his position on the side of the good. Jamie's still coming into his own. Polly and Ben get chucked offstage here rather abruptly sadly. They've been far too good to deserve this.

Generally, it's a fun story. There's lot's of lovely little touches of humour (most noticeably the photobooth, wonderfully preserved in the telesnaps, but also the newspapers and Samantha's hat), and combined with the scheme seemingly about kidnapping young people, it manages to be quirky and yet it still connects. What I said for the previous episode holds true - it's a story truly set among us, which gives a fairly straightforward and entertaining adventure a bit more of an edge.



#31 31 May 2004, 3:18 am
Benjamin Adams
Rubber Sole


Originally Posted by Dorney
"I remain convinced that judgement of whether a story is a 'classic' or not is always based on more than the quality of the script and production. In fact, my pet theory is that Dr Who fans go for stories they tend to consider more adult, perhaps in order to prove to themselves that it isn't a kids show... notice that they tend to go for stories that are more horrific, more gothic - any story set in Victorian times is a hit - the villains are always disfigured half men... etc. etc. "

Good call.


#32 31 May 2004, 11:42 am


The Faceless Ones 3:

Cheers Mindrobber - I keep meaning to try to write an article about that whole thing. I might get round to it one of these days...

A first thought on this episode - at one point it seems that the only human males in 1966 are aliens, or middle aged men with moustaches and glasses. The conference between Crossland and the Commandant is mildly amusing for this reason.

OK, one problem I'm beginning to notice with this story is that it's a bit of a runaround. Not an episode can pass without people running to the Chameleon Tours hangar, discovering one bit of information and running away again... before somebody else runs to the hangar, discovers one bit of info and runs away again. It happens three times in this episode alone. The story effectively bounces around three central locations (the other two being Air Traffic Control and the Chameleon Tours Booth). This wouldn't be a problem but for the fact it seems so lacking in rhyme or reason. One moment Spencer's paralysed in the booth, next he's working at the tour desk, next he's watching the Doctor and Jamie on a monitor. The other problem is that it's a little bitty (first the Doctor discovers Meadows... but that's it. Then Jamie and Sam discover the postcards. And that's it. Then they discover the secret room. And that's it. This last is particularly glaring - when they've find the secret base, all the Doctor and Jamie do is switch on one - of two - tv monitors, and see one room. Do they investigate the rest of the room, or even try to disguise their presence there? No they rush straight off to the medical ward, without any real evidence it'll help. A search of the rest of the room would be an idea wouldn't it? Why do I have a feeling they'll be popping back next episode...)

Sam Briggs (of the brother Brian Briggs who can't help but make me think 'Ryan Giggs' every time he gets mentioned) is actually much more likeable in the flesh. The telesnaps make her look a bit gurny for episode two, but she is less 'like me, like me' in the flesh. And, sorry to be base and all, but quite cute as well (what with Wanda Ventham in it too, this is probably the most lad-friendly story in a while).

The story is reminding me a lot of the Honor Blackman Avengers episodes. It's almost a standard thriller, and but for the sci-fi trappings of the guns and pens, it could be a story of spies of some sort kidnapping young people (the aliens are quite disconcertingly human - there's a particular moment when Spencer is clearly flirting with a tourist as he runs the booth. Considering how evil and cold he is in the rest of his scenes this is quite creepy - it shows the potential dark underside behind so many innocent encounters, and it's disconcerting to see a villain being casual, friendly and happy. It's a casual ordinariness brings them closer to us - that old Yeti on the toilet thing). It's odd to see how Dr Who in a contemporary setting can veer so close to other tv shows (War Machines is, as often is said, slightly overshadowed by Quatermass).

One further oddity from this episode - Meadows gets let back into Air Traffic Control terribly easily, and no one remarks on his earlier weird behaviour. Bit mad surely?

Nothing else to report really, the story is continuing on as before. Kind of fun, filled with great images (the emptying plane at the climax is superb) and good ideas. Shame the script isn't a little more disciplined, less free-wheeling, but it's enjoyable enough and quite effective.


#33 1 Jun 2004, 12:13 am


The Faceless Ones 4:

Well I've finally gone through with my desire to get to two episodes in one day. OK, so I didn't get any done yesterday, but that's not the point. I'm getting close.

Hmm. This is, clearly, the filler episode. It's hard to think of a way that this episode affects the ongoing plot. (The only progression I can see is the Doctor getting a few armbands - which he could easily have done in the secret room at the end of part three - and the kidnapping of Jamie - which could have been acheived by having him go off with Crossland at the end of part three. In fact, the cliffhangers for parts two and three are only a hairs breadth from being identical). The story is put in, ah, a holding pattern to fill in time.

It's nice filler nonetheless. OK, the villain setting up the laser to kill them leaving is cheap and Bondesque (and the sort of narrative cobblers we've not really seen). What's particularly amazing about this is that it doesn't even need to be there - it's not a trap at the climax, and the situation has to be contrived quite a bit to get Jamie and Sam trapped. It's clearly just giving them something to do for a bit. The fall out from this sequence is worse though - with Sam and Jamie hanging around Chameleon tours buying tickets as if the people involved haven't just tried to kill them (they all dismiss it without a second thought. Maybe it's all in days work for the Doctor and Jamie, but for Sam to immediately forget and be so casual about her attempted murder is barking).

Elsewhere, it's back and forth, back and forth, nothing being acheived. Somehow it does manage to pull this off without seeming dull or boring though, probably because there's a certain spikiness and wit to the writing and guest cast (there's a lovely little shot of Wanda Ventham pretending to be ill in the telesnaps that demonstrates how even this minor bit part character is given a witty personality). And the sequences with Jamie and Sam are rather sweet.

Shame it doesn't really progress though. All the info we learn is stuff that's easy to surmise anyway (such as the planes never arriving. Yep, guessed that). Ah well. It's still enjoyable enough.

But because of it's slight content, I really can't think of anything else to say. So I'm just going to have to leave it there...


#34 1 Jun 2004, 11:42 pm

The Faceless Ones 5:

There's one really awkward bit of scripting in this episode. After having had no explanations for most of the first four, we suddenly get a vast seam of information from Meadows. It's more than a little clunky in execution. Sure, we need the plot explained at some point, but a bit more subtlety and a slow burn reveal might have been more effective than this info dump.

Sam doesn't really do anything does she? Her only real story function is to run around getting into scrapes and needing to be rescued. Ultimately, she has no real reason to be in the story apart to function as a proto-companion figure. I'm a little worried that this creating of companions for the sake of it is a bit of an odd direction to be going (Ben, Polly and Jamie were all directly connected to the plots of their debuts).

Jamie doesn't get much to do in this episode (his discovery of the mini-corpses is a nice bit of imagery, but that's about it). His and Crossland's duplicate's both lose their accents when under control. This would be a great idea if it hadn't already been used in the Macra Terror.

The episode generally comes over as still something of a filler episode. But what's weird about this, and in deed episode four, is that they never really feel that boring. I was three quarters of the way through this episode before I even noticed. It's hard to define why... maybe it's because the characters are all interesting and distinctive (even the human Nurse Pinto, essentially a bit part has bags of personality). Maybe it's because the writing is just enjoyable. Possibly a combination of both.

The variations in tone between the monsters is interesting too. Blade is a cool psychopath, Meadows a coward, Pinto a dangerous and creepy maniac, Crossland urbane and intelligent. It's good to see a range of personality within the aliens. Makes them seem more real, we see them as individuals. The same treatment is meted out to aliens and humans alike, which to my mind shows an impressive degree of care in the script.


#35 4 Jun 2004, 10:08 pm

The Faceless Ones 6:

Well, it's time for the most delayed write up ever. I listened to the episode proper two days ago - and just haven't had the time to do an update. (I plan to make this up by reaching Evil of the Daleks two by this time tomorrow, but I digress).

One thing that leaps out with this ending is that it isn't the standard Who climax. Rather than the explosive destruction of the aliens and their base, a la the Bond films, the story is resolved by negotiation and logic. And perhaps most interestingly about this, is the subsequent greying of Blade and Spencer. The script has been presented with an easy take on this - the new character of the Director could easily be written as a more benevolent leader who acquieses to the Doctor, but he turns out to be just as unpleasant a piece of work. It takes the more tricky option of shifting the goalposts and making the two murderous villains broadly sympathetic and unpunished. It's an usual point of view for a Who story, with the straight lines of good and evil basically ignored for a change. It does rather make the climax more low key than we're used to - but it's morally brave and intelligent, which is a fair enough swap, really. (Though I can't help but feel the whole resolution is a bit easy and they'll be back again the moment they're safe again).

It's sort of a solo trip for the Doctor this episode, with Jamie effectively neutralised since the start of part five, and everyone else on earth. His playing by his wits and desperate bluffing is beautifully done (and the canniness of the Controller is reflective of how much this individual character has developed - caustic and doubting to trusting and smart). It's a wonderfully audacious 'Doctorry' sequence, showing him living on his wits. Really reminds you why you love the character so much.

Sam finally gets to do something, finding the hidden bodies (though they're not really as well-hidden as all that. And it's a good job that the script specifies that after a time the bodies will be immaterial, otherwise we'd be left to wondering how they kept paying the parking tickets). She's a relatively pleasant companion figure, even if she is a bit all mouth no trousers, with all the initiative resourcefulness and bravery we come to expect from the companion being just as present in Jean Rock as it is in Sam. However, she is kind of sweet - and it's rather nice that there's the faint romance with Jamie, as it seems that companions are asexual figures if they aren't going to be leaving the series. It's quite good to have a bittersweet romance that doesn't end up with them together.

So, ironically, the viewers may have been expecting Jamie to be on the way out rather than Ben and Polly. And yes, it's another rubbish exit for some really fine companions. There's a lot that's galling about this - it's so rushed, for one, and if I remember rightly, they were contracted for the entire story so their sudden vanishing isn't a budgetary exercise. The scene itself is nicely played, however, and is kind of touching. Shame they didn't get more to do, but what can you do.

So overall it's not a bad little story. It's quiet and unshowy, although a little padded in the middle, but has engagingly well crafted characters (everyone, every alien, every human has a clear and distinct personality) a solid plot, and quite a bit of brain power. Never going to be a classic but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.


Well, now I know you're mad, I just wanted to make sure.

Sapphire and Steel: Remember Me
Doctor Who - Short-Trips : Defining-Patterns
Blog: The World of Dorney

No comments:

Post a Comment