The Faceless Ones

Written by:
David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke
Directed by: Gerry Mill
Starring: Patrick Troughton
Year: 1967
Video Availability (Episodes One and Three Only): Try Amazon

The last episode to feature the original Hartnell opening music, part one marks the opening of an undervalued season four entry. To be fair, this one is padded to buggery, with Colin Gordon's appearance (one of the most memorable No.2s from The Prisoner) small compensation for all the aimless running around. Actually, one of the security staff fluffs a line when describing Gordon's character, with "Number Tw - One, has just gone to the hangar area." Was this an in-joke?

Probably the biggest complaint is the human form of the aliens, though it makes a nice change not to have aliens with black and white motivations, and a second Doctor who doesn't just want to obliterate them. Also, of course, the cliffhanger to this one is one of the scariest ever, as a fleshless alien sits breathing heavily on a bed. It's horrific for what was still regarded as a kid's programme in most quarters, and they clearly couldn't have gotten away with it in large doses. Just one point - isn't calling their covert organisation "Chameleon Tours" a bit of a giveaway?
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I must admit, while I like the original opening theme, the new one rocks even harder. Currently rumoured to be the one they'll use for the new 2005 series, I'll be very surprised if this actually becomes the case, but they could do far worse.

We all know the stories about this one originally due to be a four-parter, set in a shopping department ("The Big Store") and while the setting is good, it's definitely overlong. This is the third time I've seen The Faceless Ones, and while the first couple of viewings pull you along on plot progression, once you know what happens you realise that there really isn't any.

If found this one might be pretty good, with lots of close-ups of the faceless alien, but the central story - aliens target holidaymakers in the 18-25 age range (presumably on a self-service holiday in Faliraki) - makes it one of the more whacked-out plots they ever did. And take no notice of those who say Pauline Collins would have been a better companion than Deborah Watling was. She's a gobby scouse minger who should have been drowned at birth. Cruel but fair.
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The last episode of the story to exist, albeit in a damaged form with frames missing, resulting in "jump cuts" throughout. Having said that, twenty seconds of episode one are also missing, and both had repair work by the Restoration Team to artificially extend their length to that of the soundtrack for their official video release.

Duller than I remembered, while the plot is now really getting underway, the aliens are the campest, most stilted players this sides of The Dominators. Likeable Bernard Kay does a turn as that handy plot device - the authority figure who believes the Doctor - while the total absence of Ben and Polly until episode six craps all over them and shows no respect to the characters who helped bridge the first and most important regeneration.
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Dire padded nonsense with Troughton and Hines forced into "let's pretend" acting, as they alternately imitate being unable to move, being injured and actually liking Pauline Collins . It's all wretched stuff, and even thought I've said this about a million other six-part stories, this more than any is stretched past its natural duration. Probably the strongest thing about this story is that there's no credited incidental music, just "special sounds" from Brian Hodgson, though as good as they are, they do become overused.
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This one sees - or rather it doesn't, as it no longer exists - the most appearances of the aliens' true form since the second episode. In a moment of sort-of postmodernism, Jamie is duplicated by the aliens and speaks in an English accent. Though whether he ever spoke in a Scottish one is open to question.

While Malcolm Hulke (who co-wrote this) deserves many of the plaudits dealt at him, he was rarely a subtle writer. After co-writing the brilliant but overearnest The War Games, he went on to write many of the most lauded Pertwee stories, with narrative subtlety rarely the order of the day. Lazy writing devices here include giving an alien truth serum to discover the plot, and a neat gadget on peoples arms that can defeat the aliens.

But despite the nonsense central idea and worryingly slow pace, this is the best episode so far, with the Doctor actually beginning to formulate a plan. As we're still in masterplanner territory (a guise that would begin to slip in season five, and be almost completely absent in season six) then this is the least of his tactician bouts, but it's still engaging in its own low-key way.
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Quite a decent conclusion, with the aliens and the Commandant trading off, all negotiated by the Doctor. It's fun, and reasonably engrossing, even if it offers little for those above school age. Yet being a Who companion is a terrible thing, and one minute you're in demand, the next you're being cast aside. Ben and Polly came in with the worst-ever companion exit, the offscreen departure of the lousy character Dodo. Here they get treated pretty much the same, with a quick "Here we are, Doctor, we've been away for three whole episodes and now we're buggering off - bye!" Not to draw attention to the fact, The Mighty Trout rapidly changes the subject and pulls Jamie along to new adventures - a companion who did get a dignified exit. Having said all that, while I do have serious doubts that Patrick liked Annekke and Michael as much as he did Frazer, it is a little more touching than I recalled, and there's a nice line where the Doctor rues not getting back to his home.
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Average as buggery, but certainly not awful, The Faceless Ones is both unfairly overlooked and deservedly forgotten. Yet even in mediocrity such as this, Troughton still manages to shine in one of his early appearances.
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