An Anonymous Exit: The Faceless Ones

To viewers of Doctor Who in 1967, goodbyes were nothing new .  The first four seasons saw the arrival and departure of eight companions (and one Doctor).  These departures varied in quality; some were excellent (like those of the first Doctor and Steven), and some were..well, basically a way to get rid of a character quickly (do I even need to mention a name here?). “The Faceless Ones” was the final adventure for Polly and Ben, and, while it was a better exit than that of Dodo (whose last episode was “The War Machines,” Polly and Ben’s first), it is a rather weak farewell.  “The Faceless Ones” is a rather nonsensical story that is really more of a showcase for the excellent chemistry between Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines than a fitting end to Ben and Polly’s time in the TARDIS.

The Doctor with two Chameleons, one with a stolen identity and one without

The Doctor with two Chameleons, one with a stolen identity and one without

The TARDIS materializes on a runway at Gatwick Airport.  In the confusion that ensues from landing in the middle of a functioning airport, the travelers separate and Polly ends up witnessing a murder.  When she reunites with the Doctor and Jamie, she tells them what she saw and the Doctor decides to investigate.  He discovers that the man who Polly saw being shot has, in fact, been electrocuted.  This intrigues him since the technology for this has not yet been invented on earth, and he sets off to tell someone in charge what has happened.  Unfortunately, the murderer has been listening to them the entire time and, when he learns Polly can identify him, decides to grab her as she lags behind the others.

The Doctor and Jamie speak to the Commandant (who is in charge of the airport), but he is suspicious of their story and since he is learning about a possible murder committed by an alien from two rather strangely dressed people without passports, it’s not difficult to see why.  What’s more amazing is that they eventually are able to convince him of the truth…but I’ll get to my issues with the story later.  For now, let’s just say that the remainder of the story involves many characters, including a detective from Scotland Yard and a young woman named Samantha, who is looking for her missing brother, either being captured, killed, or menaced by the aliens.

The aliens, in this case, are Chameleons.  They are faceless (hence the title) creatures who are sort of a cross between humans and lizards.  Their home world was destroyed, and, with its destruction, they somehow lost their identities (just don’t think about it too hard).  Their scientists have come up with a way of transferring the identity of another person to a chameleon, which is why they are on earth.  They have started a tour company for people ages 18-25 so that they can harvest enough young people to provided their entire race with identities.  The lives of 50,000 people hang in the balance as the Doctor tries to prevent the Chameleons from carrying out their rather outlandish plan.

I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy this story, but it’s an interesting premise in a weak story.  The problem isn’t really with the structure of the story.  In some other episodes,  when the story shifts to the point of view of the aliens, it begins to drag.   That is not the case in this story.  Since you don’t actually know what is going on until you are well into the story, the pieces that you get of their plan are intriguing and keep the viewer guessing.

The Doctor and his companions

The Doctor and his companions

The problem also is not with the alien race.  With the ability to steal the identity and persona of others , the Chameleons could be an interesting race.  In many ways they are the predecessors of the Zygons, who also have the ability to mimic other people.  The concept of faceless aliens might even be creepier than the slightly more outlandish appearance of the Zygons, but it doesn’t seem like that aspect of the Chameleons was really utilized in the story (although it is difficult to tell, since only two of the episodes can be seen).  Instead, the Chameleons spend most of their time with their stolen identities carrying out a plan that seems destined to fail.  How exactly do you make eight planeloads of people disappear every day (from multiple airports, no less)?  That is my main problem with this story: it requires people to keep behaving like idiots.  No one except Samantha has noticed that their loved one went on a Chameleon tour and is never heard from again?   I’m assuming with so many planeloads going missing a day, it doesn’t take the Chameleons too long to get to 50,000, but it seems like more than one person would become suspicious.  It also seems rather idiotic to leave behind the bodies of the airport personnel they have taken over.  Leaving them in plain sight in cars parked in the airport parking lot doesn’t seem like the move of a race that thinks they are the smartest in the galaxy.

Even the human characters in the story seen to make ridiculous choices at every turn.  People keep sneaking back into the Chameleon Tours office one or two at a time, despite the fact that everyone who does so is either dead, missing, or attacked.  This story also features an incredibly abrupt about-face for the Chameleons, once they realize the Doctor has the ability to destroy exactly 24 of them.  He makes the Chameleons promise to return to their home (I guess it’s not completely destroyed?) and their scientists have to find a new way to save their species (but he will give them a few ideas).  Despite the fact that they seem to have had no problems killing people indiscriminately up until this point, they agree to the Doctor’s terms and, suddenly, are not really bad guys after all.

With all that I have criticized in the story, you might be wondering what makes it worthwhile.  It really is an entertaining story, even if it doesn’t make much sense.  It is the first story to let Jamie step to the forefront.  He displays great chemistry with the Doctor and Samantha.  The scene between the immigration officer and the Doctor and Jamie is very funny; the Doctor wants to hide the truth of their mysterious appearance at the airport, while Jamie keeps blurting out the truth.  However, despite the obvious chemistry, the Doctor and Jamie spend a great deal of this story apart.  This means that Jamie also spends a great deal of time with Samantha (Pauline Collins), who was clearly being introduced as a possible new companion.  Samantha was quite determined and clearly had her own ideas, which could have made her an interesting companion.  She didn’t seem to be the damsel in distress type at all and she and Jamie had a bit of a flirty relationship (they even kiss, although once it was a way for Jamie to distract her while he stole her ticket).  Pauline Collins was offered a role as the new companion, but she turned in down.  This was not her final appearance on Doctor Who, though.  She appeared as Queen Victoria in the new series episode “Tooth and Claw.”

Jamie and Samantha

Jamie and Samantha

Another thing that this story has going for it is the fact that it features Patrick Troughton a great deal.  His Doctor is really highlighted in this story.  He is clever and devious without losing his comedic touch.  His Doctor is still flying by the seat of his pants, but he projects a great deal of confidence in this story as opposed to his usual tendency to play the clown.  The Chameleons already think that they are the smartest beings around, so there is no need for him to downplay his abilities: the Chameleons already underestimate him. The Doctor also makes the intriguing statement that he has never been able to make it back to his home, one of the first references (albeit a subtle one) to the fact that he is a fugitive.

The only characters who are not served by this story are Polly and Ben.  They appear in episodes 1, 2, and the final 3 minutes of episode 6.  Polly isn’t even Polly when she appears in episode 2, since it is a Chameleon who has taken over Polly’s identity who appears in the second episode.  They were clearly being pushed to the background to get the audience prepared for their departure.  They get to have an actual goodbye scene, which is better than some companions, but it’s still a bit anti-climactic.  It’s almost an afterthought that they decide to leave.  Plus I found it a bit annoying that the Doctor says that Ben can get back to his ship and become an admiral while Polly can “look after Ben.”  Poor Polly is always being underestimated and put in the “appropriate” place for a woman, which I guess is supporting her man.

What is unusual is that they get to return to exactly the point at which they left.  To anyone else, it will appear that they were never gone.  They are very quick to leave the Doctor when they realize that they have returned to their own time, but they were never really that excited to be traveling with the Doctor at all.  Most of their time with the first Doctor was spent wishing they were back home and being completely unimpressed with the ability to travel in time and space, so I guess this was an appropriate ending to their time in the TARDIS.

A final look at Ben and Polly

A final look at Ben and Polly

Overall, I enjoyed “The Faceless Ones,” despite its flaws.  As long as Patrick Troughton plays a major role in the story, even a weak script is usually entertaining.  It’s too bad that Polly and Ben couldn’t have been more than minor characters in their final adventure, but they do get to share a moment with the Doctor before they go.  It seems that July 20, 1966 was a busy day for the Doctor.  He ends up losing three companions and facing off against WOTAN, the Chameleons, and, since this episode leads directly into the next adventure, the Daleks.  With “the Evil of the Daleks” coming up next, it doesn’t look like the Doctor’s schedule will be clearing any time soon.

A Shellfish Society: The Macra Terror

“The Macra Terror” is a perfect bridge between the stories of the Hartnell era and what became the typical Troughton story.  The stories of the Hartnell era tended to focus on dystopian societies or people rebelling against an oppressive system.  Ian Stuart Black wrote “The Macra Terror.”  He had previously written two other stories for Doctor Who: “The War Machines” and the best non-historical story of the Hartnell era, “The Savages,”   “The Macra Terror” continues the themes that are present throughout his work for Doctor Who, but also adds a new aspect; he combines his familiar dystopian themes with a “monstrous” alien race.  Black mixes a dystopian society, a base under siege story, and a monster of the week and somehow manages to come up with a cohesive narrative.

A giant, menacing Macra (the only actual sized model they made)

A giant, menacing Macra (the only actual sized model they made)

The TARDIS lands after the travelers have seen that a large claw lies in their near future.   They are in an earth colony of the future.  They arrive just as the police are chasing a disturbed colonist through the area.  Medok, the colonist, attacks the travelers and they end up helping to capture him.  Their help is greatly appreciated, and they welcomed as visitors to the colony (where everyone is abnormally happy) and invited to meet with the leader.  The leader’s title, in a reference back to the days when they arrived on the planet by ship, is the Pilot.  There is also the mysterious Controller (who has the ultimate authority), whose voice is heard everywhere, but is only seen as a photo.

The travelers receive a warm welcome from the leader, who suggests that they visit the Refreshing Department to get, well, refreshed a bit, but the Doctor is wary of the colony.  He senses that something is wrong; everyone is a little too happy.  He soon finds a way to talk to Medok again and learns that Medok was once a happy member of the colony, but is now accused of seeing things.  Medok claims that he has seen large, ugly creatures that roam around the colony at night.  The Doctor feels that there must be something to Medok’s story, since those in charge are so eager to suppress it,  and allows Medok to escape, getting himself into trouble in the process.

Of course Medok is not crazy and, eventually, the Doctor and his companions each have their moment coming face to face with a Macra, the giant crab-like creatures that Medok saw.  The Doctor eventually learns that the reason that everyone is so happy in the colony: the citizens have been brainwashed into obeying the controller.   They are also programed to deny the existence of the Macra, even when they have seen one.  The Doctor realizes a bit too late that this technique will be used on him and his companions.  He manages to save Polly and Jamie from the effects of the brainwashing, but Ben has fallen victim to their suggestions.  The Doctor then needs to find a way to defeat the Macra, who are now in charge of the colony, and figure out how to get the old Ben back.

The Doctor gets another new hat.

The Doctor gets another new hat.

I thought “The Macra Terror” had a clever premise, even if it’s not perfectly realized.  The characters are interesting and it makes good use of the themes that Black used in his earlier stories.  It continues his interest in the idea that societies need to brainwash their members to keep everyone happy and/or under control, as well as the importance of thinking for one’s self.  This, like “The Savages,” is another example of a dystopian society.  Everyone has been brainwashed into believing that they are happy, so they don’t want to disobey their controller, who they think is responsible for their happiness.  Of course, the controller is looking out for the interests of the Macra and not the humans, but the members of the colony don’t see that because the Macra have conditioned them not to question the controller.

However, as in “The Savages,” the story stops short of really examining this society.  This isn’t a huge complaint, since I do understand that at this point Doctor Who is very much a children’s show, but I was left with a lot of questions.  How will this society function, now that the Doctor exposed the controller as a fraud?  I can’t help but wonder if the colonists were trained to obey the controller unquestioningly before the Macra took over, or if it was the gas and hypnotic suggestions that allowed the Macra to take over without anybody noticing.   The colonists choose the Doctor to become the new Pilot, but he runs away (as the Doctor generally does from anything that would tie him down), leaving to society to find a new path on its own and there’s no Steven to leave in charge here.

I also would have liked to have learned a bit more about the Macra.  They are the weakest part of the story.  It was implied that they came from deep within the planet, but why did they decide to take over the colony?  What exactly was their plan, besides getting the humans to harvest the gas they needed to breathe?  Could all of the Macra speak, or just the leader (and why was the leader the only white Macra?)? Other than being the “monsters” of the piece, they aren’t given much purpose

Speaking of the Macra, it would be interesting to see more than just a few seconds of the Macra.  The idea of having giant, sentient crabs as an alien race is an unusual one, and the story does need the Macra to be menacing, if it’s to be believable.  Since all four episodes are lost, we only have tiny clips.  It’s difficult to tell from the few seconds of footage just how effective the Macra were, but I tend to suspect that they are better in my mind than they actually were onscreen.  The clip that exists of the Macra attacking Polly reminds me a bit of Bela Lugosi thrashing around with the fake octopus in Bride of the Monster.  And, given what I know of the production values on the show at this point, I do wonder if actually seeing the monsters in this case might detract from the story. However, since I am pretty willing to accept whatever monsters they create, even if they look like people in rubber suits (and yes Voords, I’m thinking of you in particular), I’d still have rather seen more of the story.

The lack of images is especially felt in some of the comical scenes.  For instance, when the travelers visit the Refreshing Department, I would have liked to have been able to see more of the machines (and the gag about the Doctor looking all neat and tidy before quickly finding a way to rumple himself up again).  I also would have loved to see Jamie and the others doing the Highland Fling to escape from the colonists.  That seems like the perfect exit for Troughton’s Doctor, to simply dance away.

Ben and Jamie during the brainwashing

Ben and Jamie during the brainwashing

I feel that “The Macra Terror” is the first time that we truly see Troughton’s Doctor.  Now that it is the second half of his first season, I feel like both Troughton and the writers have a clearer sense of who his Doctor is.  Troughton’s Doctor has been odd from the beginning, but in this story we really see him demonstrate a sense of humor.  Just as the constant happy music and singing in the background was starting to drive me crazy (I know, it serves a purpose because it shows how artificial the society is, but it does get a bit annoying), the Doctor makes a joke about how annoying it is.  This is a clear distinction from Hartnell’s Doctor, who had a sense of humor, but certainly would not be cracking a joke (he certainly had an opportunity with the never ending ballad of the Last Chance Saloon in “The Gunfighters).   Troughton also gets to show off how clever his Doctor is in this story, while still keeping his careless, haphazard approach to things.  For instance, he figures out the “secret” mathematical formula by scribbling on the walls with a piece of chalk.  When he learns that he has discovered the formula, he is obviously quite proud of himself, but he rather downplays the achievement.  This feeds into one of the hallmarks of Troughton’s Doctor: he is always the  smartest man in the room, but he doesn’t like to let people know that.

As for the companions, the story gives Ben a larger role than usual.  He is the only one of the group to be affected by the colony’s brainwashing, so much of the story shows Ben gradually regaining control of his thoughts.  He serves as an antagonist for part of the story before ultimately saving everyone in the end.  It’s the first story since “The War Machines,” the last story Black wrote for the series, to actually make Ben a central part of the plot.  Jamie also gets his personality developed a bit more as well.  He is clearly the most suspicious of the group and the only companion to question the society from the start.  He is also not very susceptible to the brainwashing, and I wondered if this might have been due in part to his unwavering loyalty to the Doctor.  Ben has his doubts about just how competent the Doctor is, but Jamie trusts him completely.  He is quick to turn on Ben when it becomes clear that Ben is now on the side of the Controller, because he sees him as being against the Doctor.  Everything is very black and white to Jamie.  However, he and Ben do share the trait of being quick to jump into action, although Jamie is a bit more impulsive, like the Doctor.  As for Polly in this story…well, she gets a haircut.

Polly doing what she does best (and showing off her new haircut)

Polly doing what she does best (and showing off her new haircut)

Overall, I enjoyed the story.  The ending feels a bit rushed, but other than that it’s a good story.  My main complaint would be the poor use of Polly.  It was a nice twist on “The War Machines” that it is Ben, not Polly who gets brainwashed in this story.  I worried that Polly would be the brainwashed one because women are the “weaker sex” or some other sexist nonsense, but the story did not fall into that trap.  However, I did notice that Polly needed Ben to rescue her in “The War Machines” while Ben is able to rescue himself from the brainwashing.  While Polly is nowhere near as helpless as Dodo (but really, who is?) and she doesn’t let the boys hold her back from any action, she is a very clever person and it would be nice to see the writers use her cleverness in the service of the story.  “The Highlanders” really shows when the writers gave Polly something to do, she was a very interesting character.  Unfortunately, most writers don’t seen to take much of an interest in her.  She seems to have been seen as the perfect victim and spends way too much time panicking or as a captive.  As a matter of fact, it amazes me the Anneke Wills could have much voice left after Polly’s constant screaming.  Maybe the production team on Doctor Who spent a lot of their budget on lozenges?