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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.

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4 responses to “An Anonymous Exit: The Faceless Ones

  1. This may be the “Doctor Who” story that I am now the least familiar with – I haven’t watched any of the telesnaps or the extant episodes in at least 15 years, and the novelization probably in 20. I don’t remember it being particularly coherent when I did see it… early “Who” did feature a lot of behind-the-scenes talent that graduated to Oscar nominations, interestingly, but I think Pauline Collins was the first actor to grab one.

    As for Ben and Polly, if memory serves me right, the actors’ contracts ran out after Episode 2. Their farewell scene in Episode 6 was done in pre-filming (when they were still under contract) so the last scenes they actually would have recorded chronologically were in Episode 2. After this, things were changed so that nobody had to leave mid-story anymore, thank goodness…

  2. Aaron ⋅

    How can anyone be suspicious of Chameleon Tours? It’s so trendy!!!

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