Friday, August 16, 2013

The Faceless Ones - "The intelligence of Earth people is comparable only to that of animals on our planet."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Faceless Ones - Details

Season 4, Story 7 (Overall Series Story #35) | Previous - Next | Index

I'm working on my Lost in Time DVD collection so here again I'm writing about a story where only two episodes still exist intact. I read the script for the missing episodes to fill in the blanks. Watched this one shortly after "The Moonbase," so that's the one freshest in my mind for comparison. This story is quite different but, I think, of a similar (relatively high) quality.

Where "The Moonbase" was studio-bound, "The Faceless Ones" is shot largely on location at an airport -- so indoor and outdoor location shooting give it a markedly different feel from much of the series to this point. The Doctor is also in a much different position in this one with regard to how he relates to the human authorities: here he's basically an undocumented alien (pun intended) who has a very difficult time being taken seriously, where in "Moonbase" he could deflect questions about his provenance more easily because they needed a doctor and he was able to make himself (sort of) useful. Both stories I think are indicative of how strong the series is at this time in its history; these are not "classics" or particularly well-loved, as far as I can tell, but they're solidly entertaining. Where the science is dodgy, its not overly distracting, and there aren't any bad scenes or episodes that make you roll your eyes.

In "Moonbase," it felt like Jamie was a third wheel but the better companion for this Doctor, and here we are a few stories later witnessing Ben and Polly, not to put too fine a point on it, getting shown the door. Rather ignominiously, they aren't even in it much, disappearing (or in Polly's case being dopplegangered so she's not even really there) for much of the story.

This story may, dare I say it, benefit from having missing episodes. Not that I don't want them all back, it's just that it certainly didn't need to be a six-parter (apparently it became one for budgetary reasons), so only having two to watch minimized the effect of the padding. Since I was reading 4 of the 6 episodes, it went by pretty quickly, and alternating reading and watching minimized the ennui that might have set in had I been doing all of one or the other.

What we do get see here is the TARDIS landing on an runway at Gatwick Airport, and the gang immediately scattering to avoid arrest. (Nice footwork, Ben.) Polly witnesses an unsual murder in the hangar of Chameleon Tours while she's hiding from the airport cops and thus kicks off an investigation into what exactly Capt. Blade and his henchmen are hiding. That hundreds of people over several months have gone missing after sending a single postcard upon (allegedly) arriving in European vacation spots has resulted in only one precocious young lady (who takes a shine to our Jamie straightaway) coming to look for her missing brother strikes the viewer as wildly improbable. Perhaps the others weren't particularly close to their families ... and didn't have any friends. Anyways, the filming in and around the airport give this one a great sense of place and make it feel very rooted in 'the real world'. (Later, when the series shoots at Heathrow, it's not going to be quite as effective.)

In a move that feels remarkably modern, and shows how deep Nine's roots go in that moment where he tries to work something out with the Nestene in "Rose," the Doctor doesn't arrange for the aliens (who were pretty murderous along the way) to be blown up, he negotiates with them, and in return for the recover of the missing youths, offers to help them solve the dilemma that had seeking human bodies to assume in the first place. He demonstrates an understanding and (perhaps superhuman) amount of compassion for the baddies who were acting, however immorally, in response to an existential threat to their species. The nature of that threat was poorly explained; something to do with a "catastrophe in space" robbing them of their identities, so they had to assume the identities of others to survive ... which makes no sense to me at all. But, glossing over that, the actual resolution to what had been a suspenseful story is surprisingly satisfying.

I didn't realize it while watching, but since I noted her presence in "Image of the Fendahl," I'll quickly point out that Benedict Cumberbatch's mum is also in this one. She'll be back one more time, so I'll try to keep an eye out for her and not to forget to mention it again when I get to "Time and the Rani." If nothing else, there's your worthless trivia for the day.

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