In Review: Doctor Who – The Faceless Ones

Alert! Alert! Time Duct opening to permit arrival of a review by Tim Robins caught up in the Coronavirus Vortex of The Faceless Ones… or could the delay be the fault of a now exterminated sub-editor? Review downloading…

Doctor Who - The Faceless Ones Blu-Ray and DVD

The Doctor and his friends Ben, Polly and Jamie arrive at Gatwick airport. They quickly stumble upon an alien plot, centring upon the mysterious ‘Chameleon Tours’ – a low-price holiday company, whose young passengers have been vanishing in unexplained circumstances. With the help of Scotland Yard and the airport staff, the Doctor investigates further, but it isn’t long before his own friends start disappearing too.

What is happening to the passengers of Chameleon Tours? Where are the company’s planes really going? Can the Doctor unravel the mystery of Chameleon Tours before it’s too late?

Most of the BBC’s original 1967 master recordings for The Faceless Ones were lost soon after the programme’s original transmission. However, audio-only recordings have survived and have been used here to create a brand new fully animated reconstruction of this lost classic.

Starring: Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines, Pauline Collins, Michael Craze, Colin Gordon, Wanda Ventham, Bernard Kay, Donald Pickering, Christopher Tranchell and Victor Winding

The Faceless Ones may seem the most obvious (mostly) missing Doctor Who story to be animated. It relies on that old money-saving chestnut of aliens that can transform to look like humans. Even when the aliens are looking alien they are a bit dull, although the animation team seem to have taken a leaf from They Live in an effort to make them scary. It doesn’t really work, because their heads are generally seen at a distance and therefore seem a little small… and green.

Really, did it have to be Green? Couldn’t they have been something more innovative such as teal or mauve pink?

(Readers do note, they were actually green but, since the show was recorded in black and white, green was probably chosen because of the way colour was interpreted by the TV cameras).

Doctor Who - The Faceless Ones
Image: BBC

The Faceless Ones was made at a point in Doctor Who’s history when the production team were incorporating elements of the Swinging Sixties. When I first reviewed the series back in the 1980s, a review based only on audio recordings, I noted that the story has the feel of an episode of The Avengers and Department S, although neither of these series actually featured aliens. What has become clear as more Troughton episodes of Doctor Who stories have been uncovered, is that this also resulted in a supporting cast of broad, stereotypical characters that verged on the camp.

Thankfully, The Faceless Ones cleaves close to the conventions of Sixties action adventures. The setting, mostly Gatwick Airport, is interesting and the planes are welcome, reasonably well animated, and open the story up beyond otherwise not hugely interesting BBC sets. The plot is, well, bonkers – aliens, utilising the cover of Chameleon Tours, a youth-oriented travel company, have miniaturised 50,000 young people – and whisked them into space to repopulate their planet.

Another Sixties touch stone was the then burgeoning interest in package tour holidays. Package tours date back to the 19th century but, after World War Two, Thomas Cook and Son began promoting holidays to European destinations. As the traditional British seaside holiday often involved sitting in a car and watching the rain, people turned to Package Tours offered by, for example, the Horizon Holiday Group, which chartered flights between Gatwick and destinations such a Spain and Sardinia.

Image: BBC

The Faceless Ones also threw in a Liver Bird, Pauline Collins as Samantha Briggs, a young Liverpudlian searching for her brother who went on a Chameleon Tour and never came back. She hooks up with Jamie, whose mop top reminds us that he was, much like The MonkeesDavey Jones and Star Trek’s Chekov, with a nod to Liverpool’s Fab Four, specifically George Harrison. This story also sees the departure of companions Ben and Polly, an early foray into hip companions.

The animation is obviously not up to Disney standards, or budget. While making the characters turn, walk and especially run tests the limits of the animation, the drawing of characters and particularly locations and sets is good. I watched the colour version, and the colour palette is excellent.

Image: BBC
Few “Easter Eggs” get past the eagle eyes of Who fans. Image: BBC

There are moments where the direction and animation shines, some camera tilts and pans, the airplanes in flight and moments such as the Doctor throwing his coat onto a stand. Importantly, the animation makes the story clear and held my attention to the extent that I binge watched all six episodes.

The DVD also throws in another version of the story, including black and white animation for those who want a more Sixties vibe, the remaining actual episodes and a recreation based on off-screen photos.

Some have said that The Faceless Ones isn’t the best introduction to Doctor Who. It is true that the story has some tedious passages, and rests on the clunky storytelling methods that were prevalent in Sixties TV action adventures. The movements of the Doctor and company are watched on convenient CCTV and there’s an awful lot of hiding out of sight behind crates or doors. Plus, despite some detective work by the Doctor, most information is learnt by over hearing people. But all that is par for the course and I enjoyed this lot more than some of the other animated stories.

The Faceless Ones is an intriguing journey into the secret agent/ action adventure genre for Doctor Who. Its location in the Sixties pop culture environment is nostalgic fun, particularly for those who lived through the decade. Congratulations to all concerned in this DVD/Blu Ray release.

Tim Robins

Buy The Faceless Ones is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Doctor Who - The Faceless Ones Limited Edition Steelbook

Buy the Doctor Who – The Faceless Ones Limited Edition Steelbook (Blu-Ray) (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

RELEASE INCLUDES:
• Colour, Animated Episodes 1-6, with Remastered Audio by Mark Ayres
• Black & White Animated Episodes 1-6, with Remastered Audio by Mark Ayres
• The Original Episodes 1 & 3, with Remastered Audio by Mark Ayres
• Telesnap Reconstructions of Original Episodes 2, 4, 5 & 6, with Remastered Audio by Mark Ayres
• Audio commentaries (Animated Episodes 4, 5 & 6, plus Original Episodes 1 & 3)
• Face to Face with the Faceless Ones (Making of)
• Stock Footage from Original Production
• Surviving Film Fragments
• Trailer – Fury from the Deep
• PDFs

Let’s leave you with this terrific Faceless Ones fan art, by Daryl Joyce

Avatar

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



Categories: Animation, Digital Media, Doctor Who, downthetubes News, Features, Other Worlds, Reviews, TV News

Tags: , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. 1967 – when my parents owned and ran a seafront hotel in Eastbourne, and the typical two week family holiday in the UK was still the norm. It is still there, on Royal Parade, and still called Devonia. Despite being a Dr Who fan, I do not recall The Faceless One serial.

  2. “She hooks up with Jamie, whose mop top reminds us that he was, much like The Monkees’ Davey Jones and Star Trek’s Chekov, with a nod to Liverpool’s Fab Four, specifically George Harrison.”
    This sentence seems to have lost its ending, it starts to say what Jamie’s mop top reminds us that he was . . . but never actually says what. Now I am dying to know: what, according to his moptop, was Jamie?

    Otherwise, a well-crafted review. I am glad you mentioned the animation (“obviously not up to Disney standards”) – I sometimes wonder if Doctor Who fans realise that the art of animation has moved somewhat beyond the standards of Scooby Doo. Check out something current (e.g. the Marvel film “Spiderman in the Spiderverse” or the hit anime film “Your Name”) and you will see that the Doctor Who is very badly served by the BBC’s shonky workmanship.

%d bloggers like this: