The Radio Times logo

The Faceless Ones ★★★★

Body-snatching Chameleons are at work at Gatwick Airport. Pauline Collins guest-stars - as companions Ben and Polly leave

Published: Saturday, 6th June 2009 at 11:00 pm

Season 4 – Story 35


"This man they call the Doctor, where does he get his knowledge?… He's a threat to our operation" - Captain Blade

London, 1966: the travellers arrive at Gatwick Airport. Polly happens upon a murder and is kidnapped, then Ben vanishes, so the Doctor and Jamie try to persuade the authorities to take action. It turns out that a number of youths have disappeared while flying with Chameleon Tours. Samantha Briggs, the sister of one of the missing people, helps the Doctor and Jamie uncover an abduction plot in which aliens, scarred by a catastrophe on their own planet, are stealing human identities. After the youngsters are all returned to Earth in exchange for the Doctor's help, Ben and Polly choose to stay behind - realising they've returned to the exact day their travels began.

First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 8 April 1967
Episode 2 - Saturday 15 April 1967
Episode 3 - Saturday 22 April 1967
Episode 4 - Saturday 29 April 1967
Episode 5 - Saturday 6 May 1967
Episode 6 - Saturday 13 May 1967

Location filming: March 1967 at Gatwick Airport
Filming: March/April 1967 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: April/May 1967 at Lime Grove D

Doctor Who - Patrick Troughton
Polly - Anneke Wills
Ben Jackson - Michael Craze
Jamie McCrimmon - Frazer Hines
The Commandant - Colin Gordon
Jean Rock - Wanda Ventham
Samantha Briggs - Pauline Collins
Captain Blade - Donald Pickering
Insp Crossland/The Director - Bernard Kay
Ann Davidson - Gilly Fraser
Heslington - Barry Wilsher
Steven Jenkins - Christopher Tranchell
George Meadows - George Selway
Nurse Pinto - Madalena Nicol
Spencer - Victor Winding
Insp Gascoigne - Peter Whitaker
Supt Reynolds - Leonard Trolley
RAF pilot - Michael Ladkin
Announcer - Brigit Paul
Policeman - James Appleby

Writers - David Ellis, Malcolm Hulke
Incidental music - various library tracks
Designer - Geoffrey Kirkland
Story editor - Gerry Davis
Associate producer - Peter Bryant
Producer - Innes Lloyd
Director - Gerry Mill

RT Review by Mark Braxton
There's something inherently ghastly about a human head without a face. Genre fans of a certain age will know this from Sapphire and Steel, while Doctor Who reused it as a scare tactic for the Autons and the 2006 story The Idiot's Lantern. Here, first-time Who writers David Ellis and future stalwart Malcolm Hulke could have worked it into a savvy parable about loss of identity. Instead they created a satisfyingly hard-edged adventure with abundant location filming, gritty horror and elements of James Bond (sliding panels, freezer pens, passenger aircraft sucked into satellites). Only episodes one and three still exist in their entirety - but at least they are key ones.

Extraordinarily, it's only the second story - and Troughton's first - set in the present day: you can see the blueprint being inked in for later 60s stories, as well as Pertwee's Unit-stamped 70s. Music plays an important role, too. A new, embellished theme tune (from episode two onwards) features "electronic spangles" and bass-line echo, while good use is made of ambient murmurings from the music library to underscore the story's more sinister passages. Not so great are the frenzied bongos for scenes of running around. Way too Avengers!

Cynics would have no problem detecting plot holes. Why, for instance, don't the travellers simply return to the Tardis at the very beginning rather than scatter to all corners of Gatwick Airport? (The answer is, of course, that there would be no story.) And the Chameleons' elaborate scheme would, you feel, attract an avalanche of concerned relatives rather than a lone, anxious sister. Also, how did the disaster on their planet remove their faces with such surgical precision?

Despite this, The Faceless Ones unveils its mystery with ease and elegance. The sprinkling of solid characters (Blade, Briggs, Crossland and the Commandant) and the drive for authenticity would no doubt have left an impression on the producers.

It's a story in which Patrick Troughton's Doctor is totally in control, slowly gaining the trust of the people around him. His determination to solve the puzzle needles the establishment, but his authoritative voice soon rises above the hubbub of incredulity. And his in-built resolve not to see the Chameleons as bad per se prefigures future philanthropy, especially in the reinvented series.

It's another fine outing for Frazer Hines as Jamie, terrified by the aircraft he calls "beasties" and wandering around lost like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. His brief romantic fling with Samantha Briggs denotes an attempt to launch a new companion. And on this evidence she would have made a wonderful addition to the show: spunky, gobby and freewheeling. Sadly actress Pauline Collins didn't want to tie herself down. Recalling his time on the show, Hines once told me there was another reason to be sad, and not just for him: "Patrick and I both fell for Pauline!"

The script betrays other signs of tinkering, with both Ben and Polly absent for three entire episodes. It gets us used to their imminent departure, yes, but the backstage view that they "weren't working" is mystifying to me. They were a delight; they looked good and complemented each other beautifully.

Still, their departure scene is better than most. While not wanting the adventure to end, Polly's homesickness shines through ("Can't we stay in London a bit?"), and Ben is touchingly loyal to the end ("We won't leave, Doctor, if you really need us"). The Doctor famously dislikes farewells, but this is a proper one, deliberately written and movingly acted. For companions of Ben and Polly's stature, it was the very least they deserved.

- - -

Radio Times archive material

Faceless feature
Faceless Ones billings 1-3
Faceless Ones billings 4-6

- - -

“I have to say the BBC were completely disloyal. They were courting Pauline Collins. They were saying we’ll get rid of Polly and maybe you’d like to come on board. ‘Oi, where’s the loyalty!’ This is my clear memory. I said to [husband] Mick Gough, ‘They’re going to kick Mike Craze off,’ and I thought, ‘If I don’t go now, I’m going to get addicted to this £68 a week. And then I’m going to be in the show for the rest of my life.’ We were sad to leave. Pat [Troughton] was sad. Frazer [Hines] was pleased. More lines for him.” (Talking to RT, March 2012)

Anneke Wills 2012

RT's Patrick Mulkern interviews Anneke Wills


[Episode 1 & 3 available on the BBC DVD boxed set Doctor Who: Lost in Time. Complete soundtrack available on BBC Audio CD]


Sponsored content