Doctor Who #159: The Faceless Ones Part 1

"As a matter of fact, he's just gone to look for a dead body. Yes! It's going to be one of those days, isn't it?"TECHNICAL SPECS: One of 2 surviving episodes of this 6-part story, Part 1 is found on the Lost in Time DVD boxed set. First aired Apr.8 1967.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands at Gatwick Airport and the crew immediately gets involved in a strange murder case.

REVIEW: Because it was all grubby reconstructions, I didn't even notice they changed the opening sequence, but here, in a surviving episode, it's quite striking. The usual swirls now resolve into the second Doctor's impish face, though the process makes him look initially like some multi-eyed monster. It's pretty cool. The film looks like it then burns and the title of the show is revealed in a more serifed font before the camera feedback goes back to strange bubbling patterns. Getting the Doctor's face starts a tradition that would last more than 20 years, and one New Who fans dreaded when there were rumors of bringing it back for the 11th Doctor. I don't blame them as they never worked right... except here. The 2nd Doctor's opening is without a doubt the best use of the Doctor's face in the credits. The music's also starting to change (fewer shhhhes), but a new arrangement won't match the new visuals until the next episode.

As for the story, we've landed in what looks like 1960s England and you know what that means. Ben and Polly are about to leave. It's a particular weakness of the "lost in time" format that any attempt to do a present day story will likely force the lost companions out. Maybe that's why the second Doctor took to traveling exclusively with people from the past or future from this point on. The present day does afford a lot of opportunities for location filming and the production team makes the most of its Gatwick locations. The TARDIS on the runway, playing hide and seek around different hangers or behind an airplane's wheels, secreting bodies to the medical center, and motorcycles too! It adds a lot of scope, which the small sets otherwise used really couldn't do on their own. I do take issue with some of the sound design however. The crowd noises have so many children it sounds like they recorded a fun fair or preschool birthday party. Distracting.

The episode acts as a mystery to be solved, but lets out enough clues to keep you guessing. The murder of a policeman, some postcards, foreign stamps, disgruntled parents, humorless airline staff (at least Donald Pickering is good at pronouncing menacing scene-outs), but also incongruous technology, electric rayguns, picture phones, Polly not recognizing the rest of our heroes, and creepy zombie arms coming out of cupboards to get injections... The Doctor'll get to the bottom of it IF he can first defeat the airport's rampant bureaucracy. That, I have to admit, rankles. Ok, sure, the Doctor and Jaime don't have passports, but an airport official who laughs at the possibility of a murder? The Commandant at least plays along eventually (and temporarily), but he is a staple of these kinds of stories - the bureaucrat who is unwilling or slow to believe anything the hero says. These kinds of impediments tend to annoy me as much as it does the Doctor, especially when said bureaucrat still lets the heroes hang around instead of sending them to holding. No doubt, it has to do with a former GameMaster of mine who used to block everything we tried to do the same way. Come to think of it, he was a Doctor Who fan. Troughton and Hines try to get some smiles out of it anyway, with Jamie seeing absolutely no difference between flying beasties (I hate it when he says that though, it sounds childish more than "historical") and rayguns. His future is all one era to him. The Doctor keeps stepping on his foot to shut him up, which is mildly amusing.

THEORIES: After Polly's very short haircut in the previous story, she gets off the TARDIS here with longer hair than she's ever had! It's great for writers who want to tell stories with this particular quartet, certainly. All those long months watching Polly's hair grow out and fighting monsters across time and space. (And yet, only one book is set during this time, The Roundheads by Mark Gatiss.) Alternatively, Polly may be wearing a wig or extensions, or the TARDIS could have untold coiffing powers (evidence of this exists, but only because actors tend to get haircuts regardless of the show's continuity).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Location shooting adds energy to the set-up for an otherwise slow and deliberate mystery. Creep factor steadily rising.

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