DOCTOR WHO - THE FACELESS ONES / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: GERRY MILL, ANNEMARIE WALSH / SCREENPLAY: DAVID ELLIS, MALCOLM HULKE / STARRING: PATRICK TROUGHTON, FRAZER HINES, ANNEKE WILLS, MICHAEL CRAZE/ RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The BBC’s latest animated reconstruction of one of many frustratingly missing early Doctor Who serials, presented in a generous three-DVD set, brings second Doctor Patrick Troughton down to Earth in 1960s London to investigate the mysterious disappearance of thousands of teenagers jetting off on exotic European holidays and the activities of the sinister Chameleon Tours. Two episodes of the original serial remain in the BBC Archive and they offer tantalising hints of a pacey, if ultimately unexceptional, contemporary story (always the best setting for Who adventures) blessed with a good script and some genuine creepy intrigue. The Faceless Ones never seemed destined to be regarded as one of the show’s classics but rather a solid, entertaining bedrock Doctor Who serial that gets the job done and helps set the scene for the epic (and also largely missing) Evil of the Daleks that was to follow.
All six episodes of the serial (the remaining episodes are also available here) have now been animated (in colour and moody monochrome options) and it’s probably the most satisfyingly realised animated release yet. Previous efforts (Power of the Daleks and The Macra Terror) somehow failed to fully engage and the attention often wandered as perfunctorily animated characters tottered around samey-looking locations and the stories didn’t seem to linger in the memory. The Faceless Ones works a little better because of its ‘modern day’ (i.e. 1966) setting and because of slightly more ambitious (if still slightly Captain Pugwashy) animation which makes the episodes more digestible than its predecessors.
The Faceless Ones is a perfectly serviceable mid-tier Who yarn that gives plenty of room for some four-square characterisation from guest actors like Bernard Kay, Colin Gordon, and especially Pauline Collins as Samantha Briggs (a character briefly considered as a potential new companion until Collins opted not to stay with the series) who has travelled to Gatwick from Liverpool to find out what’s happened to her missing brother. It’s classic 1960s Who as the Doctor and his friends (Jamie, Ben, Polly) materialise on the runway at Gatwick and are chased by security Police before stumbling upon the strange alien technology of Chameleon Tours. Ben, and Polly quickly disappear from the story (they return in the last episode just to say farewell to the Doctor and Jamie now that they are back in their own time period) leaving the famous Doctor/Jamie partnership to come into its own as the pair try to persuade the incredulous Gatwick authorities that there’s something distinctly extra-terrestrial going on.
Of course, the animation is never really going to be a decent substitute for watching the actual performances - Troughton’s quirky turn as the Doctor can never really be caught by such fairly flat animation - but the six episodes fly by agreeably enough, the story is linear and interesting, and by the end, you’ll actually feel that you’ve experienced a pretty fair approximation of the story as it was shown on TV. Pixar won’t be suffering any sleepless nights worrying about the animation techniques and some die-hards will find their feathers ruffled by little onscreen nods to later events in the show’s history (a poster in a Police station clearly marks out Roger Delgado and Sacha Dhawan’s Master as ‘wanted’) but if, as it now appears, there’s precious little chance of any more missing Who being returned to the archives, these animations are probably the best way to acquaint ourselves with long-lost, long-forgotten adventures from the show’s more innocent early days.