If there’s something better than new Doctor Who, it’s new old Doctor Who.
The team behind ‘The Power Of The Daleks’ and 2019’s ‘The Macra Terror’ have done it once again, and now give us the latest addition to the growing range of brand new animated recreations of lost Doctor Who stories: ‘The Faceless Ones’. It’s another Patrick Troughton adventure (as his era on the programme was hit particularly badly by wiping of stories), which happens to have two extant episodes, both of which are included on the release.
In a move which has raised some eyebrows, all six parts of the tale have been animated, not just the four instalments which are missing from the BBC archive; however, there’s a certain logic to doing this, as it means you can watch the whole story without having the jarring jump from black & white live action to full colour animation, then going back and forth again.
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’The Faceless Ones’ brings us firmly into the jet age, at a time when package holidays were making global air travel accessible and affordable to everyone, not just the well-to-do. The TARDIS appears on the runway at Gatwick Airport, and the Doctor and his friends stumble across a holiday company, Chameleon Tours, which is seemingly involved with the murder of a Policeman who was investigating the disappearance of one of their holidaymakers.
Originally, the story had been pitched by writers Malcolm Hulke (who later went on to co-create the Time Lords) and David Ellis as ‘The Big Store’, a four-part tale for William Hartnell. It would have seen the Doctor taking on an alien race – the Chameleons – who were taking on the identity and appearance of humans, with their base of operations being a department store. The pair of writers were asked to alter the location to an airport, and they delivered ‘Dr. Who & The Chameleons’ (later retitled ‘The Faceless Ones’).
‘The Faceless Ones’ is noteworthy for writing out two of the Doctor’s companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills), who was never even given a surname. The pair were there for the very first regeneration, from William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton, on 29th October 1966, so they were present for a part of TV history. However, they’d increasingly been sidelined by the introduction of Jacobite warrior Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), which resulted in the production team having them returned home.
It’s also worth mentioning the appearance of two of the story’s guest stars. One of them was Pauline Collins, who plays Samantha ‘Sam’ Briggs; the character was touted as a possible replacement for Ben and Polly, but Collins said she wasn’t interested in a recurring role, and that was that for Sam. The other is Wanda Ventham, who went on to appear in two further Doctor Who tales, but is perhaps best known as the mother of Benedict Cumberbatch (as well as on screen as Sherlock’s mum).
’The Faceless Ones’ is an enjoyable romp, albeit one with a few gaping plot holes or moments which stretch credulity at times, like when a barely-disguised Chameleon is escorted through the middle of Gatwick Airport without anybody so much as even batting an eyelid. The Chameleons’ plan also seems rather messy and overcomplicated, coming to Earth to set up a holiday tour company and airline, just so they can abduct young tourists with the purpose of stealing their likenesses.
The whole affair feels overlong at six episodes, and a bit of judicious pruning could have easily cut out a lot of padding and extraneous material: a large part of the first couple of episodes consists largely of running around the same two or three sets, getting captured, escaping, going back, getting captured, etc. However, it isn’t to say that there’s nothing positive about ‘The Faceless Ones’, as the tale certainly isn’t lacking in scope or ambition, and the airport filming makes the story feel a bit more expensive than usual.
When it comes to the animation, this has come on in leaps and bounds even since ‘The Macra Terror’, and the benefits of having a house style, as well as the various assets they’ve accrued of character likenesses, etc., means each release is able to build on what’s gone before. The animation is slick and dynamic throughout, with a particular highlight being Rob Ritchie’s 3D modelling work on the aircraft, as well as the Chameleons’ mothership, which is far slicker and more polished than we have any right to expect on such a modest budget.
It looks utterly glorious in full colour widescreen, taking full advantage of all the opportunities offered by the Swinging Sixties setting, in terms of the fashions of the time. Given that the whole thing was put together over an eight-month period, which is a remarkably tight turnaround for getting 143 minutes of animation done, it’s been delivered to such a highly polished standard. The fact that the production only wrapped on 15th January this year means they’ve even had the chance to put in a little Easter egg for viewers of Series 12, which is a lovely little extra touch.
For the purists out there who might pooh-pooh the notion of watching a remake of an old Doctor Who in a colourful 16:9 format, there’s always the option of seeing it in black & white, and an authentic 4:3 aspect ratio, no less. Such is the level of care and attention put into delivering so many different viewing possibilities with this particular set that it makes home media releases of US (and most other UK) TV shows and films pale in comparison with how lacklustre and sparse they are.
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In fact, as well as the full colour widescreen and the black & white 4:3 versions in their entirety, you can also watch the story as the two surviving episodes mixed in with the four animated missing ones, plus recreations put together using a clever mix of off-screen ‘Telesnaps’, surviving clips, stock footage, and composite images; you even get the option of watching these recreations with an optional narration by Frazer Hines, explaining what’s happening when there’s no images to show what’s going on at certain points. Oh, and commentary tracks scattered throughout the whole set, to boot.
For a programme which is 53 years old, ‘The Faceless Ones’ has a relative wealth of extras, which puts the releases of contemporary Doctor Who to shame. We get a ‘making of’ for the animated version, directed by actor, comedian and Who expert Toby Hadoke, taking us behind the scenes of all the hard work which went into bringing this lost story back to life. There’s also a compilation of all surviving clips from the four missing episodes, plus the stock footage used, and a teaser for the next animated missing adventure.
A welcome opportunity to see yet another piece of Doctor Who history reanimated for a modern audience, with the 1960s period being used to great effect, meaning that the look and feel of the artwork brings to mind a mix of Austin Powers and Archer. While the actual story may not be the strongest, the quality of this release of ‘The Faceless Ones’ more than makes up for it.