Magic Bullet Productions

The Faceless Ones

By Fiona Moore And Alan Stevens


Situation changed...

Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 309 (Companions Special)

The recent release of so many classic Doctor Who stories on audio CD has been a good thing in that it allows their rediscovery by modern audiences. It is consequently easy to be a bit cheeky and say that it is a pity that they also have to rediscover the lesser ones. Nonetheless, the addition of "The Faceless Ones" to the BBC Radio Collection demonstrates how the release of even a fairly average Sixties story allows for insights into TV writing and production at the time.

I won't ham it up in this one! Trust me....One major point in favour of "The Faceless Ones" is that all the performances are generally of a high standard. Although Troughton has been known to be lacklustre in some stories, he is very good here, playing it straight but with wit. Troughton seems to tailor his performance to the script, hence its variability, and it is a credit to David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke that he plays this one so well. Other notable performances include Bernard Kay as Det-Insp Crossland-- the way in which he and Fraser Hines drop their Scottish accents when duplicated is quite effective-- and Pauline Collins is also good if underused as Samantha Briggs (of whom more below). All in all, the cast of the story appears quite well-chosen.

The best supporting performance, however, comes from Colin Gordon as the Airport Commandant. He has a lovely line in deadpan humour ("Hello, Super? I've got a couple of illegal entrants here... Situation changed, they've just made a run for it. I'll give you their description") which Troughton later adopts for himself, notably in the scene in which the Commandant reveals that the passenger aircraft/spaceship is being tailed by a fighter jet ("How high can fighters go these days, Commandant?" "Oh, ten miles plus." "How futile"). Also, the Commandant's general over-it-all attitude makes his blasé reaction to the information that one of the tour companies based at Gatwick is kidnapping its own customers all the more believable.

The lines are good, the idea's original... now if only we could get them to shorten it by two episodes...If one leaves aside the performances, however, and concentrates on the plot, "The Faceless Ones" is seen at less of an advantage. All in all, it is a fairly slow-paced adventure which could quite easily have lost two of its six parts (it comes as no surprise to learn that the story was extended from four episodes). Attempts to argue that "The Faceless Ones" has depth and originality generally fall flat. It is possible to discern a few potentially interesting themes- for instance, loss of identity and the will to survive- but it fails to deliver in either of these cases. Contrary to what some have said, there is little moral ambiguity about "The Faceless Ones". The "Chameleons" may be driven by necessity to adopt the identities of humans (as a "gigantic explosion" has caused them to "lose their identities" and almost die out), but they are, in the end, not very sympathetic. They regard humans as a lower form of life; it becomes clear in the final episode that the people (fifty thousand plus) whose identities they have borrowed will have "the life... drained from them" by the completion of the process, which is something the Chameleons do not regret in the slightest. Their treatment of the Doctor, Samantha and Jamie is both cruel and sadistic, further emphasising the cynical nature of the aliens.

The Doctor, furthermore, seems aware of this cruel side to the Chameleons, and is not inclined to repay cruelty with kindness. Far from acting as a mediator to allow them to get what they need without harming humans, the Doctor deals with them harshly. Effectively threatening to kill the duplicate Meadows unless he talks, he only convinces the rest of them to see reason by saying that he will destroy all the duplicates one by one unless they comply. In the end, the Doctor actually eliminates the Chameleons' chance of survival by refusing to let them carry out their scheme; he allows briefly that he could help them out with one or two ideas, but never seems to deliver on this promise. In short, the story is nothing more than the foiling of an alien race's plot to harm the Earth; the fact that the projected damage is somewhat less, and the motive more desperate, than usual, should not blind one to the limitations of the plot.

It is more interesting, however, to consider what "The Faceless Ones" might have been than what it is. Originally the story was a four-part adventure written for Hartnell's Doctor, Ben and Polly, set in a department store and called, predictably if a bit comically, "The Big Store". In this adventure, set in 1973, the Doctor would have gone shopping for replacement components for his ship while Ben and Polly stumble across the fact that the store has been infiltrated by two species of aliens, the Master race (designated by numbers) and a "mindless" slave race (designated by letters, and posing as faceless department-store dummies). These aliens are kidnapping customers by freezing them, passing them off as mannequins and removing them, packed in crates, to a flying saucer via the store's roof; the aliens then take the place of the kidnapped customers. This idea got to a fairly late stage before Hulke and Ellis were asked to rewrite the story to set it in an airport, ostensibly because the production team were aiming for a "more realistic" feel for Doctor Who, but also at least partly because the scenario of department-store dummies attacking customers was felt to be too disturbing (as proved to be the case when "Spearhead from Space", which employed a similar theme, was screened three years later).

Hang on, are we supposed to be in a store or an airport?"The Faceless Ones" does a good job of rejigging the store scenario to set it in Gatwick Airport, making use of the possibilities for misadventure in an airport rather than trying to squash the department-store elements into a new setting. One or two aspects, however, betray the story's origins. The airport controllers and pilots act more like floorwalkers and managers than like the ex-servicemen they would have been in the 1960s air industry; the slightly contrived explanation for why Polly's ostensibly Swiss double ("Michelle Leuppi," a saleswoman brought over from Zurich to work for Chameleon Tours) has no accent would not have been required in a scenario in which Polly simply disappeared and reappeared as a new saleswoman in the store. Most interestingly, however, the "freezing ray," which seems a bit of an odd thing to have in an airport scenario, makes considerable sense as a weapon to turn kidnap victims into mannequins and possibly, in miniaturised form, dolls (admittedly, no direct evidence exists to suggest that miniaturisation was used in the original storyline, but whether or not it was put forward at this stage, it is still one of the elements of "The Faceless Ones" which fits the store scenario better than the airport one). The fact that the freezing weapon is disguised as a pen also points to the original plot; a floorwalker would need to have a pen on them at all times (making it the perfect disguise for such a weapon); the airlines, however, are not characterised by a constant need for writing implements, and so the presence of the ballpoint ray-guns, while not exactly counterintuitive, still jars a bit. There are thus a number of elements of "The Faceless Ones" which provide tantalising hints as to its origins.

Interestingly, also, several of the unused elements of "The Big Store" recur in later Doctor Who stories. The notion of aliens disguising themselves and/or their victims as mannequins is one which recurs in "Spearhead from Space", down to Hey, Bob, listen. I've got this brilliant story idea. There's this alien race and these killer mannequins...the idea of there being a connection between the (Auton or Chameleon) duplicate and the original. Given that the writing and production teams were a fairly close-knit lot during the late Sixties and early Seventies, it is possible that there is a connection ("Spearhead" also references the Yeti stories, for instance); it seems unlikely that it is simply a case of two writing teams following on from the possibilities suggested by similar setups as, while the idea of killer mannequins follows naturally from a department-store scenario, it seems more as if the plastics-factory setting of "Spearhead" stemmed from the idea of killer mannequins rather than the other way around. Furthermore, "Terror of the Autons", which was largely a rewrite of "Spearhead", also appears to borrow a concept from "The Big Store/The Faceless Ones": that of a villain who disposes of his victims by miniaturising them.

Unlike "Spearhead", however, the story of "The Faceless Ones" as it stands owes more to The Avengers than to its Doctor Who predecessors. The Avengers, to which Malcolm Hulke was a regular contributor, ironically did produce an episode set in a department store in 1965, "Death at Bargain Prices" by Brian Clements; although Hulke later claimed that "Death" was based on "The Big Store", the fact that the writing of the former appears to precede that of the latter by over twelve months suggests that it was the other way around. The question of who borrowed from whom aside, "The Faceless Ones", like The Avengers, features a crime scenario driven by the setting rather than the characters; a faintly OTT, horror-film plot; and an unnamed but well-organised foe ("Chameleons" is not in fact the race's actual name, even though the Doctor and company use it in the absence of better information). It also picks up on current and recent trends as The Avengers does: the building of Gatwick Airport, the identification of the "youth market" as a consumer group, the advent of 18-25 tours to the Continent, Liverpudlian chic and so forth. However, unlike The Avengers, the story is more or less played straight and the science actually made consistent (if not entirely plausible) rather than being a convenient substitute for magic. Furthermore, although we do get a number of images of young people in the fashions of the time, "The Faceless Ones" lacks the "swinging" feel of both The Avengers and of later Doctor Who.

Right, listen up, Ben and Polly. Now that we're at the airport, I don't want to see either of you until the end of Episode Six.Perhaps the most significant series of events revealed by "The Faceless Ones", however, is the decision to write Ben and Polly out of the show. Although the first formal evidence that "The Faceless Ones" was intended to be their swan-song comes on 8th February 1967 (taking the form of an instruction to Ellis and Hulke to remove the characters from the story after two episodes), there is further evidence to suggest that this may have been intended from an early stage. The instruction to change the scenario from a store to an airport was given some time after 15th November 1966. A storyline for the first four episodes of "Doctor Who and the Chameleons" (as the Gatwick Airport treatment of the story was originally known) was submitted on 7th January 1967. Episode Two introduced Mary Dawson and put her in the role of replacement companion for the "missing" Polly. Three days after the 8th February memo, Ellis and Hulke reveal that the character of "Mary Dawson" was to be renamed "Cleopatra ('Cleo') Briggs," and would (subsequently rechristened "Samantha" or "Sam"), become the proposed new companion. By this time, however, there was actually no need for a temporary replacement companion, as Jamie was now available to fill the void. As there is no reason for Miss Dawson/Briggs to be present as a one-off character after Jamie's appearance, and as a good deal of effort appears to have gone into developing her as a companion-figure, it seems very likely that she was being considered as a possible full-time replacement for Polly throughout the entire writing process.

Furthermore, "The Faceless Ones" has a number of elements which refer to the two previous swan-song adventures, "The Savages" (with an alien race preying on another which they view as inferior) and "The War Machines" (with its Swinging Sixties setting and roots in The Avengers). While this can be argued to be a coincidence, as these would have been the last two adventures screened before Ellis and Hulke began writing, it seems improbable in light of the fact that both Ellis and Hulke had submitted Doctor Who story proposals before-- Hulke as far back as Season One-- and thus were unlikely to be so unfamiliar with the format as to base their work solely on the most recent stories which they had seen. The decision to echo the two swan-song stories thus must have been a conscious one. It is intriguing to speculate on the fact that the date given in "The War Machines", Monday 16 July, would set the story in 1973, the very year in which "The Big Store" would have taken place; unfortunately, however, this would appear to be just a coincidence.

There is also a lot of evidence for deteriorating relations between Anneke Wills and Michael Craze on the one hand and the production team on the other. Friction was present between Wills and Craze and others working on the show from a very early stage, with Innis Lloyd reported to have "gone off" both actors and describing Wills in particular as "temperamental" by the time the story that would later be called "The Faceless Ones" was commissioned. Although Wills has subsequently claimed in a DWM interview (issue #322) that she left of her own free will, her explanation as to how this came about is somewhat forced, and in the same interview she repeatedly alludes to clashes between actors and production staff. By early 1967, the situation had reached the point at which the production team were engaging in faintly underhand measures. Originally, "The Big Store" and "The Evil of the Daleks" were both to have been four episodes long, which would have meant that Ben and Polly would have made it to the end of the latter story. At this stage, however, "Doctor Who and the Chameleons"/"The Faceless Ones" was extended to six, and "The Evil of the Daleks" to seven episodes, meaning that Wills and Craze's contracts now ended, somewhat awkwardly, at the end of Episode Two of "The Evil of the Daleks". This situation gave the production team an excuse to justify writing them out in the earlier story, an unusual and-- as it entailed paying the actors for the episodes in which they did not appear-- financially counterproductive decision which necessitated the approval of the Head of Serials, Shaun Sutton. This suggests that the production team were willing to engage in complicated manoeuvres, go all the way to the top and spend a considerable amount of money to remove them.

Jamie decides Samantha has all the attributes of a great companion.The story itself contains a number of seemingly calculated snubs against Wills in particular. The fact that Wills spends most of her time on the set playing not Polly but her double, Michelle, takes on a rather barbed appearance under the circumstances-- as if to emphasise that which character she plays, and her characterisation, are ultimately under the control of the production team and not of the actor. In her initial scene, Samantha (the potential future companion) describes Michelle as a "stuck-up thing." Shortly thereafter, Michelle is told by her seeming boss that circumstances have made her presence problematic, and that she is to be sent back to base as quickly as possible. Which is effectively what happens with the character: Ben and Polly are returned in theory to the very day on which they left, July 20th 1966 (some people have stated this date to be a continuity error and that in actual fact they had left on Monday 16th July; yet in "The War Machines" there is no indication of how much time has passed between the destruction of WOTAN and the Doctor's return to the TARDIS. Furthermore, the dating of "The War Machines" to 1966 actually stems from a continuity error made in Episode One of "The Smugglers"). They are also conceivably to be replaced by a cheeky dark-haired Northerner, very like the character whom they themselves had replaced, effectively suggesting that their inclusion was a mistake to be erased from Doctor Who history.

The potential companion in question, Samantha Briggs, is quite interesting. Following on the trend for companions with regional, or at least non-RP, accents, she is Liverpudlian; in many ways she resembles Dodo Chaplet, but is about five years older than Dodo was originally supposed to be, also reflecting the trend for companions in their early twenties rather than their mid-teens. She is also in some ways better suited to the Doctor Who formula than is Victoria Waterfield (whom David Whitaker, who had developed the character as a "back-up" replacement companion under instructions from Lloyd and Davis, was told would become a permanent character if Collins declined the initial offer); as the presence of two companions from Earth's past in the TARDIS makes for problematic dialogue, she periodically adopts a Sixties mentality at odds with her Victorian upbringing, which would not have been the case with Samantha. Furthermore, the scenes in "The Evil of the Daleks" in which Jamie rescues the kidnapped Victoria would have made more sense had she been Samantha, whom Jamie knew and was friends with, rather than a complete stranger.

No, thanks, I'd rather be playing Shirley Valentine...Pauline Collins, who played Samantha, was reportedly given the chance to become a regular companion midway through the recording of "The Faceless Ones"; in an interview, she recalls that she was offered a 36-episode contract. The fact that she was not offered the role initially, appears to stem from insecurity on the part of Innis Lloyd, who, given his problems with Wills and Craze, wanted to make sure that they could get on with her before making the offer, especially as they had already had a previous success with the recasting of a one-off character as a companion (Jamie). Collins claims to have turned the role down as she did not want to be tied to a long contract. However, it is possible that she may also have picked up on the bad atmosphere (it is interesting that she only gets one brief scene with Wills and none with Craze, and Wills is playing Michelle rather than Polly at the time), or even been a bit put out by the fact that she had been told the character was a one-off when in fact she was intended to be a companion. Whatever the reason, it was also apparent that the team could not go on testing out potential companions indefinitely, and so Victoria was explicitly written into the role in the very next story.

It is finally interesting to note how Samantha is written out. At the end of the story, her departure from companion status is signalled by giving Jamie a kiss. This is not to say that there was "no hanky-panky in the TARDIS"; however, it is interesting that sexuality and companionship do not seem to mix. Susan and Vicki leave the TARDIS upon "coming of age" and finding a man. Ian and Barbara, with their largely (but not entirely) chaste will-they-won't-they relationship, leave the TARDIS together, and there is an ongoing fan tradition that the two later married each other. Long-term sexual relationships thus spell the end of a companion's tenure as such.

No sex in the TARDIS? Pity...Moving on into the late-Hartnell and early-Troughton eras, the trend continues. There was little chance of a relationship between (the immature teenager) Vicki, or for that matter (the overly naïve) Katarina, and Steven, and although Sara Kingdom was a fully grown adult, her coldness, and proficiency in hand-to-hand combat, made Steven see her more as a rival than a potential mate (Jean Marsh, What, me a Cockney stereotype? Pull the other one... incidentally, is also a few years older than Peter Purves; then as now, onscreen relationships between older women and younger men are relatively rare, further ruling out romantic possibilities). Her replacement, Dodo, was originally intended to be about fifteen, firmly scotching any relationship between her and Steven beyond the avuncular; the fact that the actor was actually eighteen, and portrayed the character in a coquettish manner, may have hastened the departure of both characters. Ben and Polly are approximately the same age, but here class separates them: Ben is a "loveable" Cockney sailor, whereas Polly has a posh accent and is a private secretary to the distinguished Professor Brett. Effectively, then, there are two sorts of opposite-sex relationships in Doctor Who: companions/within the TARDIS and romantic/outside the TARDIS. Like Anne Chaplet's interest in Steven towards the end of "The Massacre", Samantha's brief kiss with Jamie takes her firmly out of the former category and into the latter one.

In sum, then, "The Faceless Ones" is a reasonably well-plotted adventure, but not a particularly outstanding one, and the fact that it acts as an introductory vehicle for a companion who never materialises makes it problematic in some ways. However, this does not mean the story is without interest to later audiences for what it can tell us about the production and ethos of Doctor Who in the Patrick Troughton era. As a story, "The Faceless Ones" is forgettable; as a document revealing the ins and outs of Doctor Who production in the mid-Sixties, it is priceless.

Images copyright BBC
With thanks to Maureen Marrs and Chris Orton

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