Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones was original a six-episode serial broadcast between 8 April and 13 May 1967, featuring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. Unfortunately, some years later the BBC wiped the master copies of The Faceless Ones, meaning that copies of only Episode 1 and Episode 3 exist today, previously released on the Lost in Time DVD set. After the success of last year’s animation of The Macra Terror, BBC Studios have put together a wonderful new animation for The Faceless Ones, completing the long-lost serial at last.
This weekend, we got to watch this new animation in full at the BFI Southbank, so is it worth the wait, or is it a poor Chameleon of its original self?
The story sees the Second Doctor and companions Jamie (Frazer Hines), Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben (Michael Craze) arriving at Gatwick Airport. When Polly sees a man murdered by a mysterious airline pilot, the Doctor begins an investigation into Chameleon Tours: an airline that specialises in providing affordable holidays for young people, all of whom seem to have disappeared. When Ben and Polly disappear, the Doctor and Jamie must work with the officials at Gatwick and Samantha Briggs (Pauline Collins) to discover exactly what is going on and stop the alien menace behind it.
The Faceless Ones was co-written by Malcolm Hulke, responsible for a number of Jon Pertwee serials from the 1970s, including Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Sea Devils and Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and I felt this serial was a precursor of sorts to these later stories, showing Doctor Who‘s gradual transformation (or rather, regeneration) over the decades. Hulke’s script was co-written by David Ellis, and despite being six episodes, moves at a surprisingly good pace for the most part. The characters are all well-defined, the Chameleons are a sinister threat, and the mystery is built-up well over the course of the story. Oddly, despite this being the last serial to feature companions Ben and Polly, neither appear in Episodes 3, 4 and 5, and barely appear in Episode 6, making their farewell seem a little jarring at the end; so they end up feeling like plot devices. For the most part, we get the double-act of the Doctor and Jamie, which is always welcome, and is nicely complimented with Pauline Collins‘ guest character Samantha.
The real focus of this new DVD and Blu-ray release is the animation, directed by AnneMarie Walsh (who directed short film The Wheel in Space last year). Unlike earlier missing episode reconstructions, the animation here plays somewhat loosely with what was originally shot, and aims not to replicate the surviving materials exactly but to use them as inspiration. As such, the animators have managed to sneak in a number of Doctor Who Easter Eggs for fans to spot, and have also been allowed to create more intricate camera movements and direction than would have been used in the original production. It’s not jarring – at least, not when watched as a standalone piece – but it is most definitely more engaging than the strictly-accurate, static animation seen in Power of the Daleks back in 2016 (which, as much as I love, doesn’t look nearly as good as later releases). Some fans may complain about the animation being in full colour and widescreen, but a 4:3 black and white version will be present on the Blu-ray release, with an option to watch with the surviving Episodes 1 and 3.
I was very impressed with the sound restoration from Mark Ayres, who explained that the audio was taken from a recording by Graham Strong, who simply hooked up his equipment to his television set in 1967 and left it to record each week. Its incredible the work that has gone in to making The Faceless Ones not only look good thanks to the animation, but also sound good thanks to Ayres, who has become a bit of a legend with these Doctor Who DVD and Blu-ray releases over the years.
Ayres and Walsh both attended the preview screening at the BFI, and it was very interesting to hear how they both approached this new production of The Faceless Ones. The audience seemed to love watching the episodes themselves, but another highlight was definitely the post-screening Q&A with Frazer Hines (Jamie) and Anneke Wills (Polly). Both actors talked with great fondness about their respective time on Doctor Who, and about how much they enjoyed working with the late, great Patrick Troughton and Michael Craze (whose son Ben and his daughters recorded a special message for those in attendance at the screening). When asked about future Who animations though, Wills suggested The Smugglers, whilst Hines seemed keen to revisit his first story The Highlanders after all these years. Hopefully fans will be able to add both to their collections one day, especially with the standard of animation quality set in The Faceless Ones.
Overall, The Faceless Ones is a very welcome addition to the Doctor Who collection and a lovely animation BBC Studios team. Those who loved last year’s The Macra Terror will be very satisfied and collectors can at last breathe a sigh of relief to have it on their shelves. What’s even more exciting is that we don’t have to wait too long until the next one: the six-episode epic Fury From the Deep arrives later this year. For now though, Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones is a great story, brilliantly realised in this new animation and it’s lovely to finally watch this classic serial in full after all these years.