Blu-ray Review: Doctor Who – The Faceless Ones

The partly-missing Doctor Who story from 1967 sees the Doctor, Jamie, Polly and Ben fighting an alien threat at Gatwick Airport.

The TARDIS lands on the runway at Gatwick Airport. Chased by a security officer, the Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Ben (Michael Craze), Polly (Anneke Wills) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) split up. Polly witnesses a killing by a weapon that does not exist on Earth at this time. Meanwhile, Polly is captured. In the airport, featureless green aliens, hiding behind a travel company called Chameleon Tours, are being turned into human doppelgangers. But why?

The Faceless Ones is an entertaining story, but like most six-parters it has its longueurs. The setting and location work at Gatwick makes it a time capsule of the airport at the time. The story does hinge on something that would never work now: you could get on a plane with someone else’s ticket with no demand for photo ID. I’m not sure you could hide for long from a policeman by covering your face with a newspaper, though, even in 1967. The contemporary setting might now seem unremarkable, but the show had at that point only taken place in the present day in its very first episode An Unearthly Child and in the rather atypical The War Machines, which had introduced Polly and Ben.

The story was a collaboration between writers David Ellis (real name David Kerkham), both experienced television writers who had written for other shows (such as the now-entirely-lost football soap United!) but not yet for Doctor Who. They had both separately pitched story ideas to the show, but their pitch for this story, having joined forces, was successful. This was Ellis/Kerkham’s only work for the show, but Hulke would continue to write for it into the 1970s.

So The Faceless Ones was made, with the studio recording for each episode taking place on Saturday nights when the previous episode was being broadcast. It was shown between 8th April and 13th May 1967 on BBC1 in the usual Saturday teatime slot. It had healthy viewing numbers, peaking at eight million for the first and last episodes. The Faceless Ones was never repeated in the UK. The broadcast tapes of all six episodes were wiped in July 1969, but 16mm telerecordings had been made for sales overseas. The last recorded transmission of The Faceless Ones was in June/July 1973 in Zambia. In time the film recordings were lost, many returning to the BBC to be junked.

When in 1978, the BBC reviewed their archiving policy, only Episode One survived. Episode Three, somewhat damaged, was returned by a collector in 1987. The other four episodes remain lost, though as with all missing episodes we have the soundtrack, recorded off-air on its original broadcast, scripts, stills and so on. The 2004 DVD set Lost in Time gathered together all the then-surviving “orphan episodes”, those from serials where fifty percent or fewer of the original episodes remained in the archive, including the two surviving episodes of The Faceless Ones. Out of context (that is, without knowing the story via its novelisation or by reading the synopses on in-print or online reference guides) Episode Three particularly suffered by being watched in isolation. If you didn’t know why, you might wonder where Ben and Polly had got to, and who the character played by Pauline Collins was.

Season Four of Doctor Who was one of considerable change. New producer Innes Lloyd had taken over during the previous season and was faced with the fact that William Hartnell’s health was failing and he was becoming more and more difficult to work with. But the proposal to change the leading actor, from Hartnell to the twelve-years-younger Patrick Troughton, had been approved. You may have begun watching Season Four thinking nothing amiss, with two stories starring Hartnell and his new companions Polly and Ben. Then, at the end of the second story, The Tenth Planet, Doctor One fell to the floor and got up again as Doctor Two. It’s a tribute to Troughton that if this bold move hadn’t worked – and audience figures had been dropping – then that might have been it for the show and Doctor Who might now only be spoken of by devotees of 1960s cult genre television.

However, it did not end. Lloyd and script editor Gerry Davis’s changes continued. New companion Jamie McCrimmon was introduced in the second Troughton story The Highlanders, and it was decided that Ben and Polly, more contemporary companions than most, would be phased out. Anneke Wills and Michael Craze had been contracted to the end of the season, but their last work in their roles was the studio recording for Episode Two. They did not appear and weren’t credited on Episodes Three to Five and their farewell scene in the final episode had been shot during the location filming at Gatwick. (Heathrow had been mooted but wasn’t available.) Enter Samantha – Sam – Briggs (Pauline Collins), in sixties garb and hairstyle and then-modish Liverpudlian accent (thanks to The Beatles), who appears in the second episode. For the rest of the story, she effectively becomes the Doctor’s second companion along with Jamie. That had been done before: when short-lived Trojan companion Katarina (Adrienne Hill) had been killed off four episodes into The Daleks’ Master Plan, Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh) fulfilled the companion role alongside Taylor (Peter Purves) until the end of the story, when she herself dies. There had been no plan to continue Sara as a companion, but Collins was asked if she would like Sam Briggs to travel in the TARDIS. However, she declined.

It’s hard to judge the work of actors and directors when all you have of the original episodes is the soundtrack. As for Polly and Ben, their only completely-surviving serial is their first, The War Machines. They had been conceived as more contemporary characters than had been the norm: younger than Ian and Barbara, not a Time Lord like Susan, not from the future like Vicki or Steven, nor from the past like Katarina.

It’s a sign of changing times that Ben was allowed to speak with a Cockney accent, which had been vetoed for the earlier, and not very effective, companion Dodo. Ben was clearly in the mould of past and future male companions, there to take part in the action scenes if the Doctor was an older man. Polly was conceived as a Sixties chick, not too far in the direction of hippiedom so as to alienate the audience, but a smart, fashionable young woman of her time. However, she soon suffered the fate of many female companions by frequently having to scream and be rescued, something the show didn’t really address until the 1970s with Liz Shaw and Sarah Jane Smith.

Jamie might have had the same problem that Katarina had, in that being from the past he might have had too much explained to him. However, as a companion Jamie worked, not least in providing an attractive boy for the audiences alongside the female eye-candy. Jamie went on to be the longest-serving companion of all, remaining until the end of the 1960s when he, Troughton and Wendy Padbury’s Zoe were written out, the only time in Classic Doctor Who when the entire principal cast changed.

And so, at the end of The Faceless Ones, with Polly and Ben leaving the TARDIS on the day they arrived in it, the Doctor and Jamie walk off together. Next week, if you were watching in 1967, was a new story, The Evil of the Daleks, seven episodes. Only one survives. Maybe one day you might see it on Blu-ray.

After Lost in Time, the DVD and now Blu-ray range has reconstructed several partly-missing stories, filling the gaps with reconstructions using animation or telesnaps (still photographs taken at the time of broadcast). As I write this, the only story with fifty percent or more of its episodes which hasn’t had its own release is The Crusade: the two surviving episodes were on Lost in Time with the audio of the two missing ones. Some of this is due to cost: historical stories with a larger number of sets and characters cost more to make at the time, and would cost more to animate now. However, with the completely missing The Power of the Daleks and The Macra Terror, the BBC have begun to release some of the missing stories with new animation (colour and widescreen) matched to the off-air recorded soundtracks. The Faceless Ones is the latest. Although it does have two episodes surviving, all six episodes have been animated. The next release will be the completely missing Fury from the Deep.



The BBC’s Blu-ray of TheFaceless Ones comprises three Region B Blu-ray discs. The package carries UK and Irish PG certificates. All three discs have audio-descriptive menu options.

Disc One contains the six episodes animated in black and white and 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with the surviving Episodes One and Three. You have the option of watching the serial all-animated or animated with live action. Disc Two has all six episodes animated in colour and 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Disc Three has the two surviving episodes with the remainder reconstructed using telesnaps, some animation, surviving fragments with an optional narration by Frazer Hines and optional subtitles for it.

The need for colour and widescreen animation is no doubt a commercial one, but for purists such as myself at least the option is available to watch in the original format of 4:3 and black and white. For time and cost reasons, the animation is a close approximation of what the live action would have looked like (going by the still-surviving shooting scripts) but not a slavish copy. For example, Sam Briggs wears a hat in her first appearance but not after that, so for consistency’s sake animated Sam is hatless. There are also a number of injokes and Easter Eggs hidden in the animation.

Nothing to be said about the picture quality: the work was in the digital realm from start to finish and in HD as well, so should look pristine and does. The two surviving episodes survive as 16mm telerecordings from 405-line studio recordings with location and Ealing Studios work telecined in at the time of production. They have been cleaned up at VidFIREd as they were on Lost in Time, but inevitably look softer than anything else on the discs.

The soundtracks are in the original mono, rendered as DTS-HD MA 2.0, restored from the off-air recordings made by Graham Strong on original broadcast. They are clear and well balanced, with optional subtitles for the hard of hearing.

The extras begin with commentaries on five of the episodes, all but number two. These are moderated by Toby Hadoke, who is by now an old hand with vintage-television commentaries. On the original episodes one and three (so Disc One only) and the animated episode four (Discs One and Two) he is joined by Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills, plus longstanding vision mixer Clive Doig (whose last Who this was) and actor Christopher Tranchell, who played Jenkins. With any commentary of material of this age, the issue is to find people involved in its making who are not just still alive but also able and willing to participate. From the cast, Pauline Collins is the most notable absentee of those still alive.

The advantage of a moderator is that half-century-old memories of often quite elderly people have to be negotiated: some early  Doctor Who commentaries suffered from not being moderated. Hadoke ably keeps the conversation on track. At the start of Episode Three he also reads an email from the director, Gerry Mill, whose only Who this was. Mill’s daughter was born on a Saturday afternoon during the making of this story, but he was able to visit the hospital and be back in time for the recording in the evening. He is also the godfather of Benedict Cumberbatch, born nine years later, whose mother Wanda Ventham is in the guest cast here. Given the schedule (a week’s rehearsal with the recording taking place on the Saturday evening as the previous episode was being broadcast), Hines and Wills often didn’t get to see their own work. Episode Five (both discs) has a recording of an interview by Hadoke from 2013 with Bernard Kay (who died the following year), who appeared in four Who stories and here plays Crossland.

Finally, Episode Six (again both discs) features production designer Geoffrey Kirkland (interviewed by Hadoke by phone from Manchester to Los Angeles) for two thirds of its length and for the remainder Anneke Wills discussing her departure from the series.

The remaining extras are on Disc Three. Face to Face…with The Faceless Ones (29:28) is a making-of documentary, not of the original production but of the animated reconstruction, featuring director AnneMarie Walsh, character designer Martin Geraghty and several of the crew. It’s likely to be of considerable interest to anyone interested in animation, and was to this non-expert in the field.

Also on this disc is stock footage of aircraft licensed by the BBC for use in this story (5:03), much of it actually in colour even though its intended use was black and white. Next up are surviving fragments from Episodes Two and Four (1:35). The former is a short clip captured by an Australian fan by aiming an 8mm camera at his television screen, shot mute but matched to the soundtrack. The fragments from Episode Four are stock shots of planes taking off and in flight. Finally, there is a self-animating stills gallery (0:44) and a trailer for the forthcoming Fury from the Deep (0:50). Also on this disc in BD-ROM format are PDFs of the original shooting scripts for all six episodes. Included in the case is a leaflet, with an introduction by AnneMarie Walsh and notes from disc producer Charles Norton, with on the back cast and crew credits and the serial’s transmission details.


Updated: Apr 13, 2020

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