My purchase of the Lost in Time collection has reignited my interest in the early Troughton Doctor Who episodes. The surviving episodes are often far better than a story summary or Target novelization might suggest, leaving me eager to find out how the rest of the story plays out. Since its unlikely that all the missing episodes will turn up in the next few months, Ive begun buying the BBC radio releases, starting with a story with which I was totally unfamiliar prior to LIT: The Faceless Ones. I knew a few things about the story of course. Ben and Polly make their final appearance and its set in an airport. Beyond that most of the story was completely new to me, so Ive particularly enjoyed being able to see the two existing episodes and hear the audio, narrated ably by Fraser Hines.
The story starts off at a fast pace, but slows down rather quickly once events are set up. The opening scenes with the TARDIS landing on a runway in the path of an approaching jet are great, as are the scenes of the Doctor and Jamie crouched behind the airplane tires. The use of location filming always helps create a better illusion of reality for Doctor Who, especially in a location like Gatwick Airport. Ive never been there, but Ive been to local airports and so relate instantly to the locale. I dont know how much of the other episodes use location shots, but episode three and especially one benefit greatly from the visuals that the airport location provides, widening the scope beyond what is available with studio sets. The attempt to anchor the story in a recognizable contemporary setting is worthwhile and effective. Id love to have seen rather than heard Jamies exploration of the airport concourse in episode two.
As far as the characters go, there are some good and not-so-good ones. It goes without saying that Troughtons Doctor is brilliant as always. Troughton always brings so much energy and enthusiasm to the role that his performance alone makes some of the less interesting stories worth watching. Jamie gets a lot more to do with Ben and Polly out of action for two thirds of the story. This and Evil of the Daleks are stories where his character really starts to shine. His chivalry towards Samantha in taking her place on the airplane (the flying beasties!) is wonderful.
Poor Ben and Polly get very little to do overall, though Polly is integral to episodes one and two, since her witnessing of the murder is what draws the TARDIS crew into the events. Ben might as well not even be in the story for all the impact he makes. Its a shame, since hes such a good character. The story does make good use of the loss of the companions though, because as events proceed it really does feel as if the Chameleons are taking out everyone one by one. Polly is kidnapped in episode one leaving only her Chameleon double; Ben is taken at the end of episode 2, and Jamie is captured after infiltrating the space station, leaving the Doctor to deal with events without his usual crew. If it wasnt for the Chameleons continuing failure to kill the Doctor over and over again, the story would have far more of a feeling of events spiraling out of the Doctors ability to control.
The Commandant of the airport is an excellently written and portrayed character. No-nonsense and very down to earth, his refusal to believe the Doctors wild story is entirely believable. Only as he is confronted with more and more evidence does he finally come around to the Doctors side, and once hes convinced of the facts, he acts with as much surety of himself as ever, despite the strange circumstances. The Commandant is really the hero of the final episode as much as the Doctor. As for Sam, Im very happy that she did not remain on the show. Shes a strong enough character, but I found her very annoying. Victorias sweetness is far preferable to Sams blustering. Sams flirting with Jamie is fun though.
The story is solid enough. Alien abduction on a mass scale isnt necessarily original, but perhaps it was more so back in 1967. The concept still works well within the Doctor Who formula. I can only imagine that the abduction of people cant have been going on for very long though, or more people would have begun to be suspicious. The Chameleons are a varied lot as antagonists go. Blade is pretty good, but the Director mainly talks a good game and gets shot in the end. Spencer isnt too bright at all. He makes mistake after mistake. His worst blunder is having the Doctor, Jamie and Sam at his mercy in episode four, and rather than shoot them he puts them in the position where a laser will cut them in two and then leaves. Of course they escape.
Ben and Pollys departure is far too short. At least they get a good final scene, unlike Dodo. Ben and Polly are great traveling companions, and their departure seems abrupt, though entirely understandable. They have to be some of the few who actually get back at exactly the point they left, so who can blame them for remaining behind? The farewell to Jamie and the Doctor is heartfelt.
It still hardly feels as though I really know this story well. Im grateful to fellow fans who did what I used to in the pre-VCR days and tape-recorded these episodes so we can at least listen to them. The linking narration helps, but theres no understating just how important the visuals are, and how much they are missed. The telesnaps help, but its never quite the same. Despite that, Ill be kicking back in my recliner and giving this story another listen soon I imagine. Its a good story for the most part, and worth your time.