16 June 2013
8/10 a

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 167: The Faceless Ones, Episode Four

Dear diary,

It's a shame, considering the amount of praise I had for the way this story was treating Jamie as a companion from history in the first two episodes, that there's several moments in today's entry that left me thinking more about how out of place something felt than simply enjoying the story. Indeed, on one occasion, I spent so long wondering about where Jamie got his passport from that I actively zoned out from the audio for a few minutes, and had to skip back. It's pleasing that we get an explanation for this later on in the episode (indeed, there's a scene which seems to exist in part simply to explain away how the Highlander has made it this far into his journey).

Still, though, it felt really out of place when Frazer Hines' narration talks of Jamie noticing Sam's airline ticket sticking out of her top pocket, then sneaks it away from her. I could argue that he's spent so much time watching the Chameleon Tours checking-in desk that he's figured out you need a ticket to travel, but it still felt out of place at the time. And then he's managed to make his way through the airport (a few episodes back, it was being painted as a vast alien landscape in his eyes), on to a plane, and then he knows where to run when he's feeling the need to be air sick. It all just felt a bit too jarring for the character, and I think I'd have been able to buy it better had Ben been the one filling this role.

Ben, and Polly, though, are still absent from the story! It's strange, considering that it's their final outing in the TARDIS, that we've not had two episodes in a row to feature neither of them. I'm assuming that they'll be back tomorrow to round off the story, but it's an odd decision all the same. Still, I think the saddest thing is that I'm not especially missing them. I don't mean that to sound negative - I'm sure anyone who's been following The 50 Year Diary over the last six weeks or so will have noticed how much I love the pair, but Sam and Jamie are fulfilling the companion roles more than amply, so there's no time to mourn our swinging sixties teens.

You may be able to detect that I'm slightly more puke-warm towards this episode of The Faceless Ones that I have been to any of the others so far. I think, unfortunately, that we're suffering a bit from the return of the six parter. There's lots to love in this one, and my notes are full with notes on great dialogue, as is usual for Season Four ('Ah, you're still thinking in Earth terms…' / 'And I intend to keep on doing so!'), but I think things may just be dragging a little in the middle. We get a great revelation here that the Commandant's secretary (?) has been phoning all the airports that Chameleon Tours fly to (and there's a great line slipped in about how much that will have cost - it's a little thing but it helps to make it all the more real), and she reports that the flights never arrive. Other airports have their passengers collected, taken away… and that's it.

It would be a great moment for the story, with some proof to the Commandant that there really is something shady being done right under his nose, in the heart of his beloved airport, but it comes after we've seen a plane full of holidaymakers suddenly vanish without a trace. Had we watched this scene yesterday, just before we witness the plane empty in a matter of seconds, it may have had more of an impact. As it is, the whole thing falls a bit flat.

I'm not even sure that the survival of the episode would have helped greatly. The main set-piece here is the transformation of the aeroplane into a spaceship, which is described on the soundtrack as 'hovering above the clouds, the huge wings fold in…'. Looking at the tele-snaps (there's two for this moment), I can't tell if it would have looked quite good or a bit ropey. Sadly, I have a feeling it might have been the latter - it almost looks a bit animated in the pictures. Still, in my mind, it looked awesome as the wings folded in, so perhaps it's a good thing we can't watch it?

Oh, and one last thing - if I can keep track of the 'arc' involving the First Doctor's relationship with history, then I can keep track of the Second Doctor's 'arc' towards developing a Sonic Screwdriver. We've had scenes in The Power of the Daleks, in which he (tries) to open a lock by finding the right frequency on his recorder (and that's a point, we've not seen it in a while. I knew they phased it out, but I expected to notice!), and now we've got him using a regular screwdriver to open the lock on a cupboard. Another season from now, he'll put two-and-two together…

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