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13 June 2013
8/10 Day 164: The Faceless Ones, Episode One

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

Day 164: The Faceless Ones, Episode One

Dear diary,

This may feel like an odd place to bring it up, but I've been dreading the Pertwee era. Even though he was my first Doctor (well, my first BBC, Doctor. Peter Cushing was the first Doctor I ever actually watched), I've always considered him my least favourite, and his era isn't one that I recall enjoying all that much. There's several reasons why, which we'll get to later in the year.

The reason I mention it here is that one of the things I've always thought I didn't like about that early 1970s period of the programme was that it was set on contemporary Earth. I seem to recall that I was just never all that keen on the idea. It's a good thing, perhaps, that at the moment, these contemporary Earth stories are doing very well with me. The War Machines was my highest-rated First Doctor story, and The Faceless Ones is off to a good start in this episode.

It might help that, as I've said before, I really do love the look and the feel of the 1960s. Seeing things from this era thrown up onto screen is great fun for me, and that's probably affecting how much I'm enjoying things. Add to that the fact that this is still a very new kind of story for Doctor Who to tell, and I think you're onto a winner. Hopefully, the magic will hold out long enough for me to reappraise the Third Doctor's time on the planet when it comes…

As I watched this episode, I was met with the nagging sense that I'd seen it before at some point. I'm wondering if I might have watched it on the Lost in Time DVD in the past, possibly following on from my first viewing of The Moonbase. Certainly, I'd seen the arrival of the TARDIS on the runway before now (though I don't think I'd appreciated before just how vast in scale it is!), and I'm sure I've watched the Doctor and Jamie battling with the officials about their passports. Equally, when the Commandant asked to see inside the packing crate at the Chameleon Tours hangar, I vaguely knew that there'd be plastic cups in there.

This has turned into another case of appreciating things far more when they're being seen in order, though. As I've said above, the scale to this episode really is vast, from the opening shots of aeroplanes coming in to land, to the high shot of the TARDIS materialising and the policeman chasing our regulars, there's a sense of scale to things here that we've not had an awful lot of in the programme. Plus, it's all filmed at Gatwick airport! In 1967, this isn't a place that many viewers will have been to, and that probably added to all the magic just that little bit.

We're given plenty of opportunity to look at it, as well. They're really getting their money's worth out of the location. The first three minutes of the episode are (mostly) the Doctor and his friends being chased to some high-tempo music and acoustic airport noise. All this brevity is then cut through when Polly witnesses a murder, and the Doctor's got a mystery to solve.

It doesn't stop the fast tempo of the episode, though, or the amount of humour that's involved. Jamie's initial description of an aeroplane as being a 'flying beastie' is brilliant, and even more so when Polly tells them what she's just seen, and Jamie wonders if one of the 'beasties' could be the murderer. We also get plenty of comedy (at least to start with) from the Commandant, as he tries to clear the obstruction to the runway ('What was it? It was a police box!?!'). It's a scene that I can perfectly imagine Nick Courtney playing as the Brigadier, which is perhaps another good sign for that era?

It's great fun watching the Doctor and Jamie argue about their passports while trying to convince people that there really has been a murder, and then the pair continue to delight as they head off to the hangar once more to search for the body. Troughton looks just right in a Sherlock Homes role, as he studies the surroundings with his magnifying glass.

As I watched the episode, Ellie was sat next to me (though not paying attention - she was getting on with some work on her laptop). The thing that did rouse her interest was the first shot of the burnt arm as it appears from behind a doorway. It has to be said that it's pretty effective, and works just as well when it's repeated later on, peeking out from under a cloak as the creature is led away to the airport's sick bay.

The shot of the two men carrying the creature up the escalators is nice (again showing the scale of the room, though perhaps more through unusual framing than anything else…), though it would have been nice to see a different angle on the scene. I'd more or less worked out that the cliffhanger would be that we'd see the face of the creature up-close, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that I was wrong. The hood of the cloak comes down, we see the back of the creature's head - just as burnt and painful looking as the arm… and then the credits kick in! We're left to wonder just what it might be. Brilliant stuff.

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