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Recap / Doctor Who S4 E8 "The Faceless Ones"

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It's a flying beastie!
Jamie meets his first aeroplane
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The one where Polly gets stuck in a box.

The Doctor contrives to land the TARDIS in the middle of a runway at Gatwick Airport, narrowly missing being flattened by an incoming airliner. As the travellers scatter to avoid being arrested, Polly witnesses a murder in a hangar and is then kidnapped by the murderer, a representative of "Chameleon Tours", while Ben vanishes mysteriously. The Doctor and Jamie try unsuccessfully to convince the authorities of foul play, before discovering that a number of young people have disappeared on Chameleon Tours holidays.

It turns out an alien race called the Chameleons have lost their own faces and identities due to an accident on their home planet and have been kidnapping the young people to appropriate theirs. The Doctor helps them to find another solution to their problem in exchange for releasing the human hostages.

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Ben and Polly discover that they have returned to Earth on the very day they disappeared, and decide to stay behind while the Doctor gets ready to depart with Jamie: but hold on - where's the TARDIS?


Takes place on the same day (July 20, 1966) as "The War Machines", meaning Polly and Ben returned on the very same day they left. This was also the first serial written by Malcolm Hulke.

An animated reconstruction was released in 2020, providing the viewer with two different options: a colour 16:9 presentation of all six episodes, and a black-and-white 4:3 presentation. Interestingly, the two episodes that DO survive (Episodes 1 and 3) were also reanimated, giving the viewer the option of switching between the real and animated episodes or watching a consistent fully-animated story.

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Tropes

  • Acquired Error at the Printer: In the animated version, the year for the newspaper is given as 1967, rather than 1966.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Spencer, commanded to kill the Doctor, manages to incapacitate him, Jamie and Samantha. Spencer exits the room, having activated a DeathTrap to deal with them. They manage to free themselves before it's too late and escape.
  • Brandishment Bluff: The Doctor threatens to blow an entire airport to smithereens, throws the bouncy ball he was bluffing with at the authorities, and runs off.
  • The Blank: Due to the disaster, Chameleon faces are a featureless expanse of degraded tissue with no mouth or eyes.
  • Bound and Gagged: Samantha in Episode 5.
  • Call-Forward: The animated reconstruction includes a whole host of them, as usual, including Magpie Electricals and International Electromatics outlets in the airport, an ad for Waterfield Antiques, Wanted posters for both the Roger Delgado and Sacha Dhawan incarnations of the Master and the by-now traditional hidden "Bad Wolf". This time it's written backwards on the eye chart.
  • Deadly Road Trip: Chameleon Tours id a front for faceless aliens who are abducting young British tourists and stealing their identities as the first step in their conquest of the Earth.
  • Doppelgänger: The Chameleons' entire modus operandi.
  • Freeze Ray: The Chameleons use one that looks conveniently like a fancy ballpoint pen.
  • Grand Theft Me: What the Chameleons are up to.
  • He Knows Too Much: Why Gascoigne was murdered and Crossland captured and subjected to Grand Theft Me.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The Chameleons’ brilliant hiding place for their captives? A car park at the airport.
  • Imposter Forgot One Detail: Used to be called Impostor Jamie Has No Accent.
    • It also gets played with within the same story. The Chameleon impersonating Meadows recounts details of his host’s life, but says something that isn’t consistent with the records of him. He then clarified that it’s a recent change he hasn’t had time to update.
  • Kiss of Distraction: Jamie gives Samantha a quick kiss to distract her while he steals her ticket.
  • Landmarking the Hidden Base: The aliens set up shop in Gatwick Airport.
  • Meaningful Name: Chameleon Tours is the front of aliens who, like chameleons, change their appearance to blend in with their surroundings.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Captain Blade.
  • Newspaper-Thin Disguise: The Doctor and Jamie, to avoid pursuit. (Then the Doctor notices a Clue in the newspaper he's hiding behind, and the plot continues.)
  • Nice Hat: Samantha.
  • Nightmare Face: The Chameleons. The story's title is very fitting.
  • Not Quite Dead: The Doctor appears to have died to a trap but is in fact still alive.
  • Not What It Looks Like
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Jenkins. Even after the Doctor tells him he and Jamie are trying to report a murder, he refuses to let them through until after they show him their passports.
  • Out of Focus: Considering this is their final story, Ben and Polly only appear in half the six episodes and don't feature much. Their final appearance is a pre-filmed insert. Their roles in the story are filled by Jamie and Samantha.
  • Overreacting Airport Security: Inverted, since this was well before the days of metal detectors and terror alerts. If anything, the airport police are a bit too lax, since they can't even catch the Doctor and Co. when the TARDIS materializes in the middle of Gatwick's only runway.
  • Plucky Girl: Samantha, who spends the last two episodes filling the de facto companion role to the Doctor. Indeed, she would have left with the Doctor and Jamie if Pauline Collins had been interested in a full-time role.
  • Puny Earthlings: The Chameleons repeatedly boast to one another that their plan can't be discovered because they are so much smarter than humans, whose intelligence they compare to animals.
  • Put on a Bus: Ben and Polly are both abducted early in the story, with both Anneke Wills and Michael Craze appearing in full only in the first two episodes of the story. A pre-filmed departure scene allowed them to return for a quick goodbye at the end of the last episode. The contracts for the two actors actually ran through Episode Two of the following story, but it was decided to go ahead and write them out of the series.
    • Anneke Wills has said in interviews that she was told that Michael Craze was being written out, but she was given the option of staying on. She opted to leave when he did.
  • Rearrange the Song: The theme music's "spangles" arrangement debuts in Episode 2. It was supposed to debut in the previous serial, but due to a production error every episode of that story used the original 1963 version of the title theme (as was also the case with Episode One of this serial).
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Gatwick's Commandant thinks the Doctor is nuts at first, but a demonstration by the Doctor featuring one of the Chameleon's freezing pens, and an appeal from Inspector Crossland convince him to cooperate. As the facts bear the Doctor out over the course of the story, the Commandant becomes more and more helpful.
  • The Show Must Go On: A superb example in part one, when the actor playing Spencer enters a room only for the door handle to come off in his hand. Without missing a beat, he sets it down on a nearby table and carries on. If it weren't for the clunk when he puts it down, it would hardly be noticeable. Curiously, this moment is not recreated in the animated version, despite them having the actual episode to work from, which makes the clunk more noticeable because it comes out of nowhere.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Ben and Polly depart the TARDIS crew and the Doctor says his goodbyes. He tells Ben to go back to the Navy and work his way up through the ranks and become an Admiral. He tells Polly, "look after Ben". Particularly callous since Polly is generally shown to be clever, more competent and ambitious than Ben, and because a big part of Polly's reason for hooking up with the Doctor in the first place was because in her real job she was being treated like an ignorant tea maid by sexist computer engineers. Notably, in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "Death of the Doctor" from 2010, Sarah Jane says that she did hook up with Ben...though she notes both of them are working in an orphanage in India, suggesting she at least got to do something better with her life than just be "Ben's wife."
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Because he's never been in a plane before, Jamie suffers from extreme bouts of motion sickness when he finds himself riding in one.
  • Take a Third Option: Rather than simply drive away the Chameleons or cause their deaths, the Doctor simply decides to "open negotiations" with them. At the end of the story, he forces them to leave Earth and release their stolen bodies, but to sweeten the pill agrees to help them with the problem that required them to steal Earth bodies in the first place.

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