Saturday, 10 March 2012

DW50 Countdown: The Second Doctor (Part Two)

Continuing my mission to watch a story of each Doctor's that is not seen as a classic (my aim being to still prove it's still excellent viewing), this week I sat down to watch 1966's 'The Faceless Ones' starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor.  Get ready, people, we're off to the airport!

Having watched companions Ben and Polly's introductory story last month, when searching for a Second Doctor story to review this one I thought it only fitting I chose their final adventure. I also had little knowledge of the serial and so could enjoy watching a Doctor Who and not know what's going to happen. I'm pleased to tell you now it didn't disappoint, being far more atmospheric, pacy and intriguing than 'The War Machines' which, if you read my review, you'll know I rather liked.

The opening moments must be some of the most dynamic of the 'classic' series - the TARDIS materialising on a airport runway, directly in the way of an oncoming jet! It's a great start which throws into the action straight away; rather than a slow exploration of their surroundings the TARDIS team have to run for their lives within seconds of arriving. Perfect!
As with 'The War Machines', this story has a mundane setting but which it makes fantastically unfamiliar. That's right, our heroes are at Gatwick Airport where shortly after escaping the jet plane, split up and discover the existence of a dead body in one of the hangars. What does this have to do with Chameleon Tours, an airline that offers cheap flights across Europe to young people? Ten minutes in and we already have a mystery to sink our teeth into.

As you may have noticed, I highly praise the story telling of these episodes. The plot steadily builds across all six episodes, helped by some great cliffhangers. Polly seemingly forgotten the Doctor and Jamie at the end of Part One is possibly my favourite but other greats include the reveal of the hideous Chameleon creatures themselves in Part Two and the Chameleon Tours plane's ascent to space closing Part Four. It's genuinely creepy, too. Although basically a rendition of the well-known 'Invasion of the Body-Snatchers' plot, it makes for an uneasy feeling for the character and as a viewer: you don't know if the character you're watching is an alien or not.

However, what makes this story extra special though is it's strong characters. The guest characters of the airport staff are all likeable, notable examples being Jean the secretary (played by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch's mum, Wanda Ventham - yes, they have to have odd names in his family) and the stuffy Commandant, who goes from believing the Doctor mad to trusting him entirely.
The Doctor and Jamie are at the heart of this adventure, the writer's obviously knowing they had a great partnership on their hands, and both come off well. 18th century-er Jamie's confusion at 'flying beasties' in the sky at the start is endearing and he even gets a love interest sub-plot in Samantha, a feisty scouse girl, also well-played by future Queen Victoria Pauline Collins. The pair hit it off straight away - I think she likes the rather revealing kilt - and even share a snog half-way through. Given this much character development (I can't remember many companions having relationships like this) it's a surprise she doesn't stay on as a companion but she's a fun character while she lasts anyway.
Of course, Troughton is as ever on top form, his playful buffoonery and dislike of authority come through straight away - now stalwart traits of our hero, they were making some of their early appearances here. He also gets to play trickster when sparking the Chameleons off each other in the later episodes to cause friction. It's this juxtaposing of his clownish nature and cunning wiles that make Troughton the great Doctor he is.
On the other hand, there's a big downside with how Ben and Polly are dealt with. After getting caught up with the Chameleons in Part Two we don't see either again until Part Six. Having two of your lead characters, especially in their final story, packed off screen for several episodes is never a plus but it is sort of compensated by their touching farewell scene. Having finally got back together, Ben and Polly realise that it's the very day they first left with the Doctor, like they've never been away at all. Overcome with homesickness knowing they're back where they belong they make their tearful goodbyes. The Doctor's melancholy last words to them -'You've found your home. I never got back to mine'- would have been an excellent reminder for audiences at the time that the Doctor was still a mystery and still gives a tingly feeling when heard today.

Overall, a terrific Doctor Who story of which it's largest downfall is not at all it's own fault; the footage of all but Parts One and Three have been lost for decades, leaving just the audios. Although with the aid of many screen shots and subtitled descriptions they can't hope to evoke the feel of watching the full thing. However, with the discovery of two presumed lost forever episodes last November, who knows what may be found in the future. Fingers crossed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...