The TARDIS lands right on an airstrip in Gatwick Airport. Finding an airplane – or a “flying beastie” as Jamie calls it – landing near them and catching the unwanted attention of airport security, the TARDIS crew scatters and flees. Polly hides in a hangar for an outfit called “Chameleon Tours” where she witnesses a pilot kill a police detective with some kind of ray gun. Detected, she narrowly escapes, but the pilot tells his superior, Captain Blade, about her, as well as explaining that the detective had to be killed because he found out about the “postcards.” Polly finds Jamie and the Doctor and brings them to the hangar, where the Doctor finds that the body showed signs of being electrocuted. The Doctor decides to try to go to the authorities, but on the way Polly is captured without him or Jamie noticing.
After struggling with airport bureaucracy, the Doctor barges in on the airport commandant, who has just ordered that the TARDIS be removed. The Doctor barely manages to talk the commandant into going into the hangar, but the detective’s body had been removed. Worse, when the Doctor, Jamie, and the commandant see Polly in the airport, she claims to not know them and to actually be a Swiss citizen migrating to the UK on a work permit, specifically in order to work at Chameleon Tours’ kiosk. The commandant tries to have the Doctor arrested, but he escapes by tricking everyone into thinking a rubber ball is an explosive device. Meanwhile Jamie meets Samantha, who is investigating the disappearance of her brother sometime during a Chameleon Tours trip to Rome. With Jamie’s help, Samantha finds out that Chameleon Tours has been giving participants on their tours, who are all young people, prestamped postcards that they are also asked to fill out before arrival. The Doctor and the others find each other and begin working with Detective Crossland, who is investigating the disappearance of the murdered detective. With both Crossland’s help and by acquiring one of the chameleons’ weapons, the Doctor finally (somewhat) convinces the commandant.
However, they don’t have Crossland’s help for long. He infiltrates the next Chameleon Tours plane only to be captured and forced to watch while all the passengers are miniaturized, to be taken to the chameleons’ spaceship in orbit above the Earth. One more flight is planned for Chameleon Tours, and Jamie boards by stealing a ticket Samantha had purchased (which he does by seducing her, because who can resist a Scotsman?). A trip to the bathroom, however, saves Jamie from the fate of his fellow passengers, but once the plane arrives on the ship he’s captured. At the same time, the Doctor exposes a chameleon among the commandant’s staff, and forces him to reveal that the chameleons have been using the airport’s medical facilities to transform themselves after captured humans and that the chameleons have hidden the frozen bodies of 50,000 young people somewhere on the airport grounds, because a catastrophe on the chameleons’ own planet have caused them to lose their physical characteristics. Using communications between the ship and the commandant’s office, the Doctor and the commandant try to bluff the ship into thinking they already found the bodies of the humans that had been copied until they manage to find them in a parking garage, which gives the humans the power to disintergrate any of the copied chameleons by tampering with the device that links each individual chameleon with the victim they copied. Pretending to be a copy himself, the Doctor takes a flight into the spaceship where he’s brought before the aliens’ director, a copy of Crossland. The Doctor negotiates, offering to give some advice to the chameleon scientists to find an alternate means to restore their species if they completely free their human victims. In a small coup, Blade kills the director and accepts the Doctor’s help. Now restored and freed, Ben and Polly learn that the day is July 20, 1966, the very day they first met the Doctor. Reluctantly they decide to stay, leaving the Doctor and Jamie to find the TARDIS, which is missing.
Not only do we see two companions leave with the departures of Ben and Polly, but it’s the severing of the last link to the First Doctor era. Even the original opening is gone.
The story takes place on July 20, 1966, probably the Doctor’s (Doctors’?) busiest day ever. At about the same time the adventure against the chameleons unfolds, the First Doctor is combating the evil AI, WOTAN, and, right after this serial, “Evil of the Daleks” takes place.
Sign of the Times
All the people boarding planes are dressed up, with most of the men wearing hats.
Well, this one was a slog to get through, and it doesn’t help my mood that half my original write-up for this episode got lost in the digital void. One could have cut half the episodes and the whole serial would have still been thick with near escapes by the heroes and continued exposition on the chameleons long after the audience figured out what this week’s menace was to just pad things out. And I thought “The Moonbase” was supposed to be the boring one.
I know plot holes really aren’t foreign to ’60s Doctor Who, to put it nicely, but “The Faceless Ones” breaches Ed Wood territory. What the hell kind of planetary disaster would cause an alien race to lose their faces? How do you hide 50,000 bodies in an airport, no matter how massive it may be? Wouldn’t someone have noticed all the unconscious people in cars, sooner or later, so why if they had this miniaturization technology didn’t they take them to the ship or at least stick them in a sock drawer somewhere? At least the uncloned chameleons do look grotesque and menacing, but their motive is so convoluted and nonsensical it completely undercuts them as villains. It doesn’t help that the story rarely uses the potential that should be obvious with a race of shapeshifters; really, even though the premise of this serial is tailormade for it, “The Macra Terror” did a much better job of invoking a sense of paranoia.
Also it’s unfortunate that Ben and Polly are left out of about 70% of the story. It is true that, since he was introduced, Jamie had better chemistry with the Second Doctor than Ben and Polly (which is understandable, since Patrick Troughton and Jamie’s portrayer, Frazer Hines, were close friends off-camera). I also understand that most likely for production reasons they had to film Ben and Polly’s departure early and leave them out of the bulk of the filming, but it still feels rushed, especially since it probably wouldn’t have been too difficult to have them learn of the date sooner and have more of them struggling with the decision to leave. Still, at least it was more than what poor Dodo got.