The Faceless Ones at the BFI Southbank

Faceless Ones (1)

Image Credit: Evan Jones (All Rights Reserved)

Image Description: Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines and BFI Lead Programmer Justin Johnson answer audience questions at the BFI screening of The Faceless Ones

More than five decades on from its original broadcast, The Faceless Ones has been resurrected in animated form. Evan Jones was there to witness its rebirth…

On the rarest of days, the 29th of February, we had the rarest of treats: a first preview of the latest Classic Doctor Who animation of The Faceless Ones, a mostly incomplete Patrick Troughton six-part serial first broadcast between April and May 1968. As I arrived at Waterloo station, I was greeted with some cold, wet Saturday morning weather, which encouraged me to make the short walk to the BFI Southbank, where some 500 Doctor Who fans would shortly gather.

After taking our seats in the main auditorium for a prompt midday start, the event began with a short introduction by the two regular BFI hosts, Justin Johnson and Dick Fiddy. This was followed by a short trivia quiz to win a Doctor Who DVD and a copy of The Celestial Toyroom, of which the main highlight was when Anneke Wills (Polly) managed to successfully scoop a prize herself with the delightfully obscure answer of “Anneke Wills”. Before the main event got underway, we saw a short video from Ben Craze (son of Michael, who played companion Ben Jackson), as well as his two daughters, one of whom delightfully upstaged his intro with her own seemingly well-rehearsed speech. The audience seemed to find both incredibly cute and downright hilarious, and so we entered the first part of the animation in rather high spirits.

The story begins on the runway of Gatwick Airport where the TARDIS materialises quite inconveniently in the pathway of an outgoing plane. They actually filmed some of the scenes on location there back in 1968, years before Heathrow would make an appearance in Time-Flight. Being on a runway, and pursued by security, The Doctor and his three companions quickly scatter when spotted, so they can each discover something unusual happening behind the scenes at the airport. We soon learn that many young people are disappearing after going on cheap package holidays to Europe, and it seems to have something to do with the mysterious Chameleon Tours. I personally was already familiar with the first half of the story, having already viewed the two surviving episodes (Parts one and three) on the Lost in Time DVD, though this was nearly six years ago. 

I certainly felt the new animation, which we viewed in full colour widescreen, captured the essence of these surviving episodes. There were also plenty of background references and Easter eggs to enjoy, including signs for International Electromatics and a couple of wanted posters for both Delgado and Dhawan’s incarnations of the Master, with the latter having been absent when the opening scene debuted on the Doctor Who YouTube channel back in October 2019. Scenes involving the Doctor, Ben and Jamie hiding inside a photo booth, as well as Jamie holding a newspaper upside down whilst hiding from police, elicited some laughter from the audience too, both of which were indeed present in the original episode. 

After Part three, there was a short break in the screening to allow for a brief interview with the animation’s director, AnneMarie Walsh, and Doctor Who audio maestro Mark Ayres about the year-long process of making this new animation. We learnt that they used the original camera scripts to help plan the animation, though they learnt to adapt their approach towards the strengths of the animated medium, using more close-ups and mid-shots, rather than attempting to closely recreate what the filmed episode might have looked like, as was the approach taken for the first animated reconstructions of The Invasion’s Episodes one and four. Perhaps the most surprising fact was that they used the off-air recordings made by notable fan Graham Strong. This was not only done to achieve consistency in audio terms with the lost episodes, but also because Mark Ayres found that they were in fact better recordings than the surviving master tapes for Episodes one and three.

We then continued into the second half of the story, which I was going into completely blind – I had no idea how the story was going to develop and resolve. By this point I was confident that this was the strongest Doctor Who animation we have seen to date, with considerable improvement to Troughton’s facial expressions from previous animations. As well as this, there were some spectacular shots of the aeroplanes flying to and from Gatwick Airport that would’ve likely replaced stock footage or model shots in the original production. The story’s fourth cliffhanger particularly left a strong impression on me, which proved to be an intriguing development in the narrative, as well as neatly setting up the story’s third act. The final episode saw the departure of companions Ben and Polly, who leave upon realising they are back in London on the exact same day they originally left. The audience certainly had a risible reaction to the Doctor’s suggestion that Ben should go off to catch his ship and become an Admiral, whilst Polly should just look after Ben – Anneke would later go on to say that’s just how life was in the sixties.

Finally, we had an interview and Q&A session with actors Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines (Jamie) who were also present for the entire screening and available for autographs afterwards. We learnt that Anneke and Michael (who sadly passed away in 1998) didn’t get a goodbye party, since they filmed their final scene together on location at the start of filming episodes one and two. Frazer mentioned that Pauline Collins was offered the role of a companion but that she turned this down in order to pursue an Oscar (being nominated in 1989 for Best Actress in Shirley Valentine); she would return to Doctor Who nearly forty years later as Queen Victoria in Tooth and Claw.

When asked what missing Who stories they’d most like to see animated, Anneke said The Smugglers and Frazer said The Highlanders, both of which are historical stories from Season Four. However, it has been noted these are the most difficult to make due to the number of characters and costumes that need to be drawn, so we may have to wait a while for these. They were also asked what their characters would be doing now, since we had recently seen what Ace has been up to in the Season Twenty-Six boxset trailer. Frazer said Jamie would probably have married Kirsty from The Highlanders and had five kids; Anneke simply said Polly would be growing her own vegetables in an allotment.

After the event I, along with James Blanchard, Michelle Coats, William Shaw, Ian Bayley and Katrin Thier, headed along the South Bank for an early dinner at Wagamama’s. This was followed by a trip to a nearby pub for some drinks where we discussed our impressions of the screening, as well as attempted to predict what would happen in the Series Twelve finale, The Timeless Children, due to broadcast the following day. Unsurprisingly, none of the predictions were particularly prescient. But perhaps more importantly, we all managed to travel home safely, ensuring that none of our transport was being operated by a company called Chameleon Tours.

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