'Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones' Review: A cozy blast from the past featuring the second Doctor's adventures
Ever so often, a show changes so much from its original style and format that it needs to take a back-to-basics approach, just enough to remind audiences why they fell in love with it in the first place. With audio from the lost 'Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones' recordings, the new animated special is about as back-to-basics as one can get.
Mixed in with animation of today, and tidied up just enough to fit in with modern production standards, 'The Faceless Ones' mixes just enough of the new with the classic to bridge two time periods in a way that's most appropriate for a time-travelling show — taking audiences back to 1966 for a strong taste of what made 'Doctor Who' such an appealing show, right from the start.
The six-episode special features the second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his companions, Polly (Anneke Wills), Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) and Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) coming to an airport in Glasgow with the TARDIS. When Polly is witness to a murder, it leads to the uncovering of a much more sinister plot involving shapeshifting aliens who are using the airport as a front to kidnap and replace humans with themselves.
Of course, once the victim's body is removed, the Doctor's attempts to get the authorities involved is immediately hindered by his seemingly outlandish conspiracy theories — not that that slows the Doctor down one bit.
The special is welcoming to those who are unfamiliar with the original 'Doctor Who' series from before the 2005 reboot, and may not know much about the second Doctor and his companions. The basics are all in place — the Doctor travels with his human companions through time and space with the TARDIS, solving mysteries and saving the day with a mix of eccentricity, deep intelligence and a desire to do good and fight evil.
The basic presence is a timeless one, one that has survived decades, and 'Doctor Who' fans of any era can drop in to the special for equal enjoyment. There's just enough static in the cleaned up audio for 'The Faceless Ones' to feel like a radio play come to life — all it's missing is an omniscient narrator describing the scenes.
The animation does that well enough, however, managing to match the tone and style of a show set in 1966 while still bringing it the vividness of color. The mini-series moves at a slower pace than the action-thriller episodes of today, and watching the entire thing is a delightful, cosy experience. The mystery takes its time to unfold, giving the strangeness of the situation time to breathe, making the final stakes a lot more dire when they become apparent.
Patrick Troughton's Doctor is different from the seemingly mandatory eccentric Doctors of today — he plays off more as a serious, eager, intelligent man in the midst of extremely eccentric circumstances. He is a more lead detective than hero, piecing together clues, coordinating efforts and confronting the mystery with care instead of rushing headlong into danger — though danger, of course, finds him again and again.
'The Faceless Ones' is an excellent trip into the past of an old school 'Doctor Who' story, one that's entertaining enough to possibly merit more of the same. Animating old 'Doctor Who' episodes might be one way to bring classic series to modern audiences. A touch of the new with a touch of the old meeting comfortable in the middle is 'Doctor Who' at its best and the special reflects that wonderfully.
The first three episodes of 'Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones' airs on Wednesday, October 7, starting at 8 pm ET, with the last three airing on Thursday, October 8, starting at 8 pm ET on BBC America.