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Doctor Who The Faceless Ones the animated version is released on the16th March 2020 on DVD and Blu-ray and to celebrate the BFI (British Film Institute) on the London Southbank ran a special event, Attending were actors Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills who starred in the serial which was first broadcast in six weekly parts from 8 April to 13 May 1967

BFI hosts Dick Fiddy ( BFI Archive Television Programmer) and Justin Johnson (Lead Programmer for BFI)
BFI hosts Dick Fiddy ( BFI Archive Television Programmer) and Justin Johnson (Lead Programmer for BFI)

Before the traditional start to the event, the quiz for the audience the BFI hosts Dick Fiddy (BFI Archive Television Programmer) and Justin Johnson (Lead Programmer for BFI) allowed promotion of an upcoming one-day charity event:

G’Day of the Doctor on Saturday 9th May

Facebook page for G’Day of the Doctor

G’Day of the Doctor is running on Saturday, 9 May at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in SE11 London  (one of London’s most iconic LGBT+ venues )  from 1pm-6pm where there will be various fan groups working together raising funds for victims of the Australian wildfires. Inspired from an idea by Katy Manning who is there alongside other celebrity guests attending the event. It was revealed that they will be also be showing a special screening in colour of episode 2 of the Dalek Masterplan. Tickets go on sale from the 9th March but get them quick as numbers are limited to 150.

Promotion for G'Day of the Doctor
It was Katy Manning idea for G’Day of the Doctor

Message from Ben Craze

This story has three companions Jamie, Ben and Polly. There was a certain poignancy with the absence of Michael Craze ( who played Ben) as this was the last story for Ben and Polly but Justin Johnson had a surprise to show the audience. A video message from Michael Craze’s son Ben and his family who couldn’t be at the event. It was a delightful and adorable clip also including Michael Craze’s young granddaughters before the credits started for episode 1.

Michael Craze as Ben Jackson
Michael Craze as Ben Jackson. Remembered by his son and grand-daughters

Animating The Faceless Ones

Anne Marie Walsh, the animation director, from BBC Studios, came to the stage along with Mark Ayres who is a frequent contributor to the rescoring of new Doctor Who releases. Anne Marie Walsh also directed previous animations such as the Macra Terror and the mini-episode of Wheel in Space. Both Anne Marie and Mark were keen to point out the differences in animation compared to live-action. Anne Marie used the existing live episodes for reference in drawing characters and also inspire dynamism for animation as it is cut differently.

Anne Marie Walsh, the animation director, from BBC Studios with Mark Ayres (right)
Anne Marie Walsh, the animation director, from BBC Studios with Mark Ayres (right)

The original camera scripts which survived were used as inspiration but there was not an attempt to copy shot for shot what the live episodes would have been. Animation has its limitations for long shot movement such as people running. They tended to concentrate on mid and close shots when animating. Personally I think the animation itself is more successful with some characters than others in this production and the style wasn’t entirely to my taste. Asking Anne Marie for her inspiration for the style of animation she said it was very much the comic book style and Martin Gerraty, who did the graphic design work to remove creases from faces and clothes.

The Tardis crew animated by BBC Studios
The Tardis crew animated by BBC Studios
Footage from The Faceless Ones
How does the actual Tardis crew compare in animation (Footage from The Faceless Ones)

Talking about how animation and sound is a collaboration Mark Ayres explained how the soundtrack was taken from off-air recordings made by a fan Graham Strong.  He was a young fan in the 1960s and their quality was better than the original BBC master 16mm film although he confirmed the opening and closing credits were taken from the master. The soundtrack was sent to the animators who created storyboards from the camera script. Where Mark added sound it has been used to enhance certain scenes such as location action shots which would have been shot without sound.

Graham Strong gave his original recordings to Mark Ayres for safekeeping before he passed away in 2018
Graham Strong gave his original recordings to sound recordist Mark Ayres for safekeeping before he passed away in 2018

The Faceless Ones reviewed

Only two original live episodes 1 and 3 exist in the archives and although a black and white animated version is available as extra content the event organisers decided to show the complete colour version to an eager audience. For a taste check out  Trailer for The Faceless Ones

As a very long story, I do think for animation The Faceless Ones adaption could have quite easily been slimmed into 4 episodes.  Watching the full animation for over two hours in one sitting on a big screen I found quite tiring, to be honest, and I think it’s best watched in the serialised nature it was intended as the credits are there for every episode. The set-up for the story is quite slow at the beginning with the Doctor trying to persuade the commandant about the disappearances but on the plus side, we get time to know the characters such as Blade, Ann Rock, the commandant which is a luxury modern Who doesn’t always give us.

Having animation makes me concentrate more on the audio and I enjoyed the commandant very much and Captain Blade for different reasons. Captain Blade gave me the shivers through the voice and the animation made his eyes quite harsh and staring. With the commandant as has happened previously, there are bits in scripts you never imagined are comedic when you are on your own but suddenly you see them through other people’s eyes and because they are laughing it becomes funny which is what happened.

DOCTOR: Very well. Next, I believe Chameleon Tours to be merely a front, a cover.
COMMANDANT: For what?
DOCTOR: For the mass kidnapping of young people.
COMMANDANT: And is all this supposed to be taking place in my airport?

There was a hilarious visual joke included where Ben, The Doctor and Jamie are hiding in a photo-booth from the police/authorities and someone draws back the curtain and they all put on a big cheesy smile. There are also little things added as in-jokes to the animation such as a wanted poster in the police station with Roger Delgado, a newspaper headline with Magpie Electricals defeated as a headline plus some others to keep an eye out for.

The introduction of Samantha was an interesting development bringing a human personal element to the story. She brought out a protective Jamie which was endearing at times. They worked really well together and brought much-needed spark and warmth against the chameleon’s coldness. Her introduction though did mean that Ben and Polly

SAMANTHA: There’s something funny going on here.
JAMIE: Why?
SAMANTHA: My brother’s vanished, and that lot just couldn’t care less

Samantha Briggs played by Pauline Collins
Samantha Briggs played by Pauline Collins – a possible companion?

were side-lined which is such a shame for their last story as Polly finding the dead policeman could have been made of a lot more of for her character. I think it is a crying shame they were not used more fully considering they were paid up to Episode 2 of Evil of the Daleks. I’ve always liked the Duchess and the “well that’s marvellous” cockney.  Both were likeable people but not made more memorable in this story if that makes sense. Their goodbye seemed a bit sudden and stilted.

DOCTOR: You really want to go, don’t you?
BEN: Well, we won’t leave, Doctor, if you really need us.
POLLY: The thing is, it is our world.
DOCTOR: Yes, I know. You’re lucky, I never got back to mine. All right, then. Off you go. Now go on, Ben can catch his ship and become an Admiral, and you Polly, you can look after Ben.

Although the Chameleons seemed to submit rather meekly to the Doctors terms considering everything they did, in the end, I still really enjoyed the story. I have listened to the audio and watched the two surviving episodes with the location filming at Gatwick which really helped to lift the story and its better structured than the 5th Doctor story Time-Flight.

Anneke Wills and Frazier Hines Interview

Animation and voices: Both came to the stage for an interview and Q & A after the complete story had been shown and noting Polly’s last line in the episode said she would spend her life looking after Frazer Hines. Both seemed delighted with their animated representation for this story noting how the animation is getting better and better. Anneke Wills spoke about how she has also done an audio reading of the BBC Faceless Ones book and had challenges with creating the voices of Samantha, Jamie and had shed a tear at the final scene. Frazer Hines loved doing a different accent as he could then separate his characters.

Anneke Wills and Frazier Hines
Anneke Wills and Frazier Hines

Working on Who: Both discussed how they would rehearse for part of the work and then record which compared to the way production is now filming in blocks. It was a luxury really Anneke recalled but they learnt to work with different actors. The recording was done with the director in a gallery and Frazer recalled how one director Morris Barry had changes made to a set because his cameras were in the wrong position. With time constraints in-studio he was furious with a live take where The Doctor and Jamie reach out for Victoria but end up holding hands in Tomb of the Cybermen. Neither Patrick or Frazer warned him they were going to do it although it was planned by the actors.

Favourite stories: For Anneke, it was the Smugglers and she recounted the pleasure of her and Michael Craze spending a night in a pub in Mousel in Cornwall when as young actors without any money they never got a chance to have a holiday. She has recently read The Smugglers for BBC audio which is coming out in November.  For Frazer, he cited the Highlanders as it was his first story. He has spoken to Ann Marie Walsh about it but it may not see the light of day due to a reluctance to draw the tartan kilts!

Leaving in the Faceless Ones: Anneke remembered the filming at Gatwick and the first studio session and then they were just gone. With Frazer’s entrance, Michael Craze had been anxious at another male lead.  For Frazer, he didn’t feel any competition as he knew Michael from auditions. Anneke acknowledged there were probably too many companions so in a story such as The Moonbase Jamie became consigned to bed with a fever imagining the Phantom Piper. She knew that the character Ben was being phased out and due to loyalty to Michael Craze decided to leave as well. She had also taken advice from her partner Michael Gough that as an actor it was best to be flexible and take new opportunities

Signed card and BFI info sheet
Signed card and BFI info sheet

Available for the event. On the back, the postcard has the BFI & BBC Studios Logo and the event date. Autographs were extra as with previous recent releases there was a special postcard produced by the BFI for the event showing an amazing cover. Before the signing with actors Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills, we were advised there wouldn’t be any selfies allowed, presumably due to the current concerns regarding coronavirus COVID-19. There was still a long queue to see them both and chat though before another fantastic BFI event ended.

Doctor Who The Faceless Ones is released on 16th March 2020 from £12.99 (DVD) and £17.99 ( Blu-Ray)

As some fans might know, after leaving the Doctor and joining UNIT, Martha Jones then turned up for a few episodes of Torchwood Series 2. Across three outings, Reset, Dead Man Walking and A Day in the Death, Martha proved herself to be a great addition to the Torchwood gang. Whether it was due to behind-the-scenes issues or Russell T. Davies just wanted her in the middle arc for Series 2, Martha never turned up in Torchwood again. But now, thanks to the wizards at Big Finish, that’s all changed.

The end for Series 2 of Torchwood, was a massive shock, not only for the team themselves but also for the viewers. Dissected from Tim Foley sees Gwen Cooper paying Martha Jones a visit to ask her for help. Gwen has a body that needs looking over in her boot, but things are going to get worst before they get better.

Torchwood: Dissected
Torchwood: Dissected

Dissected also marks the first appearance of Freema Agyeman in the world of Doctor Who since her brief appearance at the end of The End of Time. And one wonders why it’s taken so long to bring her back into the fold, Agyeman proves herself to be highly adept at the audio format, instantly stepping back into the role of Martha. I’ll admit, Martha didn’t really do it for me on the television, I think anyone coming in after the mistake of a love-story arc with the Tenth Doctor and Rose, was going to suffer and she did work better for me in the Torchwood framework. So it’s nice to hear her back now and I’m hoping to get a Torchwood boxset with her involved.

But I’m also hoping that Agyeman’s appearance here means that we’re going to have a set of three Tenth Doctor stories which reunites Agyeman with David Tennant. Here though, she’s paired with Eve Myles’ Gwen Cooper, and rightly so, Foley focuses much of his story on the relationship between the pair. Foley wastes no time in giving them some interesting back-story, why didn’t Martha stay in touch and who exactly is Martha at this point in time?

The sub-plot concerns the re-appearance of the Chameleons, or at least I think it is a re-appearance of them since 1967’s The Faceless Ones. With an alien who can shape-shift, Foley does bring in elements of things like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, though keeps this side of it light, only really focusing on it at the end, and it does wrap itself up quite quickly. Normally I would call an audio out on this but because the story never really focused on it in the first place, I wasn’t too bothered, I just really enjoyed hearing Gwen and Martha getting their friendship off the rocks for the hour’s runtime!

Freema Agyeman behind the scenes of Dissected
Freema Agyeman behind the scenes of Dissected

Foley has a great handle on the characters. Myles has been with Big Finish for many years now and her character is always written brilliantly and I was pleased to see that continue, with Eve effortlessly stepping into the role time and time again.

Foley also manages to capture the character of Martha brilliantly and Foley has quickly become one of my favourite writers from Big Finish. He takes the time to explain how Martha’s engagement fell apart and the start of her relationship with Mickey. He also explains how Martha gets where she is at The End of Time, with her having seemingly died in an explosion, though Gwen will keep her secret!

Dissected is a great listen that starts off a little slow and then gets really going, once you get into the relationship between the two characters. The Chamelion story plot is wrapped up pretty quickly but it wasn’t a big part of the story anyway and it doesn’t hinder the resolution in any way. Instead, this is a well written, character-driven piece, that also effortlessly explores the differences between Torchwood and UNIT and its great to have Martha finally back into the fold.

I’m really hoping that Big Finish gets to do a lot more with her in the near future!

What you have to love about Doctor Who is it has never been afraid of tackling difficult subjects and the other week during Children’s Mental Health Week a timely episode dropped into our televisual post-boxes as the “ Fam” returned to Sheffield to visit friends and family. It is following a pattern set in the last series where after a number of adventures our companions touched in with the home.  “Can You Hear Me” was a  far more introverted tale with a complete change of pace from the previous week’s episode rather than a global adventure.

Episode 7 Gods, monsters and nightmares.

Drawing on a tradition of myths and mythical creatures

Since I was a little girl I’ve always loved the Greek stories written by classical authors such as Homer about gods located on Mount Olympus who oversaw and guided the lives of mortal humans. Drawing on beliefs of the time in worshipping multiple gods, to ensure a blessed life mortals would be given quests to complete. Stories would show these mortals being tested where human frailties would displease the gods in some way who would punish them. In this episode we no longer have humans worshipping gods but immortals still exist of a similar stature Zellin and Rakaya dispensing their own brand of “injustice” creating nightmares for immoral amusement. As the Doctor points out at one point these beings have a sense of entitlement and have entirely lost any connection with the mortals they tower over.

I do love the idea of having immortals in Doctor Who, especially discovering a pecking order where Immortals need “our games”  as “Eternity is long” It adds a structure to the Who universe and there was a nice call back to classic Who in this episode as the Eternals, the Guardians and the Toymaker got a mention.

If there is a downside the run time didn’t give much opportunity to see either of them at work menacing the Earth populace in any major way. Gods and Immortals need to show their power.  Zellin was second fiddle to Rakaya played by Clare Hope Ashitey which was a mistake. She is a local girl from my part of London and I’m loath to say but found her quite wooden as Rakaya compared to Ian Keller. The script didn’t give her a lot of development to be fair as she only played a part as the bait to draw the Doctor to her prison. Zellin was however played in a very creepy way by Ian Gelder who I thought completely inhabited his role, menacing Yaz and Ryan’s friend Tibo during sleep. I loved how he would appear suddenly, dressed in robes, like a Roman statesman in various bedrooms. Imagine being a little girl reassured by her mum there isn’t a bogeyman and Ian Keller appears with tattoos.

It is the stuff of nightmares especially at night wherein the dark fears are heightened. I would have been terrified especially if he had appeared and not said anything. That would have been even more creepy but we have to remember the time the programme goes out. I liked that Zellin mentioned that the humanoid structure wasn’t his form creating black smoke when he disappeared. I haven’t mentioned yet the dissected fingers which were such as a disturbing idea. I liked the imagery of fingers in the ear as in religious terms fingers, connected to hands have represented power. I think as fingers flew through the air a few times over the episode the image did lose some of its power and probably became slightly comical.

Ian Keller as the creepy Zellin
Ian Keller as the creepy Zelli

The mental health angle

As someone who had depression as a teenager then intermittently in their twenties and worked their way through I didn’t pick up the mental health message strongly enough on first viewing. Maybe it was because I watched with another Who fan where new episodes go through a kind of shared expectation filter. Your personal experience becomes diluted so I did have a slight surprise when the BBC action line came up at the end. I usually only see it after episodes of Casualty and EastEnders so I had to rewatch the episode again as I felt I had missed bits of the episode. On second viewing, I think I appreciated the themes of the episodes far more although it isn’t typical Doctor Who material as a rule.

Tibo was the male character affected by depression. Meeting Ryan’s best pal Tibo allowed for a nice contrast between the two young men and I liked their close relationship. Ryan is normally the shyest of the group within the confines of the Tardis so a positive development was seeing him in relaxed surroundings in his home town with people he knew. Ryan’s kind caring side came out as he tried to support his depressed friend, who seemed to be struggling through normal life. It was such a good step later and a message of hope to see Tibo talking to a  group of men at the end of the episode where they were all showing solidarity with each other’s feelings. Mental illness is something that people don’t talk enough about and sharing experiences is so important.

Of course, this is Doctor Who so sci-fi villains are to blame for the nightmares shown but in reality, people’s anxieties or stress won’t be caused by an Immortal but by different contributing factors.

Development of the “Fam”

There were criticisms of series 11 that the companions didn’t get enough decent characterisation and thankfully this episode through the nightmares Zellin creates addresses that showing the inner life of our companions. Personally I would have liked to have seen this episode probably sooner in the run this series or even last year, especially for Yaz and Ryan. What it gave was a snapshot via their return to Sheffield of how much they were all changing since they started the journey with the Doctor. For Graham, you could sense when he was playing cards with his pals how much he is enjoying Tardis life as a replacement for the loneliness he would otherwise have felt like a widower. His health has been good so far too but his anxiety in the nightmare that his cancer had returned highlighted how much it is felt like a very real concern for people who have had the disease even with an all-clear.

I love how his anxiety was punctuated by a deliciously cold Sharon D Clarke, back as Grace, venomously hissing “Why didn’t you save me? “. Graham’s guilt was shown all over his face through the anguished “Let me try again”.As he is usually such a funny character I’d like to see a lot more of Graham’s inner turmoil shown. There was a lot of reaction to the scene where Graham talked to the Doctor about his fears about cancer and her awkward response. As a character where the Doctor has lived through regeneration and seen so many different things she could have said something more positive but I do understand the intention of the scene, which the BBC defended, of showing how difficult some people can find those types of conversation. I just never expected the Doctor to be that person given what we know over almost 60 years.

Mandip Gill really needed this episode to show her character’s motivation to be who she is. In series 11 although we met her family she felt the one without a decent reason to be there so it was good to see why Yaz become a policewoman and reveal the dynamic between her and her sister. Sonia is her little annoying sister usually but it was lovely to see Yaz and Sonia really do care about each other.  If Sonia hadn’t called the police who knows where or what situation  Yaz would be in today. The moment where Yaz gave the policewoman the 50 pence piece was such a  fuzzy warm moment. Yaz can see change as a positive thing and she is growing in confidence throughout this series tackling things on her own.

Ryan, in contrast, seems to be in some kind of conflict over his travels in the Tardis, missing home, his friends, more than the others. A great point he made was how the travels in the Tardis are changing them all as people whereas his friends at home aren’t changing at the same rate. Ryan wanted to be connected to his old life more than the others and have those roots. It’s interesting that he was shown as scared of changing the visions of an old Tibo set in motion an idea that Ryan had his doubts.  Is Ryan outgrowing the hustle-bustle of adventure the Tardis and set to leave?

Structure and Direction.

Years ago I read a fantasy book by one of my favourite authors  Clive Barker called Weaveworld. It is about a magical world called the Fugue that is hidden inside a tapestry from both inquisitive humans and hostile supernatural foes. Two normal people become embroiled to protect the Fugue and it is beautifully written.  I didn’t dislike this script as mixing fantastical elements and every day can work but I can understand why this episode has created a marmite reaction for people with a mixed reaction online.

There were some unnecessary elements within the story which distracted from a strong script. What does including Tahira, the visit to the medieval hospital the Birmaristan or the setting of Aleppo contribute really to the story? Seeing the fears and anxieties of the companions within this episode was such a positive  I would have liked to have seen more of that and less of any supporting characters. The Chagaska could have belonged to one of the Tardis crew who then conquered their fear. I did also find some of the narrative choices such as the speed at which Yaz’s story unfolded made her story more difficult to follow than it should have been. I did like most of the direction of the story.

There were some interesting flourishes such as the animated story of the planets of how the inhabitants trapped Rakaya. Certain scenes such as how Zellin appeared in the bedrooms, the Tardis and the washed-out greyed out scenes for Graham’s nightmare, the appearance of the Dregs was really effective. Zellin’s dismembered fingers pouring sedative into the ear were also quite spooky to be fair. Oh, I also liked the split-screen used for the conference call.

There were definitely good ideas in the episode but too many elements thrown in which didn’t allow the script to flow as well as it could. The story and battle of the Immortals probably deserved a separate episode dedicated to them, without the issue of mental health included. However, I’m really pleased that Doctor Who has acknowledged there needs to be a conversation regarding the impact mental health issues have on an individual. Did its themes make an impression on you? Post your thoughts on here or on Twitter. Let’s talk.

Episode 7  Immortals pass through the story but the companions shine   7.35/ 10

P.S Has anyone commented yet that all the episodes have been set in some way on Earth?