Classic Doctor Who on BritBox: The Faceless Ones and Fury from the Deep
Mark Harrison | On 23, Jan 2022
Offering 626 Doctor Who episodes broadcast between 1963 and 1996, BritBox is bigger on the inside. If you’ve watched all of the new series already, then why not join us as we turn on the TARDIS randomiser for a monthly primer on the adventures of the first eight Doctors…
While Patrick Troughton’s turn as the Second Doctor is one of Doctor Who’s most celebrated lead performances, there isn’t a whole lot of it intact. Running from 1966 to 1969, Troughton’s era was particularly affected by the BBC policy of wiping archive tapes for reuse, which resulted in most of his 21 serials being partly or totally lost (at the time of writing, only 7 are complete). Happily, Troughton later returned for all three of the classic series multi-Doctor serials, which has also helped preserve his reputation.
Amazingly, there have also been various recoveries over the years – Season 5’s The Enemy of the World was the most recent complete serial, discovered just in time for the programme’s 50th anniversary – largely from a mix of international broadcasters’ libraries and fans’ private collections. However, complete audio recordings of the missing episodes still exist, which has enabled BBC Worldwide to commission an array of animated reconstructions for home release.
Usually focusing on the underrepresented Second Doctor, these releases range from two episodes of The Invasion (Season 6, 1968) to the entirety of Troughton’s six-part debut, The Power of the Daleks (Season 4, 1966). Where die-hards know the audio releases well enough, it’s nice to have some pictures to go with the audio, especially when (bar one or two cheeky Easter eggs) the animators go the extra mile to be faithful to how it might have looked at the time.
These animated stories have been gradually arriving on BritBox since 2019 and the latest Second Doctor adventures to be added – The Faceless Ones and Fury from the Deep – have a lot in common. Both are six-part stories set in contemporary England, both feature the Second Doctor’s constant companion Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) and both end with regulars leaving the TARDIS. They open with cracking TARDIS landings too.
For this month’s column, we take a spoiler-lite look at them and how they bring the Second Doctor’s era to life for a new generation of fans…
The Faceless Ones (Season 4, 1967)
Where the new series is often very grounded in contemporary Earth, the early days of the original run usually revolved around the Doctor not being able to pilot the TARDIS back to the 1960s. Partly as a side effect of producer Innes Lloyd getting rid of the “pure historical” format, the way was opened for stories such as this one.
The Faceless Ones starts, brilliantly, with the Second Doctor, Ben (Michael Craze), Polly (Anneke Wills), and Jamie causing a crisis by landing the TARDIS on a runway at Gatwick Airport. While evading security, the gang discover that several university students have gone missing after departing from the airport on a Chameleon Tours package holiday. Inevitably, there’s more to this bargain tour operator than meets the eye.
Written by David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke, the six-parter is full of the attendant peaks and lulls of a story of this length. There’s a fair bit of capture-and-release with Team TARDIS and either airport security or the alien menace but, in turn, it’s got the funny and scary moments you want from the best Doctor Who stories.
One side effect of the length of the story is that you notice Ben and Polly aren’t around much. With a revolving door of producers and script editors swapping jobs during this era of the show, companion departures were often unceremonious and contract-related, in direct contrast to later versions of regulars exiting the show.
In this case, producers shot everything they needed from Craze and Wills in the first two episodes, including their farewell in Episode 6, meaning that they’re sadly not very present in their final serial. There’s a neat (too neat, maybe) reason for them to go, but most of The Faceless Ones is a showcase for other characters.
The animation makes good use of the source material’s soundtrack, putting some visuals to Troughton and Hines’ reliably strong performances, but guest star Pauline Collins steals the show as Samantha Briggs. You won’t be surprised to learn that the future Shirley Valentine star was offered a regular role at the end of filming, but she declined, making Sam one of the most blatant companions-that-could-have-been in the show’s entire history.
Sam is at the forefront of an unusually topical theme for the time – it’s about identity and the growing post-war generation gap. The story muses that thousands of teenagers could go travelling and either disappear or come back changed (much as so many of the Doctor’s later companions do) and their parents wouldn’t dream of there being anything off, much less extra-terrestrial.
The antagonists are brilliantly designed, although newer fans will recognise their exact MO and motives from various, also brilliantly designed recurring monsters. Meanwhile, the fully animated version doesn’t convey the production value of location filming as the surviving Episodes 1 and 3 do on the disc release, but The Faceless Ones feels like a fresh and entirely different register for Doctor Who in an era that trades largely on base-under-siege stories.
Fury from the Deep (Season 5, 1968)
Speaking of base-under-siege stories, the following season’s Fury from the Deep is the most recent story to be completely missing from the BBC archives. Nevertheless, this has always had a reputation as one of the scariest Second Doctor adventures, helped along by screenwriter Victor Pemberton’s bumper-volume Target novelisation.
The story begins with the TARDIS landing in the sea off the English coast, leaving the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria (Deborah Watling) washed up on a nearby beach, in the shadow of a Euro Sea Gas refinery. Little do they or the human workers nearby realise that there’s an infectious weed growing beneath the waves and controlling those it comes into contact with, much to the consternation of workaholic team leader Robson (Victor Maddern).
It’s a testament to the serial’s status in Doctor Who legend that there are so many iconic moments from a story that mostly doesn’t exist on video, but that’s partly because what does exist was cut out by international censors and only returned to the BBC decades later.
Of course, that means some of the footage that survived was deemed too scary for a family audience, which includes Bill Burridge’s iconic wide-eyed, wide-mouthed glare as Mr Quill gasses Mrs Harris. It doesn’t hurt at all that Episode 1 also marks the very first appearance of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, cementing its place in the show’s history.
As to the story itself, it’s a cut above the many base-under-siege adventures that were this era’s bread and butter, chiefly thanks to its guest cast and monster. On the former score, the one-off characters are unusually well-rounded, whether it’s the worst-manager-ever antics of Robson or the unsettling formality of Oak and Quill, who cheerfully infect the other workers. With the alien seaweed, its uncategorisable status as a threat from nature, even otherworldly nature, is a different type of threat than the usual invaders in this type of story.
Although the usual six-parter pacing problems persist in Pemberton’s scripts, the action is extended by character conflict, rather than repetition, as in The Faceless Ones. It’s also a far better companion departure story than The Faceless Ones. This serial reckons with Victoria’s experience and trauma in the run-up to the end and actually spends time on the impact of her exit for the Doctor and Jamie. It’s relatable and bittersweet, rather than a flippant contractual ending, and a fitting finale for Watling.
Some fans have complained that the animation style here (by Big Finish Creative) is not the strongest of these reconstructions, serving to expand and embellish production value that wouldn’t have been achievable at the time the story was filmed, while also deflating some of the scarier and more claustrophobic moments. Your mileage may vary on this, but this animated version of Fury from the Deep does give a version of a long-lost classic to a new generation of fans.
Classic Doctor Who is available on BritBox as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
– Ben and Polly started with the First Doctor in another contemporary serial, The War Machines (Season 3, 1966), while Jamie joined a few stories later in the lost Season 4 serial The Highlanders. Funnily enough, The Faceless Ones cliffhangers into Victoria’s first story, The Evil of the Daleks (Season 4, 1967), which also recently got an animated release – expect that one to eventually land on BritBox too…
– Jamie continues with the Second Doctor throughout his era, and even makes a return in The Two Doctors (Season 22, 1984) whose chronology is a little dubious. Fans speculate that the story takes place in a hypothetical Season 6B between the end of Patrick Troughton’s last serial and the introduction of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, which is just about the only thing Chris Chibnall hasn’t got around to canonising during his tenure in the TARDIS.
– Pauline Collins later played Queen Victoria in 2006’s Tooth and Claw. Wanda Ventham and Donald Pickering also appear in The Faceless Ones and later co-starred in the Seventh Doctor’s debut story, Time And The Rani (Season 24, 1987).
– Other fully or partly animated Season 4 serials on BritBox include The Power of the Daleks, The Macra Terror, and The Moonbase. There’s also The Underwater Menace, which has Episodes 2 and 3 surviving, book-ended by photographic stills and the original audio for the opening and closing episodes.
– Although controversial with purist fans, these two animated stories both feature various Easter eggs alluding to later stories and even episodes from the new series. See if you can spot Sacha Dhawan and Roger Delgado’s cameos…