The adventure departing from Gate 4 is the delayed 13/07 to recon land. Passengers are advised that there are no emergency exits and we are fresh out of coffee.
Sue: That isn’t something you see on Doctor Who every day – stock footage of a plane.
Neil: That isn’t stock footage.
We are both amused when our heroes step out of the TARDIS into immediate danger. Ben and Polly don’t get a line of dialogue between them before they’re running for their lives!
Sue: What are they running away from?
Me: I think that plane is supposed to be heading straight for them.
Sue: If you did this opening scene today, the plane’s wheels would miss the TARDIS by a few inches instead of it looking as if it’s landing at a completely different airport. Great idea, though.
The TARDIS crew inevitably split up (“Ben is running straight for the police, the idiot!”), and I don’t have the heart to tell Sue that it’ll be ages before they meet up again. This will remain a constant source of irritation for her as the story progresses.
Sue: I like the contemporary Earth-based stories. They are so much easier to deal with.
Me: Oh look, it’s Sherlock Holmes’ mum.
Me: It’s Wanda Ventham. She’s Benedict Cumberbatch’s mum.
Sue: He’d be a good Doctor Who.
And another part of me dies.
On a brighter note, thanks to Toby Hadoke’s commentary for this episode in Running Through Corridors, I am primed for the incredible moment where an actor accidentally removes a door handle as he enters a room. Sue misses this completely but you can hardly blame her. Here, take a look:
Me: What a pro!
While Polly is busy getting herself kidnapped (“I love Polly’s coat. I’d like a coat like that”), Jamie and the Doctor are held-up at Immigration and Customs.
Sue: The Doctor and Jamie make a very good double-act, but why doesn’t the Doctor just wave his psychic paper around?
Me: He hasn’t got that yet.
Sue: That’s a shame. This episode could have been half the length.
We are both suitably intrigued when Polly suddenly claims not to remember her friends, but the episode chooses to end on a far more traditional cliffhanger, as a misshapen creature is led to a sterile medical centre.
Sue: That’s the worst case of eczema I’ve ever seen.
As the episode ends, Sue notices something important.
Sue: I’ve noticed something important.
Me: What’s that?
Sue: The credits.
Me: What about them?
Sue: They call the Doctor “Doctor Who”.
Me: Have you only just realised that?
Sue: Yes. I’m a bit annoyed that we’ve wasted so much time arguing this point when the answer was there all the time. I can’t believe we didn’t check the credits in the first place.top
Sue: Is the music a bit different all of a sudden?
Me: It is. Do you like it?
Sue: I prefer the Matt Smith version.
Me: Really? Then we still have a long way to go.
Sue: Why did they wait until episode two to use this version of the theme tune? It feels a bit slapdash to me.
Jamie and the Doctor can’t get through to “Polly” and they decide to make a run for it when the gloriously pompous Commandant (“Is that Captain Peacock?”) calls the police.
Sue: They are looking for a scruffy drunk and a bloke in a skirt. It shouldn’t be that difficult.
Brilliantly, a little later, Sue’s description is repeated in the actual dialogue (although they leave out the drunk part).
Sue: Frazer Hines’ voice-over on this recon sounds like he’s narrating an episode of Come Fly With Me.
The image of Ben, Jamie and the Doctor hiding in a cramped photo booth raises a smile and then Samantha Briggs turns up.
Sue: It’s Shirley Valentine!
Me: Pauline Collins to her friends.
Sue: I love Pauline Collins. She was great in those Upstairs, Downstairs episodes you forced me to watch last month.
Me: Shhhhh. That experiment is supposed to be a secret.
Sue: Her hat is terrible. It doesn’t even fit her! I bet the Doctor ends up wearing that hat before this is all over.
Sam gets into a contretemps with “Polly”, who is now working at a Chameleon Tours travel kiosk.
Sue: It’s turned into a reality show about EasyJet!
Me: Where’s John Nettles and Liza Tarbuck when you really need them?
Sue: I like the range of accents in this story. It keeps things interesting. Especially when you can’t see their lips move. Shirley has a really broad Liverpudlian accent, doesn’t she?
When the Doctor fails to get through to the pig-headed Commandant, he threatens to blow up air traffic control up with a fake bomb.
Sue: You couldn’t make jokes about bombs in airports now. You don’t even have to be in an airport when you make them.
When Ben finds the real Polly lying motionless in a box, Sue is shocked.
Sue: That’s a very disturbing image. Is Polly dead? Is she going to leave the series? And will Shirley Valentine be the next companion? She’ll probably have to tone her accent down a bit, if she is.top
Me: Is the new theme music growing on you yet?
Sue: I like the tinkly winkly bits in the background.
Me: It’s my second favourite version of the theme music.
Sue: Do you have any idea how sexy you sound when you talk like that?
Talking of sex…
Sue: Shirley Valentine has a serious crush on Jamie. Get a room!
Me: It’s 1967. The sexual revolution and all that. Samantha is probably on the pill.
Sue: She’d better be. If she joins the crew, they’ll be at it like rabbits! We don’t want them doing an Amy-and-Rory, do we? Doesn’t shagging in the TARDIS interfere with time or something?
As the Doctor attempts to reason with both the police and some recalcitrant airport staff, Sue makes a very interesting point.
Sue: Is this the very first Brigadier story? Is he going to turn up in a minute?
Me: No, UNIT doesn’t exist yet.
Sue: Is this where they got the idea for UNIT from? The Doctor working with authority figures to thwart an alien invasion? And where’s Torchwood in all this? They’ve been around since Victorian times. And I only remember that because John Barrowman mentioned it in that American thing you made me watch last night.
Me: Yes, I know. Pauline Collins set Torchwood up but -
Sue: Stop it. My head hurts.
When it is revealed that passengers have been instructed to write their postcards before they have even left the airport terminal, I’m not convinced. But Sue accepts the premise immediately.
Sue: I can still remember a time when you would arrive back from your holiday days before your postcards did. Even if you sent them the moment you arrived.
One line of dialogue manages to chill Sue to the bone.
Sue: Abducting children is a bit near the knuckle, isn’t it? You couldn’t get away with that today.
Me: It’s OK, they’re teenagers, not children. And Matt Smith’s first series vaporised a playground full of small children.
Sue: Oh, that’s alright then.
As always, when we are presented with that rare treat – moving images – Sue is keen to analyse the direction.
Sue: It’s pretty good. That’s a nice deep three-shot with Troughton eavesdropping on the people who think he’s completely insane. I like the fact that no one takes him seriously, even though he’s the smartest person in the room.
The cliffhanger goes down well too, as the odious Blade reveals to a bemused DI Crossland that the plane’s passengers have vanished!
Sue: I am really enjoying this one so far. I don’t see how they’ll string it out for six episodes, though.top
Sue: Could this bloke be any more evil? He’s got that slimy David Cameron look about him.
Me: The cold, dead eyes of Cameron. Yes, you could be on to something.
Sue: There’s definitely something vaguely Camerony about him.
Jamie, Samantha and the Doctor are paralysed by the bad guys. They are then left to die on a hanger floor as an advancing laser beam slowly arcs towards them.
Sue: It’s turned into a James Bond film, now.
Me: Goldfinger, to be precise.
Sue: Why don’t villains ever hang around to watch their victims die? Just to be on the safe side.
Me: Maybe he’s a bit squeamish?
Sue: The police are a bit rubbish, aren’t they?
Me: Are you talking about this episode in particular? Or are you just trying to be topical?
When the Doctor starts fiddling with the Chameleons’ equipment, he does so with a bog-standard screwdriver.
Sue: Hasn’t the Doctor got a sonic screwdriver yet?
Me: Not yet.
Sue: He hasn’t got much, has he? No psychic paper, no sonic screwdriver, no UNIT, a faulty TARDIS and very bad hair. The poor thing.
Meanwhile, Jamie snogs Samantha. It’s a pretext for stealing her plane ticket.
Sue: How will Jamie get on that plane without a passport?
Me: They’ll get out of that plot-hole by blaming it on administrative incompetence; it’s a lovely solution, to be fair. And at least someone is thinking this stuff through, no matter how bizarre it may seem.
Sue: Where are Ben and Polly? Are they on holiday this week? Do you think they left the country via Gatwick to save time?
We both have a good chuckle when Troughton dismisses the capabilities of the modern fighter jet that has been sent to intercept the flight Jamie is on, and we laugh again when, instead of going straight down, the Doctor suggests that the flight may have gone straight up.
Sue: It’s Transformers. Aeroplanes in disguise.top
When the passengers are finally revealed to have been miniaturised and stored in a drawer, Sue gasps.
Sue: Wow. That is a very striking image. Actually, it reminds me of your Doctor Who doll collection.
Me: They are not dolls!
Sue: OK, so let me get this straight. 50,000 teenagers are missing. How long has this been going on for? Wouldn’t anyone notice? Or care? Except Shirley Valentine, of course.
Me: Perhaps it’s only been a fortnight and the aliens are going to bugger off before the shit hits the fan.
Sue: How can an explosion destroy your identity anyway?
Me: I haven’t got a clue.
Sue: And why are they storing the nurse in a cupboard? Why don’t they shrink her and pop her in a pencil-case?
Despite this, Sue is impressed by the Chameleons’ mad plan.
Sue: I suppose it makes sense for them to steal the bodies of 18-30 passengers. If they’d infiltrated Saga Holidays, they would have been screwed.
When “DI Crossland” is revealed to be a Chameleon, Sue believes that she’s spotted a recurring theme in the programme.
Sue: Doctor Who likes to do stories involving doubles, doesn’t it? Still, I guess it saves on paying too many guest actors.
As the Doctor successfully blags his way onto the satellite, the Chameleon version of “Jamie” spills the beans. He does so in a voice that has been stripped of all its Scottishness.
Sue: So, you steal a person’s identity but not their voice? How does that work exactly? Is this how they’ll get around Shirley’s accent when she joins full-time? Maybe they will interfere with her voice in some way so she’ll end up talking proper, like. It wouldn’t be the first time a companion has changed accents. And where are Ben and Polly anyway? This is turning into a very long holiday.top
The Doctor is taken to see the Director/Crossland, where he is taunted by the fact that a Chameleon will steal his identity.
Sue: Who’d want the body of a scruffy drunk?
The Doctor drops subtle hints to Blade that his double (and his identity) aren’t safe.
Sue: I really like the Doctor bluffing his way through this. It’s starting to feel like proper Doctor Who.
As the Doctor sabotages the processing machine, Sue is still fixated on his screwdriver.
Sue: So what kind of screwdriver does the Doctor use at this point? It is a Philips? A Pozidriv? A Frearson? What?
Me: I haven’t got the foggiest idea.
Sue: And you call yourself a fan?
The authorities finally turn the Doctor’s bluff into a genuine threat when they find the bodies used by the Chameleons’ spearhead hidden in a car park.
Sue: Why didn’t they shrink the bodies? They could have taken them to the satellite as hand luggage.
Me: They can only miniaturise people on the plane.
Sue: You know, there is a mad logic to this, if you can be bothered to look for it.
The Doctor continues to stir up Blade, reminding him that while the Director is safe, he could cease to exist at any moment.
Sue: Oh, this is very Doctor Who now. He’s playing the bad guys off against themselves.
Blade turns his weapon on the Director and then something remarkable happens. The Doctor opens up peaceful negotiations with the alien interlopers.
Sue: Right, well he’s definitely the Doctor now. He didn’t just blow them up and he didn’t watch somebody else blow them up, either. He showed great humanity and forgiveness. And that’s what the Doctor is all about, isn’t he?
Me: Is this the point where you feel like we’re watching ‘real’ Doctor Who?
Sue: Yes. Yes, I think it is.
When Sam and Jamie have a snog, Sue swings from sentimentally (“Awwwww”) to confusion.
Sue: Hang on a minute – so Shirley’s not going with them?
Me: They did offer to take her on as a companion but she turned them down.
Sue: I missed that bit. Rewind it.
Me: No, I mean the producers asked her to stay but she refused.
Sue: Surely you can’t be serious.
Me: I am serious. And stop calling her Shirley!
Sue: What a shame. She’d have been great. So I guess Ben and Polly are back then. It’s about time, I suppose.
When Ben and Polly realise that they arrived back on Earth on exactly the same day they left it – 20th July 1966, to be precise – Sue isn’t happy at all.
Sue: As if! I’m not happy about that at all. That’s just poor scriptwriting. It’s too much of a coincidence.
When the Doctor bids farewell to Ben, he tells him to become an Admiral. When he bids farewell to Polly, he instructs her to look after Ben.
Sue: A sexist pig to the end. It’s like a totally different writer stepped in at this point, the script has gone from very good to very annoying. I’m surprised the Doctor didn’t tell Polly to get married and have lots of babies.
Me: Won’t you miss Ben and Polly?
Sue: Not really. I got by without them for three episodes, so why grieve over them now?top
The Final Score
Sue: I really liked that one. The plot was a little convoluted – it could have been a lot shorter – but it was very interesting. And I finally feel as if I’m watching Doctor Who.
Sue: I’m tempted to give it a 9.
Me: You can give it whatever you like.
Sue: Oh sod it -
The experiment continues…top
If you don’t already own this story, why not buy it on DVD? If you use the link below, we get a small cut, which will help pay for the site’s running costs. Many thanks for your support (UK residents only).