This story comes fresh to me, though the couple of existing episodes and a reconstruction using telesnaps. Having never even read the novel, all I knew about this story was that it had aeroplanes in it. Overall I quite enjoyed it, it has a rather slow pace to it and there’s the novelty value of using Gatwick airport. This story is much better than Time Flight and is only the second story to really be set on contemporary Earth like the War Machines before it. Oddly enough, chronologically speaking it occurs only a day after the War Machines allowing Ben and Polly to return to their lives without any hassle. Some describe the story as unmemorable but that’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that like many of this ear, most of it is destroyed. As a story it unfolds gradually over the six episodes with several surprises along the way. It’s not clear who has been replaced by a Chameleon and who is still human, you don’t know what the aliens are doing with the humans or where they are going. The true form of the aliens is only occasionally seen and not over-used; a scarred humanoid form, which they wish to replace using the form of captured humans. The captive humans are taken aboard a spaceship and shrunk down for storage, while the Chameleons take their form. On Earth they have replaced many staff at the airport, although no all seems well in the alien camp. If the link with the original human is simply broken, the Chameleon doesn’t just lose the human form but dies. The original human has to be kept, and it seems that their superiors keep these hidden, as though to keep their subordinates under their control. Their superiors have their own human copies hidden away themselves. In this way the aliens don’t seem entirely evil, they are desperate to replace their damaged bodies and their approach is unethical... but it is distinctly their leaders that are villainous; others are more open to reason once under a bit of pressure.
It is the hiding of the human originals of airport staff that is the undoing of the Chameleon plan. In most of the six episodes the Doctor has to deal with the usual disbelieving authority figures, but once accepting the alien menace the airport staff soon find the ‘hidden’ humans in the car park. The threat of disconnection from the humans, and their deaths, soon halts the Chameleon plan. Authority figures are particularly difficult to convince in this story of the alien threat but the Doctor probably doesn’t do much for his credibility by causing a bomb scare to escape the controller’s office shouting “One step nearer and I'll blow you all to smithereens!” before throwing something at the controller and running away. Fortunately the humans do come through, the alien plan is defeated and the kidnapped humans are returned.
At one point the Chameleons claim to be the “most intelligent race” in the universe; big headed boasting or actual delusion? It’s a claim so ludicrously massive that the Doctor just appears to let it slide. These, after all, are aliens who have copied people and ‘hidden’ the bodies by propping them up at the wheel of cars in the car park, knowing that if the devices attached to the bodies are tampered with it will kill them. This is probably sillier than the Nestene keeping their human doubles standing in Madame Tussauds.
Innes Lloyd again demonstrates that companions are very disposable characters. Here Ben and Polly are effectively written out after episode 2 only making a short appearance in episode 6 to say goodbye. It’s more than Dodo got in the War Machines, but still not much of an exit. Though their departure makes some sense, they are leaving the Doctor the day after they first stepped into the TARDIS meaning their lives will continue without disruption. Unlike Ian and Barbara who returned after a two year disappearance having literally vanished off the face of the world, if the authorities looked into the matter. I saw mention that there might have been contractual purposes for their non-appearance in most of the story but it does seem a bit confused as to why they left. Michael Craze was not being renewed, Anneke Wills turned down the opportunity to continue on the show. Claims that there was a lot of animosity among the cast have been refuted. Their departure marks the casting off of the last vestiges of the Hartnell era. The character Sam, in search of her missing brother, becomes a trial companion for the story, and tentative love interest for Jamie, but Pauline Collins turned an ongoing role down. The companion role would soon be filled by Victoria in the following story.
A slow, somewhat ponderous adventure with plenty of little mysteries and a few surprises, villains that are perhaps more desperate than evil and an ending that doesn’t result in their mass destruction. Watched/listened to in a single sitting would be too much, but it is enjoyable over a couple of days. Overall a good story.