Eye of Heaven
The Face of Evil
|Dates||Jan. 1, 1977 -
Jan. 22, 1977
With Tom Baker, Louise Jameson.
Written by Chris Boucher. Script-edited by Robert Holmes.
Directed by Pennant Roberts. Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe.
|Synopsis: The Doctor's past catches up with him as he faces the greatest threat on a savage planet -- the Evil One -- whose stone image matches the Doctor's.|
Underscrutinised by Tom May 16/2/98
"An omniscient computer with schizophrenia-- not a very pretty thought."
The Face Of Evil feels very much like a Williams-era Doctor Who story in that there is much humour, and imfamously, the Doctor produces his Jelly Babies for the first time. When he asks new companion Leela if she wants one, her reply is, "It's true then. They say the Evil One eats babies." Louise Jameson is effective as Leela, and she did indeed mark a departure from human companions, leading the way for Romana, K9, Nyssa and, regretably, Adric of Alzarius (I wonder if Mel should be classed as an alien: she dosen't act like a human).
The plot is wildly imaginative but not too complex, and is easy to follow. It is a feat of entertainment, unlike much of Doctor Who's 1980's Output, e.g. The dire likes of The King's Demons and of course Seasons 23 and 24, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Season 22.
The Face Of Evil contains clever dialogue backed up by one chiefly excellent performance from the Guest Cast, Neeva. He is a comically deranged slave to his computerised "God" Xoanon, and at one stage, appears to have a cricket glove on his head. At the centre of this tale there are some useful concepts, like the revelations that the whole charade was actually triggered by something the Doctor did in the past.
Also, the two sects on the planet are convincingly put across-- The Sevateem are wonderfully primitive, although Calib and Leela seem to be reasonably intelligent. As the Sevateem (Survey Team, as the Doctor points out) are bound by superstition, the rival bunch, The Tesh are similar but more advanced. When the story shifts from the familiar Sevateem jungle to the colourful, corridor-laden spaceship of the Tesh, you have the privilidge to set your eyes on the winning costumes of the Tesh.
There is a quite famous cliffhanger at the close of episode one, where the Doctor and Leela discover a carved face of the Doctor in the stone, this cliffhanger is one of my favourites in Doctor Who's arsenal.
This is a story that to the Non-Fan may seem cliched and irritating, but to the Fan it is a buried treasure in a famously fine season, that sends up cliched Sci-Fi, has a thought-provoking, entertaining script and impressive production values.
I think this one rates 8/10.
A Review by Michael Hickerson 21/7/98
In each of the Baker eras, there is a story that serves as a sequel to an unseen adventure. Tom Baker gets The Face of Evil while Colin Baker gets Timelash. And while Timelash is generally held up as an example of Doctor Who at its worst, The Face of Evil can be held up as an example of what Doctor Who does best--namely tell an interesting story and do it well.
At least for the first two episodes or so.
This is easily the weakest of Chris Boucher's three contributions to Doctor Who. And it's a shame because it starts off so well. The Doctor's landing on Leela's homeworld, his discovery of a previous visit, and the fact that his meddling has backfire are all well handled. It's once the Doctor determines where he went wrong and sets about fixing it that the overall story becomes rather dull and tedious. The final two episodes are spent trying to remove the Doctor's personality from Xoanon while avoiding the Tesh and running down a lot of corridors (otherwise known as the Doctor Who Olympic sporting event!) The Tesh never become as interesting or as absorbing as their "savage" counterparts the Sevateem. Which is probably what hinders the final two episodes from moving forward at the brisk rate that the first two established.
Not that there's not a lot of moments to enjoy here. The Doctor's horror at Leela's casual attitude toward killing is nicely realized. His admonishing her to never kill again early in the story is one of the better moments of the T. Baker years. Another great sequence involves the Doctor's test of courage over the pit of monsters. Baker's casual indifference over the Doctor's fate plays off well against the obvious tension in the scene, as seen on the faces of Leela's tribe members.
Ultimately though, the story is let down by two weak closing episodes. Which is a shame since those two episodes are really the only major strike against season fourteen being the perfect Doctor Who season....
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 14/6/99
If The Face Of Evil is famous for anything, it must be the fact that the story is so different from all the rest in season 14. This alone makes it stand out, and makes it worth watching. Although a strong and thoughtful script, coupled with clever dialogue helps a great deal as well.
To have The Doctor take responsibility for his own actions, and then try and rectify the situation was something new for Doctor Who,and was certainly an interesting direction to take the series in. The acting is also of a generally high standard, it isn`t hard to imagine Tom Baker, playing a person that has gone mad, let alone a computer. His portrayal of The Doctor is also excellent, his reaction to Leela`s use of janis thorns being a case in point.
The two warring tribes the Sevateem and the Tesh are also nicely realised, although the Tesh don`t come off as well as the Sevateem, as they don`t share equal screen time. By far the most memorable is Louise Jameson`s Leela, seemingly the only female cast member, and a different take on the companion, perhaps the template for the likes of Romana, Adric and Ace. Another cast member deserving plaudits is David Garfield as Neeva, but this is more to do with characterisation than acting. Xoanon is also disturbingly realised with great effect, due largely to the fact that the viewer never gets to see the computer, and because it is seemingly represented by images of The Doctor`s face.
This is unfortunately Chris Boucher`s weakest contribution to Doctor Who, however, not because of the ideas, the ongoing theme of schizophrenia was a certainly a brave one to tackle at the time of it`s original broadcast; just that Boucher`s other contributions were better tales. So ultimately, The Face Of Evil was a brave experiment, one that worked and worked well, but was simply not as memorable as it could`ve been.
A Review by Finn Clark 7/5/00
A friend of mine has started buying any videos containing Leela, so as a result I've recently had the opportunity to watch (for the first time) Horror of Fang Rock, Face of Evil and Invasion of Time. The last of those I haven't got around to yet, but the first two I've now seen and greatly enjoyed.
What really surprised me is how much more there was in the TV version than I remembered from the novelisations, complete with a child's imaginative reconstructions. Horror of Fang Rock was creepy and claustrophobic as all hell, with a rock-solid evocation of the period (straight after Talons!) and the most sinister smile I've ever seen in my entire life.
But Face of Evil... well, obviously I found so much food for thought that I've decided to write a review.
Big Difference #1 - the production values! The novelisation simply called the forest a forest and thus I imagined some outside broadcast work in pretty woodlands. Wrongo. The Planet of Evil forest is rightly acclaimed as the best jungle we've seen in Doctor Who, but this must run it a close second. It's alien, it's scorched, it's a kick to the eyeballs. The invisible monsters are impressive and scary instead of being the bad SFX-fest I was anticipating. Even the mountain with Tom's face looks good.
The forest doesn't look capable of supporting an ecosystem, but someone wonders where all the game has gone so that's all right. And the Sevateem are thoroughly convincing - primitive, murderous, savagely superstitious and great to look at. Religious loony tribes are hardly unknown in Who - as in Unearthly Child, Curse of Peladon, Planet of Fire, etc - but they're generally rather dull. The Sevateem hold the viewer's attention, largely through their casual attitude towards killing people.
Big Difference #2 - Tom Baker. This is a bad thing.
I'm ambivalent about Tom's presence. On the one hand, it's arguable that no other Doctor would have fitted the plot so perfectly. He turns up, does something devastatingly brilliant and forgets about it so completely that he hasn't remembered all the details until episode three of the sequel. What's more, there's a rather pleasing irony in the fact that Tom Baker's mind drove the computer mad. They could have skipped the schizophrenia technobabble. I mean, this is Tom Baker, people! If the Doctor was a complete fruit loop to start with, what chance did a mere computer have?
But Tom's performance is dire. I'm not a Tom-basher - what he does is incredible, no one else in the world could do it - but here it's completely inappropriate. The Doctor drifts through the story, not really registering the characters around him and having comically inappropriate reactions in life-or-death situations. Normally this is fine. Normally the Doctor isn't connected to the events around him. But here we've got a situation directly caused by him. The Sevateem think he's the Evil One. His voice commands Neeva and his face is carved on a mountain. He is involved on a personal level... but Tom doesn't seem to realise this.
Imagine Troughton or Davison as the Doctor in this story. They'd have been killingly funny in Evil One scenes, then horrified when their earlier mistake came to light. They'd have taken it personally. Tom has one brilliant moment of this ("up the nose???") but for the most part he's coasting on autopilot. The result is a Doctor who's almost frighteningly detached, swapping quips with killers and flicking Horda at people. He never shows the slightest remorse at having f*cked up these people's lives for generations. He cares, but in an intellectual and very alien way that at times makes him look like a complete bastard.
Oh, and his acting as Xoanon is at times awful.
The SF concepts in this story are wonderful, better than we realise when watching the story for the umpteenth time. They've been blunted by familiarity, but there's a real "What the F*ck????" factor.
And then we have the Tesh. Dear oh dear.
It looks like a clever deconstructionist-type thing. The Tesh are emotionless strange people who dress like characters from Alice in Wonderland and never, ever do any acting. We've had that a million times in Doctor Who, but at last it's being done deliberately! Unfortunately it's dull. It works in the novelisation because you can't see or hear them, but on screen one stops caring. They're not acting. They're just delivering the lines. The viewer goes to sleep. It's an intriguing idea in theory, but in practice it should have been vetoed in a script written for a visual medium.
The Tesh city looks boring too.
But Leela is great, a companion you wouldn't want to mess with. Chase her and she won't run away screaming; instead she'll kill you with a Janis thorn and use your paralysed body to block the way out. It's just a shame that she couldn't have been dressed exactly like the men... :-)
The ending is also rather peculiar. Tomas obviously fancied her throughout the story, but she rejects him. Instead she runs off after the Doctor, asking him if he "likes" her. Tom's reaction is a typically naive child-like one, but I know how I'd have reacted to a feed line like that. It's interesting that in Image of the Fendahl she swaps the animal skin leotard for a mini-dress that's even more eye-popping, then eventually leaves the Doctor in Invasion of Time to marry another of his race. Hmmm.
About Face of Evil I have only one further comment. One thing I particularly love about watching Doctor Who is finding obviously unintended resonances that nevertheless add a whole new dimension to the story. Sondergaard's terminal illness in The Mutants and the Doctor's romance in Kinda are two examples, and for a moment I thought I'd found another.
At the end, Xoanon is supposedly sane. However his conversation with the Doctor and Leela struck me as decidedly creepy, almost Norman Bates. The stuff from the sofa's appearance onwards reassured me slightly, but until then I'd been getting the vibes of someone wound up so tight it hurts.
Then he gives the Tesh and Sevateem a big red button which could destroy him. Whoah. Guys in white coats, we got a case here.
Admittedly he's no longer overtly insane, but the Doctor's cure for his earlier condition was hardly subtle and sensitive. Xoanon probably just needs some time to chill out and get his head around things, but it strikes me that he might have swapped his earlier insanity for a subtler, more insidious version...
A Review by Jamas Enright 26/10/00
This story is very much a coming of age story for the Fourth Doctor. After having gone through the Boys' Own Adventure that was The Deadly Assassin, he now has to confront in an, if you'll forgive the expression, in your face way, the consequences of his own actions, from the very beginning of his regeneration if you believe the novelisation.
This is something very personal for the Fourth Doctor. He made the mistake, and only he can fix it. In the end it is very much a matter of life and death for the entire planet that he does so. But from the moment he saw the ship he knew his responsibilities and he faced up to them. Even before that, when conversing with Xoanon, he begins to suspect that this is something very pertinent to him.
The only other time the Doctor has faced the result of his interference was in The Ark, but even then it was not his direct involvement that was the cause, but Dodo's cold. As a time traveller it would be very easy for the Doctor to come across such a situation, and this is a concept the books are picking up on, but this is the first time in the TV series it really has been developed.
However, the focus in the story is more on the two tribes, the Sevateem and the Tesh, the physical manifestations of the results of Xoanon's psychosis brought on by the Doctor's help. This side of things isn't really addressed by the Doctor. He sees Xoanon more as the problem, and when that is dealt with, he's quite willing to leave the two tribes to it. It will be interesting to see if Chris Boucher ever comes back to them.
Chris Boucher does appear to see himself as the writer of the Doctor and Leela, as he wrote the next script for Robots of Death and the two novels Last Man Running and Corpse Marker, a sequel to Robots of Death, so he would be well placed to pick up the story line again. Indeed, giving Leela an insight into either the direct origins of the Mordee expedition or the ancestors of the two teams as she left them could be her coming of age story.
One thing I thought very amusing about the Sevateem was, given that it was a lean mean fighting team, displaying the virtues of courage and strength, and on the edge of starvation, why were so many of them so flabby? You can actually see a developing beer gut on one of the warriors sent to kill Leela at the beginning.
Penchants for Horda burgers aside, there are many fine performances in this story. Leslie Schofield and Brendan Price work well as the "rattlesnake" Calib and the not entirely effectual Tomas. Victor Lucas, who played the Sevateem chief Andor, sounds a shade too much like Valentine Dyall, but David Garfield played the psychotic Neeva well. And it takes a brave man to wear an outfit like that, especially the fetching glove-helmet.
Speaking of wonderful outfits, I may not know camp, but I can spot it in the form of the Tesh, and especially in the performance of Leon Eagles who plays Captain Jabel. Please, no more. Louise Jameson leaves a little something lacking, not quite being the savage who would question the tribes beliefs, but certainly is good enough for this to be overlooked. The way she plays Leela has her a little too quick to pick up on things, but that's more the fault of script writer Chris Boucher than anything else. She does act well with Tom Baker, forming the duo that would work together well over stories to come.
Tom Baker, on the other hand, is a little wooden at times. A good instance of that is in the opening when he steps from the TARDIS and talks to the camera. It's almost like he's including the audience at home, but the delivery is slightly flat. It's more like this is just another day at the office for him. There's still the flashes of Baker wit and charm, but otherwise his performance is a little mediocre. The Horda, could we have a more fake rubber snake please? And shaking a whole pit of them does not make them any more realistic or scary. Although there is a wonderful moment where Tom Baker is standing above the pit, teeth in full beam mode, then he glances down into the pit and suddenly the world isn't as cheery as it was. Now that's entertainment!
The effects were pretty standard of the era, with gun blasts that don't quite match up to the gun nozzles, and c.s.o. off enough to give whole auras to people. But that was the standard at the time.
This is not a gem of a story, but it does have some very positive points, such as fine acting and an interesting storyline. Deadly jelly babies side, there is also the violence that critics at the time loved to pick up on, such as the Doctor causally allowing Leela to kill two people before stepping in to develop an antitoxin when she is poisoned, and the Doctor himself throws what he knows to be a vicious Horda onto a man, but there should be a degree of realism in this vein in the stories. Fantasy yes, but not too fantastic.
In the end, The Face of Evil does drag in places, but this story is on the plus side of average.
As a bonus for the video release there's a brief interview with Louise Jameson from Swap Shop in 1977, hosted by a frighteningly hairy younger Noel Edmonds. She talks about her performing history, before getting on to her role as Leela in Doctor Who. It's a nice extra for the tape, and perhaps something the BBC should think about including more often.
Forbidden Planet of the Face of the Mind of Evil's Seven by Andrew Wixon 19/2/02
We all occasionally have moments in our lives when we look back on an endeavour - a piece of work, a relationship, a work of art - and think 'Boy, I wish I could try that again.' Evidently Robert Holmes and Phillip Hinchcliffe felt that way too, because less than 18 months after Season 13's less-than-wholly-successful Planet of Evil, along comes Season 14's Face of Evil, not quite a straight retread but not far off either.
Consider: both stories owe a large stylistic debt to Forbidden Planet (though FoE restores the 'monsters from the psyche' rationale to its invisible horrors). Both feature a not-bad jungle set that looks better on film than on tape. There's a grounded spaceship in both, and at the conclusion a character who really shouldn't (in this case Calib) ends up a powerful hero.
Face is the superior story, though. This isn't down to the direction, though, which isn't up to much, flunking several key scenes (the opening, the Doctor's arrival episode two's cliffhanger, the battle at the wall). It's mostly due to the script, which is unusually high on literary SF ideas: the schizoid computer, the divided planet, the regressive savages - uniquely (certainly in DW) it gets the science of invisibility right by making the monsters blind. The ideas drive the story along even when the set pieces are lack-lustre. It also contains an unusually long 'epilogue' sequence, with the Doctor's audience with the healed Xoanon and so forth. It's not perfect, of course; Calib should have died along with Neeva and the rather-too-camp Tesh aren't explored in any real detail. But it signposts Chris Boucher's big SF talent - one of the prime shapers of Blake's 7.
The only guest performance of note isn't even really that; Louise Jameson is excellent as Leela, her chemistry with Tom is sparky and fresh, the contrast between the savage and the Time Lord - neither of whom Joe Viewer can really identify with - giving the show a whole new edge.
Certainly a very different style of story to most of the ones from the same era, and perhaps too easy to overlook as a result. But one I've always had a sneaking regard for.
Strong concepts and well thought out by Tim Roll-Pickering 15/9/02
The Face of Evil is an interesting story, exploring the consequences of the Doctor's actions in a past adventure. Of previous stories, only The Ark has done this but on this occasion we don't get to see the earlier adventure and so it comes as a genuine surprise. Although a computer that has got out of control is by no means an original idea, even for the series at this stage, Chris Boucher manages to inject some originality through Xoanon having a copy of the Doctor's mind within it, resulting in virtual insanity. This is a story full of some good concepts which have been developed well.
The whole concept of the Sevateem as a group from an advanced civilisation that have degenerated into savagery over the years is lifted straight out of Lord of the Flies only taken to a level of many generations. It is at times a chilling vision of how mankind can degenerate back to such primitive levels. The Sevateem are portrayed well, with a variety of different characters who each react to the situations in their own way. By contrast the Tesh are seen for a much shorter period and come across as an extremely bland grouping. Of the two groups, Leslie Schofield makes the most distinguished performance as Calib.
This story introduces the Doctor's companion Leela. She is a far cry from any previous companion, being much closer to action than ever any of the UNIT soldiers. Louise Jameson brings to Leela an interesting mix of the tough warrior who is bewildered by the sudden changes and unfamiliar situations around her as the Doctor arrives and things begin to change. There are some notable double standards from the Doctor in his condemning Leela's use of janus thorns and other actions by the tribe whilst a the same time flicking a Horda onto one of the tribe when there is no immediate need to resort to such an action.
Production wise the story has strong design work which is complemented by some good direction, though the mixed use of film and video for the scenes in the jungle results in an inconsistent look that at times seems realistic but at other times is all too clearly a television studio. Also the carving of the Doctor's face does not appear to be consistently the same size when comparing the shots of the Doctor and Leela looking at it with those of them climbing inside it. The ship sets are much cheaper and this is a little detrimental to the story since at times it feels like the budget filler for a season, though the script makes up for that.
Probably the most dodgy area of the story are its implications about religion. There is nothing especially new in science fiction about a deity being revealed to be a more advanced entity manipulating a primitive civilisation but traditionally Doctor Who has shied away from any discussion of religion. The shock in the Sevateem, and especially in Neeva, as they realise how they have been tricked, is strong but there are times when it feels as though the story is attacking religion in general a little too strongly. [I feel I must here admit my potential bias as a practising Anglican Christian.]
Nevertheless The Face of Evil is an extremely well constructed story that manages to get beyond the weaknesses in its design and schizophrenic use of film and videotape. It is a strong debut for Chris Boucher. 9/10
A Review by Brett Walther 23/9/03
Why this story is often regarded as the forgotten classic of Season Fourteen is beyond me.
Sure it has a great climax in Part Three, introduces a promising new companion, boasts an original set of scripts, and has the most striking cover in the entire range of Doctor Who on video... Nevertheless, things fail to gel, and The Face of Evil ends up being the stinker of the Hinchcliffe years as far as I'm concerned.
Pennant Roberts is very likely one of the weakest directors the series ever had, and it can't be merely a coincidence that he is the common element among several of my least favourite Doctor Who stories (The Sunmakers, Warriors of the Deep, Timelash). His greatest failing here are the action (or more accurately, "inaction") scenes in Part Three and Four that bring the story grinding to a halt. Entire minutes roll by with the Doctor and Leela strolling about the bland corridors of the ship pursued by the completely unthreatening Tesh.
The Tesh aren't helped any by the fact that their costumes are possibly the most ridiculous ever designed for the programme. With their pastel puffy sleeved shirts and bright green shoes, not to mention faces dipped in copious amounts of flour make for an extremely pathetic adversary. The overzealous make-up lady with the bags of flour is also no doubt similarly responsible for the tacky eyeliner applied to Jameson, clumsily attempting to darken her eyebrows for some reason.
The outlandish get up of the Tesh is also completely at odds with the sets for the Tesh spaceship which are cheap and minimalist, leading to a very disjointed feel. A similar lack of cohesion in design pervades The Sunmakers -- a production in which Pennant Roberts allegedly canned the Incan-style motifs at the last possible moment, resulting in a series of sets that look as though they're from different productions altogether.
The lame Tesh are bogged down even further by a decidedly unambitious performance by Tom Baker as their god Xoanon. You'd think Baker would've relished the opportunity to stretch his acting muscle in a role as the villain, but instead, there are times when his disembodied voice as Xoanon sounds as though he's mumbling in his sleep.
This is a shame because there are a handful of really good performances here, namely by Brendan Price who's absolutely gorgeous and earns a cliffhanger all to himself in Part Two, and Louise Jameson who makes a very strong debut. Whenever I watch Jameson in Season Fourteen, it's with a tinge of sadness, actually. She was SO wonderful as Leela, and the character had so much potential; and then Season Fifteen came around and threw it all away, treating her like an idiot rather than an intelligent hunter, eager to learn (as she is here, in The Face of Evil).
Although Chris Boucher's script is commendable in its depiction of Leela and its development of the theme of the Doctor as an interfering meddler (an approach used very effectively in Planet of the Spiders), it leaves things up in the air, making for an extremely unsatisfying, even disturbing ending.
The conclusion is seriously flawed, with the Doctor abandoning the Tesh and Sevateem at the very moment that he could provide some genuine assistance as a moderator between the age-old enemies. Hardly heroic for him to dash off leaving Jabel and Calib at each other's throats, considering he is the one who caused the rival factions to develop in the first place. Furthermore, the god-like computer is still on the loose. God (or Xoanon?) only knows what it will do for kicks now that its conquered its bout of split-personality disorder. No wonder Leela catches the first flight off that rock!
"It's true then. They say the Evil One eats Babies." by Terrence Keenan 19/10/03
The Face of Evil is the first story where we see the Doctor have to face the results of his continuous interventions in the universe. Things didn't go exactly to plan once he left in the TARDIS after fixing the Mordee computer.
Xoannon is the bastard child of HAL and Colonel Kurtz. All powerful and completely of its rocker. But not without sympathy, due to the Doctor's "help" all those years ago. The eugenics experiments between the Sevateem and Tesh modeled his own inner conflict. Xoannon's Doctor side influenced the Sevateem, while his own personality became flesh within the Tesh.
I've read a couple of reviews which said the Doctor seems a bit distant from the problems he's caused. I don't buy it. He spends the first episode piecing things together. And once he realized he's the cause of the problem, he moves into action.
Leela embodies skepticism and curiosity. She feels these qualities within the Doctor and is determined to stay at his side, although his methods are at odd with her own. There's good character development as Leela is shown to be loyal, curious and smarter than her fellow Sevateem members.
The development of the Sevateem and Tesh done well. That the Sevateem are ruthless, violent politicians makes sense. Adapt or die, be it out in the jungle, or within the power structures. Caleb wants to be leader not out of bringing his tribe forward, but because his aggressive nature drives him to be leader. Neeva uses religion to solidify his hold over Andor and the tribe. The Tesh have none of this infighting and political aggression because they are bred to be passive, emotionless beings. Jabel has no need to play politics because he knows his position is safe. Everything has been as is has since the Tesh came into being. There is no reason to adapt because things will never change.
There are few better acted episodes in Who. Everybody in the cast gives it their all. No one hits a false note. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson have solid chemistry in their first story. The two top performers, if forced to name them are Leslie Schofield as Caleb and Brendan Price as Tomas. Both are excellent and give their characters depth not necessarily in the script -- although said script by Chris Boucher is brilliant.
The Face of Evil is an underrated masterpiece of Who. Nuff said.
God worship... by Joe Ford 18/5/04
There is a very interesting premise at the core of The Face of Evil, more interesting than a computer with a split personality that split up a colony ship into two separate tribes. The Doctor has often been portrayed as a flawed hero but we never really get to see evidence of this (later we would get some definitive evidence in Warriors of the Deep, Terror of the Vervoids) so to hear him admit that on his last visit he tried to help and misjudged his tinkering (and his ego) is quite a shock. Much like The Ark it is fascinating to set the story long after the Doctor's first visit and to explore the consequences. Whilst hardly apologetic the Doctor is clearly horrified to see the far-reaching results of his handiwork, you realise just how much of an impact, how much change he has caused when he doesn't even recognise the planet or the people until the end of the second episode! I love this idea of the Doctor failing, its one of the reason I will take him over James Bond (actually my dream James Bond film would see him fail miserably and be forced to face the consequences just to subvert expectations) anyday because the Doctor can lose and lose spectacularly. A lot of people die in this story and none of it would have happened had the Doctor never visited. Or at least it would not have happened in this way.
The Face of Evil is an often-ignored story from the treasured season fourteen although it is one that is having something of a renaissance in the twilight years of the series. It is a very clever story from fresh writer Chris Boucher that takes big ideas like God-worship and split personality and applies them thoughtfully to a tale that is low on heart thumping action but scores well with the intellectuals. Hinchcliffe is still taking risks three stories from his departure, most producers would keep it safe and just use writers they can rely on but Hinchcliffe is still drawing fresh talent to the show. A bold but successful step, the script is lively and bursting with hysterical dialogue and clever quips (but then with Robert Holmes lurking in the background this is practically a given). The story is beautifully structured, the first two episodes introduce the main concepts; the mystery of the Doctor's influence on the planet, the scientific equipment scattered about a primitive colony. After exploring the Sevateem camp the story switches location for the last two episodes into the Tesh ship and introduces the heart of the problem in the memorable third cliffhanger. Because it is a more considerate story than usual it demands more time to deal with its climax, which unusually takes place halfway through the last episode with plenty of time to deal with explanations and the future of the colonists. It's not a perfect story but you cannot fault the effort that has gone into the writing.
How bizarre is it to see a companionless Doctor. I am glad they quickly introduced Leela because I don't think I could have managed a whole story with the Doctor addressing the camera as he does at the beginning of this story (although it is rather fun imagining that you are the companion, that he is addressing you personally!). If the production team had been even braver they would have roughened Leela up even more, had her dirty and dishevelled, like she really lived in the wild. As it is the Dads need some incentive to tune in so Louise Jameson debuts in clean skins looking as though she has just taken a bath. I can understand the decision to keep her squeaky clean but at least her behaviour and instincts are appropriately feral.
There is immediate potential with Leela that isn't apparent with so many companions and you can see instantly what the producer was trying to achieve. Much like Jamie and Victoria there is a lot of scope for having ignorant companions (and I don't mean that in a derogatory fashion, Jamie and Victoria were companions from the past and Leela is a savage warrior) who require a lot of explanations for the scientific side of things. It allows the writer to feed information to the viewer without the companion looking stupid. But it's more than that, I firmly believe the key to good comedy/drama is healthy culture clashing and to pair up an eccentric scientist with a homicidal savage then you have character gold. Maybe Leela wasn't exploited to the full next year but there were enough wonderful moments where their ideals clash to validate this experimental companion.
Indeed Louise Jameson's compelling performance as the naive savage is one of the highpoints of this story, you can see already the Eliza Doolittle/Proffesor Higgins relationship flowering just how Philip Hinchcliffe wanted. I adore the Doctor and Leela's first scene together where he offers her a jelly baby and she recoils saying "It's true then! They say the Evil One eats babies!" And they stick close throughout the story, learning the facts of the story together and how Leela learns that her entire belief system is twisted and false is sensitively but firmly handled by the Doctor who refuses to molly-coddle her. By the end of the story Leela is talking about concepts she didn't even understand at the beginning and even looking at her own people exactly the same way we saw her at the beginning, thus begins her education.
Doctor Who and religion are sticky subjects, sometimes a story tackles the subject head on such as in the gripping The Massacre but more often they are background elements (look at the recent Halflife, that has a fascinating religious background but is not the centre of the story at all). I was reading a brilliant piece of writing by Douglas Adams recently from his article anthology in The Salmon of Doubt about the existence of an Artificial God. One point he makes wonderfully well is that there are certain ideas you are not allowed to say anything bad about. 'In the case of an idea' he says 'if we think, "Here's an idea that is protected by holiness" what does it mean?' It is very brave of him to make this move; to actively critisize religion by comparing it other much debated issues (politics) and reaching the conclusion that the validity of debating about religion is as important as any other. My point is The Face of Evil deals with a heavy religious theme and has the balls to be less than positive about it.
It is almost a deconstruction of the God myth, Xoanon is simply a diseased computer with delusions of grandeur but the myth behind this 'God' is an extremely powerful and destructive force. It shows how propaganda can lead to a belief system of its own, through Neeva (tricked by Xoanon), the Sevateem are manipulated into fighting and killing on behalf of their 'God'. And Leela who actively speaks out against Xoanon is threatened with execution and banished from the settlement! It exposes some of the dangers that come with intense religious beliefs and shows you how far people are willing to go in the name of their icon. Even more interestingly the story opens out into religious war, with the two fractured halves of Xoanon's personality externalised in the Sevateem and the Tesh. We see two homicidal factions that dismiss the other's beliefs and wish to see their 'false' religion stamped out. All very interesting, I suppose the question is how far into exploring religion can a four part SF serial from the 70's go? Much of what I have discussed here is background information and there to be picked up by those who choose but they will be others who should dismiss my claims and read something else into the story, or even that it has no comments at all to make and is only a rather witty adventure tale. I have no opinion on God one way or the other but I find it fascinating that the story throws religion in such an unforgiving light. I certainly find the religious angle far more interesting than the 'brains vs brawn' angle people usually apply to this story.
What is bloody brilliant is the idea (and realisation) of a savage community with technological equipment scattered around their settlement. The way in which the Sevateem has compartmentalised these objects into their society is very creative. Neeva's glove headgear is great fun and the close up on the survey ship alloy gong a phenomenal moment.
One huge fault with the story and one that the Hinchcliffe era is so keen to avoid usually is the design. It is a very drab looking story which starts with the sets; the bare and unconvincing jungle set, the sterile corridors of the survey ship, simple hut like dwellings, and reaches through to the costumes; savages in simple leathers (realistic but hardly eye catching), the Tesh in bizarrely camp makeup and green quilted uniforms. Even the direction is lacking on occasions, occasionally there is a moment of genius (like the test of the Horda) but sometimes Pennant Roberts sticks to dull perpendicular angles for his fight sequences. It does not please the eye and I find myself bored and wanting some vibrancy (no trouble of that in the next two stories).
Another massive problem is the third episode; this is another season fourteen story that suffers from the curse of the third episodes. This instalment seems to comprise of some embarrassingly inefficient laser fights, both in the jungle and in the Tesh ship and a bunch of manual-inspired Tesh being civilised and camp with each other. It is not until the unsettling cliffhanger the things pick up where we are finally privy to some explanations. There is nothing wrong with the writing that the direction couldn't have livened up.
One thing the story gets VERY right is the performances. The Sevateem are played with relish by a bunch of experienced actors and as such come across as a believable and rowdy group. Brendan Price's Tomas is the token 'nice guy' but there is nothing stomach churning about his sensitive performance. David Garfield plays Neeva with the right amount of hypnotic naivete; I love it when he interrogates the Doctor by waving scientific equipment in his face screaming religious propaganda. But best of the bunch (apart from Louise Jameson of course who flashes some leg and kills a handful at the same time!) is that slimey rattlesnake Calib, in Leslie Schofield's enigmatic performance you can see a character who is watching every plot twist and seeing how they can twist it to their advantage.
It is a story that takes the psychological and religious angle over straightforward action adventure but still manages to tell an entertaining story. It is far from flawless (it's not exactly the first story you would show a non fan) but there is intelligence to the story that is hard to ignore. Personally I find it a little too dry in places, the direction freezing up too often but I would still bill it as a strong story in its own right and one that manages to push the boundaries far better than the acknowledged and overrated stories that make similar claims (Kinda).
Just think, the entire universe could just be the manufactured handiwork of a computer with a mental breakdown! Makes you think, doesn't it???
A Review by Steve Cassidy 19/5/05
If you wanted a picture of the icons of Dr Who... what would you have?
Daleks? Cybermen? K-9? the TARDIS? Definitely each one - but for those of us of a certain generation it would have to be the long-scarfed toothy Fourth Doctor and the leatherclad savage Leela..
Watching The Face of Evil today I was reminded how much Who was embedded in the popular culture of the mid-seventies. And with the new series riding high in the ratings and a critical success I couldn't help but remember the last time that happened. Who was massive and in its golden age from 1974 to 1977. Just like today, each episode was eagerly awaited, discussed at length and gobbled up by the public like greedy children. Each rumour and news titbit was eagerly reported by the newspapers and it didn't just have the kudos that the professional RTD series has today, it had that indefinable quality - notoriety
Only a few months before the broadcast of Face of Evil Who had hit the headlines over the violence in Deadly Assassin. Mary Whitehouse was on the warpath. Seeing someone drowned at 5.30pm in the afternoon was too much for the kiddies' sensibilities. The furore created was only assuaged as Who came off the air mid-way during season 14. There was a month gap between the last episode of Deadly Assassin and the first of Face of Evil which happened on New Year's Day in 1977. And during that time the country went Who mad. Tom Baker was one of the most famous faces in the country, Phillip Hinchcliffe was the BBC's golden boy with ratings of not less then 10 million per episode and appearing in the country's newspapers was the knife-carrying, auburn-haired beauty that was Louise Jameson.
Talking with people there was quite a build up to Face of Evil. I don't remember it all as I was only seven at the time and I was just thrilled that I was allowed to watch the show for once. As I mentioned, Who had notoriety in the seventies - it scared children. Whether we were more sensitive in the seventies I don't know. But before the desensitising of a nation via video nasties, kids had nothing to really scare them. There was an occasional glimpse of horror during "Tales of the Unexpected" or an adult drama but nothing at 5.30pm. And I did find Face of Evil scary... it was the first Who adventure I ever saw.
It's all down to imagination. What you can conjure up in your own mind is far more terrifying. Those primeval forests on Leela's alien planet (a planet which is never named. Does it have a name?) look like a cheap set to a man in his thirties. The dry ice and spray-can cobwebs aren't convincing to Joe Public in 2005 as he has the new series' CGI to compare them to. But to a seven year old child, the eerie forest its with invisible monsters, alien plantlife and a cacophony of animal sounds was absolutely terrifying. Every time Leela crept forward with her crossbow I was expectng something nasty to jump out at her. The invisible phantoms conjured up by Xoanon were horrible as my imagination made something out of the moving lianas and growling sound effects.
But twenty seven years on - is it any good?
Oh yes, in fact I would call it one of the forgotten treasures of the Hinchcliffe years.
First of all, the story is strong. The premise of a set of people led down the road to degeneration by an insane all-powerful computer is a good one. There is a whiff of "Lord of the Flies" about this adventure. It is quite a shock to realise that human beings within a few generations can turn into barbaric savages living on the edge of existance. Because there is a hard underbelly to this adventure. Life is hard on this planet, the tribe of the Sevateem live a precarious existance with starvation always at the back of their minds. Their reliance on religion for the answers is the key component in this adventure and the fact that their religion is phoney gives it extra spice. The fact that the one guiding light in these people's horrific existance is a fraud is a terrifc twist thought up by Chris Boucher.
Mr Boucher is one of my favourite Who writers. Match of the Day was a struggle, I admit (only made palatable by lots of lovely Leela moments) but Image of the Fendahl and the classic Robots of Death are magnificent. I think his richest work is Face of Evil - a terrfic concoction of the futility of religion and the corruption of superior technology. Each character is well thought out - the struggling Chief Andor, the deluded priest Neeva, the cunning Calib and the male equivalent of Leela, Tomas - as this is also a political fable. The struggle of man over man (or woman?) and the way religion is used to gain ascendancy over others or the way others use the failures of religion for their own ends is very evident here. It is the Sevateem politics which carry the first two episodes. Why do people call indigenous people savages? Their own internal politics is just as sophisticated as ours. The relationships between the movers and shakers of the Sevateem is well directed, acted and scripted. The very first scene were Leela is exiled from the tribe for heresy (and certain death) is so well acted and directed it is like watching a little snippet of theatre Shakespeare.
And that is why this adventure works - every part of it is taken seriously, every actor gives their all. The director is exceptionally good with several set pieces which stick in the mind, ie the Horda trial, Tom's first encounter with Xoanon, etc. A lot of this is helped by being shot on film which gives the forest sets an outdoors quality. The production design has been decried by some reviewers, notably the cliff-face and the studio forest. But I have no problem with it. The only part I don't think works is the long shot model of the spaceship as seen through the aperture in the Doctor's cliff-face. It ranks with the ship graveyard in The Brain of Morbius as one of the worst models of the Hinchcliffe years. And, yes, it does have other directorial faults - Leela taking on the Tesh guards outside Room 37 could have been tightened up and Chief Andor's death scene with the phantoms is also pretty hammy. But what would Doctor Who be without a slice of ham?
Tom Baker may be at his height here - pathos, righteous anger, guilt and humour all mixed in together. To opening scene with him talking into camera about it "not Hyde Park" is enjoyable as he is taking his audience with him on this adventure. Until Leela invites herself aboard the TARDIS we are the companions on this adventure with the Doctor. Also, the fourth Doctor's condemnation of violent means is at its strongest here. Ironic, as the Doctor often uses violence himself quite frequently in this adventure, ie kicking a Horda, tussling in a corridor with the Tesh. But it is his venom at an avoidable death when Leela uses the janus thorns that everybody remembers. His attitude is alien to her, as this method of quickly taking out an enemy is quick and pragmatic. The divisions between the two characters are quickly set up in this adventure. Yet there are moments of great tenderness and loyality. The above-mentioned kicking of the Horda onto a tribe member is only because the bully violently struck a restrained Leela. And one of my favourite moments is when he goes back to Room 37 once Xoanon's personalities have gone. "Can I come too Doctor?", "Perhaps..." he says with a grin, "Do you remember the way?". Immediately he makes Leela feel useful. A method of friendliness she would respond to rather than full-on compliments.
And of course there is Leela in her first adventure...
She is probably more famous for her appearances in Horror of Fang Rock and The Talons of Weng-Chiang but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Face of Evil is Leela's best adventure. Here she is more natural, the characters parameters flow out of the story. Not until the appearance of Rose Tyler do we get to see a companion's background so well-drawn as we do with Leela and the Sevateem. From the first appearance we get the character. This is not a simple cliche dressed in leather for the dads, this is a very cleverly drawn character designed to work on many levels. First of all she is a maverick, she does not quite fit in with the tribe. Her questioning of Xoanon in the very first scene reveals her to be a skeptic, a woman with no formal education but a high intelligence. She has worked out the fraud of organised religion for herself and is punished for her speaking out. Maverick tribe member meets maverick Time Lord and an uneasy alliance is formed. For she recognises something in the Doctor. She was not designed to stay with the Sevateem, she sees the Doctor as a way out - a way to a better life and spontaneously takes it. She's bright, yes, but not wise - there is still the impetuousity of youth there. There are many layers to Louise Jameson's portrayal that only a fully-trained actress can grasp. Leela is portrayed in an almost Shakespearean way and with Chris Boucher's characterisation and Louise Jameson's acting skills we have one of the most successful characters in Who.
To sum up, this is a good adventure. The action doesn't flag as some have suggested once we enter the Tesh starship and those who decry the effete costumes and makeup of the Tesh should perhaps take a good look at their own prejudices rather then anything else. It's a good solid story that works on many levels and with a level of production design, acting and script that dwarfs many adventures that come after it. This is how Who should be made and it stands up very well twenty seven years after transmission. Who was big news when this was first broadcast, and maybe it doesn't have the SFX of the new series or the mass advertising that the BBC have ploughed into their new product in 2005. But with its deep storyline and thoughtful script it is Dr Who at its richest and most nourishing.
A Review by Benjamin Bland 7/3/06
The Face Of Evil really does have a lot going for it if you stand back and look at its various components. It's a strong concept. The concept of a computer evolving into something more than that. A computer becoming so powerful that it eventually becomes a living being. Eventually it begins to develop a personality but before it can fully develop this a bumbling Time Lord, who seems to spend most of his time rushing around the cosmos saving all and sundry from various incredibly scary monsters, makes a pretty big mistake by neglecting to realise the computer's evolution and somehow, I forget how, giving it his personality. Therefore the now-alive coputer, known as Xoanon, not only has its own personality but the Doctor's as well. Pretty clever writing from Chris Boucher, don't you think? It is most definitely one of the most inventive concepts Doctor Who has come up with over the years. I am not sure where it all went wrong.
Ok, I'll say it: this isn't the most impressive Doctor Who story visually that I have seen over the years but it's not bad. Apart, of course, from the invisible monsters that the Sevateem have to fight, I am sure they are invisible only because the production team had either no money to create a visible monster with or they simply couldn't be bothered. The acting isn't particularly strong either. A load of people dress up as cavemen and have a few arguments while shouting a bit, not entirely convincing. Then a lot of other people with white-powdered faces and outfits reminiscent of a court jesters come along and speak very quietly and calmly while trying to kill everyone they don't like, again not entirely convincing.
Then there's Tom Baker as the Doctor and Louise Jameson in her first appearance as Leela. Tom isn't at the height of his acting abilities here and you do get the impression sometimes that he is a bit bored. However he manages to exude energy most of the time, not a bad performance on the whole. Louise Jameson, looking lovely as ever in her role of Leela, also convinces. In fact, with the exception of The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, this is probably her best performace during her time on the show.
So I admit defeat. What did go wrong with The Face Of Evil? Judging by the sum of its parts it should be one of the definitive Doctor Who stories, but it just doesn't seem to work. Unfortunately I have to detract points for this fault so what could've been a 10/10 instead becomes 7/10.