The TARDIS arrives on a planet where two tribes, the savage Sevateem and the technically brilliant Tesh are at war. He meets Leela, an exile from the Sevateem, and discovers that their god of evil is apparently himself.
The Face of Evil presents a good introduction to a new companion in the form of the savage Leela, and feels like a new era for the show going forwards in the best way. The new companion gives an interesting new dynamic, whilst this is also a good story in its own right.
I think that the masterstroke of The Face of Evil is the twist that this situation is that the TARDIS has not travelled back to a prehistoric society but that this is a developed society that has fallen into a post-apocalyptic one. It is cleverly seeded and gradually revealed as the story, from the gesture they use to ward off evil being the sequence for checking the seals on a Starfall Seven spacesuit, to the technology that Neeva has in his quarters and the sonic disruptors that ward off Xoanon. The original run of Doctor Who also very rarely focuses on the consequences of the Doctor’s actions and The Face of Evil is a rare instance of this. This is due to the Doctor’s previous visit to the unnamed planet, where he mistook the computer Xoanon’s evolution into a living being for damage to the data core and linking it to his own brain, leading to the computer taking on the Doctor’s personality. What makes this even better is that, despite it being a younger Fourth Doctor who did the deed, he doesn’t remember doing it and he ultimately doesn’t learn from his mistake. Having fixed Xoanon at the end of the story, he disappears whilst the Tesh and Sevateem argue about what the best path forwards is for this new society.
Chris Boucher’s story is possibly overlooked as a great story in a run of good stories towards the end of the Philip Hinchcliffe era, as I really enjoyed a lot of the ideas at play here. There’s an interesting theme here about religion and argues that knowledge and faith are incompatible, and certainly paints religion in an unfavourable light. It plays with dark themes, as Xoanon believes that it is perfecting the Tesh and the Sevateem to the extent of eugenics. It is perhaps in playing with these weightier topics where this story struggles and feels a little out of place in this era of Doctor Who, especially considering the widely well regarded stories that precede and close out this Season and indeed the era. Whilst the guest actors all portray their roles admirably, the story perhaps betrays its lack of budget especially in the design of the forest and the invisible foes.
The evil one!
Well, nobody’s perfect but that’s overstating it a little!Leela and the Fourth Doctor
It is well known that Tom Baker and Louise Jameson did not get along during the filming of the show, although they have since reconciled and continue to work together in the Big Finish audios, which may be in part down to Baker not wanting a new companion. I don’t think that the difficult relationship bleeds through onto the screen, or if it does, it does not do so here. Baker continues his fine run as the Fourth Doctor here and is truly hypnotic as he addresses the audience at home directly after the TARDIS lands with similar sorts of lines that he would usually exchange with his companion, conveying a sense of loneliness that I’m not sure that this Doctor would admit to.
Leela might just be the most different companion to those who preceded her, and is certainly different from companions from the modern era. I think its surprising that we have not been given a regular companion since the show returned in 2005 that has not been from modern day Earth – a companion from a different planet or time period gives us a different perspective on the Doctor. Leela also signals a change from Sarah Jane, who feels quite prim and proper when compared to Louise Jameson’s character here and there is something visually striking about the pairing of the bohemian Doctor and the leather clad Leela – beyond the obvious ‘for the dads’ idea. Whilst obviously, not quite as intelligent as the Doctor, Leela is clever and quite different to what’s gone before, not afraid of using violence even though this goes against the Doctor’s basic creed.
Verdict: A good story, let down by a lack of budget at times. It introduces Leela, who is a great companion and there are interesting ideas at play here. 8/10
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), David Garfield (Neeva), Victor Lucas (Andor), Brendan Price (Tomas), Leslie Schofield (Calib), Colin Thomas (Sole), Lloyd McGuire (Lugo), Tom Kelly (Guard), Brett Forest (Guard), Rob Edwards, Pamela Salem, Anthony Frieze and Roy Herrick (Xoanon), Leon Eagles (Jabel), Mike Elles (Gentek) & Peter Baldock (Acolyte).
Writer: Chris Boucher
Director: Pennant Roberts
Broadcast Dates: 1 January – 22 January 1977
Behind the Scenes
- Due to a six week break between the transmission of the fourth part of The Deadly Assassin and this story, this was originally billed as the start of a new season. This seems to have been pretty quickly forgotten.
- The Doctor breaks the fourth wall here, something that would be mirrored by the Twelfth Doctor in Before the Flood and had previously occurred with the First Doctor in The Daleks’ Master Plan.
- It is never explained when the Fourth Doctor repaired the Starfall Seven’s computer. The novelisation suggests that it takes place during Robot when the Doctor starts to leave in the TARDIS without Sarah Jane and the Doctor does not remember due to his recent regeneration. However, there is nothing in the televised story to suggest this is the case.
- The story was written with two endings, one where Leela leaves with the Doctor and another where she didn’t.
- Robert Holmes suggested that Leela should have some supernatural powers inherited from a witch-priestess grandmother, however, Chris Boucher did not agree with this, and instead opted to give her a kind of sixth sense for danger.
- The script called for the Doctor to threaten a Sevateem tribesman with a knife. Tom Baker objected to this, thinking that it was too violent and out of character, so it was changed to a jelly baby.
- David Garfield had previously appeared in The War Games as Von Weich.
- Leslie Schofield also previously appeared in The War Games as Leroy.
- This was Colin Thomas’ only credited role in Doctor Who, having appeared in uncredited appearances in stories such as Doctor Who and the Silurians, City of Death, Shada and Remembrance of the Daleks.
- Lloyd McGuire would go on to play General-Lieutenant Tendexter in the Big Finish audio play The Architects of History.
- Tom Kelly played a different guard in The Sun Makers and Vardan in The Invasion of Time.
- Rob Edwards would go on to appear as Chub in The Robots of Death.
- Pamela Salem would go on to appear as Toos in The Robots of Death and Rachel Jensen in Remembrance of the Daleks. The role of Rachel Jensen would be a part of the Big Finish series Counter Measures and 1963: The Assassination Games, and Salem would also appear in The Silent Scream, playing Loretta Waldorf.
- Roy Herrick had previously appeared as Jean in The Reign of Terror and would go on to appear as Parsons in The Invisible Enemy.
I love the effect work on the alarm clock collapsing as it is crushed in Part One.
Would you like a jelly baby?
It is true then. They say the Evil One eats babies.The Fourth Doctor and Leela
Previous Fourth Doctor review: The Deadly Assassin