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The Face of Evil

Review by Jamas Enright

Reviewing and I have never been best mates, but when Paul asked me to review The Face of Evil, I considered the idea and thought ‘why not?‘ In my memory it wasn't the worst story around, so I looked forward to seeing it again and giving the review a go.

Now that I have seen it, I can't say that The Face of Evil will ever be considered an undiscovered gem, but it does have some very good points. (And I'm not talking about Leela's costume.)

“Spawn of the Evil One, return to your master!”

The story starts with Leela being banished for blasphemy. Although you have to wonder about a tribe that is willing to outcast one of the two (that I saw) females it has. After a brief, but noble, performance by Colin Thomas as Leela's father, Leela is exiled and the story is under way.

The first two episodes focus on the Sevateem, and slowly reveal that there may be more to their history than that of a simple warrior race. The idea of a higher civilisation visiting, and impacting, on a lesser species is not a new one, but the question raised here is whether the higher civilisation was made up of visitors, or ancestors?

On top of that we have the Fourth Doctor, known also as the Evil One. When we hear his voice speaking to Neeva, there is little doubt that there is something going on here which affects our favourite hero.

Then, in the latter half of the story, we finally meet the Tesh, but we also discover that the Fourth Doctor is responsible for the state of events. It is the consequences of the Doctor's earlier actions that are of real interest here, and this concept hasn't really been addressed before.

“It may have been my own egotism.”

The Face of Evil is very much a ‘coming of age’ story for the Fourth Doctor. Having gone through the ‘Boys' Own’ adventure that was The Deadly Assassin, the Doctor 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 the Doctor 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 directly 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 was the first time in the TV series it was 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 pairing. Boucher wrote the next script for The Robots of Death and the two novels Last Man Running and Corpse Marker (the latter a sequel to The 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 own ‘coming of age’ story.

“And is that your excuse for behaving like a degenerate savage yourself?”

One thing I found very amusing about the Sevateem was that given that the tribe was supposedly 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 worked 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 played Captain Jabel. Please, no more.

Louise Jameson leaves a little something lacking, not quite being the savage who would question the tribe's 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. Jameson acts well with Tom Baker, forming a duo that would work together well over stories to come.

Tom Baker, on the other hand, is a little wooden at times. A good example of this is in the opening when he steps from the TARDIS and talks to the camera. It's almost as if he's including the audience at home, but the delivery is slightly flat. It seems more like this is just another day at the office for him. There are still flashes of Baker wit and charm, but otherwise his performance is a little mediocre.

“So that's a Horda. Doesn't look too formidable. What am I supposed to do, fight or eat it?”

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 when the Doctor is standing above the pit, teeth in full beam mode, and then he glances down into the pit and suddenly the world isn't as cheery as it was. Now that's entertainment!)

I also have to question what exactly those vine things were. They were too obviously long pieces of tubing with a few strands of vegetation hung around them to be even slightly believably natural. Perhaps they were supposed to represent debris that had fallen from the ship, got hung up somehow, and then grown over? Or perhaps not.

Aside from that, the effects were pretty standard of the era, with gun blasts that don't quite match up to the gun nozzles, and CSO off enough to give whole auras to people. But that was the standard at the time.

“Tell me, Doctor. Where do you think I first started to go wrong?”

As I said at the beginning, 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 aside, there is also the violence critics at the time loved to pick up on, such as the Doctor casually allowing Leela to kill two people before stepping in to develop an antitoxin when she is poisoned. The Doctor himself throws what he knows to be a vicious Horda onto a man. There should be a degree of realism in this vein in Doctor Who 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.

“I never dreamt I would be on this programme.”

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.

This item appeared in TSV 59 (January 2000).

Index nodes: The Face of Evil