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Saturday, 15 April 2017

Doctor Who (Classic) 14-13: The Face of Evil, Part 1

Episode:440|Serial:89|Writer:Chris Boucher|Air Date:01-Jan-1977

Doctor Who's finally returning to television today after taking a year off! But I can't review something that hasn't aired yet, so this week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm taking the site back further than I've ever gone before, to an episode of Doctor Who older than Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It even predates Star Wars, though it's a close thing as they both came out in 1977, just a few months apart. Which means that they both have their 40th anniversaries this year! I wonder which of them has aged better.

The Face of Evil is the fourth serial in the Fourth Doctor's third year on the series, so it's from the middle of Tom Baker's run and the end of Philip Hinchcliffe's time as producer. I'm relatively new to Doctor Who, I jumped aboard when Steven Moffatt took the reins as in 2010, but I've heard that Baker's pretty decent in the role. In fact he's a lot of fans' all-time favourite Doctor and Hinchcliffe's era is apparently one of the best in the whole series, so this should theoretically be really bloody good. But Doctor Who often changes form to better fit its producer, like Star Trek changes with each new ship and crew, so this run is likely very different to what I'm used to and it's possible it just won't click with me.

Plus this is a four part serial, so that's kind of daunting. Sure each episode is only 25 minutes long, but that adds up to being a movie's worth of content I'm writing about here. I was originally planning to post all four parts on one day to get it over with, but then I took pity on us all and decided to do it weekly instead... in addition to the weekly reviews I'm doing for other series. It's my hope that someone somewhere will be happy about this.

Anyway I'm going to post screencaps and write commentary underneath, so you can expect massive SPOILERS for this episode and minor spoilers for earlier episodes (spoiler: Jon Pertwee turns into Tom Baker). But January 1977 is where I'm drawing the line. There's around 400 episodes that come after this one and I'm not going to assume you've seen them all yet, because I definitely haven't.



Whoa, there's a face staring at me in the intro. It's Doctor #4, looking absolutely thrilled to be here in the space/time vortex. It's downright weird how cheesy this isn't to me, considering that it's a bloke in a scarf with Harpo Marx hair trapped in a kaleidoscope. Maybe I'm just entranced by the slit-scan tunnel effect and the dark, synthy version of the theme.

I know exactly how they did the vortex effect, I've seen how they did the vortex effect, and it still amazes me.

That diamond logo badge is pretty cheesy though. It gives away that the series was being made with a younger audience in mind. Still, it could be worse... and it will be. That neon sign logo from the 80s is just nasty.

The episode begins on Earth in the distant past, where... oh, I just noticed their leader's sci-fi looking throne. Well now I don't know when or where this is set. I don't even know what I'm watching here as they've dropped me right into the middle of a scene already in progress.

It seems that the woman on the left, Leela, is on trial for the crime of blasphemy against their god, Xoanon. In fact she claims that he doesn't even exist, which apparently profanes the holy purpose of the tribe of Sevateem. At least that's what their shaman says. He also tells them that Xoanon's been in touch with him and he left a message, saying that they should totally banish her.

The posh voices in this scene are amazing by the way. The tribespeople are all speaking in Received Pronunciation and it's like I'm watching a fuzzy phone video of a live theatre performance.

They ask if she'll take the Test of the Horda but she refuses, so her dad steps outside to take it in her place. Then there's screaming from off-screen, and everyone's pretty much in agreement that he's not coming back. Today just keeps getting better for poor Leela. So she gives a strange three-part salute and then leaves them to go be an outcast.

The episode cuts to a strange worm creature crawling across a jungle floor, then the camera pans up to reveal Tom Baker's TARDIS materialising! 

That TARDIS is looking much flatter and shorter than the modern one I'm used to, but it's not wobbling as he opens the door, so that's a good sign. Apparently his last TARDIS prop collapsed on him a few serials ago due to being 13 years old, but this one's quite new and still relatively sturdy.

If this was any earlier in Tom Baker's run Sarah Jane Smith would've likely shown up right about now, but the Doctor is between companions and travelling alone at this point in the series, for the first time in Doctor Who's 14 year history I believe. It's good to mix up the formula every now and again for sure, but it does mean he's got no one to chat to as he investigates where he's landed.

Wait, what's he doing? Why is he looking at the camera? WHY IS HE TALKING AT THE CAMERA? I don't like this, I don't like this.

I've got no problem with the Doctor talking to himself, especially not after watching Heaven Sent (or was it Hell Bent? It's one of the two). But breaking the fourth wall like this is something I don't appreciate and I'm glad it didn't stick.

The Doctor's a bit surprised to discover that he's not in Hyde Park and ties a knot in his hanky to remind himself to give the TARDIS an overhaul. Or at least he would've done if there wasn't already a knot in it he'd forgotten about.

The episode then catches up to Leela to show that she's being stalked by other tribesmen through the corrugated trees and spider webs. I thought they were supposed to be banishing her, not hunting her.

By the way, you might have noticed that the scenes in the jungle look a little softer than the one in the hut. Doctor Who (along with most British television at the time) used to record indoor scenes with massive bulky video cameras plugged into tape machines, and shot outdoors scenes with comparatively light-weight film cameras. Film gave a better look and required less light, but video was much cheaper and quicker so it made sense to use it when they could, even if it meant that episodes kept switching between the two looks whenever someone stepped outside. Face of Evil was shot entirely on sound stages so you'd think it'd avoid that problem, but nope, they shot the fake outdoors scenes on film!

Leela manages to get her crossbow loaded and fires first, killing one of her pursuers. But another waits for his chance to strike while she's loading her second shot. Fortunately he suddenly remembers that there's an arrow glued to his shoulder and collapses on the ground.

Oh it was this guy who put an arrow in his shoulder! He's the one who stood up for her in the trial.

He says he's come to take her back, so they can tell the council about their shaman sending people to kill her. But she knows it won't make a difference to their decision to banish her and she doesn't want him to come with her and live as an outcast either. She's going to go cross the boundary and face whatever phantoms live out in the beyond alone. Sorry mate, I don't think she's into you.

She continues on, hearing growling sounds but seeing nothing, and eventually trips and falls right next to the Doctor. He helps her up and introduces himself, though it seems that she already knows him as 'The Evil One'.

He offers her a jelly baby, which doesn't surprise her one bit. She's heard that the Evil One eats babies. I wondered if this might be the very first appearance of jelly babies in Doctor Who, but no he's been eating them since he was Patrick Troughton.

They realise that they're being hunted by an invisible predator, which is good because it saves on the effects budget, but bad because they can't run away from something they can't see. The Doctor applies his common sense to the problem though: if light passes straight through the phantom, then it must not be able to see! Of course ever other invisible creature he ever faces seems to be able to see just fine (aside from that one that was blind), but it's good logic.

So he pulls an egg-timer alarm clock out of his pocket and uses it as a distraction. It homes in on vibrations so a loud annoying ringing sound is going to get its full attention while they creep away.

Yep, there's definitely an invisible monster there.

I'm used to classic Doctor Who having some terrible effects, but that looks great. I believe they pulled it off by running a cable through the inside which was attached it to a weight. When they let the weight drop, the cable pulled the top of the egg-timer down through itself, crushing it. Genius.

Back at the village, Leela's friend tells this other guy about some other guy sending people to kill Leela. They can't bring this up in a council meeting though as the guy would find a walk to talk himself out of trouble. But the guy points out that the shaman said that Xoanon has promised them victory in the coming raid, so if the raid fails it'll prove him to be a charlatan without a direct line to their god, and they can move against him. Though the downside to that is that a lot of people are going to end up dead.

I don't think anyone in this cast has been on Chris Evans' Captain America workout routine, but they've got some good beards in this tribe. You know what the tribe doesn't have though? Other female characters. I think these idiots may have just exiled the only woman in their village.

Actually I can't keep calling them 'guy' and 'idiots', I need to pause and start attaching names to faces, for my benefit as much as anyone's.

Andor

Rules the Sevateem tribe. Has the most beard and the fanciest chair.
Neeva

Sevateem shaman. The only man in the tribe without a headband (or hair). Relays the sacred word of Xoanon.
Tomas

Leela's friend, who saved her life in the woods earlier.
Calib

Devious. Wants to rule the tribe. Appeared in two scenes in Star Wars.
So Andor banished Leela due to her blasphemy against Xoanon. Then Neeva sent assassins out to kill her, but she was saved by Tomas. Now Tomas and Calib are scheming to overthrow Andor and prove that Neeva is a fraud. That seems straightforward enough.

Meanwhile the Doctor and Leela have reached the safety of the boundary, which is an invisible line that the invisible monsters can't cross. The Doctor decides that this is worth investigating, even though Leela still thinks he should already know what's going on, due to being the Evil One.

Here's who Calib was playing in Star Wars by the way in case you're curious. He's the one who tells Peter Cushing that "There is a danger." This would've been filmed around the same time as The Face of Evil, give or take a few months.

Please don't look directly at the Star Wars production design, it'll ruin this episode for you. I'd compare it to how Star Trek was looking at the time as well, but in '77 Trek was halfway through it's four year break between The Animated Series and The Motion Picture.

Over in Neeva's garage, the shaman is woken up by a voice calling his name. So he's not actually a fraud, he really is hearing his god's voice! And Xoanon sure sounds a lot like Tom Baker.

Xoanon is just calling to let Neeva know that he's a failure, as Leela has returned across the boundary. So it was him who ordered Neeva to order her death. Also he's got new orders: he still wants her dead but now he wants the one she's with to be destroyed as well. I'm getting the impression that Xoanon is a bit of a dick.

The Doctor's been having more success, as he's found a sonic device buried in the ground, which produces a sound the phantoms can't stand. There must be more of them, forming a dotted line along the boundary that the creatures don't want to cross. Hey I remember someone using this exact trick against a dinosaur in another episode. Doesn't seem like technology that a primitive tribe would've come up with though.

She does the three-part hand gesture again and tells him of how she was cast out for speaking against their god Xoanon. It's said that he's held captive by the Evil One and his followers, the Tesh, but she doesn't know what to believe any more. The Doctor's says that's fine, as you should never be sure of anything because it's a sign of weakness. Yeah, I'm pretty much sold on Tom Baker at this point, the guy is the Doctor.

Xoanon's apparently held within the Black Wall, so that's where they're headed next.

Back at the village, Andor has a bit of a rant at Neeva because of the lack of animals to hunt recently. Neeva claims it's because Xoanon can't bless people who don't wish to fight, but Andor counters that his people can't fight on an empty stomach.

Tomas comes in and admits that he agrees with Leela. She was banished because she thought that their upcoming raid against the Tesh is a terrible idea that'll get people killed, and they only have Neeva's word that it's what Xoanon wants. He doesn't have much faith in Neeva's word after he sent assassins to kill her.

But Andor makes it clear that the raid is going ahead and they will free Xoanon from the Tesh.

Meanwhile Neeva's second set of assassins have caught up to Leela, but the Doctor doesn't believe she can hear them until two crossbow bolts fly past his nose. Leela had the sense to hide out of sight behind a tree, so he decides to distract them to help her escape. Trouble is they immediately recognise him as being the Evil One too! Do they have wanted posters up or something?

He recognises something as well, that their three-part salute, their hand gesture for warding off evil, is the same routine for checking a spacesuit's seals. So that's interesting.

The Doctor decides that if they think he's the Evil One he might as well play the role, first threatening to turn them into toads, and then telling them to drop their weapons or else he'll kill this guy with a deadly jelly baby.

He was originally meant to threaten them with something genuinely dangerous, but Baker refused and came up with the jelly baby idea instead. The producer was annoyed when he found out, because it's kind of really dumb, but it definitely fits the character I'm familiar with.

It's a cunning plan, seeing as they fear his evil ways, but the leader just tells him to go ahead and kill his man! Maybe they really don't like being bossed around or perhaps they're calling his obviously ridiculous bluff. Either way the Doctor manages to come out of it with some respect intact by telling them he doesn't follow orders and then eating the deadly jelly baby.

If he'd been found with Leela they probably would've just shot them both as ordered, but they don't know she's there so they decide to drag him all the way back to their village to bring him in front of their leader. Oh plus they tie his scarf around his head as a blindfold, and that's amazing.

Neeva begins doing his shaman thing, dancing around and waving a sci-fi prop at the Doctor's head, but he's not impressed. He claims that the device could wipe out their whole camp if it still has a charge left, but he might just be bullshitting. Then again it would fit with their knowledge of the spacesuit check routine. The shaman might not understand what makes it dangerous but he certainly believes that it's a powerful ward against evil.

Andor goes to slit the Doctor's throat, but Neeva stops him. They can't just kill him here... they should hang on a bit and murder him in front of the warriors to raise morale! So Andor gets the signal sent out.

And the signal happens to be a man beating a sheet of metal with "SURVEY TEAM 6" written on. Well if I wasn't getting a The Omega Glory vibe from the episode before, I am now.

Seems that this Sevateem tribe were either descendants of this survey team, or locals who found their camp and decided to take the name. Well, try to.

The revelation is just for the viewers though as the Doctor doesn't get to see it. He's still in the council chamber trying to convince Andor that he's not the Evil One and he hasn't got their god tied up in his basement.

Oh damn, what's Neeva wearing now? These people never developed shirt technology but their chicken helmets are incredibly advanced. The Doctor believes that they must have been visited by space travellers who left all this junk here, but it seems that they didn't leave instructions.

Neeva starts reading 'the litany' to the five or so warriors who appear on screen, which turns out to be their entire backstory. The tribe of Sevateem were sent forth by god to seek paradise while the cowards of Tesh remained at the place of land, joined with the Evil One and betrayed them. So they're going to kill the Tesh and free their god, right after the Evil One's execution at the end of the litany.

But it turns out that Leela followed the assassins back to her village and she's been creeping around out of sight on a rescue mission.

She sneaks up to the man guarding the Doctor and paralyses him with a poisonous Janis thorn. The paralysis is only temporary though, as the poison will soon kill him. The Doctor's less than impressed to hear about this, and he's even more annoyed when she goes and kills someone else to block the exit behind them during their escape. "Who licensed you to slaughter people? No more Janis thorns, you understand, ever."

This is a problem he doesn't typically have with companions. The woman's gotten three kills so far and it's only part one! By the way, it's probably not a coincidence that the ass-kicking female lead in Futurama is also called Leela. Matt Groening is apparently a fan.

The Doctor actually wants to stick around for a while to listen to Neeva finish his litany, but Leela assures him that she can tell it to him later herself so they both make a run for it.

Now that they're free again, Leela realises that they'll need a some kind of cliffhanger soon, so she brings him to a cliff with a face carved into it. That's the Evil One over there, she tells him, the face of evil himself.

And it's Jon Pertwee! Or maybe Tom Baker. Yeah, I'm thinking it's probably Baker. Either way he seems as surprised as the Doctor is, perhaps more so! Now the Doctor knows that he must have been here before in the past. Maybe that's what the knot in the hanky was about, to remind him that he pissed off a planet so bad that he's considered to be the devil in their religion. Well, the face of the devil and the voice of god.

This is where the episode ends, with the Doctor and Leela staring at Mount Doctormore and the Sevateem getting ready for their raid on the Tesh to rescue god. Not an overly tense cliffhanger, but an interesting one.


CONCLUSION

If there's one thing I'm certain about after watching The Face of Evil, Part 1, it's that it is definitely a part 1.

There's a lot of set up packed into these 25 minutes and it's so eager to get to it that it joins Leela's story in medias res and skips half her first scene. Then it starts laying on the mysteries. Why does a primitive tribe live in huts full of high-tech relics? What's the test? Why does the Evil One look like The Doctor? What's the deal with the invisible phantoms? Who set up the sonic barrier? Who are the Tesh? Why do the Sevateem know a spacesuit seal check routine? What was that character's name? Which one is Neeva again?

I was actually struggling to follow it a little at first, as it drops a lot of characters and drama at you in one go, and they've all got their own schemes and agendas. It wasn't until I paused and made a note of who was who that I was able to fully understand it. Plus it likes to leave the exposition up to the Doctor, so when he's not around you're left on your own to figure out what's happening.

This isn't the most child-friendly episode of Doctor Who I've ever seen, with all the scheming, murder, and gruesome alarm clock death. There isn't even a rubber monster! Sure it's a bit childish having the Fourth Doctor talk to straight to the camera and threaten someone with a jelly baby, but he's just a bit strange like that... I think. I mean I'm not as familiar with Tom Baker as I am with some of the other Doctors, but I'm starting to get a good idea of what his Doctor's about after his performance here. He's about stealing scenes basically.

Leela on the other hand is entirely new to me and she's made a great first impression. She's more like the Doctor's assassin than his assistant so far, but her curiosity and open mind makes her a good match for a Doctor who likes to show off how much he knows about everything. Plus it helps that 'Louise Jameson' is actually an alias to hide the fact that they brought the real Leela in front of the cameras and didn't tell her it that was all make believe. The other main actors are putting on a show here (in a good way), but she has a very genuine reaction to everything, whether it's sci-fi weirdness or Doctor weirdness.

It's just a shame that they were let down by some of the sets. High marks for ambition, less marks for realisation. Though I suppose I can't say that classic Star Trek ever pulled off a plastic sandy jungle surrounded by a black void any better, and it does look pretty alien. But as an easily bored millennial with a fondness for high production values, flashy visual effects, fast moving storylines and proper choreographed fight scenes I have to say that this serial is doing pretty well without them so far and I'm keen to see what happens in part 2.



COMING SOON
Doctor Who will return in The Face of Evil, Part 2. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures I'll be watching the second episode of Babylon 5's second season, Revelations.

You've made it this far, you'd be a fool to walk away now before leaving a comment.

2 comments:

  1. I sympathize. I grew up with cheesy sets and low-res TVs, so I get to enjoy today's high-quality TV sets, rather than being mortified by these tiny old-time sets, which feel "homey" to me.

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  2. Old Doctor Who often had a problem where the third part of four part stories was a bit dull because they didn't quite have enough story for four episodes, but had too much for three, so you got twenty minutes of padding before the finale.

    I don't think I've seen "The Face of Evil" so I don't know if it suffers the same problem, but I thought I'd warn you just in case. Stick with it!

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