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Thursday, 4 May 2017

Doctor Who (Classic) 14-15: The Face of Evil, Part 3

Episode:442|Serial:89|Writer:Chris Boucher|Air Date:15-Jan-1977

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, you've been blessed with my thoughts about the penultimate chapter of The Face of Evil, a Tom Baker story from the 14th series of classic Doctor Who. That sounds like a lot, but we'd be up to the 36th series right now if they hadn't reset the numbering (or the 54th if it hadn't taken a few years off), so 14 is still pretty early. I guess the fact that Baker's the 4th of 12 Doctors kind of gives that away.

I'll be writing my commentary underneath screencaps from the episode, so there'll be SPOILERS for the first three parts of the serial and perhaps earlier episodes too. I won't spoil anything that comes after though, not even if I want to.



Previously on Doctor Who:

The Doctor and his new sidekick Leela have managed to make peace with her people, the Sevateem, who sure have a lot of high-tech stuff lying around for such a primitive tribe. This came in handy when their god Xoanon deactivated the sonic barrier around their village and unleashed an invisible phantom on them, as the Doctor was able to construct a ray gun to fight it off.

But the Doctor and Leela had to go and climb inside a giant version of his own mouth, so it was a Sevateem warrior called Tomas who took the gun and discovered that these phantoms look just like the Doctor's face when you shoot them. Then the episode ended with their leader dying and Tomas firing his gun into the trees like he was about to be next.

Well that's a crap resolution to the cliffhanger. Tomas was firing into an empty jungle and when Calib calls him he just stops and walks away. The glare coming off that gun is epic though; I don't even want to look directly at the screencap.

Tomas realises that the phantom must be the Evil One, the monster with the face of the Doctor that they've been so concerned about for the past two episodes, so the Doctor himself should be firmly exonerated now. Plus Calib can finally stop scheming against everyone to take power, as with Andor dead he's the Sevateem's new leader! So everyone's happy.

I half-expected that his first act as the boss would be to swipe the energy weapon for himself, but he's letting Tomas hold onto it as they return to the village.

Meanwhile the Doctor and Leela have been exploring the inside of that mountain with his face on it, and they've discovered a man in a chicken helmet, just like the one their buddy Neeva wears! The one that lets him talk to his god Xoanon over the radio. Only this guy's got an intact spacesuit to go with it; presumably the type that requires a seal check routine very similar to the Sevateem's hand gesture routine they use to ward against evil.

The chicken man glows red and walks straight through a wall, but that's not the thing that gets the Doctor's attention, as out the window he sees a spaceship parked outside.

Uh, I think that it's supposed to be far away. And outside.

He recognises the vessel as belonging to the Mordee Expedition and begins to remember what happened here. Though he won't tell us anything yet, except that he thought he was helping them.

Leela wants him to quit staring out the window and help her find where the chicken man went, as she assumes he must be one of these Tesh we've been hearing about so much. So he tells her to close her eyes (no, both eyes), take a step back, and then walk straight through the holographic wall.

Oh also she has to glow red first, that's important too. I think that the effect was supposed to appear as she was walking through, but it's strange either way.

Behind the wall they end up somewhere so astounding that Leela can't help but exclaim "Great Xoanon!" at the sight of it. The Doctor explains that it's an anti-grav transporter and it's going to take them over to the parked spaceship... but we don't get to see any of that as the episode leaves us behind in the cave. It's a very nice cave though; far less fake looking than I would've expected.

Then it cuts to this place, which looks like it belongs in an episode of The Prisoner.

There's no one here but we hear three people talking, or maybe just one person with three voices, and one of them's the Doctor's. Seems that this is Xoanon's lair and the way it zooms into the sphere on the stand makes me think that it's either Xoanon itself or its speaker.
"We are returned, we are here, we are here, we are returned, now we shall be one, we are here, we are returned, we are here, we are returned, now we shall be one, now we must destroy us, now we shall be one, we are returned, we are here, now we must destroy us and become one, one, one, one, one, one, one."
No wonder Neeva keeps zoning out whenever the voice of Xoanon starts speaking to him through the chicken helmet if this is what he has to put up with.

The Doctor and Leela explore the ship and discover a shine covered with candles and ancient technology, not entirely unlike Neeva's garage. Seems that the Sevateem aren't the only ones to have slipped a bit in their understanding of technology as the Tesh have forgotten their origins as well.

Leela's wonders what the Tesh's origins are, so he asks her to recite part of the litany, the one she promised she knew way back in part 1. Turns out that she doesn't know it as well as Neeva (either that or he's been ad-libbing extra lines), but she does recite that "The Sevateem were sent forth by god to seek paradise, the Tesh remained at the place of land."

He explains that the Sevateem (survey team) left the colony ship to survey the planet while the Tesh (technicians) remained at the landing site. So both groups are descendants of the same human colonists! But something happened to mess everything up... and it was him.

The Doctor tries to get some of the terminals working but he's interrupted by the arrival of the best dressed people in all of Doctor Who!

They're wearing peppermint green tunics with purple straps, stripy belts and giant frilly shoulders, their legs are adorned with knee high socks and bright green shoes, and they've even got sparkly bits on their hats! Plus they've got android face paint on to complete the look. No wonder these people prefer to leave the lights off. Though at least we've finally solved the mystery of where all the actors without beards ended up.

But despite their reputation the Tesh seem fairly nice.

I mean the leader does knock Leela unconscious with a death glare, but he's very polite about it. She'll be 'tended' apparently. The poor woman is always getting paralysed or knocked out and then carried somewhere else in this serial.

The leader, Jabel, seems to hold the Lord of Time in great esteem and explains that they've been waiting long for his return. The Doctor notices that his group of humans value the mind and have developed psi powers, while the Sevateem outside value physical strength and courage... it's like this is all an experiment in eugenics! Jabel agrees.

He can't give him a straight answer about where Xoanon is though, even though the Doctor's concerned that it's going to kill them all.

Oh, it turns out that when Jabel said that Leela would be tended, what he actually meant was she'll be strapped into a James Bond laser deathtrap. It's a particle analysis device to be precise; they're going to reduce her to atoms for the sake of science.

The Doctor's too distracted with trying to find out where the most sacred forbidden place on the ship is to notice the monitor at first, but when he does he demands that Jabel gives the order to stop the analyser. Jabel doesn't much appreciate this though, as he drops the polite tone, starts ranting that he's "Not the Lord of Time come again to save us!" and then knocks him out with his psi power too. Then he smiles a bit, because he's a dick.

Well this worked out well. Lucky they had another table nearby they could pull up to the particle analyser so they didn't have to take turns.

I'm surprised that a human telepath was even able to knock out a Time Lord, but it doesn't seem like he was faking it. Then again if anyone was going to scheme his way into a deathtrap, it'd be the Doctor. With 30 seconds on the countdown left he's leaving it a little late though.

So now they need to figure out a way out of this. There's no one around to talk to or seduce, so the James Bond techniques are off the table. I doubt they'll be tearing the restraints off with brute strength so the Schwarzenegger approach is no good either... though those are the most comfortable spongy restraints I've seen so maybe they could just take their hands out. The sonic screwdriver might work, but I'm not sure he has one at this point in the series, and if he does it'll be in his pocket.

I know! They can rock from side to side and tip their tables over.

Actually the Doctor just reflects the beam with a mirror that he happened to be holding. It's lucky for them that the machine started off by scanning his left hand. With the sensor broken (well, on fire), the restraints open automatically, so that worked out! He takes a moment to misattribute some poetry and then they make a hasty exit.

I was curious, so I rewatched the scene of Jabel knocking him out again and the Doctor does very obviously take a mirror from his pocket, so I guess this actually was his plan from the start. He took a bit of a chance there though.

Oh man, two Tesh came in to speak to Captain Jabel and they're now they're all doing their overly dramatic greeting routine! It's amazing that the actors could keep a straight face (and that their hats all stay on).

Jabel tells his acolytes to find and kill the Doctor and the savage, then they bow again and leave him to practice looking smug in solitude. The camera sticks with him for a bit as he walks around the room and I was waiting for him to grin again, but then he slams his fist down on a control panel instead! It seems that he was pulling a Spock and hiding just how pissed he is about all of this.

Spock would've utterly wrecked that panel though. 

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
There would've been sparks and lightning shooting out of it, and buttons flying everywhere.

Oh no I went and looked at a far better looking contemporaneous science fiction movie again! Though it's nice to check back in with Star Trek: The Motion Picture from time to time to remind me what true boredom is like. The Face of Evil might be a couple of years older and about $35 million cheaper but I'm finding it to be far more interesting and entertaining so far. They're about equally as grey though.

It cuts back to the heroes to show that Doctor's in his element, roaming loose in the ship's shiny mirrored hallways, surrounded by enemies out to kill him.

In fact the Tesh are doing such a terrible job of finding them that he has a bit of time to stand around and explain the whole backstory that he's conveniently remembered. Xoanon isn't really a god, it's an omniscient schizophrenic computer, and the Doctor knows this because he was the one who made it that way! Last time he was on this ship he attempted to fix the Mordee colonists' computer by copying data from his own brain into it. Unfortunately he forgot to erase his personality from the data core, so now it's got a split personality and half of it is his. And his personality's half-mad to start with.

The Tesh might be useless at catching escaped prisoners, but we're shown here that Xoanon's spotted them on a security camera and is doing a bit of a sinister laugh about it, as crazy computers sometimes do.

Oh hey it's these guys! I remember them.

They've been gone for 10 minutes, which is an eternity in a 25 minute episode, but they've been busy as Tomas has managed to use up his ray gun's batteries off screen. They'll recharge, but right now they're defenceless against the phantoms.

They decide to head back to the village, which is where they were going anyway, so... okay then. It seems that they've forgotten something though. They've forgotten that they shouldn't yell to each other at the top of their lungs, because the phantoms are tracking them by sound.

The Doctor and Leela have made it to an auxiliary communications room by this point and he sees on the monitor that the Sevateem have retreated back to their village. He describes the phantoms chasing them as being "psi-tri projections from the dark side of Xoanon's id, with enough kinetic energy to kill", so that explains why they look like him... because Xoanon looks like him. I'd make a comment about how this has gotten very Forbidden Planet all of a sudden, but I've actually never seen the movie, so I won't.

Though hang on, if the invisible phantoms are just projections then why are they blind? It doesn't matter if their invisibility trick bends light away from their eyes if they're not the ones doing the seeing. And we know that Xoanon can see into the jungle because the Doctor's looking into the jungle right now with its security cameras! Also why do they have footprints?

Anyway, he manages to find another one of those communicator sticks like the one he picked up in part 1, and this one has batteries. So he calls up the one person he knows will be listening: the shaman Neeva! He impersonates Xoanon and tells him to tell Calib to lead the Sevateem into the mouth of his giant stone face. They'll be safer in here with the Tesh than they'll be out there with the phantoms. Neeva agrees... addressing him as 'Doctor'! So he seems to have come to a religious epiphany then.

Meanwhile... oh they're doing the Tesh dance again! Seems that they have to do this routine every time they meet for a chat. Possibly because it's the only exercise they get in here.

This time the two acolytes basically only came by to say 'no luck finding them so far', so that was a pointless interlude. And now they're back to bowing again!

It's funny because Jabel knows that the Doctor's headed to Xoanon's sacred chamber, he's the one who told him where it is, but he's only posted the one guard outside the room.

But it's still a guy with a deadly ray gun that the Doctor and Leela need to get past, so the Doctor hands her his hat to use as a distraction while he sneaks around behind him to break out the Venusian Aikido on his ass, or whatever it is the Third Doctor used to do.

A floating hat! What could this mean? Better go and investigate.

And then she takes him out all by herself with a judo flip before the Doctor can get there. I've never seen him so disappointed to miss out on a chance to hit someone. Leela on the other hand is delighted.

Wait, why is the gun next to him? I just watched it go flying off down the hallway behind them!

Now that Leela's armed, the Doctor tells her to keep watch while he goes inside Xoanon's sanctum. He'd bring her with him, but she's much safer outside with the Tesh than in there with the insane homicidal computer.

By this point the Sevateem have made it into the mouth and are exploring the caves inside. I notice that Calib's got the ray gun now; I knew he couldn't resist for long.

Fortunately Tomas is just as deadly with a throwing knife, as Calib had no idea this Tesh was behind him ready to shoot him in the ass. He was standing there in the open with his back turned for a good four seconds before Tomas arrived and resolved the situation. No wonder the Sevateem have never won a single fight against these guys in recorded history.

Wait... I just noticed that the design of the space suit looks like a sensible version of the Tesh uniforms. It could be that the Mordee Expedition was launched after Earth suffered a fashion apocalypse and the Tesh are all wearing regular technician outfits, but I prefer the idea that they've treated the spacesuits as holy relics like the Sevateem and designed their clothes to resemble them. The designs then got more pompous and exaggerated over the centuries as uniforms sometimes do, and no one else was around to tell them how ridiculous they looked.

Back at the ship, The Doctor's not having much luck with Xoanon (it keeps yelling "Who are you?" at him in various voices), but Leela hasn't gotten shot yet, so that's good.

The Doctor tells Xoanon that he's the Doctor and he's come back to correct a mistake that he made, but Xoanon's a bit confused by this answer, as it hasn't made any mistakes! Oh great, it can't tell the difference between itself and the Doctor.

Meanwhile Leela's fighting off five Tesh guards at once, but despite their great intelligence they're not quite smart enough to attack from different directions, so she's soon added two to her already impressive kill count. I can't think of many Doctor Who companions who've taken down five people on their first appearance. It's not bad for a female hero who predates Princess Leia (by a few months).

Shame that she has to stand very very still every time she fires the gun as the visual effect doesn't move to follow the barrel. Though it does mean that my screencaps look just as exciting and dynamic as the fights do in motion, perhaps more so!

But dodgy looking ray gun effects aren't her problem any more as the gun's just ran out of energy and now four guards are coming over to shoot her while she's unarmed and helpless. Quick Leela, look for a trash compactor to jump into!

Back in Xoanon's lair, the Doctor's still explaining the backstory, telling it about how the time he copied his brain into a computer and ruined it. He didn't know at the time that the technicians trying to repair their ship's computer had inadvertently given it life, creating a brand new species. So when it received the Doctor's data it also took his personality, which conflicted with its own personality and drove it crazy.

Xoanon's not entirely convinced that this story's real so it asks where this machine he's talking about is. The poor mad computer has been alive for centuries and hasn't realised that it's a computer yet!

Xoanon doesn't react well to all this new information and starts yelling "NO!" at him with the Doctor's own face. Then the episode ends with a kid's voice yelling "WHO AM I?" over and over.

The series was catching some flak around this time for being unduly frightening and traumatic for children, and I'm starting to see why. I can imagine a few thousand kids having nightmares after this one.


CONCLUSION

Sometimes I watch an episode and I'm left wondering what its title has to do with anything I just saw, but I can't say that I'm disappointed with the quality or quantity of evil faces in The Face of Evil so far. In every part the Doctor's been captured and put into a death trap and you'd think that'd be the cliffhanger, but nope it's a giant evil face. Every time, massive sinister Tom Baker face (or three in this case). It's definitely the more interesting approach, as it's less 'tune in next week to find out how he gets out of this one' and more 'tune in next week to learn what the fuck is going on'.

And I did actually learn things this time! In fact I think pretty much everything got spelled out once the Doctor recovered from his memory loss... well, except for the reason why he had memory loss. I think the novelization explains it by saying that he sneaked off on his own during the episode Robot and came here while he was still a bit loopy from his regeneration, which is a really bad time to copy your brain into a computer. That also explains why he flew off again without sticking around for a bit to make sure his solution had worked... not that he's ever needed an explanation before.

This time we're actually getting to see the consequences of one of his (off screen) adventures and it turns out that he really screwed these people up! Survey Team 6 was sent off to find paradise by the computer, then locked out by an unnecessarily advanced time barrier and left to fend for themselves in the wilderness. Over time their camp became a village, they became hunters, and they forgot to teach their children reading, writing, and to not wear gloves on their head. Meanwhile the technicians left on the ship... well they evolved into assholes. Plus they dress in a way I'd describe as being 'satirical'. There's no power struggles or yelling on the Tesh side of the fence as they're all trying to become Lt. Commander Data from Star Trek so that their minds may find communion with Xoanon, who's revealed to be the barking mad puppet master behind everything.

I did appreciate the story moving away from Sevateem intrigue to Tesh revelations though, as I'm kind of done with all the trips back to the village set and it means that the plot's going somewhere now. The episode ends with all the characters now in the same place (more or less) and Xoanon's true nature exposed, and now I get to watch the Doctor fix everything in part four. Sure it's a computer problem so he probably just has to turn it off and on again, but I'm curious to see how that plays out. All the pieces are starting to fit together now and it'll be nice if the serial doesn't fall apart right at the finish line.



COMING SOON
Doctor Who will return in The Face of Evil, Part 4. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about Babylon 5 again; The Geometry of Shadows to be precise.

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