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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Doctor Who (Classic) 14-16: The Face of Evil, Part 4

Episode:443|Serial:89|Writer:Chris Boucher|Air Date:22-Jan-1977

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm finally done with The Face of Evil! Well I will be after I get through this last episode.

I'm just glad it wasn't a six part serial. Not that I haven't been enjoying it so far, I just don't think I'd enjoy it much further. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of serialisation, I just prefer it when things aren't dragged on longer than they need to be. For instance I was watching a Star Trek: The Motion Picture edit a few hours ago that got the run time down from 132 minutes to 22, and that was a massive improvement! Plus putting the Tron: Legacy soundtrack over it also helped somehow... I'm getting off topic now.

I'll be screencapping this whole episode and writing my thoughts underneath, so there will be SPOILERS for the whole serial and maybe even earlier episodes too. I won't ruin anything that comes afterwards though.

Previously on Doctor Who:

The Doctor really messed up. It turns out that this serial is a sequel to an off-screen adventure where he fixed a colony ship's computer by copying some information from his own brain. Then he went swanning off in his box, unaware that he'd doomed the colonists to centuries of torment from an insane digital god due to the copy of his personality he left behind in its memory.

Now the tribal descendants of one of the ship's survey teams (the Sevateem) are about to attack the mentally evolved descendants of the ship's technicians (the Tesh), new companion Leela is stuck in a corridor shootout without any ammo left, and the Doctor is currently being yelled into submission by the multiple personalities of Xoanon the mad computer and his many evil faces.

Leela's out of ammo and low on options, so she draws her knife and just steps out in front of the well-armed Tesh guards sent to kill her. They gun her down immediately, the end.

Well that was a really dumb thing to do considering that she knew they were going to kill her the first opportunity they got. They knocked her out and strapped her into a deathtrap when she first came on board, so that was a bit of a giveaway, and she's killed a couple of them since then.

Well okay she doesn't actually die here, as the power goes off and they freak out.

Most of them back away down the corridor and leave, but one drops his gun and begins cowering on the floor. She goes over and kicks him to get his attention, and by 'kick' I mean she gives him the lightest shove imaginable. Then she waves her knife near his face and asks what's happening.

He explains that it's the failsafe, which means the end of the world! So she takes his gun and goes off to do something about that.

Yeah, firing randomly in Xoanon's chamber, that's going to help. Oh, actually it does, as the screens switch back to a screensaver and she's able to pull the Doctor out by his legs. I like Leela, she gets shit done.

The Doctor recovers from the ordeal of watching Doctor Who on three TVs at once and explains that everything behind the door they just escaped through is Xoanon, the most powerful computer ever built. I guess colonisation takes a lot of processing power, either that or the colonists just didn't want to leave it behind.

Unfortunately Xoanon is quite mad right now. Not just insane, but pissed off with the Doctor as he contradicts its view of reality. The machine was already influencing the Sevateem to kill him back in part one, but now that he's in its lair it can kill him directly. By electrifying the corridors for instance.

Seems that the colonists made a rookie mistake and gave their computer the ability to run a lethal voltage through the walls of their ship. Fortunately the Doctor realises in time and stops Leela from touching the gun she'd put down.

The Doctor's surprised that it didn't electrify the floor as well. Then he's surprised again when a Tesh grabs him from behind.

Huh, I would've thought that the Doctor would be stronger than a Tesh, seeing as they're the physically weaker of the two group of survivors, as they dedicate all their time to mental pursuits and bowing every time they leave or enter a room. Even Leela's no match for him, as when she tries to drag him away she gets an elbow to the gut, knocking her out of the fight entirely.

The Tesh might be super-strong for some reason but at least he hasn't used his psi powers on them to knock them out. In fact he seems kind of zoned out, like he's operating on remote control.

With Leela utterly crippled by pain, the Doctor has to save himself, so he reaches down, grabs the guy's leg and pulls him over! Then they wrestle for a bit on the ground, with the Tesh trying to get his hand to touch a wall, until the Doctor manages to give him a good shove with his foot...

... and kicks him right into the electrified wall! So he's dead then. It's still 5-1 to Leela so far this serial, but there's time for 'the man who never would' to claw this back.

I did a bit of research to find out how many people the Doctor had actually killed during his first 14 seasons, but the internet failed me so I watched a video of him gunning people down to an Eminem track instead. Seems like his kill count right now is somewhere between 'some' and 'not many', but it's definitely greater than zero after this.

Meanwhile the Sevateem are still hanging around inside the caves within the Evil One's giant stone face and they've discovered the window that looks out at their ancestor's colony ship.

Neeva shows up and they have a chat about their old superstitions. There's no need for belief any more, not now that they have proof. It seems that Neeva's definitely turned a corner here as he's gone from Xoanon's biggest supporter to a broken man determined to kill it. They're going to have to discover the holographic exit to get over there though.

Over on the ship the Doctor is back to filling his pockets, while Leela keeps watch.

Then we get one of the best lines I've ever heard out of Doctor Who:
"You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit the views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering."
Though while he's saying this he's also spying on Leela with a mirror, watching her raise her ray gun to shoot him in the back.

Bit of a visual effects failure there as the ray gun effect was overlaid on top of the whole image, despite the fact it's meant to be behind him. You can tell because the rays stop at the wall. Doctor Who didn't do post-production effects back then, it was all composited live, so masking out the Doctor to put the ray behind him just wasn't going to happen.

Fortunately Leela's not so good a shot when she's being mind-controlled by an insane computer, and that gives the Doctor a chance to do some counter-hypnosis with his sonic screwdriver and an angular ball he pulls from his pocket. Not sure if I'm supposed to recognise that from an earlier story, but it's new to me.

Elsewhere in the ship, one of the Tesh comes running into Jabel's office yelling "Captain, the savages! The savages have attacked the main lock!"

Hey he didn't do the dance! You can’t just walk into a room without doing the dance, it’s against protocol!

Oh damn Jabel actually gave him a lecture about it and made him bow before he'd listen to him! That’s amazing.

If there's one moral I'm getting from this serial it's that traditional rituals can make you look like an idiot, whether it's dancing around and shaking something in a tribal council or excessive bowing every time you greet someone. Sure a quick bow or the shaking of hands can add a little class to your meeting with the ambassador, but Jabel considers people who don't do their exaggerated bowing routine to be unreasoning degenerate brutes, unworthy of communion with the mad computer that just electrified their walls.

Or maybe he's just calming the guy down so that he'll do his job right.

The Doctor's a bit confused about how the computer always knows where they are as it'd have to be able to measure every change in temperature, vibration, pressure. Or it could just be watching you through the security cameras you idiot!

It's so weird to see the Doctor running around with a gun, but I suppose it's too handy to drop and they can't trust Leela with it any more.

Damn, they're definitely getting a lot of mileage out of this corridor set.

Now the Sevateem have somehow found their way into the ship and they're pushing the Tesh back. Tomas figures out that it's too easy and they're running into a trap (and he's right, as Jabel had his men set up heavy duty disrupters on level 12) but Calib's a damn idiot and decides to go charging in any way.

The Doctor and Leela have zero trouble slipping through the chaos and make it back to the control room, which the Doctor get wired up and working again.

Leela's curious about why the light in the corner is flashing, and the Doctor says he'll explain later. Then he suddenly realises he should explain right now, as it means that the atomic generators are on overload! So he's got about 24 minutes to build a reverse memory transfer device and get his personality out of Xoanon's brain, or the ship will explode and take out half the planet.

Man they really spared no expense when they were building this ship. It's got the most powerful computer, the most powerful reactor, and literally dozens of plastic trays decorating every ceiling!

Jabel comes by level 12 to see how the heavy duty disrupter trap is coming along, and they've actually got a clever set up here. They've got a heavy ray gun with four power balls sitting on a stand behind one of their hologram walls. They just have to wait for the Sevateem to charge down a dead end for no reason and they've got them!

But the characters are distracted when Xoanon gets into their head and they all walk off down the corridor instead.

The Sevateem arrive and find the gun just sitting there, but they're immediately affected too, chanting "Destroy and be free," as they walk off somewhere.

But Neeva has spent his life listening to Xoanon's orders and going into trances, so he's become immune to it's bullshit. He just takes the gun right off its stand and goes off to wreck a computer. He doesn't need Xoanon to tell him that if he destroys it he'll be free, that's what he came here for.

Leela's still just as vulnerable to the mind control though and the Doctor narrowly avoids being stabbed because of pure luck basically. She passes out afterwards this time, so he carries her over to a chair and gets back to work on the mind transfer helmet.

Seems that having a murderous companion isn't always a positive. Though now he has her knife, so that'll be handy if he needs to strip some wires or whatever.

Funny how the Doctor was vulnerable to being knocked out by Jabel's mind control but he's apparently immune to Xoanon's. Maybe because it's still struggling with the idea that he's a separate person.

Oh come on, this is getting ridiculous now! Just let the guy work on his hat, that's all he wants to do!

Cut to Neeva comes running down the hallway with a heavy ray gun screaming "XOANON, DIE!" before blasting a giant computer screen with it.

Holy shit, this one screencap justifies all of Doctor Who.

For some reason Xoanon's able to shoot energy out of his mouth and vaporise the Rambo shaman, but this causes enough of a distraction for the Doctor to finish setting up his device. Neeva was finally able to use his fanaticism for good!

The Doctor activates his headwear and erases himself from the machine, taking all the mad out of Xoanon just in time for it to deactivate the generators and save them from exploding. Everyone else comes to their senses as well, but the Doctor's knocked out cold.

Leela stays by his side though, waving chocolate under his nose to try to wake him up.

It's two days before he's back on his feet, but all his marbles seem to be intact. He hasn't accidentally uploaded a second Tom Baker into his brain, though he managed to get black out drunk all the same.

Xoanon's been quiet all this time, but the Sevateem and Tesh haven't been trying to kill each other so that's good at least. Leela tells him that the Tesh haven't dared go into the room they call the Sacred Heart, so he asks what she calls it and is happy when she answers "The main computer complex".

It's great to see him encouraging knowledge over ignorance but it does come across a little patronising when he's talking to a woman who lost her father a few days ago due to her resolute denial of Xoanon's existence as a god.

Xoanon's a lot more composed and charming now, and invites the two of them into its chamber for a chat. They're talking to a glowing orange shape inside the sphere, but the effect disappears whenever the episode switches to this camera angle, it's strange.

Leela wants to know why the computer's been such a huge dick to them all this time and it explains that it made their world in its own image, tormented and divided. Though the plan was to create a race of superhumans, by having one group struggle for survival in the wild, developing traits like courage and aggression, while the other was conditioned to be controlled and unemotional. It then stoked their hostility to speed up the process.

But it won't be doing that any more, because it's trying to turn over a new leaf and cut down on the crazy schemes now that it's sane.

Anyway Xoanon and Leela have a bit of a laugh and they sit down on a couch that materialises next to a table and a gramophone. He even finds a cigarette case there containing jelly babies, which is weird. Though it does explains why Peter Capaldi's Doctor is carrying one in Mummy on the Orient Express (spoiler for Mummy on the Orient Express).

Now that they're both comfy, Xoanon asks the Doctor where he thinks he started to go wrong. Then some Star Trek comedy music comes on as the Doctor realises he's being tricked into becoming the computer's therapist. Which is funny because Captain Kirk usually talked insane computers to death (spoiler for half of Star Trek).

Man Tom Baker is tall.

The shouty Sevateem and the repressed Tesh aren't getting along so well but they haven't killed each other yet, so that's encouraging. The Doctor strides in to interrupt Jabel, Calib and Tomas arguing with a grin on his face and a shiny red button for them to press. Xoanon could really help them out but it realises that there's some trust issues between them after it ruined their societies for generations so it's offering them the option to opt out by destroying it. They've all got the sense to keep the super computer around though so the button disappears! Which is good, as I was worried that they'd leave it lying around where some kid could accidentally press it. Not that there's been any sign that these people even have any kids.

If the Tesh and the Sevateem they're going to merge into one functioning society then they're going to need a leader that everyone can follow. So the Doctor tells them... that it's not his problem! He's just going to bail on them like he always does. Tomas suggests that Leela is the obvious candidate as she has spoken with Xoanon, but she's not interested. She'd rather stick with the Doctor, but he already slipped out unnoticed during the argument.

Hey I just noticed that Baker's TARDIS has the T shape in the windows, same as the modern one. Though it seems to be missing an interior.

At the beginning of the serial Leela wanted to travel alone, but she's had an arc and come out of it wanting to hang around with the smart guy who has adventures and can teach her something. But the Doctor's not interested in having a companion any more (and neither was Tom Baker), so Leela follows him to his mysterious blue box and decides that if he's going inside it then it's where she wants to be as well. Then she manages to accidentally trigger the de-materialisation by pressing random buttons before he can stop her!

You know what sucks though? There's no 'bigger on the inside' moment! We don't even get to see the inside of his TARDIS ourselves in the whole serial.


Don't stick Tom Baker's brain into a computer, that's the main conclusion I'm drawing from all of this. Even if you do it for all the right reasons you're still going to cause centuries of misery for the descendants of the survivors. But if you really have to... maybe check up on them once in a while to see how they're doing.

I'm not all that familiar with this era of Doctor Who, but I get the feeling that The Face of Evil is one of the first serials to be about the Doctor confronting the consequences of his one of his adventures, and his habit of running off and leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces. And he learns nothing from it! He just fixes the problem that he created and runs off again, presumably forever this time. But his reaction to learning that he was asleep for two days give a hint to why, as he doesn't feel like he can afford to spend that long in one place doing nothing, even though he's got a bloody time machine! He's driven to pack as much danger into each week as he can.

Speaking of the Doctor, Tom Baker was great all the way through as a charming genius eccentric dealing out grins, wisdom and outrage. There's never been a bad Doctor, but I can see why people say he's one of the best. He also got to play the villain and its many faces of evil, and he gets the job done, but it feels like a bit of a wasted concept as Xoanon doesn't have a hint of the Fourth Doctor in how it thinks or acts. In fact it might have been more interesting to bring back Jon Pertwee as the dominant voice and face of the mad AI and have the two of them facing off. They could've even filmed a short flashback with him to show him helping out the colonists with their computer and give people some bonus Third Doctor content.

Leela was great too as his new student/bodyguard, even when she was stuck with the "What is it Doctor?" lines, and I'm so glad that she didn't turn out be the Impossible Girl, or the Girl Who Waited, or the Girl With Something On Her Back, or whatever. I'm used to modern Who, so if anything makes her special, it's that she doesn't come from present day England! (Plus she likes to stab people). I understand why they've been so averse to the idea of making the companion too weird in the current run, as they're meant to be the audience surrogate for new viewers, but characters like Leela (plus Jamie and Zoe etc. before her) prove that it can work just fine.

Those two were the stand outs, but I found that the other actors did the script justice as well, especially when I finally got to see the Sevateem and the Tesh in the same room and it became obvious how deliberate their over acting was. It was nice to see so many of them survive the serial, seeing as it had been building up to a deadly confrontation between the two. Everyone kept trying to kill the Doctor but he continually turned antagonists to allies until at the end there were no villains left, just people stuck on a shitty planet with a chance to turn it into the thriving colony it was meant to be if they can put generations of hatred aside to work together. It's possible that they won't and everything will go wrong again, but it ends in a surprisingly hopeful place.

I wouldn't call this serial the most fascinating 80 minutes of Doctor Who I've ever sat through, mostly because I'm not convinced it wasn't 120 minutes. It's longer on the inside. But once I stopped to note down what the characters were called, and they stopped hiking back and forth from the village, I found I wasn't in any hurry for it to end. There's a ton of well worn sci-fi tropes packed in here but it didn't feel overly familiar or over-complicated to me, and it's always nice to watch someone cut through lies and weirdness to get to the truth, especially when the truth isn't totally ridiculous. Okay the villain's masterplan didn't make a whole lot of sense in the end, but then Xoanon would be the first to admit that. The thing was batshit nuts. Though I would've appreciated the resolution more if the Doctor's solution involved something clever rather than just deleting the corrupted files.

Maybe it's the novelty or maybe I've been stuck thinking about it for so long I've developed Stockholm syndrome, but I liked this one and I'd probably even recommend it to people looking to check out classic Doctor Who and see what its about. Sure it wasn't exactly cinematic and the visual effects were rubbish, but sometimes they were haunting too! Plus I'd rather watch an episode made on the cheap in the 70s than one made even cheaper in the 80s, with overlit sets and music played from a Casio keyboard. My first memories of Who are of catching a bit of some McCoy episode when I was very very young, and it was... off-putting. Actually, now that I think about it, that's probably why I couldn't bring myself to start watching the series properly until the Matt Smith era.

Doctor Who will probably return at some point, maybe with the 2016 Christmas special. But Sci-Fi Adventures will be sticking around in 1977 for a while longer as next time I'll be writing about Star Wars! Well Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope: Special Edition - 2004 DVD version to be precise.

Internet comments, they're all rubbish aren't they? Actually I've discovered this to be UNTRUE, as the comments you folks have been leaving on my site have been great and I encourage you to keep writing them. Maybe you could even write one under this very post.


  1. I grew up with 80's Who -- Davison onwards -- and somehow it became my favourite TV show. I must have worse taste than you!

    1. Well you got into 80s Who properly. I caught it too late to see any of the good episodes and too young to understand what I was watching.

      Since then I've only really seen Logopolis (liked), The Mysterious Planet (liked) and The Curse of Fenric (didn't like), so maybe I should stop badmouthing it on the internet.

    2. Oh dear, I'm very fond of The Curse of Fenric so I won't make any recommendations!

      Except for City of Death. No one could dislike that one.

  2. Lovely to see a more recent fan enjoying a lot of the same things we did back then, even though modern pacing, FX, and the Heroic Importance of the Doctor and Companion Who Something Or Other have upped the ante so much that the days of anonymous cosmic hobo and random stowaway must seem rather quaint.

    I stumbled across your excellent blog through an image search; that screencap of Leela looking blasé and bored while shooting a gun around a blind corner is amusing. Your writeups are entertaining and help jog the memory on serials I haven't seen in several decades.

    I always say Lou was Xena 20 years before Xena. I know her costume was "for the dads," but female fans were taking secret delight in imagining ourselves in somebody NOT like us: able to judo flip or get away with stabbing dudes giving her grief. More seriously, Leela demonstrated week after week that lack of KNOWLEDGE did not mean lack of intelligence, something that was occasionally forgotten with other fish-out-of-water companions.

    I wish new Who would dare to try companions from farther afield again; they're better at writing characters now, so why not go all in? I guess they're afraid that mainstream audiences can't identify with someone with a very different background from themselves. Which is not very complimentary to modern audiences.

    I'm glad that Tom Baker has finally learned to appreciate Louise Jameson now that they're doing audio adventures together (she's even directed him in one of them!)