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Doctor Who - The Face of Evil

episode 89

UK 1977
produced by
Philip Hinchcliffe for BBC
directed by Pennant Roberts
starring Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, David Garfield, Victor Lucas, Brendan Price, Leslie Schofield, Colin Thomas, Lloyd McGuire, Leon Eagles, Mike Elles, Peter Baldock, Tom Kelly, Brett Forrest, Rob Edwards (voice), Pamela Salem (voice), Anthony Frieze (voice), Roy Herrick (voice)
written by Chris Boucher, music by Dudley Simpson

TV-series
Doctor Who, Doctor Who (Tom Baker), Doctor Who (classic series), Leela

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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On a nameless planet, young and fierce warrior Leela (Louise Jameson) is cast out from her primitive tribe, the Sevateem - that's inexplicably littered with relics from a spaceship - for speaking out against their alleged "god" Xoanon and their attack against "the wall", which is demanded by their shaman Neeva (David Garfield), Leela's sworn enemy. On the run, Leela runs into space-and-time traveler Doctor Who (Tom Baker), who has landed on the planet by mere chance, and seeing his face she immediately mistakes him for "the Evil One" - being convinced of his good nature only when he saves her from an invisible creature only hunting by sound. However, the Doctor is soon captured by the Sevateem, who also mistake him for the Evil One, and now it's up to Leela to save him. An attempt by the Sevateem to re-capture him turns up fruitless, yet Neeva claims he has been killed as an omen that the attack on the wall will be successful - and so they attack.

The Doctor and Leela meanwhile drop into the Sevateem village, and seeing the relics the Doctor begins to understand - but still wonders why everybody's taking him for the Evil One. When the Sevateem return, the Doctor offers his help, but that's where chaos breaks loose, as Xoanon (who is an actual being, and shaman Neeva actually speaks with him) releases his invisible creatures onto the Sevateem.

The Doctor sumises if there are all these relics from a spaceship among the Sevateem, the spaceship has to be nearby, probably behind "the wall", which is actually adorned by a giant sculpture of his head - making it all the more likely that he has meddled with the affairs of this planet before.

The Doctor and Leela climb inside the sculpture's mouth and find a teleporter to the spaceship, where they find another tribe, the Tesh, who have the power of telepathy but other than that are just as primitive as the Sevateem. And the Doctor finds a supercomputer, which he has centuries ago fed his mind into, and the computer has since gone schizophrenic, and has separated the survey team (Sevateem) from the technicians (Tesh) to see which is more equipped for survival, shutting them off from one another and creating animosity between the two camps in the long haul. It's now up to the Doctor to turn off the computer that is Xoanon and thus restore order on the planet, but Xoanon is less than likely to want that ...

 

Budgetary restrictions and bland direction notwithstanding, this is a near perfect episode of Doctor Who: The idea of a supercomputer that has made himself God of a primitive tribe is not only inspired but even proto-cyberpunk, and while the story's logic might not be absolute perfection, but makes perfect sense within the confines of the episode. But what The Face of Evil is actually really good at is world-building: Despite the rather cheapish sets and some ridiculous costumes (especially the Tesh), the very alien world this story takes place feels lived in, the lives of these primitive tribes make sense, thanks of course to a well-crafted script, but also strong performances and a emphasis on atmospheric filmmaking that belies the economically built sets. And the result of all of this is quite simply rather awesome.

 

As an added bonus, this episode gifted the Doctor his arguably best companion, Leela, who as a logical continuation of Sarah Jane Smith's at times forced textbook feminism really acts like the brawns to the Doctor's brains, thus reverting gender conventions, in a narratively motivated way (which goes for Leela's entire run).

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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directed by
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