Doctor Who: The Face Of Evil DVD review
The fourth Doctor is mistaken for an evil deity in Doctor Who: The Face OF Evil…
With the advent of the new series, I suspect I’m not alone in patiently waiting to see all of the surviving serials from the original run of Doctor Who when they’re released as part of the excellent DVD range. As big a fan as I am, I still haven’t yet seen apparent classics like Terror of the Zygons or The Daemons.
Nevertheless, I’ve also recently completed a university dissertation essay on the topic of the new series, which may have forever changed the way I watch Doctor Who. But frankly, you don’t have to look too far to find the thematic significance in The Face of Evil, which went by the working title of The Day God Went Mad, at one point in its development.
As the serial begins, we find Leela, a savage tribeswoman who lives on a mysterious planet in the distant future, being condemned to exile by her tribe, the Sevateem, who live under the yoke of a somewhat malevolent deity called Xoanon. Leela’s crime is blasphemy against Xoanon, who is commanding the tribe to launch a foolish attack against their enemies, the Tesh.
Travelling alone, the Fourth Doctor arrives in the middle of this, some time after dropping off Sarah Jane Smith in Croydon (Aberdeen?) and battling the Master on Gallifrey in the previous two serials. His appearance only makes matters worse, with the Sevateem convinced that he is the Evil One of their mythology. Not for nothing, either, he’s the spitting image of the imperious statue carved into a nearby mountain.
This story marked the first appearance of Leela, played by Louise Jameson. She was basically modelled after Eliza Doolittle, and perhaps unlike any of the Doctor’s other companions. In her introductory story, she kills two men with janis thorns, which paralyse and then kill their victims. The Doctor is outraged by this, and after it happens a second time, he tells her straight that she should never do it again.
Then again, the Doctor has his own fair share of violent transgressions in this story. As popular as he was, Tom Baker’s characterisation isn’t exactly consistent from serial to serial. The only surety is that he’s always compellingly bonkers.
If it were any other character kicking the carnivorous Horda at a tribesman, for striking Leela in the face, then we’d be applauding him, but I’m not sure the Fourth Doctor’s more violent actions at this point in the series’ history have ever sat well with my own idea of the overall character of the Doctor as an optimistic pacifist. That’s just a personal bugbear, but largely, I enjoyed The Face of Evil very much.
Part of my dissertation remarked upon how the Doctor is basically what post-colonial Britain would like to be, extricating himself from his interventions in other cultures with minimal fuss, and escaping from any consequences in his TARDIS. The theme of the Doctor being confronted with his past mistakes has been explored extensively since 2005, but I liked the way in which the true nature of Xoanon was related to an untelevised adventure for the Doctor.
Assuming that I’m not the only one seeing this for the first time on DVD, I’ll try to swerve spoilers, but I found Xoanon to be one of the more compelling adversaries of the Fourth Doctor, because of their history. The production design, not always the most lauded aspect of an era that brought us Talons of Weng-Chiang‘s Giant Rat, goes a long way to fully realising Xoanon, as well as the Sevateem’s culture, cobbled together from futuristic spare parts and primitive hearsay.
I was less fond of the way the Tesh looked, when they eventually appeared in Part Three- the rest of the story is so well realised that the garish, incongruously coloured outfits looked like a lazy Friday afternoon in the design department, by comparison. Otherwise, this is one of those stories that holds up, production-wise, which really allows Chris Boucher’s scripts to pop.
The Face of Evil does suffer a little from “and then…” storytelling over its four parts, but all of its interesting concepts and cultures are worth their inclusion. The story asks big questions about the contemporary state of religion, and answers them with romping sci-fi adventure elements and witty dialogue. It really comes to life whenever Tom Baker and Louise Jameson share the screen- even if they didn’t get off to the best start off-screen, their characters complement each other marvellously.
The excellent collection of extras on this disc begins with the complementary material to the story itself. The usual commentary tracks for each episode various feature Louise Jameson, Phillip Hinchcliffe David Garfield, Leslie Schofield, John McGlashan, Harry H. Fielder and Mike Elles, and are moderated by Toby Hadoke. There’s also some remarkably in-depth trivia on the story’s Information Subtitles.
In terms of featurettes, Into The Wild, which presents a look at the making of The Face of Evil, and the latest in the Tomorrow’s Times series of features, each serve to illustrate that the series’ fourteenth season was a real golden age, in terms of creativity and popularity. The contributors each look back at the production with great fondness.
Into The Wild also features extensive coverage of Leela’s risqué costume, which also spills over into Doctor Who Stories: Louise Jameson, in which the actress talks about her spell as a sex symbol and the whole idea of “keeping the dads interested.” Tomorrow’s Times proves more comprehensive however, and the added poignancy of hearing Nicholas Courtney again, on voiceover duties, makes it a must-watch.
The package is rounded out by From The Cutting Room Floor, (which features unused footage, outtakes and other film cuts) an infamous Denys Fisher toy advert, an interview with Jameson from Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, a photo gallery, PDF materials, and a ridiculously exciting Coming Soon ad for the next Doctor Who release, 1973’s The Daemons. All in all, the wealth of bonus material makes it well worth picking up, whether you’ve seen the story before or you’re discovering it for the first time.
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