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Doctor Who: The Face of Evil

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
1977
Studio: 
2 Entertain
Genre: 
Sci-Fi
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
2 PAL
Aspect Ratio: 
1.33:1
Directed by: 
Pennant Roberts
Cast: 
Tom Baker
Louise Jameson
Leslie Schofield
David Garfield
Movie: 
4
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
4

Illustrating the typical topsy-turvyness that governs the workings of the DVD release schedule, “The Face of Evil”, Louise Jameson’s debut in the role of the Doctor’s much lusted after, scantily clad ‘savage’ companion Leela becomes also the last of her stories to make it onto disc as part of the classic DOCTOR WHO range. The story is not one of those that has ever really commanded any particular fond regard from fandom down the years; in fact it tends to get rather overlooked. Although we usually remember the period during which the producing/script editing team of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes oversaw the running of the programme as being one devoted in the main to stories which harked back to the associated influences of Gothic literature and Hammer horror movies etc., “The Face of Evil” reminds us that, towards the end of Hinchcliffe’s time as producer, plots which made use of hard sci-fi themes and subject matters were in fact already beginning to re-emerge once again as a dominant strain in the series’ remit.

“The Face of Evil” came about as a blending of ideas contributed by both incumbent producer Hinchcliffe and new writer Chris Boucher, the latter soon to become script editor for “Blake’s 7” on the recommendation of Robert Holmes based on his three stories contributed to WHO during Holmes’ time as script editor for the show.  Hinchcliffe had independently come up with the idea of the Doctor returning to a planet he’d once visited in the past, only to find that his previous interventions had resulted in bad instead of good, and that the descendants of those he’d tried to help now worshipped him as a god. He wanted at some point for the Doctor to come upon a huge Mount Rushmore-like carving of his own face hewn into a mountainside. Boucher was given this idea to work into his script, but he also had a few ideas of his own which owed a lot to some of the pulp sci-fi material he’d grown up reading, particularly the second book in Harry Harrison’s “Deathworld” trilogy, from which he adopted the main notion of the descendants of a crashed spaceship who, over the ensuing generations, regress to primitive clannish tribes at war with each other -- as well as a number of other ideas which crop up as the episodes develop.

Thinking back to watching this as a seven-year-old in 1977,  I don’t recall the story making that much of an impression at the time (other than its providing a Sarah-Jane Smith fan with his first glimpse of the Doctor’s strange new  clothes-less companion), perhaps because -- as Hinchcliffe and Holmes had always intended -- it didn’t have space for any of the traditional monsters and horror elements I’d grown to love over the course of the Tom Baker years, and was moving into dealing with quite adult sociological themes which went sailing completely over my little head.

Now though, Boucher’s acerbic satire at the means by which religions gradually emerge and then start to shape the development of whole societies feels very modern -- although the story itself still seems full of recognisable motifs and plot elements filched wholesale from all over the place, taking ideas from “Star Trek” episodes, noticeably a large bunch of material from “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”, and with just a soupçon of John Boorman’s eccentric sci-fi caper “Zardos” included for good measure. Another thing that will immediately strike the modern viewer who is au fait with the mythology which surrounds the Doctor in the current incarnation of the show is just how much the whole idea -- initiated by Russell T Davies -- of the Doctor coming to have a godlike reputation across the Universe in the form of legends told about him, and becoming mythologised as ‘the Oncoming Storm’ etc. - his actions having far-reaching consequences which come back to haunt him later – all this stuff surely spawned from this very story, despite its fairly low status with fandom.  

For Louise Jameson, who is omnipresent on the disc’s extras, appearing prominently on the commentary track, the ‘making of’ documentary and a special featurette which provides us with an overview of her short time on the programme, this story was her initiation into what must have been an exciting, scary and perplexing period in her career as an actor. We now know that Jameson and Tom Baker didn’t exactly hit it off from the start, although, despite striking the perfect balance here between being frank about that fact while at the same time discreet about the exact details, Jameson is still at pains to point out that their difficulties stemmed more from the nature of Baker’s complete absorption in the programme at the time than any heartfelt personal animosity. Baker didn’t feel that the character of Leela represented the right way to go for a series based on a non-violent lead character. He was also still ‘mourning’ the loss of Elisabeth Sladen, with whom he had developed a special rapport over the years, and didn’t think that her character of Sarah-Jane Smith could be so easily replaced. He wanted to continue with the Doctor traveling and having his various adventures alone, and had started adding business – some of which we see at the start of the first episode of “The Face of Evil” -- in which the Doctor talks straight to camera, as though addressing directly the children glued to the screen at home. Although this tendency was rightly brought under control eventually, Sladen’s recent departure was evidently the cue for the first emergence of a slightly self-indulgent side to Baker’s performance, a side which would start to become even more prominent in later series, particularly under the stewardship of producer Graham Williams. This particular story does see Baker changing a scene in which it was originally written that he was to threaten one of the tribesmen with a knife, and instead coming up with the memorable threat to kill him ‘with this deadly jelly baby!’ This could well have been the moment when the fourth Doctor’s association with jelly babies first took off, since up till then they hadn’t been a regular feature of his characterisation. The same idea was taken up again in the new series when Matt Smith’s Doctor tried to hold off the Daleks in the episode “Victory of the Daleks” by wielding a jammy dodger as though it were an awesome weapon.

For Jameson though – at the time a jobbing theatre actress looking to up her profile with a part in a popular TV series (she’d previously auditioned for the role of Purdy in “The New Avengers” and for the then popular BBC nursing series “Angels”), her rapid adoption by the tabloid press as a scanty clad sex symbol came as a complete surprise. The first publicity stills taken to introduce the character of Leela to her audience are rather an embarrassment in retrospect, as someone thought it would be a good idea to very much darken Louise’s skin tone for the role. It’s perhaps already rather a dubious assumption to suggest that a primitive savage ‘must’ have a darker complexion, but the make-up team seem to have gone completely bananas over the idea and slapped on so much face paint that Louise looked like a badly made up minstrel performer. Combined with the fact that she had a costume which highlighted every aspect of her ‘womanliness’ (as Hinchcliffe chooses to term it), was forced to adopt red contact lenses to disguise her blue eyes which made her panicky and claustrophobic (these were eventually dropped from later episodes) and that she had a tough time communicating with her ‘difficult’ co-star, this must have added to what was already a very challenging plunge into the punishing schedule of studio made BBC drama, yet Jameson manages to imbue the character with a humanness  and an instant likability which soon proved Baker’s criticisms ill-founded.

Basing her portrayal partly on a feisty little girl who lived upstairs from the flat she was living in at the time and partly on her own dog who had an inquisitive, inquiring nature which she felt she could use in her body language to reflect both the character’s guilelessness but also Leela’s questioning nature, Jameson was able to offset the character’s inherent savagery (and her willingness to throw knives about willy-nilly) with an attractive mixture of innocence and fierce independence. The way Boucher writes her in this first story (he also got to develop her interactions with the Doctor in the next serial in the run, “The Robots of Death”) immediately sets her up as a brave, resourceful yet free thinking member of her tribe the Sevateem, prepared to risk banishment for heresy and profaning its god, Xoanon, through her willingness to question his war-like commands, handed down to the impressionable tribal elder Andor (Victor Lucas) through the nostrums of the chief shaman Neeva (David Garfield), who claims to receive messages from Xoanon while in prayer in his holy sanctum .  The Sevateem tribe live on a jungle planet in a settlement protected by an invisible barrier beyond which lurk equally invisible but very vocal monsters whose presence can be detected only by their massive footprints appearing in the soil and by the crash of trees and vines as they lurch through the jungle foliage. When Leela is banished to the no man’s land outside the barrier perimeter, Neeva sends assassins in after her – a fact which further bolsters her belief that Neeva is a fraud manipulating the tribe’s frequent attacks against its unseen enemy, the Tesh, for his own purposes. Leela is rescued by the Doctor but she immediately identifies him as ‘the evil one’ from the Sevateem’s founding legend, a legend which forms the basis of its religious adherence to all the wishes of the god Xoanon. 

Boucher’s script quickly makes apparent to the viewer that the holy relics and sacraments which form the basis for the various manifestations of the Sevateem tribe’s devotion to Xoanon have their origins in the wreckage of a crashed spacecraft, originally from Earth. After the Doctor identifies the provenance of the tribe’s protective hand gesture, used by them to ward off the influence of the Evil One, as being derived from the sequence for checking the seals on a Starfall Seven spacesuit, we begin to suspect that the tribe itself is descended entirely from the original inhabitants of that crashed craft, a supposition conformed when the ceremonial gong used to summon the inhabitants of the village to prayer etc., turns out to be an old panel which has the words ‘Survey Team’ stamped on it, inadvertently revealing the origins of the tribe’s very name. The Sevateem’s folklore tells that Xoanon is kept prisoner by the god of their rivals, the Tesh, who worship an entity the Sevateem have dubbed the Evil One and who have carved his likeness into a nearby mountainside. The Doctor gets a shock when he visits the monument and discovers exactly why everyone he meets among the Sevateem immediately identifies him as the evil god of their mortal enemies! Even more mysteriously, Neeva’s inner sanctum turns out to be full of advanced technology derived from an old Earth-based survey expedition: the shaman’s ceremonial robes constitute the remains of an astronaut’s suit; his hat is an old armoured space glove; and he uses a hand-held ultra-beam generator as a sacred talisman to ward off evil spirits. Furthermore, there is an operational transceiver in his prayer tent that regularly broadcasts messages to Neeva from Xoanon, telling him what the Sevateem should do next. The Doctor is even more perplexed to discover that Xoanon broadcasts these messages using the Doctor’s own voice!

So, Xoanon hands down his instructions to the Sevateem in the Doctor’s dulcet tones, periodically commanding them to launch suicidal attacks on their enemies the Tesh, while the image of the Tesh’s own evil god apparently takes his very form. When the Sevateem’s misguided attack turns into a bloodbath, the invisible creatures roaming the areas outside the now disrupted force field that previously protected the village do indeed turn out to be giant luminous manifestations of the Doctor’s angry face!

Boucher splits the four-part adventure into two main segments, which means it actually manages to hold one’s interest over four episodes rather more efficiently than most stories do. It also enables the writer to showcase two opposed cultures, each with its own different legends and superstitions, each turning out to be derived from the same source – the Doctor’s previous interactions with the ancestors who crashed on the planet’s surface many centuries ago.

When the Doctor and Leela venture inside the mouth of the giant carved effigy of the Doctor’s head that’s jutting out of the mountainside, they discover that the interior obscures a rocket ship which the Doctor at last recognises as being part of the ‘Mordee Expedition’. He remembers attempting to help these explorers fix the data-core of their broken systems computer, ill-advisedly using his own brain patterns as a template to renew it. Unfortunately he hadn’t realised that the computer wasn’t really broken, that over centuries of tinkering to extend its power the ship’s inhabitants had accidently created a form of inorganic sentient life which, thanks to the Doctor’s interference, had now developed a split personality: its original one and also a second that was derived from the acquired elements of the Doctor’s own thought patterns which he had forgotten to erase! Meanwhile, the two factions that made up the original expedition, the survey team and the technicians, had become separated; the survey team ventured out to explore the surface of the jungle planet while the technical crew stayed behind to work on the ship. The newly born Xoanon life-form, now unbalanced and driven by its unwittingly induced schizophrenia to embark on an insane eugenics experiment, proceeded to keep the two elements of the expedition separated with a force field patrolled by the disturbed manifestations of its own id! The dwellers one side of the partition were to be used to breed strength, those on the other to develop psi powers. Over the generations, the survey team became a strong, tall, resourceful but primitive tribe while the technicians became short, sallow-skinned and weak in strength, yet mentally strong and with highly developed psi powers.

In the last two episodes, the Doctor and Leela discover that the Tesh also worship Xoanon. It’s one of the ironies of Boucher’s story idea that both sides are really worshiping the same god all along without realising it and that both of their cultures, their society and religions are, in all their aspects, nothing but the insane outpourings of a deranged, schizophrenic organism accidently created through the addition of the Doctor’s personality and manifested in the ship’s computer room. While the Sevateem’s primitive surroundings are augmented by old pieces of space tech which, ludicrously, they venerate as holy relics, in contrast the Tesh have transformed their implicitly high tech surroundings inside the craft with the addition of elements usually associated with religious worship: the flight deck of the craft is decked out with candles, for instance, and altar shrouds adorn the ship’s computer banks. And while the Sevateem forced the Doctor to undergo their ‘Test of the Horda’ (making him negotiate a pit full of snapping Piranha-like sand worms in order to prove that he wasn’t the Evil One), the Tesh, who dress in elaborate linen costumes topped with a silly hat that are no less embarrassing than the Sevateem’s spare loin-cloths and animal leathers, use a more high tech approach and attempt to kill both Leela and the Doctor with a laser device in a James Bond-like scenario where they’re strapped down to tables as the beam makes its way towards them.

This is another tale, then, where God turns out to have been created by man rather than the other way round, and in this case as in most He then becomes a manifestation of neurosis and mental instability which leads to centuries of war and superstition. When the Doctor confronts the insane artificial life form with the truth, it tries to kill everyone on the planet rather than face up to this challenge to its constructed version of reality. Not only are the human tribes deluded, so is their ‘god’! The title of the story was in fact originally “The Day God Went Mad”, but the production team had evidently had more than enough of Mary Whitehouse’s god bothering brigade for one season, and sensibly elected to change it (and in any case it rather gives away the revelation, which comes late in the story). Chris Boucher was a rationalist and atheist (which just shows that you can be both a rationalist and yet still retain the capacity to create completely bonkers plotlines) and puts a number of aphorisms into the Doctor’s mouth during the course of the story which sum up the humanist, scientific-rationalist approach very succinctly: ‘never be certain of anything … it’s a sign of weakness’ and ‘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 their views!’ That’s probably the best place to leave this strange but surprisingly retrospectively effective adventure, except to mention that, as Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood astutely observe in “About Time: The Unauthorised Guide To Doctor Who 1975-1979”, almost unique in the annals of mad computer stories, the Doctor doesn’t blow the thing up at the end but instead ‘cures’ it of its madness and, touchingly, the Doctor and Leela have a nice sit down and a chat with Xoanon  where he thanks them for their help in getting him back to sanity and apologises for all the trouble he's caused. The Sevateem and the Tesh seem remarkably accepting as well of the fact that both of their societies have just had everything that they ever believed in turned on its head in the course of a day, but then this is science fantasy after all.

“The Face of Evil” comes with quite a diverse set of extras headed by a ‘making of’ documentary entitled “Into the Wild”. This time absent any narrator, perhaps to give Toby Hadoke a rest for once, we instead get members of the cast and crew detailing their memories of the recording of the serial, interspersed by captions which appear over images of the miniature model of Tom Baker’s head originally used to make the ‘Mount Rushmore’ construction, which evidently still exists. As well as producer Philip Hinchcliffe on the inspiration for Chris Boucher’s original screenplay, we also get his account of the casting of Leela, which was mainly conducted by the director assigned for that particular story (presumably no one had any plans at the time that Leela would be appearing as a companion beyond the three remaining stories that season) which was Pennant Roberts. Roberts became a great friend of Louise Jameson and was later instrumental in getting her cast in “Tenko” so she speaks warmly here of the director, who died in 2010. Louise also recounts the difficult introduction she had to the world of DOCTOR WHO in the form of that dodgy photo session with the blacked-up make-up and her frosty reception from Tom Baker, as well as the salacious press interest. This was the first DOCTOR WHO for Matt Irvine, who talks about his special effects work -- from the creation of the Doctor’s carved mountainside head to the construction of the Horda creatures. Designer Austin Ruddy, who only ever worked on DOCTOR WHO this one time, talks about his jungle design for the Ealing studios shoot and the ingenious thinking informing the concept of the interior of the Tesh spaceship, which Hinchcliffe describes as some of the best design work ever seen on the programme, at least during his tenure as producer. Finally, the documentary production team have unearthed Andrew Frieze, who, in 1977, was an eight-year-old schoolboy who found himself partaking in the recording of a voice-over alongside Tom Baker, playing one of the voices of the schizophrenic Xoanon. Then he recalls how he was invited to the recording and got to cast eyes on Louise Jameson in her skimpy Leela ware for the first time! The documentary runs at about 24 minutes.

“From The Cutting Room Floor” provides ten minutes of studio trims from 16 mm mute film footage recovered from the vaults, and includes it alongside or inserted into the scenes as they appeared in the finished programme to illustrate how the sequences were originally shot. Very instructive this, and includes plenty of amusing outtakes.

“Tomorrow’s Times: The Fourth Doctor” sees Wendy Padbury looking back at press coverage across Tom Baker’s tenure as the Doctor to examine changing attitudes to the programme across time. Scripted by Marcus Hearn, these documentaries, covering each of the Doctors incarnations in turn (though not necessarily in order) have all been fascinating glimpses into the show’s sometimes surprising relationship with the press. This runs for 15 minutes.

“Doctor Who Stories: Louise Jameson” presents Louise’s take on the major highlights of her time on the show. Running at about 17 minutes this is a delightful trip back through all the key moments in Leela becoming gradually more established as a character, and is totally engrossing. This comes augmented with her 1977 appearance on the BBC’s Saturday morning children’s programme “The Multi Coloured Swap Shop” being interviewed by host Noel Edmonds. The highlight in the appearance comes when Louise reveals a letter recently written to her by a five-year-old girl who says simply, in a green crayon scrawl, ‘dear Louise, please wear more clothes’! Yet another trip down memory lane comes with the inclusion of an advert for the Denys Fisher DOCTOR WHO Toy range featuring the fourth Doctor, Leela, a Cyberman, a Dalek, the Robot from Baker’s debut story plus a toy TARDIS model. None of these toy figures  actually look anything like who they’re supposed to be (not even the Dalek) but the Leela doll was an atrocity, apparently designed with the idea that girls would buy it simply to comb Leela’s hair, since the doll was provided with a  ludicrously bountiful crop of hair styled with big wavy curls, presumably for that purpose only.

Finally, a photo gallery of publicity stills, PDF files of Radio Times listings and the full Typhoo tea Doctor Who promotion (which is quite a spectacular thing to behold just on its own); the usual impeccably researched production information subtitle commentary and  an audio commentary moderated by Toby Hadoke – these round off this disc’s extras, the latter including Louise Jameson, Philip Hinchcliffe, film cameraman John McGlashan and effects designer Mat Irvine appearing alongside guest actors Leslie Schofield, David Garfield, Mike Elles and stunt man Harry H Fielder for a lively discussion which is also augmented by Hadoke reading from an email sent to him by Chris Boucher, who wasn’t able to attend the session  but sent in replies to a number of Hadoke’s questions instead.

“The Face of Evil” turns out to be rather better than remembered, and, although undoubtedly boasting a thoroughly off-the-wall storyline, is cast well enough to make the whole mad romp work exceedingly well. As usual 2 Entertain provide an impeccably complete bunch of extras which combs through all aspects of the production to provide for your delectation every possible crumb of information that could possibly be gleaned about these four fab episodes. Superb as usual.

Read more from Black Gloves at Nothing But The Night!

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