CRRRaSh! 373 Doctor Who: The Face of Evil

By Roy Mathur, on 2021-02-22, at 23:00:00--23:44:07, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen

The State of the Rewatch

The scheduling is still screwed because the studio is still under emergency footing due to the continuing lack of a good main Windows PC.

Disaster-lite is the backdrop to the current state of the revisit. Computer problems, along with an until recently leaky house (fixed by a plumber on February 19), and a car still emitting ominous noises

If you are new to this podcast, these revisit episodes (currently DW), are more what I thought of the stories and how they made me feel, rather than an encyclopaedic deep dive into the production. I'm a story geek, not a production nerd.

Notes

Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Companion(s): Leela: Louise Jameson
Director: John Pennant Roberts
Writer: Chris Boucher (his first story, he would go on to write the best Doctor Who story, The Robots of Death, and write several scripts for Blake's 7, where he was also the script editor)
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Location: Ealing Film Studios Stage 2 in September 1976 and BBC Television Centre Studio TC3 in Oct 1976.
Broadcast: Story 4 of season 14, following The Deadly Assassin covered in 371, 4 x 25 minute episodes, first broadcast from January 1 18:20 to 22 1977.

On this Day

Happy New Year's Day 1977! Apart from that, nothing really happened, and even the UK singles chart sucked so much, I can't even bear to talking about it.

At least it was the year punk went boom in the UK, so that's something of note. I saying that even though as a Damned fan, I know their single, and probably my favourite song of all time, New Rose, was put out on Stiff Records the year before, and let's not even mention the New York Dolls et al.

What Happens

Instead of arriving at Hyde Park, the TARDIS materialised in a jungle and the Doctor befriends Leela, a fugitive, formally of the primitive Sevateem tribe, but now banished and hunted for blasphemy to their god Xoanon. She recognises his face as that of the Evil One, who has held Xoanon captive and the Sevateem trapped by the black wall.

From wrecked equipment used for bodily adornment and in their rituals, the Doctor realises that the Sevateem are the remnants of a crashed spaceship crew. They are once the Survey Team and are in a state of perpetual conflict with the Tesh, whose ancestors were once the same spaceship's technicians.

The Sevateem react with hostility to the Doctor, for his resemblance to the Evil One, and narrowly avoiding trial-by-ordeal, Leela and the Doctor escape and find a mountain with the Doctor's face carved into its side. They pass through a tunnel at the mouth and see a rocket in the distance.

Initially welcomed as the revered "Lord of Time", by the Tesh who occupy the rocket, they soon turn hostile when he starts to meddle.

The Doctor discovers that Xoanon and the Evil One are two parts of the same AI with a split personality. The split occurred when the Doctor inserted his mind into the ailing starship computer in an effort to repair it. The insane computer has been running a generational eugenics experiment to create superior beings; Sevateem warriors and Tesh psychics.

The Doctor, pretending to be Xoanon to Neeva through a communications device, allies himself with the Sevateem and tells them to attack, while he confronts Xoanon. The computer attempts to self-destruct as the Doctor tinkers with its circuits, initiating an explosion in the room and rendering him unconscious.

When the Doctor awakens, the Doctor finds the computer restored and a burgeoning peace between the Sevateem and the Tesh. Leela asks the Doctor to take her with him. He refuses, though despite his protestations, she runs ahead of him into the TARDIS. Off camera, the Doctor rebukes her touch the console, whereupon the TARDIS dematerialises.

What I Thought

A new companion! When I first saw Leela I was too young to appreciate how attractive she was, however, I liked how badass she was. Partly because of Stig of the Dump and a primary school field trip, I was also really into stone age technology and made my own flint axes, which meant that primitive, but intelligent and incredibly dangerous Leela really struck a chord with me. Nowadays, she reminds me of Danny Trejo's Machete, though interestingly, and somewhat embarrassingly, I pretend to be a hunter-gatherer when I go shopping; hunting down wild mangoes in the supermarket. All very childish, I know, but the genes are in all of us. Leela is the embodiment of that past self; a primitive human dealing with modernity in her own efficient way. Like Machete, she improvises. Of course, that she is descended from highly advanced future humans, who have devolved back to a more primitive state, is even more proof of how thin the veneer of civilisation is, even in the future. Our species is just another tool using primate.

Leela goes through a lot, including the execution of her father, and kills quite a few people on the way. It is no wonder that when she meets the Doctor, she wishes to travel with him and won't take no for an answer. I found the way she runs into the TARDIS and fiddles with the console (out of camera shot) very funny. She's a good match for the Doctor.

Neeva the shaman's superstitious antics and silly astronaut glove hat draped over his bald head (the BBC archive page says it's a cricket glove), the elaborate bows of the Tesh; somewhere between a two-handed flourish and a curtsy, the Doctor blindfolded with his scarf around his head, and Leela asking the Doctor whether they will climb up the nostril of his massive cliff carving were also some of the other welcome comedic counterpoints to the violence in this story.

The survey team turned primitive, Sevateem, reminded me of other advanced humans in the guise of primitives known as, I believe, "Surtechs" in another sci-fi series that escapes me right now. I have a terrible suspicion that it's from Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series. I remember the Surtechs, like Leela, being really good with knives.

The Sevateem's decorative body-worn pieces of repurposed high-tech gear reminded me of the outfits from Mad Max, only projected maybe a thousand years hence.

The fight between the Sevateem and the invisible force at the black wall was reminiscent of the battle with the beast in Forbidden Planet (1956). We've seem that movie influence Doctor Who before, as in Planet of Evil (1975) covered in pod 343.

I enjoyed to deep, percussive incidental music. It felt appropriately Blake's 7 for a Chris Boucher story.

I'll let Chris Boucher off for mistaking schizophrenia for multiple personality disorder; we were all stupid before the internet.

I liked that the Doctor uses the phrase, "Take me to your leader". In my estimation, you can't say that often enough and I fervently hope that one day I will have occasion to do the same.

I am curious to know how the Doctor---called a Lord of Time by the Tesh---came to the rescue the original crew of the Starfall Seven Earth colony ship, however, there is no prequel to this adventure.

Trivia

Louise Jameson auditioned and beat many other candidates for the role, though her co-star apparently initially disliked the character because she was too violent.

Although she has an extensive filmography---that includes a series I greatly enjoyed called The Omega Factor, which we will be revisiting in due course---imagine my surprise when years later she turned up on Eastender's as an Italian matriarch (though she was great in that role too).