The Face of EvilBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

The Face Of Evil is the forgotten story of season 14: The Deadly Assassin, The Robots Of Death and The Talons Of Weng-Chiang are flagged up as the classics (no argument from me), while The Masque Of Mandragora and The Hand Of Fear are the usual candidates for the one story per season that fans are by law required not to like. In the middle of it all nestles this story, always overlooked. This is a shame, as it's really quite a natty little tale. It's also important as it introduces Leela as a companion: not the best idea really as a character starting out in a position of less knowledge than the audience is a hard one to transplant into a setting other than their own, as John Wiles learned with Katarina. Also, Louise Jameson's performance took some time to smooth out (probably not helped by the fact that Tom Baker hated her guts) and consequently she is destined always to be remembered as the companion who didn't wear many clothes.

It begins in a fairly ordinary way, with stagy actors going on about a backwards religion, but it's no worse than the average beginning of any story. It then becomes genuinely disturbing, as we get to hear an old man getting eaten alive by some vicious monster called a Horda. Blimey, what's this monster? It must be seriously impressive to be flagged up so in the script!

The forest, our next location, is a nice enough set and benefits by being well shot on film. It is slightly strange for a hardcore fan like me though to hear background effects that date all the way back to The Daleks in 1963, and the invisible monsters make the same noise as the Skarasen from Terror Of The Zygons. Baker shoots in on absolute top form with his knotted hanky and gigantic alarm clock in his pocket nice examples of his bonkers character, while not overdoing it like he would in future seasons. although his talking to himself and directly to the camera is a reminder back to the previous episode where there was no companion to give him a real reason to talk out loud. Him meeting Leela is another very good scene with more great dialogue, perhaps showing why Chris Boucher is so highly regarded as a Doctor Who writer even though he only penned three stories. However, as all three were script edited by Robert Holmes (there are definite Holmesian touches in the dialogue) I'm never quite sure who to give the credit to.

Leela seems much more intelligent within her own society, but is still extremely violent; this is a violent episode in general, with people getting shot with crossbows and poisoned with Janus thorns (much better used here than in The Talons Of Weng-Chiang) left, right and centre. Although hardly the most intense story of the season this is still full-blooded in a typically Philip Hinchcliffe way, with the same high level of production values. The invisible monsters aren't brilliant compared to how the effects were done in The Daleks' Master Plan, but streets ahead of Planet Of The Daleks. The footprints look terrible, with rectangular blocks in the floor being lowered down in slow motion, but the destruction of the clock looks brilliant.

After this the jungle moves to being shot on videotape, which always highlights fakery. This example is particularly shameless, using industrial piping as vines, but it gets by on the general weirdness such as the sky being jet black in daylight. It's hard to notice anyway as attention-grabbing plot points are dealt out slowly, where the Doctor meets more of the natives and discovers that all is not as it seems on this planet. Neeva's Welsh accent is jarring but since it's an alien planet there's no good reason why it should be any more out of place than the other characters' Queen's-English (these are without doubt the poshest savages since The Time Meddler). The scene where Neeva waves the "artefact" around the Doctor is well written but ridiculously played by David Garfield, who staves of laughter by doing a Rolf Harris impression.

After escaping the Doctor manages to threaten the natives with a jelly baby, in my favourite scene in the story. The Sevateem really are a backwards people: those haircuts are just so 1967. After this scene - a very Holmesy one - we come to the cliffhanger, and it's a knockout. One of the story's major strengths is that all three cliffhangers are excellent, this one being the moment the Doctor sees his own face carved in a mountainside. The only thing that jars is the constant switching between film and video, but it's only a minor quibble.

When watched all in one go, it is very noticeable that the titles of each episode form almost the only breaks in Dudley Simpson's omnipresent score: this one is average, neither great nor terrible, but it is very intrusive. The discovery of Neeva's sanctum is an interesting scene as we get to hear Baker talking to himself over a radio link, which is played to be so ordinary that it's hard to notice how imaginative it is. The dialogue between the Doctor and his alter-ego is excellent, foreshadowing the plot without actually giving anything away.

The time barrier effect is good, as have most of the other effects been so far, and I like the way it is presented to the audience; these days people see the need to justify every science-fictional concept with a pseudo-authentic explanation, but here all we know is that time is somehow moved forward a couple of seconds. It's science...fiction! We are shown the barrier just in time for the Sevateem to attack it, and for a tribe of warriors they are seriously laughable in battle. Their plan of action seems to mainly consist of shouting "ATTACK!" at the top of their voices while creeping very slowly towards the enemy and doing nothing else once they get there. One of them even does a Red Indian war cry, for crying out loud. The scene where the Doctor breaks Calib's leg (so he claims) I consider an insult to anyone who's ever broken a bone (i.e. me) as he is up and on his feet in seconds. I am never sure whether this is a joke - the Doctor's subsequent threat to break Calib's nose would suggest so - but it is presented as being serious enough (just not very painful).

The Doctor is captured, and I love the scene where he dismisses Neeva's claim that he can physically renew himself as ridiculous. We then get the Horda scene, a wonderfully written and designed scene let down by a badly-choreographed fight scene with Leela rolling around the floor like a toddler. And, of course we get to see the Horda. Actually we saw them right at the beginning, slithering along at the end of a piece of string, but this is where we are told that this deadly creature we've been hearing so much about is in fact a plastic stick with a fin at one end and some Blue Peter-made teeth at the other. Frankly, things crawling in my bath have been scarier than that (i.e. me again). However, it is nice to hear some effort made to make the stone blocks actually sound like stone as they part, as opposed to polystyrene. On the subject of sounds Xoanon's second voice sounds a lot like one of the robots from the subsequent story, which is odd as Brian Croucher didn't actually play a robot in it. Maybe I'm hearing things - it certainly sounded like Baker mispronounced Tomas's name "Thomas", which made me laugh.

The CSO used to put the Doctor and Leela by the face of the idol is poor, but it's an impressive scene nonetheless. The cliffhanger, as I said before, is great, as the Doctor's image is lit up in the air. I should have been expecting it really having already heard Tom Baker's voice coming from somewhere other than Tom Baker's mouth (no, you sicko, from the speaker), but it's still wonderful to see.

Episode three gets off to a slightly muddled start as Boucher sets himself the task of introducing a completely new place and people halfway through the story. It's easy to see how the story is structured with such a sudden change between episodes, which is unusual when watching a serial all in one go. Unfortunately the design of the spaceship is bland and the Tesh look completely ridiculous, little eight-stone weaklings dressed as playing cards from Alice In Wonderland. However, Xoanon looks good: a little screen-savery perhaps, but a good screen saver, and the three actors talking together produce a brilliant atmosphere. What is also good is that the Doctor discovers the plot at the same speed as the audience for once, making the very well-written expositionary dialogue seem natural and appropriate for once. Another nice touch is the fact that all the planet's troubles have happened because the Doctor screwed up.

The scene when Leela and the Doctor are about to get diced by the laser is very derivative and closer to the lightweight action adventure that characterises most of season 15. It does show some hints of religious imagery, which would be appropriate to the story and in keeping with the deliberately Biblical imagery of Neeva's litanies - but maybe it is I who am now talking out of somewhere other than my mouth. The other action scenes are similarly staid and uneasy - a shame, as it's generally a well directed episode - but then again there are mirrored sets which must be difficult when shooting multi-camera. The final scene has a lot of plot delivered, but it is told like a story and makes very compelling listening. This is followed by one of the best cliffhangers of the 70s, with a massive image of the Doctor's face screaming "WHO AM I?" in a child's voice. It's surreal, creepy, and at least as scary as the one in The Deadly Assassin that had Mary Whitehouse choking on her garibaldi.

The final episode continues this air of bizarreness, with the Tesh getting scared by mood lighting. It's fun to watch Xoanon trying to kill the Doctor, even though the electrocution effect is rubbish, and if I'm in an unforgiving mood I'd say that Leela actually managed to shoot the Doctor. The Sevateem breaking in allows for some excellent characterisation of the Tesh, who are more concerned with not getting agitated than with actually stopping their enemies.

In the end though it reverts to a simply defuse-the-bomb scenario, which I would have thought was below this story, although the resolution is still more imaginative than usual. The end scene with Xoanon seems very forced and largely unnecessary as it's only repeating what we already know, but the old gramophone player is a nice touch. We must be thankful the episode is not written by Russell T. Davies, or the Doctor and Leela would probably start grooving to 'Dancing Queen' (see The End Of The World). The final coda is over quickly, a "get the companion into the TARDIS before the studio lights get turned off" moment, but it's well written and better than some companions got, for example Dodo. All in all then, despite a few dodgy moments of production in the second half, this is a very solid story with very little to dent it.

FILTER: - Television - Fourth Doctor - Series 14