Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Doctor Who #442: The Face of Evil Part 1

"Would you like a jelly baby?" "It's true, then. They say the Evil One eats babies."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Jan.1 1977.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor meets Leela of the Sevateem, on a planet where everyone knows him as "the Evil One".

REVIEW: The episode starts right on Leela, played by Louise Jameson in a memorable leather one-piece, slated to be the next all-new, all-different companion. She's one of my favorites, folks. I enjoy how she isn't remotely self-conscious, a savage warrior who speaks her mind and isn't ashamed of who she is. Her fierceness is tempered by a kind of childish obliviousness, mystified by the Doctor's outrage at her use of deadly janis thorns, and perceiving the world he opens up in magical terms. The quote above is one of my favorites ever (shout out to my kid brother who loved it too - we wore out the tape I'd made from a PBS broadcast right on that spot). Nevertheless, the Doctor is charmed by the open-mindedness he sees in her, and it's true that she's to be exiled because she dared question to tribe shaman's "divinely inspired" plans for a raid on the Tesh, servants of the Evil One keeping the god Xoanon prisoner. She's a companion like no other, physical and dangerous, but naive too. Voltaire's Ingenu(e), fresh eyes through which to see the universe with the Doctor.

And he needs a companion, pronto. Sure, The Deadly Assassin worked without one, but it took place in a world where he already knew people, or at least they knew him, who and what he was. In The Face of Evil, he's talking and whistling to himself. The bit with the knot tied in a handkerchief is amusing, but shows how pointless a conversation with himself is. He's left himself a message, but can't remember what it was. How long has been alone? There are two takes on this. Either it's been hundreds of years, which it has for Leela's planet and the Doctor doesn't seem to know what this is all about, so it can't be in recent memory. Or he came during his post-regeneration haze as Terrence Dicks claims in the Target novelization, which would also explain a patchy memory and the reference to Hyde Park, perhaps trying to get back to Sarah until an uncooperative TARDIS brings him (back) here. Whatever the truth, he's now on the planet's Mount Rushmore, so he at least left a strong impression (as he says, one of several great lines the Doctor gets throughout Part 1).

Mysteries abound. What did the Doctor do way back when to merit this place in the Sevateem's mythology? Why do these savages have all sorts of gear and references to a more technological era? The Doctor thinks visitors polluted their culture, but it's a red herring. The clever viewer will have realized that Survey Team (seen on a wall in the village) is quite close to Sevateem. Writer Chris Boucher and director Pennant Roberts make us participate in the storytelling. There are a lot of names to get a handle on, and a whole culture too. Primitive at first, there'll be a piece of tech here and there in the set dressing to make you sit up and ask questions. The jungle too (a well-realized set with a crawling critter for realism) is full of tech, though I can't decide if the vines made of tubing are actually technological or just a bad prop. This world is so rich - within less than 25 minutes, the Sevateem get a religion, a political landscape, an ecology, a lexicon and mannerisms all their own - I even forgave the Terry Nation-type invisible monsters (what is it with Whovian jungle planets anyway?). Truth be told, these invisibles are also a lot more credible than those of the past. They're blind, for one thing, because light can't get to their eyes - some nice science there. And for another, the effects are pretty cool, especially that bit where an alarm clock is crushed by unknown hands. HOW'D THEY DO THAT?! When I ask that of a show made in the mid-70s, you know it's impressive.

REWATCHABILITY: High - I have a deep affection for this story and the set-up is certainly stellar, with a nice introduction for a unique new companion. Of course, the fourth Doctor era to date has had many very strong set-ups. It's keeping the quality going evenly through to the finale that's the real trick.

No comments: