Thursday, February 07, 2013

Doctor Who #443: The Face of Evil Part 2

"There's no virtue in dying, Leela." "That rather depends on what you do to avoid it."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.8 1977.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor defeats the Sevateem test and enters his own, giant face.

REVIEW: Remember how the Doctor started this story by talking to himself? Well, he's at it again, only instead of it being because he has no companion, it's because the "god" Xoanon has his voice. Yes, he's both God and Devil in this cargo cult, and that's pretty interesting. Thematically, we're looking at the Doctor's light and dark sides, perhaps as a veiled warning about what happens when he isn't accompanied (but I'm stretching it). In fact, it's his companion that brings out the violence in him this time around. He almost breaks Calib's leg and threatens to do the same to his nose after he pricks Leela with a janis thorn (scary moment, the Doctor actually lives up to his name and cures her), and when some random warrior slaps Leela around, he kicks a Horda (a kind of land piranha) up on the guy's arm. Darkly humorous, but still pretty nasty for the Doctor. But if the Doctor has his two sides, so does Xoanon. Two voices, a second interrupting the strange "talking to self" poetry of the first. Since this is a story in which the Doctor enters his own head, I've got to think at least some of this is thematically fertile on purpose.

The Doctor gets some great lines, plays the insolent well, and gets out of neatly-designed death trap. That's all par for the course. But most impressively, the new companion ALSO gets a lot of nice lines and the chance to contribute meaningfully, and this despite needing to be saved in the middle of the episode. The thing with Leela is that her status as a primitive is deceptive. She's very, very smart, but simply can't escape her context. She can debate her fellow Sevateem on the fine points of their code of honor. She's willing and able to question their social norms, their faith, and their leaders. And most crucially, she asks the question that leads the Doctor to find a way beyond Xoanon's wall. There's no way for human companions to be as smart as the Doctor, so like Sarah Jane before her, she has to be SMART ENOUGH to make the Doctor get out of his own head (one imagines literally, by the end of this serial) and see the problem from another angle. When the Doctor says you're brilliant or, in this case, a genius, it almost always means "You allow me to be brilliant".

There are many other things to like about this episode. How Calib would sell his own mother if it gave him an advantage. How Neeva's mind evidently snaps and the only way for the Doctor to get answers is to imitate what is actually his OWN voice. The effects are cool, from the approach of the giant face to the reveal of the invisible monsters being screaming Doctor heads. And yes, I even find the Cybermat-inspired horda effective as well. Less successful is the Sevateem attack on the wall, which is just a lot of shouting and falling over, never quite reaching the level of massacre. Still, we live in an imperfect universe, as the Doctor says.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Both the heroes get stellar moments, and better still, there's a real metaphorical richness to this story the Doctor's mysterious mistake.

2 comments:

snell said...

"...she has to be SMART ENOUGH to make the Doctor get out of his own head (one imagines literally, by the end of this serial) and see the problem from another angle. When the Doctor says you're brilliant or, in this case, a genius, it almost always means 'You allow me to be brilliant'."

Compare with Journey's End, where the Donna-Doctor was able to do more than the Doctor and see solutions that he couldn't because of her human side.

Perhaps something like human imagination or some rot is able to make intuitive leaps that a Time Lord can't. The Doctor is smart because he has a ton of accumulated knowledge--but sometimes he needs human guidance to see how to best use it...and that is what some companions are able to bring out in him...

Siskoid said...

YES! Time Lords have an overdeveloped intellectualism, which leads many to become pedantic specialists, but the Doctor is a passionate generalist. What he's missing is the more intuitive side of things (leading to companions saying something obvious followed by his "OF COURSE!!!!") and empathy.

The look at his native culture in The Deadly Assassin certainly shows they have a lack of creativity, something that has to be in the Doctor's own DNA.