Friday, February 08, 2013

Doctor Who #444: The Face of Evil Part 3

"Didn't anyone ever tell you kneeling stunts the growth?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.15 1977.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Leela enter the Tesh vessel, escape Goldfinger's laser trap, and while she fights in the corridors, he meets the computer that is himself.

REVIEW: I know it's my English lit background, but I love it when an episode resonates with some kind of leitmotif, and in this case, it's mirrors. First, there are literal mirrors, like the one the Doctor uses to reflect the laser back at itself, and the ones in the corridors of the Tesh ship. Then, there's the way the Tesh are a mirror of the Sevateem, mental instead of physical, but the way they deal with the Doctor is exactly the same. They take him to be a figure of myth (the Lord of Time instead of the Evil One), they question his identity, they put him in a death trap he manages to escape, and he will bring their whole culture crumbling down by defying their god. There are repeated scenes, like Leela being asked to close her eyes twice, while metaphorically, her eyes are being opened (eyes and mirrors have always been connected, at that). And finally, there's the mirror of the Doctor finding himself in Xoanon, a mirrored mind translated into a mirrored face.

Where any give Part 3 might idle for a bit to make you wait for the finale, this one manages to do two things to stem the tide of irrelevance. One is giving us a new environment to explore - shiny corridors, computer consoles covered with candles, a computer room with dramatic screens and a mirrored globe, though sadly, some of the silliest costumes for the Tesh (they look like characters on playing cards) - and the other is that it provides a climax, a resolution. We still don't know "how the Doctor is gonna get out of this one", that's Part 4, but we do solve the mystery of his earlier visit, which is satisfying in and of itself. Now that Bob Holmes has established the Matrix, a computer into which a Time Lord's mind can be plugged, Boucher's similar interface is very believable. I'm not entirely convinced the Doctor should have made the leap he makes here - that the computer he fixed long ago wasn't broken, but developing sentience, and that it copied his personality and going schizo when its own began to emerge - on the available evidence. But perhaps there's a memory fragment, a strange sensation from the original link, that informs his conclusion. But there are still mysteries to solve, like whatever eugenics plan Xoanon enacted on the Tesh and Sevateem, and why.

If we discuss specific characters for a minute, I like how the Doctor uses his Xoanon voice to get Neeva, at the other end of the "hotline to God" to respond and send reinforcement, but also that Neeva turns out to be smarter than he thought. Calib gets what he wants, leadership, but the reaction from Tomas is amusingly jaded and caustic. As for Leela, she's less useful in this one, though she still shoots up a mean gallery. The mad computer itself is truly creepy, not just because it throws the Doctor's voice back at him, but as its number of voices increases, first to three, and then to a fourth, child-like, coming out of the A.I. Doctor's mouth, brrrr... TOTAL CREEP OUT. Its final question is truly a kind of existential horror.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Another thematically rich episode with interesting locales and a really crazy hero-villain confrontation. I'm not letting the Tesh's courtly outfits diminish my opinion of it.

1 comment:

Randal said...

Yep. The child voice saying "Who am I?" freaked me THE FUCK OUT when I was a kid.

"Are you my mummy" was weak sauce in comparison.