Continuing my articles on the steadily dwindling number of Doctor Who stories to be released on DVD is one of my all time favorites, Face of Evil. As a child growing up with Doctor Who on steady rotation via the local PBS station, I had seen nearly every story of Tom Baker’s first five years at least once. I can swear that I saw the title ‘Robot’ about a dozen times, but cannot back that up with fact. Alongside Brain of Morbius, Talons of Weng Chiang and Pyramids of Mars and Terror of the Zygons, Face of Evil was one of the stories that I eagerly watched every opportunity I got.
Starting with a strangely solo Doctor (having followed up after the Deadly Assassin), Face of Evil introduced one of the most popular companions of classic Who, Leela. A noble savage dressed in skimpy animal skins, Leela spoke in simple words and trusted her instincts more than reason. Given the often absurd situations that the Doctor found himself in, this saved her life many times.
I wrote earlier about how the Face of Evil opened without a standard travelling companion. Despite the obvious chemistry between Tom Baker and Lis Sladen, Baker’s ego had grown two sizes too big by 1977. Feeling that the role of the companion could be filled by a clever parrot, an infant or even a talking watermelon (all suggestions by Baker as rumor has it), he was given the opportunity to star in a solo adventure before the replacement companion Leela was introduced, played by a promising young actress ogf the Royal Shakespearean Society, Louise Jameson.
In the opening few scenes, the role of the companion is made abundantly clear as the Doctor is seen talking to himself, acting a right loon. Landing on a strange planet populated by suspicious savages, the Doctor is almost immediately captured by the local tribe of Sevateem and brought before their leader for punishment. Every member of the tribe insists that the Doctor is the ‘evil one’ and even enacts an odd ritual to ward off bad spirits that sets the Doctor’s ‘there’s more to this than there seems’ senses off.
Befriending the exiled heretic Leela as a compatriot, the Doctor is determined to unravel the mystery of the Sevateem. It appears that the Sevateem are at war with the ‘Evil One’ who sends invisible spirits into the jungle to destroy unbelievers. Devoted to the liberation of their god Xoanon, the Sevateem are split on exactly how they can achieve this liberation. Before he was captured, the Doctor had discovered an intricate network of sonic devices constructed to act as a make-shift force-field… but to keep what out?
Frustrated that everyone seems to recognize him as some kind of monster, the Doctor demands that Leela show him how she has seen his face before. Finding himself face to face with a monument carved into the side of a mountain, the Doctor is befuddled and overwhelmed with confusion and worry. Soon he realizes that his seeming well-meant intervention with a lost survey shuttle when attempting to fix it’s artificial intelligence had unexpected and long-lasting results.
Visually, this story has a lot going for it; a standard BBC jungle, insane floating CGi Tom Baker faces eating savages and Louise Jameson in a leader miniskirt. Written by Chris Boucher (who would later write two of my favorite Blake’s 7 adventures), the script is just stunning. A story about a schizophrenic computer leading two tribes of unsuspecting savages to war is one of the more inspired plots of classic Doctor Who. A laborer on a construction site before he took on the part of the Doctor, Tom Baker must have felt out of his element when acting beside Jameson and it shows.
The chemistry between Baker and Jameson is electric but not as smooth as what viewers had seen between Baker and Sladen before. It is apparent that Jameson is a very competent and skilled actress who brings a lot of talent and skill to the part. Tom Baker, on the other hand freely admits that most of the time he is just being himself on camera as the Doctor. I’m not saying that to short-change his acting chops, just to reinforce the fact that if he wasn’t such an unusual person he would not have been as successful as the Doctor as he ended up being. In any case, the mixture pf Baker and Jameson is perfect and makes for one of the best pairings in the program’s history.
Memorable moments range from the mountainside relief of the Doctor’s face to the floating angry Tom Baker heads screaming ‘Destroy and Be Free!’ or ‘Who am I!?’ I swear, the crazy computer destroying anyone that threatened its fragile vision of identity is both terrifying and brilliant. It’s one thing for a script to deliver a bizarre concept, but Boucher manges to also sell it to the audience as gripping drama and that is gold.
At the time of my writing this article there are only 32 complete stories to be announced for release on DVD (there are five stories to come over the next few months). I’m a bit surprised that a story as well-loved as Face of Evil has been overlooked, but you have to save a few gems for the last stretch to sit alongside the Gun Fighters, don’t you?