On the other hand, I could be wrong about that.
While many stories feature the Doctor visiting a planet or people he has prior, off-screen knowledge of, far rarer are stories focusing on the Doctor returning to witness the aftermath of his interventions. The First Doctor story “The Ark” shows the direct cause-and-effect of his presence by taking the Doctor into the future of a setting he has just visited (and disrupted); while the Third Doctor visits Peladon over the course of two disconnected stories, the latter relying heavily for its plot twist on the events of the former. But Chris Boucher’s debut script, “The Face of Evil” (Story Production Code 4Q), posits an entire adventure for the Fourth Doctor that viewers have not seen, the outcome of which drives the events of the story on offer.
The strength of “The Face of Evil”—and indeed, it is the strongest story of Tom Baker’s reign to date—comes from the careful parcelling out of this “hidden” story about the mistake the Doctor made at some point in the past, a catastrophic error that resulted in generations of strife between the Tribe of Tesh and the Tribe of the Sevateem on this nameless planet. More interestingly, the Doctor himself doesn’t realize his past role in the proceedings until partway through the story, such that the sudden appearance of his face carved into a cliffside comes as a shock to him as well as to the viewer. This cliffhanger, shrouded as it is in genuine mystery, creates more tension than any end-of-episode monster revelation ever could.
Though Boucher slowly unveils the Doctor’s past mistake while simultaneously establishing two different factions in the Tesh and the Sevateem, he and director Pennant Roberts keep the story, rife as it is with exposition, moving quickly, a task aided by Louise Jameson’s introduction as Leela, the new companion. The first non-contemporary companion since Jamie and Zoe were returned to their worlds at the end of “The War Games,” Leela brings a much-needed spark to the series, representing as she does a different moral and ethical system. Very little conceptual daylight exists between the Third and Fourth Doctors and Liz, Jo, and Sarah Jane; they, and the audience, broadly see the world the same way as the Doctor(s), and any arguments between them hinge on philosophical nuances. By contrast, the Doctor here has to warn Leela to stop killing people as a matter of course.
As with the Second Doctor and Jamie, Leela’s non-technical background as a member of a hunter/gatherer tribe allows for more seamless exposition, giving the Doctor (and writers) a reason to avoid too much technobabble. But where Jamie at times seemed bored with the futuristically fantastical and eager to get on with the action, Leela comes across as curious, open-minded, and fearless; the story opens with her rejecting the orthodoxy of the Tribe of the Sevateem, denying the divinity of Xoanon and being banished as a result. Given the sartorial choices of the shaman who speaks for Xoanon, though, it’s not hard to understand her doubts…
The juxtaposition between the loincloth and leather worn by the majority of the Sevateem and the technological fetishes donned by the shaman Neeva (David Garfield), as well as the futuristic throne of the chieftain Andor (Victor Lucas), suggests early on that not all is as it seems. The effects and set design teams work wonders here, creating an entire culture with a few well-placed anachronisms. The Doctor quickly surmises some form of cultural contamination, thinking that the Sevateem were visited by space travellers in the distant past whose remains serve as a basis for an entire belief system. Even the Sevateem ritual ward against evil—three taps along the left side of the body, from head to chest—comes from the seal check sequence used on a “Starfall Seven spacesuit,” according to the Doctor.
Less explicable, however, is the Doctor’s visage, carved in the rock, being that of the Evil One, who holds Xoanon prisoner. Leela remarks on it, rather calmly, upon first encountering the Doctor, and the Sevateem wish to kill him because of it. With Leela’s help, the Doctor survives a deadly trial insisted upon by Neeva, Andor, and the duplicitous Calib (Leslie Schofield), who seeks to take over the Sevateem in a side plot that sustains interest reasonably well despite all the other events in the story. It is not until the Doctor and Leela climb through the rock face’s mouth into the realm of the rival Tesh, servants of the Evil One, that the Doctor realizes just what he did to earn such a grandiose title.
At some point in the past, this regeneration of the Doctor helped the Mordee Expedition, a colony ship that suffered a computer failure. He repaired its faulty data banks by linking the computer to his mind, in order to fill in the missing technical information needed for the computer to run the ship. He was unaware, however, that the computer had already begun to develop self-awareness, and through an apparent moment of carelessness, the Doctor failed to erase any identity imprints his mind left in the computer, resulting in the computer developing two opposed personalities. The ensuing schizophrenia led the computer to split the crew of the ship into two parts, the Survey Team (Sevateem) being banished from the ship upon landing to develop strength of body without any technological aid, and the Technicians (Tesh) being forced to hone their minds with little concern for the physical.
Xoanon, the computer, directs the Sevateem through the helmet worn by Neeva, and it commands the Sevateem to attack the Tesh once a generation to “free” him, a means of testing which side is superior. Arrayed against them are kinetic manifestations of its will, which take the form of, ah, giant floating Fourth Doctor heads.
The Doctor does not remember the planet or these people because he has never been on this planet, ostensibly having helped them centuries prior while the colony ship was still en route. Precisely when these events happened in the Doctor’s own timeline remains quite unclear, given the relatively tight spacing between all of the Fourth Doctor’s stories until the end of “The Deadly Assassin.” Regardless, these lacunae breathe necessary life into the series and allow for storytelling that takes advantage of the series’ central conceit of time travel in innovative ways. The world of Doctor Who opens up, becomes magical again, when given just a bit of room between stories.
The confrontations between Xoanon and the Doctor give the effects team another chance to shine, with multiple highlighted projections of the Doctor’s face zooming into closeup as Tom Baker falls to the floor, overcome by his dopplegänger’s mental power. For the first time in several years, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and story editor Robert Holmes allow the series title to be engaged with, as a cacophony of voices, male and female, including that of Tom Baker, plays over the prostrate Doctor, demanding, “Who are you? Who are you? Who am I?” It’s certainly more organic of a nod to the question of the series title than the “Doctor von Wer” sequence from “The Highlanders.”
The actual resolution of the dilemma lets the otherwise intriguing script down, with the Doctor simply plugging some wires into some panels, donning a helmet, and reversing the identity imprint, an unsatisfying deus ex technica. Granted, much zapping and chasing takes place beforehand, complicated by the fact that the Doctor’s own mental skills, as absorbed by Xoanon, allow the computer to give the Tesh telepathic powers at least equal to the Doctor’s own, which sees them knock the Doctor out mentally, but only once.
Where typically the action scenes in Doctor Who provide plot padding and visual interest, in “The Face of Evil” they also serve to highlight Leela. An accomplished fighter in her own right, she takes the lead in several instances, guiding the Doctor skillfully through guarded corridors with little (which is not to say, no) protest on the Doctor’s part, and she even drags the Doctor out of danger when he is unconscious. This Doctor would not have put up with such headstrong behavior from the UNIT lads or Sarah Jane, but Leela shows no obvious inclination to regard him as infallible or always in charge:
Leela: I suppose you’re always right, about everything?
The Doctor: Invariably. Invariably.
The smile that cracks over her face as he proclaims his perfection suggests that she’s not quite buying it. Louise Jameson delivers a very strong initial showing as Leela, arguably the most “alien” companion to date and certainly the one least cowed by the Doctor. That she essentially forces her way onto the TARDIS at the end suggests that Leela is not the only one in for an adventure.
Tom Baker plays the Fourth Doctor with a bit of distance at the start, as though the events of “The Deadly Assassin” yet weigh heavily. The Doctor talks to himself, leading to the suggestion that he’s somewhat lost without a companion with whom to share the experience. The discordance in his demeanor also lends credence to the notion that there are adventures the viewer is as yet unaware of—in truth, there is no accounting for how much time has passed since he foiled the Master on Gallifrey. It’s a slightly more muted, and yet also more self-confident, Doctor than has been seen in the past, and while Tom Baker excels at the over-the-top smile, the somewhat restrained version on display here works even more effectively because of the contrast.
For all that “The Face of Evil” attempts to hold the Doctor responsible for his past actions, it doesn’t quite come to pass as a repudiation of his interventionist habits. He’s sorry, of course, for the countless lives held in thrall to a computer crippled by the weight of his identity, and he does almost die in a pit of robotic scavengers because of it, but there’s no moment of actual reckoning, no cost to the Doctor. The Fourth Doctor has not yet really had to confront the enormity of his decisions on the universe, and this story offered a prime chance for it. Still, it stands as the most compelling Fourth Doctor story to date, full of superlative world building, interesting characters, and meaningful action. It’s little wonder Leela jumps, uninvited, into the TARDIS for a chance to see what happens next.
(Previous Story: The Deadly Assassin)
(Next Story: The Robots of Death)
Post 92 of the Doctor Who Project