Doctor Who: The Face of Evil (BBC
Sound: B- Extras: A+ Episodes: A
By 1976 Tom Baker was well into his run as Doctor Who. Sarah Jane
(Elisabeth Sladen) had just left the show, and the Doctor had gone solo in the
classic ‘Deadly Assassin,” but the
shows producer Philip Hinchcliffe did not want to continue without giving the
Doctor a new companion. Against Mr.
Baker’s mild protestations, story no. 89 “The
Face of Evil” introduced the savage Leela (Louise Jameson), and boys, men,
and quite likely more than a few women, were very thankful indeed!
When the Doctor arrives seemingly by accident on a weird jungle
planet, he meets up with Leela, a lovely young woman clad in a scanty leather
outfit. Ostracized by her tribe for heresy, and hunted by invisible monsters,
she mistakes the Doctor for some one called “the evil one.” Handling the meeting with his normal aplomb,
the Doctor manages to allay Leela’s fears and rescue her (and himself) from the
strange creatures with the aid of an old wind up alarm clock. Typical Doctor Who. Amid all of the action
the Doctor cannot shake the feeling that he has been on the planet before.
After the escape the Doctor plunges into the mystery surrounding
Leela’s tribe, the Sevateem. It’s
obvious from their trappings that they are the descendants of some advanced
crew of spacemen, but who is the voice of the “god” who speaks to their shaman,
and why does it want the Doctor and Leela dead? Episode one of this four parter ends on one of
the best cliffhangers in show history, as the Doctor and Leela emerge from the
alien jungle to gaze upon a Mt. Rushmore like visage carved into the
mountain. The face is that of the Doctor
himself! Cue that theme song!
Plenty of action and twists follow in the next three episodes, and the
Doctor cements his relationship with Leela while sorting out the trouble
between her tribe, a rival group of more advanced descendants (called the
Tesh), and a computer gone mad that speaks with many different voices,
including the Doctor’s! In the end after
the trouble has been sorted the Doctor tries to slip quietly away, but Leela
will not have it, and barges into the TARDIS.
The Doctor follows, and the confounded machine quickly vanishes, off to
its next destination in story no. 90.
Although no one could be asked to follow up Ms. Sladen’s wonderful run
as a companion, Ms. Jameson’s Leela presents such a different, dynamic
character that it works wonderfully from the start. She’s rough around the edges, and the extra
feature on this disc (“Into the Wild”)
details some of the thinking around writing and casting her. Mr. Hinchcliffe and his confederates were
going for a Pygmallion setup where a cultured man attempts to soften the
rough edges of a strong female character.
The mix works well here, and is especially effective when the Doctor
chastises Leela for her use of deadly force.
It would be just a sample of the dramatic tension that would always
exist between the two characters, and something seen again when the modern-day Doctors
pal around with the sometimes violent Captain Jack Harkness.
Other extras include a wonderful survey of media reactions to the show
around the time that “Face of Evil”
was airing. Excerpts from various
English papers paint a vivid picture of the show’s amazing popularity, and also
of some of the misgivings certain pundits had about Ms. Jameson’s character and
her scanty outfit. Ms. Jameson appears
in several other extra features providing interviews and information on her
role in the show.
“The Face of Evil” remains
one of the strongest episodes in Tom Baker’s storied run, and the seminal first
appearance of Leela will make it a must-have for collectors and fans of the
- Scott Pyle