Sunday, 2 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Face of Evil

Part One

“Now drop your weapons or I’ll kill him with this deadly jelly baby.”

My BBC video starts with an edition of Multi-Coloured Swap Shop from 1977 with Noel Edmonds interviewing Louise Jameson. I don’t remember ordering Noel Edmonds from the cosmos, so fast forward to the story…

We start with Leela’s trial for blaspheming against Xoanon. Not our Xoanon, another one. Anyway, she’s to be exiled outside the barriers which protect this Neolithic-ish tribe, the Sevateem, from the nasty things outside for the crime of suggesting that a seemingly suicidal attack on their enemies the Tesh, ordered by their god Xoanon, is not such a great idea. She is offered the alternative of facing the Horda, whatever they are, but declines it, and it’s clear from her reaction that this is a fearful experience leading to almost certain death. Horribly, her father agrees to take it for her, and is duly killed. This is very dark, illustrating both the horrors of a society which punishes “blasphemers” and the horrible moral complications of resistance to such a society.

The TARDIS lands in an area where we’ve just seen a creature crawling along- a Horda, presumably, going by what we see later. That’s a nice touch. Unfortunately the Doctor, being alone, talks to himself, and indeed the camera, which is very awkward. He needs a new companion to talk to, and sharpish. And right on cue, here’s Leela.

Interestingly, Leela’s fellow Sevateems Calib and Tomas are also sceptical about the upcoming attack, if more cautious about voicing it. This scene does a lot of useful expositing, letting us know all about the planned attack on the Tesh, whereas a later recital by Neeva (my avatarsake!) gives us the mythological version, complete with clues. This is nicely counterpointed by Leela’s reactions to “The Evil One”. There’s also some good character stuff as Leela realises she can trust the Doctor.
The concept behind this story- an apparently stone age tribe on an alien planet using items of spacefaring technology as religious relics, is a brilliant one, and it’s introduced early. There are lots of fun little touches on this theme throughout this episode, such as the motions for checking a spacesuit having changed into a ritual for warding off evil. And of course there’s the panel saying “Survey team 6”- nice!

The Doctor and Leela make a great pairing, and whatever may have happened offscreen, they have great chemistry onscreen. But it’s notable that the Doctor suddenly becomes very stern as soon as Leela starts killing people with Janis thorns.

Part Two

“I like the hat. Very fetching.”

The concepts of the first episode get more development here, with the overall message of the story probably coming through most clearly as the doctor comments that Neeva was seemingly expecting an answer to his prayers. “There wouldn’t be much point in praying if he didn’t.” Only through the medium of the fantastic can such a blatantly atheist subtext excite seemingly no contemporary comment!

Calib gets to be cunning, and the Doctor gets to be very clever indeed, curing Leela from the Janis thorn, and successfully facing the trial of the Horda- I love the moment where he chucks a Horda at the bloke who slaps Leela!

The episode ends with some invisible creatures (well, it’s cheap!) which sound like the Skarasen and look like the Doctor when visible. And what’s that great big carving of the Doctor’s face…?

Part Three

“I don’t believe in ghosts either.”

Now we get to see the Tesh, and how their situation parallels that of the Sevateem. There isn’t the time to develop them as much as the Sevateem- no bad thing as they’re such arrogant arses- but it’s ironic how they think the Sevateem can open the barrier and Xoanon is playing both tribes against each other.

One thing that strikes me- as Xoanon has lifted the barriers and all of his nasties are now able to terrorise the Sevateem, presumably the whole tribe is heading down the Doctor’s throat. And Calib speaks of getting “the men” inside the barrier. Is Leela the only woman then?

Part Four

“We start getting proof and we stop believing.”

“With proof, we don’t have to believe.”

We get our first instance of Leela not suffering cowards gladly as she says to a cowering Tesh “Lying there isn’t going to help, then.” We’ll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing.

The plot, excellent throughout, is nicely tied up. It’s good to see Neeva being the sacrificial hero in the end, ironically being the only one able to resist Xoanon’s brainwashing. Leela is elected leader, and then immediately scarpers… yes, she’s companion material, all right! Into the TARDIS she goes…

Magnificent, a criminally underrated story. 5/5.

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