THE DAY THAT GOD WENT MAD & THE TOWER OF IMELO
'THE FACE OF EVIL' DVD (BBCDVD3379)
RELEASED IN MARCH 2012.
When the TARDIS arrives on a jungle planet, the Doctor encounters two warring tribes, the Sevateem and the Tesh. The Sevateem worship a god called Xoanon and the Tesh are supposedly keeping Xoanon prisoner... But why do the Sevateem call the Doctor the Evil One? And what are the invisible creatures in the jungle? The Time Lord, with the help of a girl called Leela, is about to find out.
The Face of Evil
1ST JANUARY 1977 - 22ND JANUARY 1977
The Face of Evil is an incredibly distinctive Doctor Who serial. Sitting awkwardly in the middle of one of the series’ renowned ‘gothic horror’ seasons, Chris Boucher’s script is in essence hard-edge science fiction - but science fiction without any aliens or even any (visible) monsters, save for the one who’s just returned in his strange blue box…
Originally (and much more temptingly) entitled The Day That God Went Mad, Boucher’s tale is a bold inversion of the fundamental premise that when the Doctor meddles in the affairs of peoples and planets, he does so for their benefit. Returning to a planet that he visited long ago, the Time Lord finds that he has been immortalised in its peoples’ cultures as their “Evil One”. His face has been hewn into a mountainside in a grotesque parody of Mount Rushmore, and behind it sits a schizophrenic computer with delusions of godhood served by the preposterously-clad Tesh. Meanwhile, in the wilderness below the Evil One’s stony avatar, lurk the enemies of the Tesh: the savage and superstitious Tribe of the Sevateem, from whom the Doctor will pluck a new companion.
“Killing me isn’t going to help you. It’s not going to do me much good either.”
Louise Jameson’s Leela is still one of the Doctor’s most recognised companions, due in no small part to her scant leather outfit that notoriously kept dads watching on after the football results. However, there’s a lot more to Leela than legs – like her or not, there’s no denying that she was one of the most exceptional companions that the series had produced by this point. Originally conceived by producer Philip Hinchcliffe as something of an ‘Eliza Doolittle’ for the Doctor to set about schooling, Boucher’s script gave rise to a fiercely intelligent, instinctive woman with a worrying proclivity for killing, whose circumstances had meant that she’d never been presented with the opportunity for education. Jameson would eventually take the flames gently smouldering behind the savage’s wide eyes and turn them into an inferno, but unfortunately her efforts to do so here were marred a little by Tom Baker, who by this point in his tenure had convinced himself that a co-star was an inconvenience that he could do without. As promising as Jameson’s debut performance is, Baker dominates every scene that they share, his usually-imposing presence bordering on oppressive as he visibly seeks to subdue his potentially scene-stealing co-star.
The serial isn’t helped by a below-par second half, which doesn’t quite live up to its first two enthralling episodes. Boucher’s ideas are both creative and courageous, and the performances of the cast are invariably stellar, but the final two episodes leave much to be desired, particularly when it comes to pace. The Face of Evil’s scenes amongst the Sevateem feel animated and vital, and are enlivened by some of Doctor Who’s wittiest dialogue to date, but once the Doctor and Leela traverse the Evil One’s cavernous mouth and enter the domain of the Tesh, things suddenly seem to lose their sparkle.
“Now drop your weapons or I’ll kill him with this deadly jelly baby.” /
“Kill him then.” / “I don’t take orders from anybody.”
The DVD’s commentary doesn’t feature Tom Baker, which inevitably means that it’s far less entertaining than it might have been, albeit far more informative. Range regular Toby Hadoke moderates a merry-go-round of contributors that include alumni of The Face of Evil (and, incidentally, the Star Wars trilogy too) as well as the omnipresent Louise Jameson, who discusses how she beat fifty-nine other actresses to the role by making director Pennant Roberts “work”, as well as her unflattering inspirations for Leela’s portrayal. In a particularly nice touch, the thoughts of the story’s otherwise-engaged writer are represented through a series of wry notes that he’s sent to Hadoke which enlighten as much as they amuse.
The disc’s flagship documentary, Into the Wild, treads much the same ground, albeit in a readily-digestible manner and with one or two whimsical digressions thrown in to boot. It’s hilarious to see Jameson discuss Leela’s first publicity pics, in which she’s caked in so much dirt that she looks almost blacked-up, and while Antony Frieze may sound like a Batman villain, he’s actually the now grown-up young boy whose dreams came true when his schoolteacher – the wife of The Face of Evil’s director – got him a gig voicing Xoanon.
Above: Louise Jameson dons the dirt as she goes Into the Wild
The fourth Doctor’s long-awaited edition of Tomorrow’s Times follows next, narrated by former series star Wendy Padbury. Its fifteen minutes are a little more sober than I’d expected, looking at the press’s surprisingly-apathetic attitude to Baker’s first season and the controversy that followed Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes’s ventures into teatime terror. I love the quote “Compared with it, an old Hammer movie wouldn’t crack toffee”, and the fact that one reviewer was so affronted by the series’ horror content that she saw fit to personally attack its script editor’s tall, wraithlike appearance. However, Baker’s inveterate absurdity can’t help but permeate the programme in parts - his frugal insistence on maintaining his £6.00 per week flat, despite earning reportedly £1,000.00 per week playing the Doctor, was quickly seized upon by Fleet Street scribes, as was his playful suggestion that he could be succeeded in the series’ starring role by an actress, and, of course, his controversial relationship – and ultimately marriage to – his latter days co-star Lalla Ward.
Continuing the recent trend of exhuming companions’ interviews recorded for the BBC’s 2003 documentary The Story of Doctor Who, the DVD also presents a seventeen-minute compilation of Louise Jameson’s reminiscences. The actress’s well-documented naivety about male interest in Leela is explored in a little more depth than usual here, and offset beautifully by the toiletry indignities that her costume initially forced upon her. Rather amusingly, the material presented includes a few revealing moments in which Jameson inadvertently drops her interview mask - it really tickled me to hear such an evidently classy lady describe something as “crap”. So much for the Doctor’s schooling, Eliza. The remainder of the disc is then filled up with a variety of completist ephemera, including ten minutes’ worth of 16mm film trims, toy adverts and Swap Shop clips.
Above: Wendy Padbury's seen it in The Times - Tomorrow’s Times
All told, The Face of Evil is a serial teeming with audacious ideas and peppered with wry, deadpan humour worthy of Douglas Adams. Quite rightly, its DVD focuses on Louise Jameson and Leela, but not to the detriment of the whole host of other elements that make it such a unique - if far from perfect - production.
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