Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Story 89 - The Face of Evil

In which the Doctor arrives on a primitive planet, only to discover a previous visit by him has made a big impression on the locals...
Leela, a warrior woman of the Sevateem tribe is being punished for blaspheming against their god, Xoanon. She is offered a choice between the Test of the Horda or exile. Her father agrees to take the test in her place - only to fail and be killed. Leela is banished. Not content with this punishment, her enemies in the tribal council (would-be leader Calib and High Priest Neeva) conspire to send some men to kill her. She meets the Doctor, and he is intrigued by her reaction. She accuses him of being the "Evil One", the abductor of Xoanon. He gets the same reaction from the men who have been hunting Leela.
He insists on being taken to the Sevateem village. Here, he sees evidence of advanced technology - defunct equipment and spacesuit components - their original use long forgotten. He had earlier noted that the tribesfolk use spacesuit safety check movements as a form of "blessing". He finds that everyone believes him to be the "Evil One". He is shocked to hear Xoanon speak to Neeva - as it is recognisably his own voice which answers the High Priest.

Calib attacks Leela with a Janis Thorn - whose poison paralyses instantly, with death following minutes later. Fortunately, a piece of medical equipment is still working and it provides the antidote. Leela takes the Doctor to see where Xoanon is believed to be imprisoned (guarded by another tribe known as the Tesh). The Doctor sees his own features carved into a mountain. There is a force barrier stopping the Sevateem from getting near this place - and invisible monsters are said to roam the jungle. The Doctor returns to the village to try to communicate with Xoanon. He is captured and forced to take the Test of the Horda. These are small, vicious, flesh-eating creatures. He must shoot a moving cord with a crossbow bolt before a mechanism causes him to plunge into a pit full of the creatures. Having passed the test, the Doctor must get the tribe to work together if they want to break through the energy barrier.

He and Leela travel beyond the face on the mountainside (through the Doctor's mouth) and see a spaceship lying on a plain beyond. The Doctor has finally worked out why his image is here. Many centuries ago, by the planet's time-scale, he had arrived here and helped the Mordee expedition, which had just landed from Earth. He had repaired their computer using a Sidelian Memory Transfer - effectively patching in part of his own mind. Over the centuries, this mental component has conflicted with the computer's own emerging personality to create a machine suffering from multiple personalities. Xoanon is that computer, and it is quite mad. One of the things it has been doing is conducting an experiment in eugenics. The Sevateem (corruption of Survey Team) have been left to live a natural, instinctive existence, whilst the Tesh (Technicians) who remained on the ship are emotionless technocrats. The Sevateem attack and break in, and the Doctor must stop both sides destroying each other whilst curing Xoanon by removing his memory trace. He succeeds, and Xoanon becomes sane and lucid. It will guide the two groups and help them live together - learning from each other. Leela prefers to join the Doctor on his travels - whether he agrees or not...

This four part adventure was written by Chris Boucher, and broadcast between New Year's Day and 22nd January, 1977. The director is Pennant Roberts - Louise Jameson's favourite. She makes her début in this story as new companion Leela. Louise's revealing leather costume caused quite a stir of publicity - not necessarily welcomed by the leading man. Tom Baker was famously unhappy with some of the more bloodthirsty attributes which Leela demonstrated. She wielded a knife and the Janis Thorns whereas he thought the Doctor and companions should never carry weapons of any kind. Tom had also been arguing that he didn't need a companion at all.
The idea of a society split between the technically advanced and the savage / primitive is not a new one. Indeed, Doctor Who had already shown something similar back in 1966 with The Savages. The mad computer is not an original Sci-Fi concept either. Boucher melds the two and makes the madness the cause for the division in the society.

There is quite an impressive guest cast - with a few Welsh performers on show. (Director Roberts was Welsh, of course). High Priest Neeva - just as mad as his god - is a stand-out performance by David Garfield. He had previously been seen in The War Games as Von Weich. The initially treacherous Calib is played by Leslie Schofield - who would be reunited years later with Louise Jameson on Eastenders. Leela has an admirer in young Tomas (Brendan Price). Price would soon find fame in the Philip Hinchcliffe produced Target police series. Leader of the Tesh is Leon Eagles (Jabel).
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor finds out why everyone thinks he is the "Evil One" when he sees his own features carved into a mountainside.
  2. His leader - Andor - dead, Tomas fires at one of the invisible monsters with an energy weapon, and it is the Doctor's face which is revealed.
  3. In the Inner Sanctum - the computer core - the Doctor is bombarded with images of his own face crying out "Who am I?".
  4. The Doctor tries to get Leela to leave the TARDIS, but she dematerialises the ship...

Overall, an impressive début on the show for writer Boucher. Interesting, if unoriginal, concepts. Good performances. At the time, I was not too keen on this - still suffering from the loss of Sarah Jane. The jungle set is nowhere near as good as that seen in Planet of Evil.
Things you might like to know:
  • The original story title of "The Day God Went Mad" was deemed a bit too controversial by the BBC.
  • As well as Tom Baker, Xoanon is voiced by a number of people - Rob Edwards, Pamela Salem, Anthony Frieze and Roy Herrick. Edwards and Salem were both to appear in the following story (The Robots of Death) and so were in rehearsals for that at the time. Frieze was a young visitor to the studios (a pupil of Pennant Robert's wife). It is his voice which we hear just before the end credits of Part Three.
  • Jameson was originally going to be "blacked up" to portray Leela. She did get stuck with red contact lenses - to make her blue eyes look brown. We'll return to them when we get to Story 92...
  • Listen closely and Leela pronounces Calib's name differently, depending on whether it's on film at Ealing or in studio. It's "Kah-lib" on film, and "Kay-lib" in studio.
  • Schofield and Jameson are not the only Eastenders regulars on view. In Part One, there is a blink-and-you'll-miss-him glimpse of Peter Dean (as one of the tribesmen). He played Pete Beale for many years on the soap.
  • Tom Baker and Louise Jameson changed the pronunciation of the name of the thorns from Janice to Janus (like the Roman god). They thought Janice Thorn sounded too much like an out of work actress.
  • SFX man Matt Irvine made his first appearance on the BBC1 Saturday morning magazine programme Swap Shop on the back of this story - the first of many. He created the Horda and the Mordee spaceship model.
  • The planet is one of only a tiny handful in the series' history that is left unnamed.
  • Mordee? Could that be the planet's name? Might it be the name of the Earth colony the expedition came from? Or the expedition leader's name?
  • Just when did the Fourth Doctor first visit the planet? Most people think he slipped away from the UNIT HQ sickbay post regeneration - hence the bodged job he made of fixing Xoanon. The only other possible gap is actually the one immediately preceding this very story. We don't know how long he travelled alone after leaving Gallifrey.
  • A bit like the way Series 7 has sometimes been thought to be two separate series due to the length of time between the two halves, the Radio Times actually billed this as the start of a new series. There had been a five week gap since The Deadly Assassin ended. It does have the feel of something new - more Williams than Hinchcliffe.
  • The ending has always been a bit controversial. First of all, there was the Doctor's claim in Pyramids of Mars that the controls of the TARDIS are isomorphic - so couldn't be operated by anyone else. We now know the Doctor often lies about the attributes of his ship, in the hope people will believe him and not try anything (as with the "temporal grace" claim). What seems more unlikely is that Leela just happens to press the right button. Then again, maybe the TARDIS is doing its own thing yet again...

No comments:

Post a Comment