02 February 2014

TV: The Face of Evil

Preconceptions: I've never seen this story before, so I thought before I reviewed it, I'd just make quick list of things I know (or think I know) about it. Firstly, the big one is that it introduces Leela - that much I know for a fact. I don't think there are any 'monsters' as such in this one; the Sevateem are descendents of the Survey Team (shame I know that, I'm sure it'd be a neat twist that I wouldn't have worked out); there's some kind of holy war between the two tribes due to the God Xoanon; there's some kind of depiction of the Doctor's face on a cliff, as a result of his visit during Robot (though I may have just imagined that).

I feel for The Face of Evil. It comes so close to being a classic. There's a really intelligent script at work, Leela is absolutely phenomenal in her debut story and Tom Baker is at the height of his powers. But the big drawback for me is the design. For one thing, the spaceship sets look awful, being so bright and budget. For another, the costumes of the Tesh are just really, really poor (and I mean cyan shoulder pads poor). They're worse than some of what we get in the '80s, which is saying something. Unfortunately, these elements detract so much from what's going on that there's just no going back. It's an even greater shame when you've got another high calibre cast.

But let's start with Leela - unquestionably one of the highlights of this story. Right from the off, she's far more exciting for me than Sarah Jane ever was, and possibly Jo too. When we first meet her in the first moments of the story, she's on trial for refuting Xoanon's status as a God, showing from the off that she doesn't simply follow the herd, and is strong-willed (so much so that she's prepared to die for her beliefs). Almost instantly after being 'cast out' she bumps into the Doctor. There's a nice bit of direction here, as she encounters him - a rarity in this story. Throughout, she impresses with her attitude, sharp wit and charm. She's instantly likable and I think Louise Jameson deserves a lot of credit for this. She's arguably one of the strongest actresses to play a regular in Doctor Who, able to play a number of emotions in quick succession whilst keeping the portrayal plausible and believable.

Tom Baker's on form again in this story. Chris Boucher's script serves the Doctor really well, giving him brilliant lines and lots to do. There's some bizarre direction as he leaves the TARDIS, to explore the (unnamed) planet. He delivers all his lines straight to camera, like a slightly-absent minded presenter of some futuristic Countryfile. It sticks out and brings the viewer out of what is otherwise a strong sequence (we don't see much of the jungle). I thought Baker 'played' Xoanon really well, too. The cries building up to the end of Part Three were really well done, and I love the visual effect they put on it too. That's one element of the story's design that hasn't dated really badly.

The cliffhangers in this story feel really fresh and interesting. I don't know if it was deliberate, but having a series of endings where there's not really any threat of jeopardy for our regulars is really nice after those of The Deadly Assassin Parts Two and Three. The first in this story is a revelation (and one which I expect would have been a surprise for many viewers upon first viewing, but has become established as one of the facts all fans know about this story, whether they've seen it or not): the Doctor's face on the cliffside. This looks a lot bigger here than in later episodes. The scale does change though (compare the size of the teeth inside and outside the Doctor's mouth with Baker and Jameson).

Onto the story's design. I think it's fair to say Austin Ruddy is no Roger Murray-Leach or Kenneth Sharp (who handled the following story, The Robots of Death). Whilst his sets on the planet's surface aren't too bad, just distinctly average 'primitive tribe' camps rather than trying to do anything innovative or exciting, the interior of the ship is where he really falls down. White-walled, immaculate rooms and corridors with lines running along them, Ruddy was ten years ahead of his time (and not in a good way). To be fair to him, it's really not helped by the lighting of Derek Slee. It's a real shame that this story wasn't handled by the production team of The Deadly Assassin. Under the eye of Maloney, Murray-Leach, James Acheson & Joan Ellacott (costume) and Brian Clemett (lighting), this could've gone down as a classic. But it wasn't, so it didn't. Another puzzle in this department are the costumes - how did John Bloomfield get the Sevateem's so right and the Tesh's so wrong? Strangely, this is the man who also did The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and look how well that turned out!

Anyway, a few notes on the script. It's clear throughout that this story is about Leela. There's a quick acknowledgement that the Doctor hadn't just abandoned Sarah in his first line, where he comments that it isn't Hyde Park that he's landed in. He doesn't seem particularly disappointed though, seeing as he makes no further reference to it for the rest of the four episodes. To be honest, I'm glad. I've never really enjoyed Sarah (the character, not Elisabeth Sladen, please note) and I think it's a crying shame that Leela missed out on the glorious stories of Series 13. Just imagined how bloody good they would have been! But back to the script. The references to the Doctor as 'The Evil One' are good, if slightly overdone and repetitive. It might hold slightly more credibility if the depiction of him on the hillside (why's that there by the way, apart from 'because'?) actually looked like Tom Baker, rather than 'generic human male with curly hair and a nose'. But still, more impressive innovation from Boucher.

In summary then, a high-concept script with a strange lack of enthusiasm from many of the departments in control of what we ended up seeing on screen. Leela is just brilliant throughout, thanks to Boucher and Jameson. She seems moulded for the Fourth Doctor, which is ironic considering the stories of Jameson and Baker's working relationship. One thing I did learn in this story, which I made a note of was that Leela does actually use contractions, contrary to what a certain Mr Nicholas Briggs would have you believe. Louise Jameson plays the 'savage' as very middle-class English here, I felt, compared to successive portrayals. It may be my memory playing tricks on me, but I was surprised by her tone of voice. I guess I'll see over the next few weeks.

The script is well paced, keeping the tension and mystery whilst adding in enough action to sustain the interest across four episodes. Sadly Pennant Roberts' direction doesn't follow suit, rushing through parts and crawling through others. Like much of The Face of Evil, Roberts' work isn't often notable and when it is, it's not in a positive light. The concept behind the story is strong enough, but doesn't warrant another visit, perfect for a companion's debut story in the classic series. It's also a clever move to kill her father almost instantly, severing all familial ties she might have on the planet to save revisiting it (although, would she really want to anyway? This lot are pretty rubbish, almost down there with the Tribe of Gum). Speaking of which, how come Leela's the only woman in either the Sevateem or the Tesh. The only two females in this story are her and the 'other half' of Xoanon.

This could be a gripping story. It's got a great script (which you're probably tired of me mentioning by now), and is well acted by Baker, Jameson and particularly David Garfield as Neeva - a role he manages to pull off without veering into melodrama, a feat to be applauded in itself - amongst the guest stars. The design lets it down however, severely. It's such a shame. Louise Jameson is possibly the best casting of a companion in the show's original run. She is perfect for the part, and I mean that. I can't praise her highly enough here, and I look forward to seeing her develop over the following nine stories.

In a Nutshell: A man tries to imprint his personality on a woman. It was never going to end well.

If the previous story's production team had been held over, this could easily be a 9. As it is,

You can buy The Face of Evil from Amazon here, but Joe from Doc Oho hasn't reviewed it yet.

1 comment:

  1. Other things I didn't mention:
    - after the innocence of Sarah and Jo (and to an extent Liz, Zoe and Victoria etc etc), it's nice to have a strong female character; I think this is reflected in Louise Jameson's greater height, she seems more of a match for the Doctor compared to her smaller predecessors
    - the cover art for this by Lee 'Genius' Binding is probably my favourite of the entire range
    - Leela's costume (what there is of it) is well designed, exactly what you might imagine from someone in her position and environment
    - there's no dust or anything on any of the controls after what is implied to be centuries
    - perhaps the machines work a little too easily after their time out
    - the two days at the end were completely pointless; the same effect could have been achieved by making it two hours - in fact, it probably would have strengthened it
    - I love how Leela just forces her way aboard the TARDIS
    - doesn't Tom Baker have piercingly blue eyes?
    - you can pass in and out of the Tribe's 'grounds' very easily (hence they're a bit rubbish)
    - the creatures attacking the Tribe in Parts Two and Three are really well realised, love them

    And that's about it. I'm sure I'll remember more later.