“The Face of Evil” is one of the most refreshing Who stories to come along in ages. In the seventies, Who did what it needed to pretty well, sometimes better than others, but it rarely told stories that really looked into classic science fiction themes. Usually we got more conventional “stop the alien invasion” tales.
In fact, it’s so unusual, and so different from what came before, that our son was really baffled by it. It’s a story that doesn’t have a malicious villain. Instead, a sentient computer has gone mad and needs to be cured. We saw one of the themes of this story in the one just before this: the scientific fact of the matter has passed into legend and folklore. The tribe of Sevateem are the descendants of the original survey team, and the tribe of Tesh are the great-great-grandchildren of the technicians who remained at the colony ship. The computer is keeping the tribes at war because it’s conducting a eugenics experiment without the ability or the maturity to understand the implications.
Our son absolutely loved the ending, where Leela disregards the Doctor telling her that she cannot come with him and storms past him into the TARDIS. Then, somehow, she manages to hit the correct switch to dematerialize. I remember cheering when I first saw this in 1984. I was so happy that Leela would be traveling with him. But how’d she hit the right switch? I think Marie was right when she told our son “Sometimes the TARDIS decides that it likes certain people and wants them to be the Doctor’s companions.”
“The Face of Evil” was one of three Who serials that Chris Boucher wrote for seasons fourteen and fifteen of the show, including, oddly, the very next one. After that, madly, the production team lost him to Blake’s 7, where he wrote all of that program’s best stories. I don’t love “The Face of Evil,” but I like it a lot, and admire how it feels so confident and certain despite its unusual scope.
But Boucher’s next story, ahhhh… that one I do love. Stay tuned!
Sometimes I think that coincidences are a virus from outer space. It’s already the 21st in the UK, but it’s still the 20th here, meaning tonight we watched Louise Jameson’s first episode of Doctor Who on her birthday. Happy birthday, Louise!
Louise plays Leela, a warrior of the Sevateem tribe, and she kills three people in her first episode. I think that makes her unique among Doctor Who companions. “The Face of Evil” also has some new faces in the background. It’s the first serial for the show to be written by Chris Boucher, and the first to be directed by Pennant Roberts. He has a very curious claim to fame. He’s the only Who director of the 1970s to direct any episodes in the 1980s. Unfortunately, he was often given extremely difficult stories to realize. “The Face of Evil” is comparatively simple compared to some nightmares he’ll be given to direct in 1984 and 1985, but he still has the thankless task of having a tribe of shirtless men, some of whom are bald, in what’s meant to be an electricity-free bunch of huts. So what are those lights reflecting off their skin?
So on Wednesday evening, we watched the Avengers episode “Something Nasty in the Nursery,” as you may recall. The story featured Dudley Foster as the villain. On Thursday evening, after our son went to bed, Marie and I watched an episode of The Saint. Working our way very, very slowly through the complete series, and alternating with so many other things, we came to the episode “The Abductors,” which features Foster, Nicholas Courtney, and David Garfield as the villains. And then on Friday evening, we watched “The Face of Evil,” which has Garfield in it. He plays the tribe’s shaman.
In 1987 or 1988, Nicholas Courtney was at a con in Atlanta, one of the ones at the old Sheraton Century Center, so possibly Dixie Trek. These were the days when actors and guests socialized and mingled and hung out in the hotel lobby between engagements and didn’t charge for autographs. One or two days before the con, by chance, WATL-36 showed this particular episode of The Saint. I used that as my excuse to introduce myself and make small talk, and enjoyed about ten minutes of gab with Courtney about acting. It will always be one of my happiest memories of going to those cons.
Resuming this epic Doctor Who adventure with its next two episodes, we saw our son dive behind the sofa twice tonight, with each cliffhanger. Part six ends with the Aliens’ space-time capsule being fiddled with to have its internal dimensions shrink. No longer bigger on the inside, it threatens to crush our heroes. This very nearly brought our son to tears, and he stomped away and threw his beloved security blanket “Bict” at the sofa. Part seven ends with the Doctor abducted by the villains, and he didn’t see that at all, hidden as he was. He bolted as soon as he heard the sound of the SIDRAT’s engines. Man, part eight’s cliffhanger is going to have him livid.
Now there’s a word. I love how these villains are written to use words that they’d know and the audience wouldn’t and the script doesn’t stop to explain things because there aren’t any heroes present to ask what they’re talking about. That will come later. So they call their capsules SIDRATs, which is, of course, TARDIS spelled backward. A decade later, this story’s co-writer Malcolm Hulke novelized the adventure for Target Books, and explained that SIDRAT is an anagram for Space and Inter-time Dimensional Robot All-purpose Transporter.
Another thing that they say, just as casual as anything, is “Time Lord.” Right there at the beginning of part six, the Security Chief tells his scientist buddy that the War Chief is a Time Lord, a phrase that this series has never uttered before. That’s not followed up in these two episodes.
So on the villain front, the Aliens’ battlefield generals Von Weich and Smythe are both killed in these episodes, but Philip Madoc, who last appeared in this series as a character in “The Krotons” just four months previously, arrives as the Aliens’ leader the War Lord. He’s so beatnik that you expect him to tell his squabbling Security Chief and War Chief “Cool it, Daddio.” I love how these villains are constantly at each other’s throats.
One important acting note tonight: making what I believe was his TV speaking debut in the small role of Private Moore in part six was the star’s son, David Troughton. He’s had a fun and busy career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and more than a hundred television roles over nearly fifty years, and would later appear in this show opposite both Jon Pertwee and David Tennant, thirty-six years apart.
Intrigue grows a little this week as we meet another villain, the Security Chief, played by James Bree in a high-pitched, teeth-gritted performance that most of us older Doctor Who fans have been known to imitate a time or two. Interrogating Zoe with a (no, not the) mind probe, he learns that she is from the 21st Century and travels in a TARDIS, but he deliberately withholds that information from the War Chief. Later, he confides with an underling, stating that the War Chief is not of their race, that the War Chief betrayed his own people, and that he fears he may be ready to double-cross this bunch of aliens as well.
Incidentally, this bunch never get a group name, which is really a little odd for Doctor Who. They really are just “that bunch of aliens with the eyewear fetish from The War Games,” although people often call them “the Warlords” or, magically, “the Aliens.”
Anyway, this episode ends with Jamie unwittingly leading a raiding party into an Alien ambush. I’ve looked back over our blog and really haven’t praised Frazer Hines as Jamie anywhere near enough. He’s always terrific fun, and I love the way he plays the “because you’re a girl” card with Lady Jennifer without thinking and instantly tries to get himself out of trouble. When Jamie goes down under a barrage of ray gun fire at the cliffhanger, it scared the devil out of our son, who whimpered and tried to hide behind his mommy.
I love this scene to pieces. It’s just seconds long and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the black and white era. The Doctor and the War Chief make eye contact… and they recognize each other. Of course, we had to underline what makes this important to our son, without giving anything away. He doesn’t quite grasp the ramifications. Neither did many of the people watching, perhaps.
Four years previously, when William Hartnell was the star, the Doctor had met another of his people. Played by the popular comedian Peter Butterworth, he called himself the Monk, had his own TARDIS, and, perhaps remarkably, was the only individual villain in the show’s first six seasons to get a rematch with the Doctor. He originally appeared in a four-part serial in July 1965, and then came back in January for three weeks as an ally of the Daleks, but the character was not used again after that. That’s in part because Butterworth became very busy making Carry On movies, and in part because the constantly changing production teams of Who during these days probably wanted to do their own things. The Monk was later resurrected in comics, novels, and audio adventures. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Graeme Garden occasionally plays the character opposite Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor in radio/CD stories.
But for the entire tenure of Patrick Troughton’s time as the Doctor, there’s been no hint of any other time travelers at all other than the Daleks, no other TARDIS, and certainly no people from his past who might recognize him*. There’s a great bit early on in this episode where the Doctor gets a bad feeling that he knows where this technology came from, but declines to elaborate to Zoe. Suddenly it becomes very clear that he’s going to have to start elaborating before this adventure ends.
I love the slow reveals of this story. This time out, we get confirmation that Gen. Smythe and his opposite number, Von Weich (played by David Garfield in full sneer mode) are aliens. They report to a mustached man played by Edward Brayshaw, whom the credits name as the War Chief, and he, in turn, reports to an as-yet unseen character called the War Lord. Layers upon layers, in the same way that the battlefields of 1917 France, ancient Rome, and 1862 America are laid next to each other.
The clues are there for adult viewers to start putting things together, but children still need a little help, as when Zoe says aloud what the grownups in the audience are thinking: the capsule that appears and disappears containing more soldiers than it should comfortably fit, and which sounds a whole lot like the TARDIS is possibly another TARDIS, which might be why Brayshaw’s War Chief is so interested in reports about time travelers. Our son is still slowly juggling the pieces and enjoying watching this unfold. I like how they don’t underline these possibilities, but let the audience consider them. “Lot for you to chew on before tomorrow night, huh?” I asked, and, eyes wide, he nodded. Definitely.