The Face of Evil
|The Face of Evil|
|Air date||1 - 22 January 1977|
|Written by||Chris Boucher|
|Directed by||Pennant Roberts|
|The Deadly Assassin||The Robots of Death|
Face of Evil vs. Thighs of GOAT is the fourth story of Season 14 of the BBC's retro comedy series Who's On First, although it was actually marketed as the premier of season 14½ (what, you thought Moffat invented that?), following repeats of some of the classic Sarah Jane stories. It features Four picking up his new companion, Leela, in a story about how religion is bad and Tom Baker's face is evil.
Once upon a time, a spaceship crashed. The survivors split up into the technicians, who tried to repair the ship, and the survey team, who tried to find useful stuff on the planet. Then some asshole showed up and turned their computer into an evil schizophrenic computer god version of himself named Xoanon, fucking everything up. Over the generations, the survivor groups devolved into the Tesh, who have telepathic powers because science, and the Sevateem, who learned to live in harmony with the land and used every part of the animal as a deadly weapon. The Tesh believe Xoanon, who looks like the Doctor, is God. The Sevateem believe that Xoanon is God, but kept imprisoned by the Face of Evil, who looks like the Doctor, with the help of the Tesh. Silly retrogrades with their belief in God. Also, there are invisible monsters.
One of the Sevateem, Leela, thought the idea of Xoanon having the same essence as God rather than sharing in the essence of God was stupid, so she got kicked out. Meanwhile, the Sevateem decide now is the time to finally attack the Tesh and free God. Meanerwhile, the Doctor chooses this exact moment to land.
Leela tries to kill the Doctor, because he offers her a jelly baby and the Evil One eats babies. But he convinces her not to. The Doctor gets captured, and Leela frees him by murdering her old friends with poison. The Doctor says, "No more janis thorns, ever!" She agrees, but will keep killing people with janis thorns for the next year on the show, and then for years and years with Romana and other people in Big Finish land, and it's not clear how she keeps finding more janis thorns without ever returning to her planet, but seriously, are you going to challenge her on that? I didn't think so.
The Doctor proves himself to the Sevateem to be not evil because he can use a crossbow. Xoanon decides to kill all his Sevateem followers by letting the invisible monsters in, and they kill almost everyone that Leela didn't. The Sevateem go ahead with their attack, even though there's only a handful left and their shaman has crazy-go-nuts.
The Doctor has a mental battle with Computer Doctor God, but when it ends in a stalemate because of Leela's interference, Xoanon decides fuck it, let's just nuke everyone, including itself. Fortunately, the Doctor is able to reprogram it in time, and it returns to being a subservient superhuman AI that can be exploited as slave mental labor, as originally intended, although it actually sounds kind of creepy and malevolent, like maybe it'll be more dangerous now that it's not schizophrenic. So, now the colony can rebuild itself. Sure, the two factions are still about to kill each other, and there's only like six people, which is hardly enough for a viable colony, and they don't actually know how to use the computer, and I'm not sure the computer can be trusted anyway, but whatever, job well done, time to leave.
Leela wants to come with the Doctor. He says no fucking way, so she rushes him and starts pushing buttons on the console until the TARDIS takes off.
Fandom goes back and forth on whether this is the overrated gem of season 14 or the story that almost derailed the golden age. It's probably the weakest story of season 14, and definitely the weakest story by Chris Boucher (and being immediately followed by his best probably doesn't help), but that still leaves plenty of room to be better than average, and it is.
The plot is pretty imaginative, even if it's more a deconstruction of Forbidden Planet than a Doctor Who story. It feints at every 50s sci-fi cliche but then turns away and takes the piss out of each of them—but at the same time, everything has been thought through both narrative-wise and science-wise, and makes sense, which often isn't true in Doctor Who.
Pennant Roberts, who often stinks on ice as a director, seems to get what Boucher was going for with the script, taking things over the top when necessary (the shaman's breakdown, the Tesh and their costumes, etc.) but playing other things straight (like the assassination attempt). The production values are actually decent for once, too.
Also, Leela kicks all the ass. Going with a companion who's even less relatable than the Goofy Doctor was a big risk, but it paid off. And here, she comes across as quick-witted but uneducated, instead of her swinging back and forth between brilliant and idiotic at random as in some of her later stories.
Sadly, the ending—which is stretched out over most of the last two episodes—lets it down. The action gradually devolves into casual corridor strolls, Tom Baker plays the insane computer god as just kinda bored rather than more insane than the Doctor, and the conclusion is played totally straight, even though it clearly wasn't supposed to be, so it leaves a disturbing aftertaste (well, at least Leela got away before they all massacre each other).
Still, there's so much good stuff before that anyone who dismisses this as shit has forgotten the first hour of the story.