Doctor Who episode 443: The Face of Evil – Part Four (22/1/1977)

This is a rare story that gets more interesting as it goes along. The Tribe of the Sevateem stuff was fine, but I felt like it ran out of puff well before the end of the second episode. Whereas this, although it probably includes one corridor scene too many (and Leela getting possessed twice, which is weak as water), is filled with great character moments and wit, and ends up as the most compelling Hinchcliffe finale since Genesis of the Daleks.

Tom Baker is brilliant in this: on the cusp of his Marmite excesses in future seasons, he’s still got some of the moodiness he showed with Sarah Jane (there’s an edge when he tells Xoanon ‘I don’t think anyone could have made [my mistake]’), but generally plays this very light. And possibly despite himself, makes a convincing double act with Jameson. Their little business where he takes her last chocolate, the moment where she loses patience with his flippant comments about Xoanon’s dinner parties, and their sofa chat with the cured supercomputer are all wonderful. It helps that the characterisation of the Doctor has more effort put into it than just leaving Baker to work it out. He cures Xoanon rather than confusing it into exploding, which is the standard conclusion to these sort of stories. And when the time comes to work out what happens next, he’s not interested: ‘That’s not my problem,’ he says, and he’s gone.

FaceEvil4

The story is set up for it to be Leela’s problem. The Tribe nominate her as leader of the new united Sevateem and Tesh. But she rejects it and runs off after the Doctor instead. Even then, the audience is primed for the Doctor to give her a pep talk and for her to go and be the Mordee Queen. But Leela has more agency than pretty much any companion we’ve yet met. Instead, she steals a Time Lord and his TARDIS so she can go and see the universe.

This is very good. Some of the lines in this are brilliantly quotable (the ‘very powerful and the very stupid’ witticism is rightly praised, and also sounds exactly like something Avon might say in Blake’s 7). The action, too, works well: the Doctor gets a very brutal-looking scrap with a Tesh guard. It is quite a bold reformatting of the series, though. For the first time since 1969, the Doctor has no ties to contemporary Earth. Over the past two and a half seasons UNIT, the Brigadier and Sarah Jane have been removed bit by bit. This is all Hinchliffe’s now. We won’t get another ‘girl next door’ regular until 1982. This could be quite liberating, but could also make the series feel a bit rootless and disconnected. For the rest of the Tom Baker years it’s extra-terrestrials all the way.

Next episode: The Robots of Death

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2 comments

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 442: The Face of Evil – Part Three (15/1/1977) | Next Episode...
  2. George Kaplan

    “”That’s not my problem,” he says, and he’s gone.” Quite right too. In modern times the criticism would be that he *doesn’t* stay around* and make sure everything’s tickety boo (with maybe a bit of buzzword bingo about colonialism along with inappropriate references to events in recent decades. All of which suggests that the commentators must a) get arthritis from patting themselves on the back and b) not be able to tell the difference between fiction and reality), as if the Doctor is supposed to be “perfect” – arguably the point of Face of Evil is that he *isn’t* – and they can’t use their imaginations. The “gaps” in stories are where the audience can pour in their ideas. The opposite of something like that is The Timeless Children when we get a preposterous and preposterously unneeded “secret origin” (along with some casting explicitly designed to head off criticism and attract undeserved praise: “Ha ha! With this casting any criticism can automatically be destroyed via ad hominem attack. The memory cheats!”) that adds precisely nothing and stands with Trial of a Time Lord with the most misbegotten concepts in Doctor Who history. (Except it’s worse than that. It’s true!) Sure one could pour ideas into the supposed gap featuring pseudoDoctors, but emptying pointless effluvia on top of effluvia doesn’t appear to have much to recommend it. Compare with Steven Moffat’s “War Doctor”, cooked up when Eccleston refused to return but such a brilliant idea; one made greater by the casting of John Hurt and some great dialogue, and the whole Timeless Chicken concept appears even sillier/worse/more inept.

    *Of course, illogicalities aside, Steven Moffat’s Time of the Doctor dramatises – as much as it can in around thirty minutes of the episode – the Doctor really staying to keep an eye on and protect a place. Moffat did that quite well, I don’t think we need any stories retreading that idea though. I wonder how RTD will deal with a Black Doctor travelling into Earth’s past? I don’t think he can dodge that but at the same time the Doctor IS the Doctor, he ISN’T Human so it can’t be a defining factor otherwise a) it won’t be Doctor Who, b) The show will get bogged down, and c) It will be boring. (I don’t think we need the Doctor delivering a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe homily at the end of every story. Altho’ if anyone does want that, and done hilariously badly to boot, I’ve gotta job lot o’ ‘ooky Doctor ‘Oo gear from a fellah by the name of Chibnall. Fear his name.)

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