Doctor Who: The Face of Evil
(4 episodes, s14e13-e16, 1977)
After a solo Doctor story, it’s time for a new companion. We meet her as she is banished for heresy against her tribe’s god, Xoanon. Her father attempts to save her by taking the Test of the Horda in her place, but he dies. She’s getting the royal superhero origin story, but I have to wonder if there are anymore women in her tribe. She’s the only one attending the tribunal, and… well… awkward…
The Doctor is still traveling alone, arriving on a soundstage planet strewn in dead wood. In lieu of a companion, he addresses the camera directly. He runs into the outcast as she is making her way outside the boundary of the village. She is ambushed by men sent by the tribe’s shaman, Neeva, to assassinate her. She takes one down, and is saved by her friend Tomas, who regretfully returns without her. She continues on while, being pursued by a creature, and literally stumbles into the Doctor, who she calls “the Evil One”. Her name is Leela, and the Doctor saves them both from the creatures using a alarm clock. He later discovers that a sonic disruptor that keeps these strange phantoms inside a designated perimeter.
We then get some more backstory: Neeva and Andor are leading the Sevateem in a attack on the Tesh to free their god. Leela fought against this action because it would cost the tribe dearly, but Andor, the tribal leader, believes that it will unite the people.
The Doctor and Leela are discovered by a warrior patrol. He recognizes their hand gestures as the sequence for checking seals on a particular spacesuit and offers himself to the warriors, but leaves Leela behind. He is taken before Andor, who confines him, but this offers the Doctor a chance to see how their tribe is centered around futuristic technology, possibly from a failed space expedition. Leela sneaks back into the tribe and frees the Doctor using Janis thorns, which paralyze and then kill. As they escape, the Doctor tells her that she cannot use the thorns them again. They then encounter a hill with a carving of the Doctor’s face, a Mt. Rushmore-style tribute to the Evil One, but the Doctor cannot remember having visited this place before.
The pair return to the tribe and examine the Shrine of Xoanon. The relics are artifacts from an Earth survey expedition, and a transceiver speaks as Xoanan with the Doctor’s voice. Stunned, he investigates the wall at the edge of the Evil One’s domain and discovers that it is a time barrier. Meanwhile, the tribe attacks the Tesh and half of them are cut down by laser beams. One of the elders, Calib, returns home to find Leela and the Doctor. As the Doctor talks to Calib, the elder attacks Leela with a Janis thorn to stop her from derailing his plan to take control of the tribe. Tomas returns next and the Doctor forces him and Calib to move Leela to a medical analyzer, which he uses to administer an antidote. He distracts the tribesmen as Leela and Tomas attempt to escape, but Andor discovers them and apprehends all of them. The tribesmen debate, which the Doctor scores using tennis rules, and Andor finally sentences the Doctor to the Horda test. A Horda is a creature with vicious fangs that strikes at anything that moves, and the test is surviving a pit full of them by shooting the counterweight at the right moment. The Doctor uses his shooting skills, taught to him by William Tell, and passes the test.
Now free, the Doctor returns to the room of artifacts and discovers that the tribe will soon be attacked by Xoanan. He prepares the tribe for battle, then, with Leela’s help, tracks the source of the transmission at the mountain. The phantoms attack, killing Andor, and the disruptor fire used against them reveals the Doctor’s face.
Inside the mountain, the Doctor and Leela discover a man in a spacesuit and the Doctor’s memory starts to return. They arrive on a ship belonging to the Mordee Expedition, the source of both tribes: The Sevateen are the ship’s former survey team, and the Tesh are the ship’s technicians. The Tesh discover the pair and, using telepathy, knock Leela unconscious. Xoanan is revealed as an artificial intelligence that the Doctor repaired when he first encountered the expedition, but he forgot to wipe his personality print from the core afterward, and that resulted in the AI having a split personality. The Doctor discovers that Leela is scheduled for disintegration and tries to help her, but he is telepathically knocked out and confined to the machine. He defeats the beam with a mirror and they escape.
While watching her mannerisms and facial expressions, Leela reminds me a lot of Jane Seymour from 1973. Particularly from Live and Let Die.
The Doctor and Leela discover the communications room and the Doctor, speaking as Xoanan, orders Neeva to bring the tribe to the mouth of the mountain carving. Afterward, they head to the ship’s computer room to confront Xoanan. Leela stands guard as the Doctor enters and attempts to shut it down by reasons, but the AI attacks him. While on the run from guards, Leela rescues the Doctor. The computer has electrified the walls in an attempt to stop them, as well as taking telepathic control of the Tesh.
The Sevateem find the entrance to the ship and launch an attack against the Tesh. Meanwhile, the Doctor develops a plan to repair the computer. He also stymies an attempt by Xoanan to take control of Leela. They head to the control room to attempt to repair the computer, but Xoanan commences an overload of the atomic reactors. Xoanan also takes control of the humans, promising that if they destroy the Doctor, they will be free. Neeva interprets the order differently and fires a large disruptor at the face of Xoanan. He is vaporized in the process, but the blast breaks Xoanan’s control just long enough for the Doctor to complete his repairs and reset the computer. The short circuit that ensues knocks out the Doctor for two days.
Once he revives, the Doctor takes Leela to the computer room where they find a repaired Xoanan. The computer admits that it was conducting a eugenics experiment, but now that it is better, it is ready to help both factions find peace and start a new society. The Doctor refuses to involve himself in their politics, and heads for the TARDIS. Leela follows, and when the Doctor refuses to take her with him, she rushes inside the TARDIS and (somehow) starts the dematerialization process.
I’m not yet sure what to think of Leela. She’s certainly a strong female character, which I love, but she’s also impulsive. A lot of that might be her upbringing on this planet among her people, and she might develop more as she explores with the Doctor.
Provided that she lasts that long.
Overall, I wavered between a high three and a low four, so I averaged it out.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Robots of Death
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.
5 thoughts on “Timestamp #89: The Face of Evil”
This story was never my favorite, but I think that Leela will grow on your after a while. Certainly the next two are considered some of the best stories of all-time for Doctor Who and are the pinnacle of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era of the series.
[…] Masque of Mandragora – 4 The Hand of Fear – 4 The Deadly Assassin – 3 The Face of Evil – 4 The Robots of Death – 4 The Talons of Weng-Chiang – […]
[…] is brought before the Collector, who learns of the Sevateem and the TARDIS. He dismisses Leela and researches the Time Lords, then informs Hade of the […]
[…] story’s premise is decent enough – it should be since it’s effectively a rehash of The Face of Evil – but the execution is terrible. The Oracle computer was a lackluster and impotent villain […]
[…] to expound on Robert Holmes’s anger about the tax system, and Underworld basically retold The Face of Evil with a veneer of the Greek myths and a lot of terrible blue screen […]