The Doctor Who releases keep coming from the BBC! One of the newest, on sale this coming Tuesday, is “The Face of Evil,” a four-parter from the middle of the 14th series, originally broadcast in 1977, is one of the rare Who stories that had not yet been put out on DVD. That is, until now.
“The Face of Evil” begins as the Doctor (Tom Baker), now without a companion, lands on a jungle planet, where he finds two tribes battling each other. Rescuing the Sevateem outcast Leela (Louise Jameson, Doc Martin, EastEnders), the Doctor becomes embroiled in a religious dispute involving the god Xoanon. The Sevateem declare that the Doctor is the Evil One, who keeps Xoanon prisoner, while the other tribe, the Tesh, think that the Doctor is a god. However, it’s soon clear that the Doctor has some past involvement with this planet, and Xoanan, who is quite real, wants him dead.
This is an interesting mystery story. At first glance, the planet is primitive, but soon there are signs that all is not as it appears. Some very advanced technology is present, including force fields and a transceiver, and the Doctor’s own face is carved into a mountain. These things sort of make it a precursor to the series Lost, though with a lot more natives, and a lot less plane crash victims.
There is also a story element that the tribes are descended from Earth people. Having crashed and unable to leave, they must start society all over, building lives and villages in the wilderness. This plot borrows heavily from Star Trek, which did a similar thing several times, only a decade earlier. That doesn’t make “The Face of Evil” unoriginal, necessarily, but does make it feel familiar for the genre and time period from which it comes.
The humans in “The Face of Evil” are not the men viewers might expect. They were part of a eugenics research project, and some have developed telepathic abilities. This duality, being both more primitive and more advanced than the world where viewers live, makes them a clever curiosity well worth watching.
The villain of “The Face of Evil” is the Doctor, kind of. He creates the personality that controls Xoanon, who is really a computer. It’s not a purposeful mistake that the Doctor makes, but it’s still at least partially his fault. The Doctor has never been a perfect being, and this story highlights that again. By making the titular character flawed, and capable of causing great damage without even realizing it, the Doctor becomes an even more shifty hero. Stories like these really enrich the series.
Leela is a departure from previous Doctor Who companions. For one thing, she’s from a society that isn’t exactly modern and up-to-date. This makes her moral compass and attitudes very different. She is plenty willing to kill others to help the Doctor escape. Obviously, the Doctor cannot allow this. But that does not mean he isn’t impressed with her courage and resourcefulness. He wisely doesn’t invite her to come along with him, but proving her tenacity once more, she gets onto the TARDIS anyway. If one has not seen any future stories that she is a part of, “The Face of Evil” leaves one very much wanting to see how she will adjust to the Doctor’s strange lifestyle and activities.
This release of “The Face of Evil” is not considered a special edition, unlike the other three Doctor Whos coming out this week. This is likely because no other version of the story is currently available on DVD. However, it has about as many bonus features as the Special Edition releases. For a one-disc set, the list is quite impressive.
First up, is the expected audio commentary, featuring Louise Jameson, guest stars, a producer, and a cameraman. It’s a great, full list, so there is plenty of perspective given. Thankfully, there is also a moderator to keep the conversation from devolving into chaos. The typical photo gallery and PDF materials are also included.
A 25-minute feature goes behind the scenes of the shoot, providing a nice “making of” documentary. An additional nine minute “From the Cutting Room Floor” expounds upon this. There is a seventeen minute interview with Jameson from 2003, about her Doctor Who experience, as well as another four minute talk with the actress. A toy advertisement and and fourteen minutes of press coverage for the Fourth Doctor, Baker, help convey the public attitude towards the series at the time, and can help younger viewers imagine what it must have been like to watch the series during its initial run.
Doctor Who – “The Face of Evil” is a great story, and the DVD is fully packed with extras. It is a must buy for any Doctor Who DVD collection. “The Face of Evil” goes on sale this Tuesday, March 13.