The Doctor, when it comes down to it, is a really irresponsible person. Yes, he is a good guy, your planet will be safe, but he doesn't do his thing with anything resembling a plan. The only kind of plan he has ever had has never really changed, walk into trouble, fix the problem, save the day and then leave before the clean-up can begin. Of course there are convenient reasons for this, it is the most convenient way of getting the Doctor to his next adventure. But it is also a part of his character and has been from the very beginning, the Doctor can charm you and save your life but you can't really rely on him Minutes after blowing up a fleet of Dalek ships, he's off to the next planet. He never sticks around to see if his actions will cause new problems.
It is that very point which makes up the heart of The Face of Evil and it shows how awful it can be when the Doctor makes a mistake. For this story, some time in the past, The Doctor had met some planetary colonists and helped them to repair their super-intelligent computer, Xoanon. Instead, he made it go insane, the Doctor's personality is imposed on Xoanon in a schizophrenic break. But he leaves before checking his work and this means bad news for those he was trying to save. Xoanon quickly becomes a jailor and their god, destroying their high-tech society so it can perform eugenics experiments on them but pitting the two tribes against each other for centuries. What was once a peaceful group of people, trying to build a new life on a far away planet becomes a hellish life for the computer like Tesh and the tribe of the Sevateem, where the Doctor's new companion Leela comes from. The Tesh were the technicians while the Sevateem were the survey team. They now hate each other, only less than they hate the Doctor, who in both societies appears to be the Devil incarnate. And it is easy enough to find Xoanon, given that his face has been carved into a cliff-face, miles of feet high.
As well as the introduction of Leela, The Face of Evil was the first of three scripts to be written by Chris Boucher. He love of dark, noir-ish stories fitted in well with the Robert Holmes/ Phillip Hinchcliffe look for the show. The story shows us a rather unsavoury look at the Doctor as well as the story being a particularly barked, cynical and satirical comment on religion and politics being a game of backstabbing and ruthless pragmatism. While this story doesn't rank very highly for me, it does add to the high quality of season 14, one of the best seasons of Doctor Who. One thing I particularly like about this story is the introduction of Leela, played by Louise Jameson. Leela was strong, independent and intriguing. She was a blatant attempt to add some Emma Peel-style violence and sex appeal into the show. Leela is one of the most pragmatic companions in the history of show and is still one of the finest.
However, if Tom Baker had had his way, the Doctor would have spent his time alone. It would free up more screen time from his co-stars and allow the series to focus entirely on him. Following on from the departure of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith in The Hand of Fear, the producers gave Baker one adventure to prove that they were right, the adventure was to be The Deadly Assassin. And while this story is now considered to be a classic, at the time, Assassin wasn't a exact hit. So it was decided that in the next story, the new companion would be introduced. And given Baker's first scene it is not difficult to understand why Baker's idea was cut. The Doctor steps out of the TARDIS into a jungle, grumbling on about the ship's navigation system but deciding to look around anyway. While it was only a minor scene, a way to establish that he is lost and a way of getting him into the action sooner but that scene feels painfully staged and false mainly because Baker says his lines to the camera, rather than when he is doing his stuff. It is evident that Baker's instincts are questionable when he is alone and it is obvious that he needed other actors around to play against his magnetic grandiose eccentricity. It is when he bumps into Leela and her tribe that he goes back to being in his good Bakerish form, managing to baffle his opinions thanks to his flurry of conflicting emotions from clowning around to moral dungeon to simple curiosity. And he is plagued by guilt as he realises the error he had made in his past and the chaos it has lead too.
While the Doctor's unreliability does go back to the beginning of the show it was during the Baker era, that the Doctor didn't fail. This would happen more often during the Fifth and Sixth Doctor's era of the show. And although the Fourth Doctor never really failed, he did have failures in his character. He was a terrible secret agent for the Time Lords in Genesis of the Daleks, and nearly ends up giving his greatest villains the keys to the universe. But at this point, the idea that the Doctor could screw up this badly was new and shocking.
The original title of the story was a lot more provocative too. It was to be called, The Day God Went Mad. I can see why it was deemed a little too strong but there is still a jab at the Doctor in the eventual title, Xoanon itself has no face, it can only use the Doctor's face. It is his face that is carved into the cliff-side and the invisible jungle predators manifest themselves with his face. Xoanon also uses the Doctor's face in its secret chamber when a child's voice asks, "Who Am I?" In fact, every time the Xoanon computer goes out of the ship and into the real world, it also uses the Doctor's face to do its dirty work, in much the same way that Norman Bates uses his mother's persona to commit his murders.
But what is interesting is that Xoanon is as much of a victim as the people it is experimenting on. Xoanon isn't evil but traumatised and mentally ill. It is chilling to realise that the Tesh and Sevateem are completely unfazed on the idea of killing, probably without much influence from Xoanon. Compassion obviously has no place in either brance of Xoanon's crazy religion.
And even the worst human characters in this story are victims, who have been twisted by the false beliefs which have been imposed on them by Xoanon's eugenics programme. Of course Calib is the main exception to this as his villainy has sprung from the fact that he can see things how they really are and is willing to exploit this advantage to his own ends. But the two tribe's leader's, Neeva and Jobel, both of whom are creepily fanatical and dangerous, are made that way because these are the kind of religious leaders that Xoanon had wanted.
That makes Neeva's fall from grace all the more interesting. He starts the adventure a villain through and through, someone who is all too ready to kill those who dare to question both the authority of Xoanon or his own authority. But his disillusionment at Xoanon's treachery reduces him into a catatonic-like state and then into a chilly, oddly distant state, like that of someone walking through a dream. But he has learned to tell the difference between the Doctor's and Xoanon's personalities. It was different for Leela and Calib to realise that Xoanon wasn't a god because they were already sceptics. But Neeva's entirely life had been built around the fact he was Xoanon's priest. It is this that renders him impervious to Xoanon's mind-control in the final episode. He had broken the spell once, he wasn't going to fall for it again.
And no matter how much the Tesh try to imply they are, the Sevateem are neither stupid or innocent. Neeva's acceptance of the ugly truth concerning their world is only one example. Calib doesn't believe the Doctor to be the Evil One but he just doesn't care, he just believes that the Doctor is leverage against Neeva's power over his tribe. This sneaky level of politics is played on a more sophisticated level than you would ever give the Sevateem credit for. And Calib is cunning too, after the Doctor knocks him down, he pretends his leg is broken. It is a lie in an attempt to give him the upper-hand. Of course the Doctor sees right through it but it was a good ploy while it lasted.
It is Leela who is the best example of the Sevateem's intelligence. Before she even meets the Doctor she is established as a brave, smart and no-nonsense type of person. And Louise Jameson was the perfect choice to play the character. She gave Leela a fearlessness and cool competence that helped her bring the character to life. It is just a shame that her subsequent stories never really allowed her to reach her full potential. I would say she is one of my favourite companions but you need to look past the revealing costume to see that Leela was so much more than a pretty woman in a loincloth. It is in The Face of Evil that she was shown at her absolute best. She is unschooled and almost unaware of all technology but she is still willing to ask all the hard questions about her world. She is level headed but unhesitant to act when she needs to but she has also been trained by her lifestyle to coldly and brutally kill anyone if needs be.
In her later stories, Leela is shown to have keen animal-like senses. Just like Xoanon had cultivated the telepathic powers of the Tesh, it is possibly he changed the Sevateem's senses so that they could survive in their jungle home. And while it is a bit of a stretch to believe that they had superpowers, it is not too hard to think that Xoanon might have been able to make major changes to the human body, given he has had centuries to do it. Just look at our world, if a wolf could turn into him a poodle or Chihuahua, then anything is possible!
And if the Sevateem are well developed, the same can't really be said for their enemies. The Tesh arrive late in the story and don't get a lot of screen time. The only characteristics they have are that they are unemotional fascists but the story suffers because it is a little hard to see how they could possibly have anything in common with their Sevateem cousins when it comes to creating a new world together.
That could have always been the point as the ending does reflect Robert Holme's beliefs about human nature. Despite the Tesh and Sevateem agreeing to merge, the story ends with the two tribes squabbling between themselves with no clear indication that there will be hope for the future. And then the Doctor rolls his eyes and declares things are no longer his problem and that it is now okay for him to walk away. Even though he has fixed the Xoanon problem, there is still a mess he has left behind. And this does raise one more unsettling possibility, what other mistakes has he made on other planets? And how much damage has he done?