Sunday, November 11, 2012

Doctor Who: The Face of Evil (Story 89)

starring Tom Baker as the Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela.

Aiming for Hyde Park, the Doctor (4th incarnation) unexpectedly lands in an alien jungle instead; being the Doctor, he decides to have a look round. Much to his astonishment, the local savages recognize him immediately as the Evil One who is holding their god, Xoanon, captive behind an impenetrable wall, and his protests that he doesn't remember imprisoning anybody and they must be mistaken seem pretty thin even to him once he sees his own face carved on a cliffside in the style of Mount Rushmore. With the help of Leela, a young woman who has been cast out of the tribe for speaking out against both her leader and the shaman who speaks for the god, the Doctor sets out to discover exactly who and what Xoanon is, and why he himself made such an impression the last time he visited this planet.

When my boyfriend decided that he'd enjoyed Paul enough to own a copy, he also went through Amazon looking for a Doctor Who story with Tom Baker to give me, partly because he'd enjoyed Shada as well (but chiefly, I think, so that he'd be buying enough to qualify for free shipping; Amazon has a lot of frivolous purchases to answer for with that policy). He'd already ordered this one when he asked me what I thought of it, and was vastly relieved when I told him that as the introduction of Leela it was a fondly remembered favorite.

I was pleased to see that the story held up really well, in spite of the admittedly cheesy no-budget sets and effects. The writing is very sharp; this is the source of one of my favorite lines from the whole series, when the Doctor points out to Leela, "The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common: They don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views. Which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering."

Tom Baker's Doctor is more imperious than I remembered, but Leela is still five kinds of awesome. What I didn't know when I first saw this story back in the 80s is that it was actually quite rare for the show at that time to present a story about the Doctor having to clean up the consequences of his own previous good intentions. His own assertions to the contrary (and he says it at least twice in episodes of this very serial), the Doctor doesn't always have all the answers.  All in all, a very good story to show my boyfriend why I loved Doctor Who so much in high school!

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