Doctor Who: The Face of Evil
I've never understood why it has taken so long for The Face of Evil to come out on DVD as it comes from one of the show's golden periods and is superior to quite a few of the titles that have already been released. It is a particularly interesting Fourth Doctor story because it introduces one of the more significant companions from the show's history. Written by Chris Boucher and directed by Pennant Roberts this 4-part serial was broadcast between the 1st and 22nd January 1977 following a six-week hiatus over Christmas. In those days the BBC's event Christmas Specials belonged very much to Eric and Ernie. The story came midway through Tom Baker's third season and the fourteenth overall. Sarah Jane had departed two stories earlier and it was time to introduce the Doctor's new companion, the 'savage amazon' Leela played by Louise Jameson. Following the power shenanigans on Gallifrey in the previous story The Deadly Assassin, the TARDIS materialises in yet another plastic jungle. The Doctor stumbles first across the outcast warrior Leela and then finds himself caught up in the continuing conflict between the tribal Sevateem and the mysterious unseen Tesh and their 'god' Xoanon who speaks to the Sevateem's shaman Neeva with a voice uncannily like the Doctor's - or could it be Jon Culshaw? Although the Sevateem lead a simple life clad in Cuprinol and well-crafted leatherwear their village contains relics of a technologically advanced spacefaring nature. The Doctor finds out very quickly that this is not his first visit to this planet. Cue the Mount Rushmore moment at the end of the first episode with familiar sting on the soundtrack.
When I watch this I find echoes of Whos both old and new. In some respects this is reminiscent of old Hartnell stories with its plastic studio jungles and its conflict between a jungle-dwelling tribe and a high tech oppressor. I detect echoes of The Daleks. There are also elements which are exploited in recent series: the Doctor-as-god and the resonating legacy over the years of his meddling on the people he has 'helped'. I rather like that as it provides a thread of loose continuity throughout the decades. The story owes something to Forbidden Planet and 2001 amongst others and the script is performed with all seriousness by the talented cast. The story itself is relatively simple and wrapped up well before the end of episode four - the last five minutes are just an epilogue. Amongst the production plusses, the costumes for the Sevateem are well-realised and the casting (bar a few background players) is uniformly excellent. David Garfield, despite being saddled with some dubious costume choices, is suitably intense as the shaman Neeva. Brendan Price (Tomas) is an attractive young male lead and would go on to feature in Philip Hinchcliffe's cop series Target the following year. However some things about this serial don't work that well viewed in retrospect. The Tesh ritual greetings look overdone now and any tension is dissipated while you wait for everyone to finish their bowing and scraping. The Horda of which all the Sevateem are inordinately terrified really couldn't scare the skin off a rice pudding and strangely enough, Leela is the only female character to appear onscreen (something Hinchcliffe addresses in the commentary).
But notwithstanding some of the ropier production moments, there are two elements that elevate this story - Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. He was in his third year as the Doctor and was well into his stride. He is confident and charming without the self-indulgence and grandstanding that marked his later years notwithstanding the moment very early in where he breaks the fourth wall. He really is a constant delight to watch. Louise Jameson had a very tough act to pull off. She was replacing a long-serving and well-loved companion and had to instantly create an onscreen relationship with a wildly popular, charismatic and hostile leading man. Needless to say their professionalism and talent shine through and they build a credible relationship very quickly. The scene in episode two where the Doctor saves Leela's life after she is poisoned with a Janis thorn sees his paternalistic streak emerge and Tom plays the scene with tenderness hinting at the potential father/daughter relationship to come. As a teenage viewer in 1977 I remember not particularly liking Louise Jameson's performance and the following season was when I began to drift away from a show I had watched avidly since the days of Hartnell. I was one of the first generation of children entranced by the Daleks and I used to tear round the school playground at the age of five shouting 'Ex-ter-minate!!' The earliest episode I remember watching is one from Planet of Giants in 1964 at my granny's while she was making the tea. However seeing Face of Evil again after so long, I'm pleased to see Louise Jameson was far far better in this than I remember and I stand corrected on my impressions of the time. I also had the good fortune to see her on stage a couple of years after she left Who and she was superb. But as we didn't have home-recording at that time I didn't have the opportunity to re-assess my initial impression until now.
Contrary to what it says on certain mail-order websites this is a single-disc release. As with all stories from the Fourth Doctor onwards, this survived intact in the archives so is transferred from primary materials. This serial is entirely studio-bound and in the first two episodes there is an unusually large amount of film footage intercut with the more usual tape. As you would expect by now the transfer of both video and (mono) audio is as good as it is possible to achieve, particularly given the age of the materials. My only quibble is that some of the Sevateem interiors appear over-dark but that might just be my telly. It is transferred in the original 1.33:1 screen ratio.
There are dialogue subtitles on all episodes which are very useful for some of the more obscure proper nouns in this serial. As always, the Who archive release team continue to set the benchmark in providing value for money and extensive contextual information. This includes the exhaustively detailed production subtitles provided on this occasion by Martin Wiggins.
Jockeying for position on an unusually crowded commentary track are the core group of Louise Jameson, Leslie Schofield (Calib) and David Garfield (Neeva) expertly moderated by Toby Hadoke. They are joined for episode one by Harry Fielder (the Sevateem guy shot in the shoulder) and for the first two episodes by John McGlashan (film cameraman). The actors' warm reminiscences are balanced by McGlashan's drier, more technical contribution. For the last two episodes Philip Hinchcliffe (producer) and actor Mike Elles (Gentek) join the gang, Hinchcliffe providing background to the production as a whole. There are also e-mail contributions from Chris Boucher read by Toby Hadoke. This is one of the better commentary tracks. It's detailed and balanced and everyone has very fond memories of the production and take pride in their association with Who. The backstage gossip is respectful and free of the bitchiness that appears on some other commentaries.
Other extras are as listed below. All have optional subtitles, even the toy ad.
Into the Wild 25m 12s
The behind-the-scenes documentary mostly featuring Philip Hinchcliffe and Louise Jameson. The surviving and surprisingly-intact 'Mount Rushmore' model takes pride of place throughout.
From the Cutting Room Floor 9m 5s
Self-explanatory really. Some of the raw footage from the jungle filming.
Tomorrow's Times : The Fourth Doctor 14m 7s
Continuing the What The Papers Say style strand, an ageless Wendy Padbury introduces a compilation of press reactions to Tom Baker's tenure as the Fourth Doctor. There are some good Tom impersonations here but watching it I was reminded most strongly of the line in the Sarah Jane Adventures story Death of The Doctor about Ian and Barbara having not aged since the 60s. You could add Zoe to that select group. Please bring her back for the 50th anniversary!
Doctor Who Stories: Louise Jameson 17m 22s
An archive interview from 2003 is dusted off here.
Swap Shop 4m 29s
Louise Jameson is interviewed by Noel Edmonds on 12 Feb 1977. It's all very restrained and polite compared to modern gimmicky CBBC interviews.
Denys Fisher Toys Advert 33s
1970s TV ad from the time when action figures were only required to have a passing resemblance to the characters. Leela has clearly borrowed one of Sindy's more bouffant wigs.
Photo Gallery 5m 43s
Featuring behind the scenes shots and promotional stills including Louise Jameson's first photo shoot in costume with disastrous make-up.
Coming Soon 1m 27s
A trailer for The Daemons.
Into the Wild, Tomorrow's Times and Doctor Who Stories are presented in 1.85:1 widescreen. All others are in 1.33:1.
Also included are pdfs of the original Radio Times listings and a Typhoo promotion campaign from 1976.
As we all know, the production history of Doctor Who is incredibly well-documented and anyone with a mind to can spend days reading up on it. For my own part, I would say that The Face of Evil came slap-bang in the middle of one of the show's strongest-ever seasons. It was Tom Baker's third year as the Doctor and Philip Hinchcliffe's third and final year as producer. The other five stories in the season are The Masque of Mandragora, The Hand of Fear (Sarah Jane's farewell story), The Deadly Assassin, The Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, all of which made an impact on me as a teenage viewer and any one of which I would put on a Fourth Doctor must-have-on-DVD list. In such august company, The Face of Evil is perhaps the weakest of the six but, in absolute terms, it ranks as one of the better Fourth Doctor serials.