The Face of Evil, by Thomas L Rodebaugh (and Terrance Dicks)

Next in the excellent sequence of Black Archive books on Doctor Who.

I remember vividly watching The Face of Evil when it was first broadcast at the start of 1977 (the first episode was shown on New Year’s Day). I loved it then and I still like it now. When I rewatched it in 2007, I wrote:

The Face of Evil was broadcast in 1977 between two other excellent Fourth Doctor stories, The Deadly Assassin and The Robots of Death. It features the introduction of new companion Leela, played by Louise Jameson, a warrior woman of a primitive far-future clan descended from the crew of a crashed spaceship. She had a difficult act to follow, and perhaps it’s as well that we had the companionless Deadly Assassin and a month’s break to help us get over the departure of Sarah Jane Smith (and more about her in a coming post). But she really does seem right for the part from the word go, as a new kind of foil for Baker’s Doctor, a woman confident in her own culture and not afraid to engage with the new and unknown.

The story itself is good rollicking stuff: hinges on one of my least favourite devices, an untelevised earlier adventure, but that aspect is brought unashamedly into the story at the end of the first episode and done well and unapologetically. The name of the other tribe who are enemies of Leela’s people causes some amusement in this household. (I must stop playing the litany when the in-laws are visiting.)

When I got to it in my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

And, even if Sarah Jane is the greatest of Old Who companions, we then hit Leela’s introduction in The Face of Evil. This is the first time we have had a new companion who does not arrive in the the first story in the season since The Wheel In Space; indeed the first time we have had a new companion other than in the first or last story of the season since The Highlanders, so it’s a disruption to the normal cycle of these things, just as Leela herself is a disruption – primitive, instinctual, sexy and violent. Just watch the clash of characters between Jameson the professional method actor and Baker the accidental instinctive actor, as the relationship develops. Last month’s Doctor Who Magazine ran an interview with Louise Jameson, where she reflected that she hadn’t quite realised that Leela was a sexy character at the time. We’ll hold over discussion of that point until next month.

The other thing to notice about The Face of Evil, viewed in the sequence of fourteen years of Old Who, is that it seems rather a riposte to The Savages from eleven years before (a story which was incidentally also followed by a story written by the same author about homicidal machines). I haven’t seen any serious questioning of Chris Boucher on this point, but it seems to me that the parallels of Elders/Savages vs Tesh/Sevateem, the playing around with absorption of the Doctor’s personality, and even the use of a hand-held mirror to reflect a death ray at a critical plot moment are a set of references to the older story. They are both jolly good scripts, and both repay the casual viewer (or, sadly, listener in the case of The Savages) even now.

I am ambivalent about references to unseen adventures; Terrance Dicks dealt with this in the novelisation by explaining that the Doctor went for a spin during the events of Robot and ended up dealing with Xoanon, which isn’t perfectly satisfactory but is better than we get from the screen version. My other reflection, more personally, is that as it happens my wife’s maiden name was Tesh, so certain lines from this story have extra entertainment value in our household. At least for me.

Rewatching it again, I still like it. In these days when people have been getting all upset about Doctor Who continuity (much more so than in 2010 when I last commented), it’s worth bearing in mind that there is a whole unseen adventure here that the story depends on, and the franchise moved happily on.

Though this time I wondered where all the other women are; we see only male Tesh, and the Sevateem have one woman warrior whose voice can be heard in the group chants, played by Barbara Bermel but uncredited. (She also plays the younger of the German women in the famous Fawlty Towers episode, again uncredited.) One of the voices of Xoanon is Pamela Salem, who had a more visible role in the following story.

Speaking of the voices of Xoanon, here is one of my own very few contributions to Doctor Who research. Spurred by reading a now-deleted story that the youngest of the voices was provided by “seven year-old Anthony Frieze, who had won a Design-A-Monster competition administered through the BBC exhibitions at Blackpool and Longleat”, I got in touch with someone called Anthony Frieze who confirmed that it was him and that otherwise almost every part of my source was wrong:

…as you have worked out I was older than the website records. In fact I was almost 11 in September 1976 (or “1876” as T[om] B[aker] dated a poster of his he asked me to sign). I have also seen references to winning a competition which may have been the way the director of the Face of Evil series explained my selection. In fact the explanation is somewhat more “young boys’ club”, as it were. The director, a chap called Pennant Roberts – if I recall correctly – had a wife who was a teacher at my school (Belmont Primary School, Chiswick) and she suggested my name having heard me read at assembly. No competition, as such that I was aware of. I had to re-record the the “Who am I” as I had the wrong emphasis.

I hope this has corrected some of the Dr Who lore.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terrance Dicks’ novelisation of the story is:

Leela looked at the box in awe. ‘That keeps away the phantoms?’

When I most recently reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Face of Evil has a couple of interesting differences: Leela is actually portrayed as young, vulnerable and, well, girly in a way that is inconsistent both with the TV story as shown and with the other books. Also, of course, we have the explanation of how the Doctor’s face became the Face of Evil, as the result of a solo adventure shortly after his regeneration.

Not much to add apart from that; it’s one of Dicks’ less adventurous novelisations.

Thomas L Rodebaugh has written one of the more adventurous Black Archive books, however. He is a Professor and Clinical Training, Psychological and Brain Sciences at a mid-western American university, and has brought all of his professional expertise to bear on the story. The result is not really the book I wanted to read about The Face of Evil, but it’s clearly the book that Rodebaugh wanted to write, so I enjoyed it more as a gateway into someone else’s passion than as a stimulus for my own thoughts.

The first chapter, “The Face of Evil and the breakdown of the bicameral mind”, argues that the setup of the story strongly reflects the theories in Julian Jaynes’ 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Some plausible points are made before he admits that there is simply no way that the writers and production team could have read and absorbed Jaynes’s book before making the story (the scripts were commissioned in January 1976 and delivered before the summer). He then argues for his own preferred personality model (the OCEAN aka Big Five model) and insists that by applying psychological theory to Doctor Who, we learn more about both. It is an interesting argument, but I am not completely convinced.

The second chapter, “Why psychology and why The Face of Evil“, briefly develops this further, calling attention to Christopher Boucher’s other work.

The third chapter has the title, “Ideas of madness”. Its second paragraph is:

If we start with whether Xoanon’s ‘madness’ is accurate, we have an immediate problem of determining what is meant here by ‘mad’. There are at last two different ways that the word is used in popular fiction. It is often used to signal that the person being labelled is beyond reason in a moral sense. This usage is aligned with what used to be called ‘moral insanity’: an affliction in which a person understands morality and the world, but makes choices without concern either for how those choices will affect others or the self1. The very term ‘moral insanity’ suggests that it is not the same as insanity without a qualifier, which historically referred to the condition of having a severe lack of understanding of reality. Thus, a person who kills because it seems fun is morally insane, whereas a person who kills due to a false belief that he or she is being attacked is simply insane.

It goes into some depth in an effort to diagnose Xoanon’s psychological afflictions, concluding that in fact Doctor Who in general is not very good at depicting mental illness and tends to go straight to stereotypes. (Vincent and the Doctor is consigned to a footnote.)

The fourth chapter, “Implicit bias and production design”, turns (thank goodness) away from psychology and looks instead at Leela. Was she based on Leila Khaled? Why did they insist that Louise Jameson wear contact lenses to change her eye colour to brown? Was her skin colour in fact deliberately darkened by make-up so that she would look more savage? To what extent is the story deliberately based on Harry Harrison’s Captive Universe? And where are all the Tesh and Sevateem women? None of these interesting questions is really answered, apart from the Captive Universe one where the answer is “not much”.

The fifth chapter looks a bit more at potential sources for and influences on the story; the films Forbidden Planet and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Harry Harrison’s Deathworld trilogy. Rodebaugh speculates that Brian Aldiss told the BBC about Harry Harrison, though I think BBC executives would have found plenty of his work in any nearby bookshop. Once again, he turns around at the end and says that looking for specific sources (other than Captive Universe) is a waste of time. This rhetorical device annoys me. I would rather be told up front what the author is trying to prove, rather than try and follow an argument for a dozen pages only to be told that the point is something completely different.

An appendix attempts to apply the OCEAN personality analysis to the different Doctors and to other Whoniverse characters.

A second appendix consists of an interview with Chris Boucher, which is really interesting though the key points have already been covered in the main text.

And finally, a third appendix looks at the massive continuity problems within the story. What about the Doctor’s previous visit? What’s the weather like on Leela’s home planet? And, again, where are the women?

It will be apparent that this is not my favourite of the Black Archive books, but I want to be fair and it will likely appeal to others more than me. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Face of Evil (27) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)