The Doctor loses control of his TARDIS yet again and arrives on a jungle planet where he finds himself in the middle of a holy war. The local tribe, the Sevateem, are planning an attack on their enemies, the Tesh. The Sevateem worship a god named Xoanon, who they believe is being held prisoner by the Tesh, and the purpose of the attack is to liberate him from this captivity. A complicating factor is that the tribe believe the Doctor is the Evil One, the supposed god of the Tesh, and threaten to kill him on this account. The title refers to the fact that the Doctor's face is carved, Mount Rushmore style, on a local mountain. An explanation for this is given in the course of the serial. It is also explained why the Sevateem, an apparently primitive people, have a number of items of advanced scientific equipment in their possession.
Writer Chris Boucher's previous title for the serial was "The Day God Went Mad". This was eventually dropped, doubtless to the relief of BBC executives who would have faced a storm of protest from Christians had it been kept. This title, in fact, referred not to the Christian God but to Xoanon, which turns out not to be a god after all but a schizophrenic computer. It would appear that one of the perils of creating artificial intelligence is the possibility of creating artificial insanity. The serial does, however, contain a certain amount of religious satire; it is the conflicting religious beliefs of the Sevateem and the Tesh, who both worship Xoanon but in different ways, which keep them in a state of perpetual conflict.
This was the serial which saw the first appearance of the lovely Louise Jameson as Leela. The original intention had been that Leela would be a one-off character, appearing only in this story, but someone in the production team evidently liked her because she became the Doctor's new regular companion, leaving with him in the TARDIS at the end of the serial. (It is even suggested that she does so because she has fallen in love with the Doctor, a suggestion not followed up in later serials). Leela marked a new departure in the history of the series. Most of the Doctor's previous female companions- Susan, Zoe, Jo, Sarah-Jane- had been sweetly innocent, girl-next-door types, whose relationship with the Doctor is essentially a father-daughter, even grandfather-granddaughter, one. (Susan, indeed, was the Doctor's granddaughter in the literal sense). The main exception was the independent-minded lady scientist Liz Shaw, but she did not prove popular with viewers and left after only one season.
There is nothing sweet, innocent or girl-next-doorish about Leela, and not only because she habitually wears a revealing leather outfit based upon Raquel Welch's in "One Million Years BC". She is a trained warrior with a distinctly bolshie personality; when we first meet her she has been exiled from the Sevateem as a religious dissident. (Her crime has been to doubt both the existence of Xoanon and the wisdom of the proposed attack on the Tesh). After 1977 the Doctor's companions would never again be girls next door. We had the rather supercilious Time Lady Romana, easily the Doctor's intellectual equal (and in her own mind his superior), Janet Fielding's assertive, self-willed Tegan, Nicola Bryant's sparky, sexy Peri and Sophie Allred's rather morose Ace, a girl with a massive chip on both shoulders. Sarah Sutton's Nyssa had a sweet, gentle personality, but as an alien princess she did not really qualify as a girl-next-door. Unless, of course, you happen to live next door to the planet Traken.
By all accounts Jameson and Tom Baker did not really hit it off. He would have preferred it if the Doctor had been free to travel the cosmos alone, unencumbered by any companion, and certainly did not want a female companion who dressed in a skimpy costume and who would quite happily resort to violence at the least provocation, something which conflicted with his own vision of the Doctor as an intergalactic pacifist. (In one scene in this story the Doctor was supposed to threaten one character with a knife, but in a piece of ad-libbing Baker substituted a jelly-baby for the knife. The producer was not best pleased, but the jelly-baby stayed in the picture).
Their personal differences, however, do not appear to have affected their performances, as both are very good here. "The Face of Evil", in fact, is a first-rate serial, with some unusual and original themes. In the age of ISIS and the Taliban, its theme of religious hatred and religiously-inspired violence seems perhaps even more relevant than it did in the seventies.
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