13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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THE FACE OF EVIL
"And I thought I was helping them."
So you're this time traveller, right? And you go bucketing round the universe, meddling, intervening and generally causing intergalactic havoc. The laws of probability being what they are, sooner or later it's bound to catch up with you. And here's where we see it happen.
Although hampered by a sadly dull final episode, The Face of Evil is a class act. It's set in the very familiar territory of science vs. superstition, but the twist of the Doctor revisiting the scene of the crime gives that a nice fresh slant. And it's fascinating watching the Doctor go through the process of realising that actions he thought were helping people in fact turn out to have had a catastrophic effect. Given that he's not exactly burdened by excessive modesty, it delivers him a salutary - and overdue - smack in the eye. It also makes him a lot more interesting than a cardboard hero - knowing he can make mistakes out of egotism or even sheer carelessness reminds us that he might be more than human, but he's still flawed. (Thank God.)
And then, of course, there's the wonderful Leela - smart, adaptable and unflappable. On meeting the Doctor, does she scream? Does she heck as like. She makes her own evaluation and takes him on his merits. Above all, she's pragmatic. She doesn't enjoy violence for its own sake, but she figures that an enemy is unlikely to struggle out of his bonds and bop you over the head if he's dead to start with.
Of course she's right as far as that goes, and there's a lot of doublethink about violence in this story. The Doctor, famously, is horrified by Leela's attitude and admonishes her not to use janus thorns again, and we see Leela hoist by her own petard as the victim of a janus thorn herself. Well, that'll teach her, won't it?
Sadly for all this worthy pacifism, the Doctor himself crossbows someone to death without blinking an eye, then in a gratuitously sadistic gesture flicks a deadly Horda onto someone out of what as far as we can see is nothing more than spite. Lovely. And while he starts off by threatening someone with a jellybaby, later on in the same situation he has no qualms about waving around a more conventional weapon. Moreover, the Doctor's sententious lecture forcing Leela to put away her knife leads not to universal peace and love but instead to the weaselly Kalib managing to escape. Nice one, Doctor. And despite all the lectures, later on he has absolutely no trouble with giving Leela a gun and telling her to stand guard. How the Doctor is meant to come out of this supposedly looking like a pacifist is beyond us.
Violence inconsistencies aside, it's fascinating after Sarah Jane watching the Doctor relate to a companion he doesn't really know or trust. It brings out a side of the Doctor we haven't seen before with his companions: we're not used to seeing him so wary, and it's an interesting new take. It's also fun seeing a companion the Doctor isn't automatically better than in every respect: at times Leela has more knowledge and skill than the Doctor here, and it makes a refreshing change from watching a companion hang onto the Doctor's every word.
As for the rest of The Face Of Evil's story, the bones of it are pretty good. The Tesh and Sevateem idea's a good one; when you don't know the story the stuff about the Doctor being the Evil One, not to mention hearing the Doctor's voice talking to Neeva, is highly intriguing; and that face carved in the cliff has got to be the gobsmackingest episode ending of all time. Brilliant stuff.
There are some duff bits, though, like the thunderously pointless Horda pit scene, and these unfortunately increase exponentially inside the Place of Land, with the entire last episode pretty much a write-off. The scenes with Xoanan not only annoyingly perpetuate the misinformation that schizophrenia is another word for split personality, but commit the even worse crime of being terminally boring. Much corridor-running is to be had, and there's some irritating stuff whereby the Tesh show off their psychic weapons then promptly forget all about them and resort to guns instead. Yawn.
By the time the whole thing lumbers to an end, we're hoping the whole place will go up just to put us out of our misery. It's a shame, because the last episode tends to obscure the good stuff that's gone before, and the adventure deserves more than that. A basically good story, a smart and witty script, a winner of a new companion and the Doctor as we've never seen him before - nice.
MORAL: Don't forget to tidy up afterwards.
How have the Tesh and Sevateem managed to reproduce all these years, we wonder, with only one woman between them? Oh, well.
AND A HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL OF YOU AT HOME
The Doctor delivers his first speeches straight to camera, which feels seriously bizarre.
YOU CAN'T SEE THE WEIRD FOR THE TREES
There seems to be something about studio-based forests that brings out invisible creatures. Maybe it's those trees made out of industrial tubing.
THE TEETH OF THE MATTER
Inside the mouth? Brilliant!
Leela doesn't have to wait long for her first go at being possessed, does she? She rises to the challenge admirably with yer classic stunned-mullet look.
WHAT'S THAT IN EPISODES?
We like the sneaky reference to 24 and a half minutes - how very postmodern.
MAD AS A HATTER
There's an agreeably high silly hat quotient here, what with the famous cricket glove Neeva wears, the delightfully camp headwear of the Tesh, and that hilarious helmet the Doctor courageously dons in order to save the world.