In case you might have noticed, I’ve changed my display name, from “chorenn” to “Shivver.” If you’re wondering why, “chorenn” is an old name I used about ten years ago when I was keeping a blog about a roleplaying campaign I was running back then, in a self-created realm called Chorenn. Since I was the gamemaster telling this story in this world, I thought the world name was the appropriate display name for the author of the blog. Well, that was a long time ago, and when I decided to use the same account to create this blog, I didn’t bother to change the display name. I’ve changed it to “Shivver” now because that’s the online name I’ve been using for my Doctor Who activities, in specific my fanfics, and I thought it was time to bring all of it together.
Over the weekend, we watched the classic episode “The Face of Evil,” and here are my thoughts on it.
“The Face of Evil” is the Fourth Doctor episode that introduces Leela of the Sevateem, his companion through the latter half of Season 14 and all of Season 15. In it, the Doctor arrives on a planet populated by a tribe of savages called the Sevateem, who live in a tiny area of land surrounded by a wall that keeps out the Phantoms, invisible monsters that devour anything that ventures outside. When the tribe first meet him, they call the Doctor “the Evil One,” who was prophesied to return to destroy them all, and indeed, he finds that his visage is sculpted into the side of a cliff face, to remind the tribe just what the Evil One looks like. He discovers that the tribe worships a god named Xoanon, who carefully nurtures them to fight against another people, called the Tesh, which they attack whenever the wall opens and lets them across. However, all of their attacks have always failed.
Long story short (and this is where you should stop reading if you don’t want to be spoiled), the Doctor figures out that the people, both the Sevateem and the Tesh, came from a spaceship that landed on the planet. While the spaceship had been in flight, the Doctor had visited it and his personality had been imprinted on the computer just as it became sentient, giving it a split personality and causing it to go crazy. When they landed on the planet, the survey team went out to explore while the technicians stayed in the ship, and the computer, which named itself Xoanon, separated them and developed their cultures along different lines – one strong and savage, the other weak and intelligent – then set them against each other to see which was more viable. To stop the senseless fighting, the Doctor removes his personality from the computer, and it heals and the two cultures begin to try to work together. As the Doctor leaves, Leela dashes into the TARDIS so that she can travel with him.
As the audience, you see everything from the Doctor’s point of view, which means from the Sevateem side, as that’s who he encounters first. At first, they seem like simple savages, but then you start seeing weird things: the throne the chief sits on has brushed metal surfaces, the shaman’s ceremonial gear is threaded with bright yellow plastic-sheathed wires and has a spacesuit glove as a headdress, the shaman’s prayer cloak includes a crash helmet, etc. The history of the Sevateem is revealed slowly through visual and linguistic clues: “Sevateem” comes from “survey team,” for example), and the worship gesture the tribesmen make is the gesture one would make when checking the air seals on a spacesuit.
When the Doctor arrives, Leela has just been exiled, and though she knows he’s the Evil One, she accepts his help and then helps him because she doesn’t have much of a choice: either she does or she goes beyond the wall and gets killed. However, the story follows a number of Sevateem characters who slowly learn to trust the Doctor and realize that what they’ve believed their whole lives is not true. Especially interesting is the story of the shaman, Neeva, who is the last to realize that Xoanon has lied to him his entire life, and who sacrifices himself at the end to save everyone else.
The Tesh are less interesting, mostly because you don’t get to get to know them all that well. Their society is highly structured, and they are pompous and contemptuous of the savage Sevateem. Also, their culture hasn’t changed much, since they live on the grounded spaceship, though they do still consider the computer a god, not a technological device, like the Sevateem do.
The only weak part of this episode is the same as many of the classic episodes: the slow, boring action sequences when the Sevateem are battling the phantoms and Leela is trying to hold off a squad of Tesh. I think in general, it’s important to expect that action sequences in classic Doctor Who are going to be slow, especially for the first four Doctors.
So far, I’ve liked all of the Leela episodes I’ve seen, and this one is very good. It’s gotten to the point where I want to watch all of the Leela episodes, so that’s the next project, after watching “The Key to Time.” Donna is still my favorite companion, but Leela is easily up in the top five, if not in the top three.