Released April 2014
The Fourth Doctor Adventures turns once more to Big Finish stalwart Nicholas Briggs for the fourth adventure of its third series, bringing Leela to the forefront with events hearken back to her televised debut in ‘The Face of Evil’ and beyond. As the Doctor and Leela find themselves surrounded by the mystery of and the investigation into a space cruiser’s missing crew and passengers as well as by a horde of metal mantis-like aliens, Leela finds herself haunted by terrible nightmares and the dawning realization that everything she takes to be true may be a lie.
Big Finish has done wonders with expanding companions’ backstories and characterization in its many years of audio production, and ‘The Evil One’ initially seems as though it is the story to finally do the same for Leela, a refreshing notion after the majority of the early releases in The Fourth Doctor Adventures have relied on nostalgia and tradition more than anything else. In theory, looking at Leela’s relationship with her father and comparing that to her relationship with the Doctor is a fantastically enticing idea; unfortunately, the story never goes into any detail regarding why Leela should come to doubt herself about her role in her father’s death, death being a natural process her tribe readily accepts. For a character who is certainly not shy about expressing her feelings, her unwillingness to tell the Doctor about her nightmares featuring her father is an odd choice and only hints at what the truth behind the strange father-daughter dynamic may actually have been. Intriguingly, the Master in a surprise appearance as Xoanon takes advantage of Leela’s guilt and hypnotically transforms her into the Evil One of her tribe’s legends, but even this storyline feels like a missed opportunity to better parallel the events of ‘The Face of Evil’ and the Doctor’s physical appearance while also failing to result in anything meaningful.
It goes without saying that Geoffrey Beevers is utterly sublime as his scarred incarnation of the Master, but ‘The Evil One’ does not make adequate use of the extreme menace and threat that this incarnation in particular presents. His plan to hypnotise Leela into killing the Doctor is ludicrously overcomplicated, and the script never explains why this attempt on the Doctor’s life has to be so intensely personal. The fact that the Doctor essentially suspects the Master from the outset and is in no way surprised when the Master is revealed further devalues this appearance of the iconic foe, and the fact that Leela is able to break through the hypnosis because of her strong resolve speaks to how tenuous the plan was from the start. That said, the effects of the Master’s plan do allow the Doctor to stop and try to better understand Leela while also continuing his more vengeful streak of recent tales.
In the end, ‘The Evil One’ is a script brimming with ideas but supported by little substance. Far too many opportunities to truly do something meaningful with Leela and her relationships are bypassed to keep the pace and action constant. ‘The Evil One’ is never for a moment boring and the performances are all solid as expected, but the opportunity to be a truly monumental piece of character drama with profound effects is sadly not the path taken.