Aired 1 – 22 January 1977
‘The Face of Evil’ marks a slight departure in tone and style for this time in Tom Baker’s run as the titular Time Lord, foregoing the more atmospheric and gothic norms for something slightly more abstract and intellectual to mark the introduction of new companion Leela.
Elisabeth Sladen made Sarah Jane Smith into the epitome of what a companion could be, and with the programme at its most popular, the timing seemed right to bring about a completely different type of companion after several consecutive contemporary ones. ‘The Face of Evil,’ accordingly, does a magnificent job in introducing Louise Jameson’s Leela. The opening of the story sees her being sentenced to death for daring to speak the truth, a foundation for the bravery so intrinsic to the character. The primitive nature and rather violent tendencies of the character will surely cause issues in future tales as they go up against the distinctly non-violent tendencies of the Doctor, but ‘The Face of Evil’ introduces the burgeoning dynamic between the two well without either character being overly excessive with their claims of righteousness.
Intriguingly, ‘The Face of Evil’ often marks one of the rare occasions where the consequences of the Doctor’s previous actions come to the forefront. It is quite widely assumed that the Doctor is a force for good who betters every place where he intervenes, but the truth between the dysfunctionalities of the Sevateem and the Tesh on this world built upon the Doctor’s image adds a very existential element to a very real threat. While the Doctor is not necessarily himself the villain, the lasting legacy of his previous interactions still shake the assumed foundation of the Doctor while giving Tom Baker plenty of opportunity to showcase a different aspect of his character.
At the same time, ‘The Face of Evil’ is unafraid to bring about rather high-concept ideas for a family programme as well. The discovery that what is presumed to be a culture early in its development is in fact, a final vestige of an incredibly advanced culture that had mastered interstellar travel is handled wonderfully, and the circular flow of time that frequently pervades Doctor Who in general is very much at the forefront here. The resultant traditions stemming from necessary actions of their more advanced ancestors offer a rather unique spin on religion and iconography at the same time, further fleshing out the culture while never forgetting the Doctor’s involvement in its creation.
‘The Face of Evil’ breaks the mold of traditional Doctor Who tales at this point in the programme’s run, but the end result is most certainly a success in its own right. Essentially celebrating the Doctor’s fallibility as a basis for a story is a very brave choice, but the very intelligent storyline and strong introduction of the very unique Leela that result more than pay off that choice. ‘The Face of Evil’ is often overlooked due its position between two genuine classics in ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang,’ but it’s a true testament to how successful and completely variable Doctor Who can be.