Doctor Who started the of year 1977 by sending the now companionless Doctor to a remote planet and having him befriend a savage, and scantily clad, warrior woman: Leela. The Face of Evil is a very good story. It aired during on to the show's high points. Tom Baker was fully into his role, they writers were trying new things and they had distanced themselves from the program's children's show origins. This story in particular works well and has an interesting plot that unfolds nicely. Plus it includes the introduction of Leela, arguably the sexist companion The Doctor has ever had.
After the events that transpired on Glaifrey in The Deadly Assassin, The Doctor and the TARDIS materialize on a strange planet and he gets out to have a look around, as he always does. Little does he know that a certain female warrior, Leela, has just been banished from her tribe, the Sevateem, for speaking out against the high priest Neeva. He's been speaking to their god, Xoanon, who is being held behind an impenetrable wall by the evil Tesh. It's the Sevateem's sacred duty to rescue their god. Xoanon has informed Neeva that the wall will open, just for a moment, at a designated time in the near future and wants an all-out attack. Leela thinks it's a fool's errand, the same as it was the last time they attacked at Xoanon's bidding years before and most of their warriors were killed, as it was the time before that, and the time before that...
For speaking what she thinks is clearly obvious, she's exiled into the jungle outside the barrio that keeps the invisible monsters at bay. There she meets an odd man in a long scarf: The Evil One, though he insists he's just The Doctor. He is the spitting image of the man who imprisoned Xoanon eons ago, and a giant image of his face is carved into the side of a mountain... and it looks exactly like The Doctor.
The Time Lord soon convinces Leela that he's not the Evil One, but he realizes that something's going on, and that he's most likely responsible for it. He and Leela go back to investigate at the Sevateem village, but that's not such a good idea since the whole tribe instantly think he's the incarnation of evil. Just what's going on, what did he do, and how can he fix it all?
There's a lot that goes right with this serial. Tom Baker is still charming and funny, but he's not goofy as he is in some stories. Here he stays calm in the face of danger, but he realizes it's danger none the less. When several Sevateem warriors spot him, for example, the leader yells "Stand still!" as they shoot a pair of arrows that bury themselves in a tree right in front of The Doctor. "That was either very good shooting or very bad. Either way, I wouldn't dream of moving."
Leela is a great companion too. Her character takes the (rare) strong female companion (like Sarah Jane Smith) and combines it with the male companion who gets into a fight so that The Doctor doesn't have to (just about all of them) into one nice package. In addition, she's a primitive, so it makes sense when The Doctor stops to explain things to her, such as plot points that the younger viewers might have missed. I have a thing for strong, independent women, so it's not surprising that she's one of my favorites.
The story works well, and is quite subversive in a way. It includes some -so-subtle commentary on religious fervor which would never fly on a prime-time program in the States. Neeva whips the members of the tribe into a frenzy to attack the evil Tesh not based on what the other group has actually done to them, but because that's what his religion demands. What's more, when The Doctor arrives and tries to reason with him using logic, he proclaims that the Evil One is full of lies and demands that no one listen to him. The parallels to Earth-based religions are hard to miss.
Another thing I appreciated is the fact that the show was growing up by this time. It was getting away from the monster-of-the-week type of show that it had been at times in the past (though not always). This serial is a good example of the creators actively trying to have a fearful antagonist, but just one that is not a horrible monster. As a matter of fact, the creatures out in the forest that do attack are even invisible, a nice way to save money and take the emphasis away from the thing that's attacking and putting it more on the plot.
The mono soundtrack has been cleaned up and is very good. It is nice and clear with no hiss or background noise to take away from the story. Being a mono track, there's really not much more to say about it.
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration Team and it looks good. The colors are solid though out and the level of detail is decent. The image is sharp, with a lot of definition so Who fans are sure to be pleased.
Another great set of extras are included with this show. First off is a commentary track with actors Louise Jamison (Leela), David Garfield (Neeva), Mike Elles (Gentek), Harry H. Fielder (Assassin), producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and cameraman John McGlashan. It's all moderated by Toby Hadoke. As usual, I enjoy the commentary track quite a bit. It's lively with some nice anecdotes thrown in and everyone sounds like they had a good time recording it.
As far as video extras go, the first one is Into the Wild a 25-minute making-of featurette that includes interviews with many of the major players who are still with us, with the notable absence of Tom Baker. It's nice to hear Louise Jamison talk about how she saw the role and her thoughts on the costume and the fan reaction to her character. From the Cutting Room Floor is a nine minute collection of alternate takes for several scenes. These are silent, but they've synched them up with the audio track from the aired episode, where appropriate. Next up is Tomorrow's Times - The Fourth Doctor, which continues the series. Once again they search through British newspaper reviews of Doctor Who and read clips to give an idea what the critics thought of the show at the time. It's one of the more interesting bonus items included with this set.
Doctor Who Stories: Louise Jamison is a 17-minute interview with the actress that was shot in 2003 for The Story of Doctor Who. Also are the disc are several short items including a vintage 4-minute Louise Jamison interview from Swap Shop and a Denys Fisher toy commercial.
In addition there is an 'info-text' option for each story. This is something that the other Who releases have and I'm a big fan of them. This pop-up text options allows viewers to read about the shooting schedule, changes between various story incarnations and the final version and learn about the history of the supporting actors. It's well worth watching, though it can be distracting so watch the story without it once. The extras are wrapped up with a photo gallery and the usual Radio Times listings.
This was a very good example of a classic Doctor Who serial. Tom Baker is charming and at ease in the role and his new companion is one of my favorites from this time in the show's history. The story is interesting and more than just The Doctor trying to find a way to destroy a group of invading creatures or stop a megalomaniac scientist. Highly Recommended.