I do love a good mystery, and The Face of Evil has an intriguing premise which kept me hooked for at least three of its four parts. A savage warrior tribe possesses space equipment, the Doctor’s face is etched into a mountain, and everyone seems to think he’s “the evil one”… what could it possibly all mean?
The Sevateem’s familiar hand gestures, and the revelation that they are descendants of a survey team, were really clever, I thought. Less so the revelation that the Doctor had been involved before but forgotten about it. Seeing as they knew his current face, it couldn’t have been that long ago. Some adventure he had “between episodes”, then? It’s a little contrived.
I did enjoy this but, by the final part, I was starting to lose interest a bit. The savages / holy guards dichotomy is nothing new and a bit overdone, and the idea that Xoanon could control people’s minds came across too convenient to me, with not much of chance to reflect on some of the deeper ideas like using conflict to breed superior humans. There’s a lot of cool sci-fi ideas in this, even if they’re nothing new – a computer gaining sentience and questioning its own existence is always pretty fascinating, and I really enjoyed the mystery and build-up to it. I liked that the spaceship had become a kind of temple, with the themes of science and religion woven throughout. The invisible creatures in the forest are also well done, another part of the mystery.
This story also sees the introduction of Leela, a doubter of the teachings of Xoanon, who helps the Doctor to defeat him and leaves with him in the Tardis at the end. It would be easy to accuse Leela of being nothing but eye-candy in a skimpy tribal outfit, but in this story she is strong, self-sufficient and surprisingly intelligent for someone who has grown up in a primitive society. It will be interesting to see how she reacts to the wonders of the universe, or even the modern day, in upcoming adventures.