Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Face of Evil - "The nose could be a shade more aquiline, and the noble proportion of the brow hasn't been perfectly executed. Still, we mustn't complain."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Face of Evil - Details

Season 14, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #89) | Previous - Next | Index

Raises the question, which faces would you have carved on Mount Doctormore?

This story is so firmly in the atheist/secularist tradition, perhaps the epitome of it in Doctor Who, there's no way I can't love it. Moreso even than "Planet of Fire," "Face of Evil" celebrates freethought and shows how dangerous and ridiculous theocrats look in leadership roles. And it goes one step further, in a way that I think is especially progressive for its time (one step forward, though Leela's leotard may be two steps back), because faulting religion in the abstract for being irrational is easy, but showing how it goes beyond irrationality to warp character when wielded by authoritarian males to assert domination over women is really driving it home. Pointing out how religion is illogical is an abstract exercise, but showing how religion, when wielded by those in power outside of their personal sphere of self-realization, is the domain of craven fools, that's hitting them where it hurts. It is significant, I think, that the story opens with Leela being judged by a group of men. She is expelled from the tribe for thinking independently and having the courage to speak her mind. Nothing drives the priest class crazy quite so much as an independent woman, eh?

It wasn't going to be easy to replace Sarah Jane in the TARDIS and in the hearts of fans, nobody could, but this was exactly the right way to make the transition. Leela is brash, bold, and ... in that leather leotard, oh my, there's no way not to notice she's sexy. Now that raises some questions about the male gaze and whether we're watching a truly progressive, humanist narrative, or whether we've got the germ of the idea wrapped in a more palatable package for a regressive audience?

Our introduction to Leela in those first few scenes is perfectly executed; once she and the Doctor meet, to some degree, this story for me became marking time until she joins him in the TARDIS as a companion and they depart. We've seen in the first few minutes that she's the bright spot in a backwards culture, one that was retarded in its development, we learn, by a schizophrenic computer (as good a stand-in as any for a God figure in the story), we really know all we need to know to embrace this new companion and want to see her get a chance to explore the bigger universe.

Well, "marking time," is putting it too strongly, there's certainly fun to be had as the story advances and we learn more about the roots of the cultural divided, and what's on the other side of the cliff face. Anthropologists and linguists might have some fun breaking down how well, or not, the writer and production team incorporated elements like the linguistic shift from 'Survey Team' to 'Sevateem' and 'Technician' to 'Tesh', and the evolution of the Sevateem's ritualistic hand motions, similar to crossing themselves, but descended from the checkpoints on a space suit. And I think the costume department should get some credit for how brilliantly they realized a cargo cult aesthetic.

What is it with religious leaders and funny hats?

Nitpicks:
Why doesn't the Doctor realize sooner where he is?
Some dubious editing, scene transitions were especially jarring at points.
The Tesh sure do a lot of elaborate bowing. There's one scene in particular that feels like it takes minutes to accomplish what should have taken seconds, but was prolonged by introductory and departing bowing ceremonies.


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