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8 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 463: The Face of Evil, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Oh, I thought it had all fallen apart with today’s episode. I’ve so been enjoying the Sevateem, their style, the sets they inhabit and the jungle they live in, so as soon as we introduce the Tesh, with their bizarre costumes and customs, I thought things had really gone off the rails. I even made a note about things going down hill from here. But then… I just carried on enjoying it! Yes, the Tesh costumes are bizarre (and the bowing movement they make at the start and end of every conversation leaves at least one of the actors looking as though they can’t pin-point where it all went so wrong for them), but they kind of work. Being so very… futuristic Doctor Who, they contrast really nicely with everything we’ve seen so far.

The greatest bit of design on show in this episode, though, is the spaceship they live in. The corridors are pretty plain - all white panels and mirrors - and as with the costumes, it looks like the kind of set that people always think of Doctor Who using. They’re very simple, and very basic, and very effective. They’re such a stark difference to the locations we’ve been in up to now, and the colour pallet really helps to set them apart from all the deep, Earthy colours that the Sevateem live with. And then you’ve got Xoanon’s main room, with the three big screens glaring down at the Doctor. It’s another bit of really simple design, but it’s done really well once again.

One of the working titles for this story was The Day God Went Mad. While it’s tempting to think of it as an early example of the programme taking a mid-season break before coming back with a deliberately provocative title (Let’s Kill Hitler, I’m looking in your direction), I think I’m quite glad that they decided to go down a more traditional route. Mary Whitehouse would have had a fit! That said, all the religious undertones in this story are really working well for me. It’s the Doctor’s reactions to them which are most interesting, and the way that he both seems to completely understand the way it all works while also being completely absent from it. There’s a lovely moment today when Jabel drops to his knees before the Doctor (believing him to be his lord), and the Doctor idly muses if the man has dropped something.

It’s nice to see the series playing with the idea of the Doctor as a somewhat mythical figure here. It happens quite often in the 21st century incarnation of the programme, but I’m not sure we’ve ever had it before this point. There have been instances where the Doctor has returned to worlds he’s visited before (and encountered people who remember his last visit, or at least know of it), but this is the first time that his - unseen - interference in a planet’s history has set up events that will return to haunt him in a new story. There’s lots of lovely dialogue which all fits in rather nicely with this, such as the description of the Doctor as ‘Lord of Time’, and it’s really rather enjoyable to watch.

We’re also getting lots of nice background to the Doctor’s previous visit. On screen, it’s not stated when the Doctor made his first trip to this world, but in the Target novelisation it’s placed during that moment in Robot, when he tries to flee from UNIT HQ not long after his regeneration. To be honest, I can’t actually remember the ship dematerialising during that part of the story (the light flashes, the noise begins, but then the Docto’s head appears around the door), and I’m fairly sure that it came before the Doctor had changed into his now famous outfit, though the mountain-side carving features a hint of a scarf.

That’s really just be being pedantic, though, because it’s a great place to put his first adventure. The Doctor can’t really remember it now because he wasn’t in his right mind during the aftermath of the regeneration (he only really started to settle down once all the business with the Giant Robot got underway), and that would also explain why he’s managed to make such a massive mistake when reprogramming Xoanon the first time around. The Doctor hurries off in the TARDIS, finds the Mordee Expedition, goes through the events we hear about in this episode not because he needs to, but because he’s the Doctor, and making things better is simply what he does. Before he has a chance to realise his mistake, he remembers Sarah’s voice shouting as he left UNIT HQ, and hurries back to catch up with her. It makes a lot of sense to place it in that gap, so I’m going to squint and overlook the fact that it doesn’t seem to quite work with the events we actually see in his first story…

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