BBC Video // 1976 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // March 21st, 2012
"Drop your weapons, or I'll kill him with this deadly jelly baby." -- The Doctor
The best Christmas present I received in 2011 may have come from the BBC. One of their many radio channels presented an all-new Doctor Who radio serial that brought Tom Baker back to the lead role. I ate it up, eagerly awaiting each new chapter of the Doctor's battle with some alien hornets. Baker wasn't the first Doctor -- the show had been humming along nicely for more than a decade when he came along -- but his colleagues call him "The Master Doctor" for his part in the show's history, and it's not just because of his long tenure (IMDb says he's done the most episodes). I've screened several of the other Doctors' adventures for DVD Verdict, and I can see their point.
Doctor Who: The Face of Evil, a four-part Tom Baker adventure, is the first appearance of Leela, a refugee from the Sevateem tribe.
Leela (Louise Jameson, Doc Martin) is tossed out of the Sevateem tribe into a dangerous wasteland full of strange, invisible creatures. The first strange creature she meets has the same face as the "Evil One" carved into a cliff. They say he eats babies, and, surely enough, he offers her a jelly baby. Naturally, it's the Doctor, and he's talking about his favorite candy. After that misunderstanding's cleared up, the Doctor has to defuse things with the entire Sevateem tribe and then reach into his many memories to figure out exactly why his face is on that cliff.
I didn't come across the original Doctor Who until after I discovered the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy novels by Douglas Adams (once a series' story editor). That means that, every once in a while, a scene is familiar from the famous science-fiction spoof, conjuring up images of Arthur Dent. In the case of Doctor Who: The Face of Evil, a big head of the Doctor in a cliff face brought peals of mistimed laughter.
Yes, there are times when Doctor Who's low budget can provide amusement; the one-robot invasion in Doctor Who: The War Machines springs to mind. However, by the time Tom Baker took on the role, the production team had figured out how to make the most of that infamous shoestring. True, there's a forest on a soundstage in The Face of Evil, but lighting and a little theatrical fog make it real enough.
There are a lot more jokes in The Face of Evil than in, say, a William Hartnell serial. However, Baker never seems to be joking for the sake of a quip. Take, for example, the line with which I started the review. The info text says it was an ad-lib; Baker used the joke to replace a more violent action. Elsewhere, the one-liners tend to come at the scariest moments. Baker's making the situation a little less scary for young viewers. I suspect he's also giving those young viewers a little help in dealing with whatever other fears might crop up in their lives. In the features, Louise Jameson mentions that, although a lot of screams were written for Leela, she only delivered one. I'm glad that Baker wasn't the only actor who went further in shaping a Doctor Who character.
It's Baker's influence that Doctor Who tries to capture, but I did notice a big difference between his performance and the modern Doctors. David Tennant and Matt Smith deliver their often-humorous lines at a faster clip, creating manic, frenetic Doctors. Tom Baker's delivery is more measured, creating a calm, in-control Doctor from the seemingly chaotic dialogue. Mind you, it's what the scripts seem to call for -- and even step up as the new show grows older -- but there's something about Baker's version of the Doctor that doesn't quite carry over.
The serial itself shifts direction midway, getting away from the threatened invisible monsters and heading for a rather unusual existential crisis. Even without Baker's input, chances are Doctor Who's storytelling would have advanced in the '70s.
The info text, as usual, finds lots of interesting tidbits about the production, tracking the career of a prop helmet that first appeared on ITV's Pathfinder to Mars before becoming a Doctor Who regular, and mentioning that Louise Jameson got an audition for the role of Purdey in The New Avengers. The multi-voice commentary -- featuring actors Louise Jameson, Leslie Schofield, David Garfield, Mike Elles, and Harry H. Fielder, and producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and cameraman John McGlashan -- is admiring toward Baker's career and the original series. Jameson even (sort of) plugs DVD viewing by noting that the multi-part serials would be perfect for today's wired TV viewers who powerwatch serials at one sitting. Other interesting features include a segment on press coverage of the Tom Baker era (it's noted that the Doctor Who Appreciation Society started during his tenure); a Jameson profile; a Swap Shop segment that features Jameson as herself; a TV spot for a toy TARDIS that can make the Doctor disappear; and a lot of DVD-ROM materials from a Ty-Phoo Tea promotion, including short stories and comics. There are also some outtakes, a photo gallery, and those Radio Times listings.
Some of Tom Baker's quips are irreverent, including some lines about religion that the people involved doubt would fly in today's Doctor Who. My favorite bit of mischief was Leela's decision to run off with the Doctor rather than stay and be elected leader.
You'll also notice that Leela's outfit shows off a lot of Louise Jameson, although you might, on further reflection, realize that the imagination, whether prudish or prurient, shrinks it a lot more than the dryer does.
I am disappointed, of course, that Tom Baker didn't join in the commentary, especially considering that he has recently returned to the role of the Doctor.
If you've been watching the new Doctor Who and want to get to know the original series, Doctor Who: The Face of Evil wouldn't be a bad place to start. Even after seeing the new, improved version, Tom Baker still has a presence that'll keep you interested.
Not guilty. I've gotta go; I'm hunting one of those toy TARDISes.
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD-ROM Extras
* Official Site