Chapter 39. Doctor Who and the Face of Evil (1978)

Synopsis: In the village of the Sevateem, the great god Xoanon speaks through his High Priest, Neeva, and his word is law. When he uncovers a lack of faith in a young huntress called Leela, Neeva banishes her under threat of death. In the jungle that surrounds the village, Leela encounters a stranger called The Doctor. She shows him a nearby mountain into which is carved a huge bust of Xoanon – and it bears the face of the Doctor…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Outcast
  • 2. The Invisible Terror
  • 3. Captured
  • 4. The Face on the Mountain
  • 5. Attack
  • 6. Danger for Leela
  • 7. The Test of the Horda
  • 8. Beyond the Wall
  • 9. The Tesh
  • 10. The Summons
  • 11. Xoanon
  • 12. The Trap
  • 13. The Last Battle
  • 14. Recovery
  • 15. Departure

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts 1977 scripts by Chris Boucher.

Notes: Tomas is in love with Leela and it’s expected that he will father many children with her, but after the verdict of her trial, he consoles himself that there are ‘other women’ in the tribe (you might spot the other one in film sequences in the original series). The Doctor arrives fresh from his adventure on Gallifrey fighting the Master [See The Deadly Assassin] and immediately misses having Sarah Jane Smith by his side; he recalls that he chose not to bring her to Gallifrey in respect for Time Lord law, and that she’s now back on Earth with Harry Sullivan and the Brigadier. The Doctor’s heading for Earth when the TARDIS brings him to the unnamed jungle planet. Leela is introduced on the first page and it’s a handsome description unlike that for any other companion, capturing her distinctive appearance and overall character in just three lines:

She was tall, with brown hair and dark eyes, a broad clear forehead and a firm chin. Her arms and legs, exposed by her brief skin costume, were brown and smoothly muscular. She stood before her accusers wary but unafraid, like a captured wild animal.

There’s a cheeky namecheck for the story title as Leela explains that the Tesh ‘set the Face of Evil on the mountain’ with their ‘magic’. A Horda is a ‘white, snake-like creature, rather like a giant slow-worm’, (unlike the purple bug / fish-like creature on telly).

Dicks places the Doctor’s first meeting with Xoanon within the haze of his last regeneration, a trip from some point in between his first and second appearances in The Giant Robot. It’s an unseen adventure that his recuperating mind has forgotten until now. Xoanon speaks in three voices – the Doctor’s, that of a woman and a ‘young man’ (so not a child). The Sevateen village is wrecked by the invisible monsters, forcing the villagers to seek refuge in the jungle, explaining why Calib’s assault force is so depleted. The Doctor and Leela work their way through a foil tray of concentrated food cubes (not chocolates). The final scene takes place inside the TARDIS as Leela willfully ignores the Doctor and pulls a ‘large important-looking lever’ that closes the doors and sets them off on their next adventure together.

Cover: The original release has one of the very best covers ever, thanks to Jeff Cummins, with Leela stepping out of the jungle through a circular frame, while the face of the Doctor looms large in the background, all against a blue background. The 1993 reprint has a very jolly-looking Leela in front of two faces of the Doctor.

Final Analysis: Another basic adaptation and, around this time, Terrance Dicks was beginning to receive criticism from fans for his ‘script-to-book’ approach, but I think this is unjustified – at least here. While the prose lacks some of the depth we might expect from Malcolm Hulke or even newcomer Ian Marter, there’s still a lot of subtlety at play. The simple scene where Leela knocks out a Tesh guard gains a little from being told from the guard’s point of view, getting excited by the thought of capturing the aliens and the expectation that ‘he would win great praise from Jabel if he destroyed them’. We get a much better sense of Calib’s ambitions and of course Leela is well served in the way she begins to trust the strange Doctor precisely because his actions are at odds with her understanding of what Xoanon should be like. Readers had already met Leela just two books earlier, but as the text on the back of the 1993 edition states proudly, this is ‘the creation of one of the TV Series’ most memorable teams’.

One thought on “Chapter 39. Doctor Who and the Face of Evil (1978)

  1. One of the few I have as a WH Allen hardback, you’re absolutely right about the gorgeous cover.
    It’s one of my favourite Dr Who novelisations and I’ve read it several times. The book is definitely superior to the TV version, although that might be because I’d owned it for years before seeing the TV one.

    Liked by 1 person

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