Saturday, May 27, 2017

Angry Gods and Sexy Bods -- A Look Back at Doctor Who's 1977 "The Face of Evil"

A hidden gem in the wonderful 14th Series of BBC1’s “Doctor Who”, The Face of Evil first aired over a four week period during January 1977.  The story holds up remarkably well forty years later, with relevant commentary on violence, religion and politics.  Played by fan-favorite Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor lines from these episodes are still highly quotable even with a present day meme countering the Trump Administration’s use of alternative facts:

What makes the Doctor different from most other heroic characters is that he can be wrong, and his error in The Face of Evil is a doozy: Repairing a space-bound colony’s super computer causes it to go mad, becoming the god-like oppressor Xoanon and sorting out analytical technicians and physical survey teams over time into the competing tribes “Tesh” and “Sevateem” while declaring the Doctor the “Evil One”!  When the Doctor revisits the unnamed colony centuries later he spends the rest of the serial fixing his mistake stopping Xoanon’s malevolent eugenics experiment.

Strangely enough, The Face of Evil is known less for its thought-provoking story than for the introduction of the character Leela.  Cast out of the Sevateem for daring to challenge the will of Xoanon, she stumbles across the Doctor in the planet’s badlands at the beginning to the serial.  Slowing learning to trust each other, they overcome various obstacles to defeat Xoanon, the Doctor thinking through solutions while Leela uses brute force with ruthless efficiency.

Leela is such a great character because she serves multiple purposes.  She is the Doctor’s soundboard, a regular character who allows the Doctor to explain information to the viewer (much like Robin to Batman and Watson to Sherlock Holmes).  She is also a strong woman character, capable in her own right.  Lastly, Leela could be objectified by a male audience. 

The actresses who portrayed the Doctor’s companion pre-1977 were just as beautiful as Louise Jameson, the actress in the Leela role, but Jameson as Leela appealed to various fetishes. Jameson herself said that the BBC wanted a feisty, intelligent, interesting woman, but without clothes for an outfit!   Leela's appearance (scantily clad in leather) appealed visually to leather, jungle and sexy sci-fi fans.  What happens to Leela story-wise appealed to techno-fetishists.  In The Face of Evil Leela was:

1) Hypnotized,

2) Frozen,

and 3) Transformed (into a robot assassin).

The “Doctor Who” showrunners used this formula later with the Clara Oswald character, subjecting her to these three techno-fetishes as well (albeit in different episodes from 2012 -2015).  And when this Pretty Vacant comic creator fleshed out his Gigi Gutierrez character to appeal to women as a strong character yet be objectified by male techno-fetish readers he could look back at a 40-year legacy.

Gigi Gutierrez Tranquilized, Mannequinized (Transformed), Hypnotized and Cryonized (Frozen)

Shows still utilize this formula successfully today (HBO’s Game of Thrones and Westworld, Starz’ Black Sails).  It’s good that various media can still make it work, because so many different, well-made stories can be told with just a little sex appeal to start things off!       


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home