Season 14 Continued: Leela is Best Pony

Story 4: The Face of Evil

Fourth Doctor breaks the fourth wall

The Doctor arrives on an unknown jungle planet, and is soon captured by the Sevateem, a tribe of hunter-gatherers. They are surrounded by old disused artifacts of space exploration, and their holy man prays to the voice of a god in a communicator, while wearing an astronaut’s suit as a priestly robe. The Sevateem are locked in an unending holy war against the Tesh, and live in fear of “The Evil One.” Invisible monsters patrol outside their land, crushing anyone who ventures out. And the Doctor increasingly feels that he has been here before, a suspicion confirmed when he discovers his own likeness on a cliff face – the face of “The Evil One.”

I was initially skeptical about the “savage,” “Amazon woman,” “Bond girl” companion Leela (Louise Jameson), expecting her to be just an exploitation gimmick for the young male viewing demographic. Since I am a (generally speaking) young male, my opinion doesn’t hold much weight, but I quickly grew to like Leela. She’s uneducated, but she’s clever, and somehow her ignorance is never annoying, probably because she’s interested in everything and eager to learn. She’s loyal and brave, and skilled, of course, in hunting, survival, and hand-to-hand combat. That and her cultural background lend a lot of fun to the show. The fact that Louise Jameson is an ordinary girl (actually a Shakespearean actress), pretending to be this tough character, could have been a failure, but that isn’t a problem for me either, perhaps because her character also has more sweetness and charm than you’d expect, and no problems with anger. Or perhaps I’ve just fallen for that exploitation gimmick, but I certainly don’t feel this way about later companion Peri, whose use in the show was more criticized on that front. Peri just wasn’t written in as appealing a way – she’s nice, but she has a weak will, and her reactions to trials are painfully inept. She has neither the interesting background nor the winning charm that Leela has. Leela chose to leave a home of ignorance and death, seeking adventure, prepared to die for the Doctor; Peri just wanted to travel for a three-month vacation (which you’d think she’d change her mind about after the first couple of traumatic experiences with imprisonment, fatal illness, torture, etc.).  Okay, I’m done.

The only native fauna seen is the intriguing Horda (not to be confused with the Horta from the last post), a social sort of land-piranha which resembles a dragonfly nymph, due to its shape and tiny wings. (They’re shaped like the new, larger Cybermats from Season 13, probably not a coincidence.) The Horda might be nymphs themselves with an unseen and short-lived adult phase, but I have a theory that this nymphal stage is as far as they grow, like axolotls and various insect females which retain a larval appearance throughout their lives. One difference is that most of the real larviform insects are beetles, which undergo complete metamorphosis, and they don’t have the tiny wings at any stage the way nymphs do. Tiny wings are found on many nymphs undergoing incomplete metamorphosis, including dragonflies, true bugs, and grasshoppers. The fascinating sandgropers are larviform insects of the same order as grasshoppers, perhaps the closest Earth equivalent to my conception of the Horda.

The Face of Evil is a unique episode with a clever plot, and it’s sociologically fascinating (with a little psychology thrown in as well). I’m always interested in this kind of situation, an obvious comparison being (minor spoiler) to the 2001 Star Trek episode Terra Nova. It’s an all-around good serial, and I recommend it.

Story 5: The Robots of Death

The Doctor attempts to explain transdimensional engineering

Leela joins the Doctor against his will at the end of the last episode, in a hilarious and awesome scene, by rushing past him into the open TARDIS and pushing a button. This random trip leads to a “sandminer” that looks like a sandcrawler from Star Wars, but Robots aired five months before the release of Star Wars in 1977. The massive vehicle has a small human crew, but is mostly operated by robots.

Amusingly, Leela is still wearing her jungle warrior outfit. (Shouldn’t it… smell kinda bad?)

Why is she sitting like that?

I rather like the design of that hat! Not that I’d want to wear it myself.

Minor spoiler: like in The Seeds of Doom, the villain in this serial is a man who identifies so strongly with something nonhuman that he wishes to liberate it by exterminating mankind, the allegiance being to robots this time instead of plants. But I liked this story much better than Seeds – it’s shorter, less annoying, far more interesting, and more satisfying. I rank it among my favorites for now.

Story 6: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

This may be the most controversial Doctor Who story ever, as it’s widely regarded as one of the best classic serials, yet is also criticized – even among some dedicated fans of the show – for portraying negative old stereotypes of Chinese people, and particularly for casting white actor John Bennett as the only Chinese main character, Li H’sen Chang.

John Bennett, previously as General Finch in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and as Chang

So I didn’t want to watch it, and almost skipped it, but I am so glad I saw it! Being part Chinese/Filipino myself, I should be allowed to say that this serial is delightful, which is really remarkable considering it’s a six-parter. Doctor Who had drawn inspiration from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories all along, but in this episode the Doctor is actually cosplaying as Holmes in Victorian London. I suppose that won’t sound cool to everyone. But it should, dang it.

The case: young women are disappearing, and there seems to be a connection to the magician Li H’sen Chang. He believes he is serving the Chinese deity Weng-Chiang, but what is really going on in the dungeon under his theatre? The Doctor recruits mortician Professor Litefoot (above) to be his Watson, and the game is afoot.

Litefoot: By Jove, Doctor, how on earth do you deduce that one of my attackers was a midget?

The Doctor: Elementary, my dear Litefoot; it came in in the laundry basket, and let the others in.

As I said. Delightful. I don’t want to give any more away.

Shortly before this episode aired, Louise Jameson appeared in an interview on the BBC children’s program Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, during which she showed a letter she had received from a little girl: “Dear Leela, Please could you start putting clothes on. Love from Katharine.” To it she responds that in a couple of weeks, “We go into Victoriana London, and I wear so many clothes that I can hardly move!” The first costume the Doctor makes her wear (above) is a bizarre outfit, looking to me like the sort of poofy thing wealthy men in old Verona were supposed to wear, or perhaps King Henry VIII. Later she changes into a Victorian dress (below) which looks much better, though I still prefer Victoria Waterfield’s.

Can’t end without mentioning this bit recounted by the Doctor, as recounted on the wiki:

In 5000, the Philippines took part in World War VI, which ended when the Filipino Army marched on Reykjavik and liberated it from the Supreme Alliance. The Doctor marched alongside them and witnessed the final battle.

Doctor Who is awesome.

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