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Television

Doctor Who
The Seeds of Doom

 

The Seeds of Doom is even more no-frills in its meat-and-potatoes (as opposed to veg-and-no-meat) approach to telling a Doctor Who story than Terror of the Zygons. The Hinchcliffe era generally favoured viscera over rumination, but the nature of the threat often lent itself to some degree of thematic resonance (Planet of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, The Brain of Morbius). The Seeds of Doom has little more than its lift from Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World – vegetables that see us as vegetables – along with an eccentric (a very eccentric) who is sympathetic to the aliens’ cause. This is a lot of fun, then, most of the time, but it’s probably the most conceptually idle story of the season, if not the entire Hinchliffe era (The Android Invasion may be lazily conceived and written, but it still has more ideas under its hood).

Chase: It will be a new world. Silent and beautiful.

The Hinchcliffe era’s obsession with infiltration and possession was at its zenith during the following season, but degrees of the same can also be found here with Terror of the Zygons and Pyramids of Mars. The Seeds of Doom’s clearest antecedent is The Ark in Space, however, in which a parasitical insect invades a human host who absorbs its memories/consciousness. Here, it’s arguably even more explicit (Hinchcliffe may have excised a sequence that went too far there, but he’s much less squeamish in his sophomore season, as Keeler’s demise is lingered over with calculated grimness, fed raw meat as his humanity dwindles). It’s unsurprising, then, that this is the most dramatically invested part of the story – which is otherwise much more focussed on escape-and-capture dynamics – but also notable that, for all Mark Jones’ sympathetic performance, this is your man-becomes-monster at its least nuanced. Whether the Krynoid, in contrast to the Wirrn, possesses its own intelligence is debatable, but it would appear, Vril-like to adapt its host’s consciousness.

The DoctorIf we don’t find that pod before it germinates, it’ll be the end of everything. Everything, you understand? Even your pension! 

There isn’t, though, really much to single the Krynoid out, as creatures go. Yes, its human/monster development is superior to Noah’s bubble wrap, but the final states are less convincing. Its most potent version is a direct Pertwee rip-off, the Axon monster given a fresh lick of paint and a few appendages. Otherwise, the plastic-bag Krynoid is one of Hinchcliffe’s surprisingly visible miss rate when it comes to realising creatures (up there with the Wirrn bag grub; the much-maligned Skarasen looks positively respectable by comparison). Put Erato and that Krynoid together on the starting line, and it would be a dead heat. Yes, the stop-motion, house-sized version isn’t too shabby, but a story that is all about surface impact really needed to do better. 

Chase: I understand policemen are few and far between in the Antarctic.

The Antarctica seedpod was Holmes idea, per Robert Banks Stewart, and the first two episode are pretty much The Thing redux – both versions – with the alien dug up, thawed, and ending up on the rampage (the divergent interests bent on its survival part too). Obviously, the Doctor does nothing to pooh-pooh the idea that Antarctica itself is anything other than the official account of its status, although the scientists’ theories regarding the pod’s personage are clearly wrong (for the purposes of The Seeds of Doom, this is actually closer to The X-Files’ black oil, an alien substance brought to Earth – and found in Antarctica – that takes possession of human vassals). The presented idea is that the continent/ landmass was once free of ice (the pod is found in the pre-permafrost so approximately 20,000 years old, with reference to the area being rainforest millions of years ago). About Time pointed out that the Doctor really shouldn’t have dug up the second pod, but that puts us in The Tomb of the Cybermen territory when it comes to finding him justifications (he may have suspected someone else would go sniffing at the pod site).

Dunbar: Apparently, a virus emerged from the pod.

I don’t know what might have been done to make The Seeds of Doom more than superficially engaging (don’t get me wrong; for much of the time it works like gangbusters on that completely surface level). Perhaps keeping it all in Antarctica and hewing it closer to The Horror of Fang Rock, but that would have made it too much of a copy of its inspiration, even by the era’s standards. Some twist? Something more on Harrison Chase’s mind, beyond merely having the pod for his collection? Something more on the Krynoid’s (who vents in one scene in Episode Five but then reverts to silence for the remainder. Perhaps speech took second place to being King Kong)? With a six-parter, you really must have some twists and turns, over and above the aforementioned escape and capture. Sure, there are sparky characters like Amelia Ducat and Harrison Chase, but also a tendency towards easy options, be it the Doctor escaping the besieged house when convenient (and leaving Sarah with Scorby), or calling in an airstrike when inspiration fails (Terror of the Zygons was also lacking when it came to an inventive resolution). 

The Doctor: There’ll be a transition period, a grotesque parody of the human form.

The action is often terrific, of course; this is a Douglas Camfield joint, and anything involving an altercation is inevitably superior to any stories in the near vicinity (or the show generally). The violence earns some stick, obviously, but the most disturbing sequence(s) isn’t violent, but rather digs into the implications for Keeler’s demise. Lisbeth Sandifer, as ever aping About Time, suggested that “the entire story seems spectacularly mis-toned” and “there’s a sense that this story just doesn’t belong in Doctor Who as it exists at the start of 1976”; she was talking partly about its frosty treatment of UNIT, well and truly shorn of any cosy family vibe now there are only impersonal representatives in the frame, but perhaps also the way in which the Doctor is now hobnobbing with civil servants like this is the missing link with The War Machines. Mostly, though, she declares “It’s the sensationalist, sick and nasty show that its critics in this era accused it of being” Being Sandifer, this is clearly mostly piffle.

The Doctor: Have you met Miss Smith? She’s my best friend.

Take the Doctor carrying a gun, the show’s equivalent of Batman killing people that only really worries fans, and fans who have never seen the First, Third, Fifth and Sixth Doctors (not to mention destroyer-of-worlds Seven) at work. About Time suggested “the fact that we know he’s not really going to use it really isn’t a good enough excuse”. Which is hot garbage, of course. This is hardly Day of the Daleks, or Attack of the Cybermen, you know. Sarah goes out of her way to say the Doctor wouldn’t use it (so unlike Five and Sixie), and he pointedly hands a rifle to Scorby in Episode Six rather than take up arms himself (and as The Face of Evil would show, the decision wasn’t about marksmanship skills). 

Beresford: What exactly is going on down there?
The Doctor: Revolution is going on down there.

As for the suggestion “his habit of punching bad guys in the face isn’t very endearing either”, I beg to differ. The way Tom does it, it’s exactly that. Likewise, “one shot of him twisting Scorby’s neck to render the man unconscious could have resulted in death or paralysis, if kids had copied it”. Sure, but it’s wicked cool. Besides which, there are countless things in Who that could have resulted in death or paralysis, had kids copied them. Just in this story, there’s jumping through glass windows (skylights). Walking around Antarctica in leisurewear. Impersonating a chauffeur. Notably, it was Tat Wood’s least favourite story from the first six Tom seasons.

Thackeray: Agricultural worker found strangled in kale field.

I will grant you that the implications of the composter are terribly nasty, which is why we were probably spared anything protracted when Chase meets his end in it. Indeed, it had me wondering at the possibility of the Doctor being fed into one and regenerating; would he continually regenerate as he got progressively pulped each time? Or would the burst of Artron energy of regeneration short circuit the grinder (doubtless, were in a nu-Who regeneration)? Likewise, the Doctor’s “You must help yourselves” when it comes to the prospect of amputating Winlett’s arm; this never takes place, but just the idea of it is grisly, in a manner mercifully absent from anything that makes it to the screen.

Chase: All plant eaters must die!

Mostly, though, The Seeds of Doom doesn’t come across as particularly OTT visually. In some respects, you actually need the violence to counterpoint the naff monster. Yes, Scorby makes a Molotov cocktail, but if you want to call out anything, then it ought to be attitude. Chase’s chief henchman is a vicious bastard, only as personable as he is because of John Challis’ performance. The Doctor, meanwhile, is in Get Carter clenched-teeth mode (“Scorby!” is Baker doing his best Michael Caine). Which is appropriate, as Tony Beckley appears in both. He’s one of the best Who villains, so it’s a shame his motivation is ultimately limited to going out and taking a few snaps. He needed a little more of the full-on Bond-villain antics, beyond simply tying his adversaries up and leaving them to escape, and a mad affiliation (for gold, the sea, plants).

Hargreaves: Mr Chase has gone to take some photographs.

Of course, he is super camp (green cathedral, indeed) and appreciative of wit (“What do you do for an encore?”), but you’re never in doubt as to his marginal capacities, from fretting “What a pity. I could have had two pods” to ignoring Keeler’s requests for hospital care (Hargreaves’ lackey responses to all this are perhaps even worse, assuming as he does that anything his master demands warrants unquestioning obedience).

The Doctor: We found it in a car boot.
Amelia: A car boot?
The Doctor: A Daimler car boot.
Amelia: The car is immaterial.

This is an extremely well-cast story, even as it has relatively few characters (they’ve even picked Sergeant Henderson well, such that you’re entirely with the often-abrasive Tom Doctor when he requests “Will you just shut up a minute, please”; no one is mourning Henderson feeding the garden). Sylvia Coleridge would wear the crown for best daffy old dear in a Tom Doctor Who until Professor Rumford came along. Michael Barrington’s exchange with her regarding civil servants is priceless, and the kind of dialogue that evidences Stewart was probably most at home in Avengers land. Talking of Sir Colin, it would have been lovely if he’d gone on a few adventures with the Doctor. I can just see him on the Sandminer, or being sacrificed to the cult of Demnos.

The Doctor: Have we been here before, or… 
The Doctor & Sarah: Are we yet to come?

The Geoffrey Burgon score his first rate, naturally. That he didn’t become a fixture evidences that, wherever else Hinchcliffe was aesthetically sharp, the incidental music wasn’t especially one of them. There’s a persistent sense with The Seeds of Doom, however, that for all the prestige status of it being a six-parter and having Dougie on board, and being a season finale, it’s just a tad run-of-the-mill. For the horror pastiches to truly break into their own, they needed that extra spin or string to their bow; The Seeds of Doom is content to plough a familiar furrow. Which may be a slightly lesser form of compliment, but it’s still a compliment.

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