The Seeds of Doom

Written by:
Robert Banks Stewart
Directed by: Michael Briant
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1976/7
Video Availability: Try

Is it just me or does the bass line to the theme tune run faster on this one? Anyway, the story. Yes, yes, Thing From Another World, etc., etc., never mind all that - how does it work as Who? Well, the first couple of minutes aren't promising, combining some rock bottom modelwork with horrific fake beards and cheapo 70s actors. Stylistically, you expect Pertwee to walk on at any moment. Instead, Tom's less accessible (yet, conversely, more popular) Doctor livens things up. I've noticed that he goes in for a lot of nervous hat work in his first couple of seasons (check out the end of The Android Invasion - better still, don't, it's rubbish) which is four episodes longer than McCoy's entire tenure. Does that mean that if Sylvester had stayed in the role longer he'd have dropped the over-reliance on his hat? Probably not, but it's a thought, isn't it?

A difficult thing for me to get my head round on first viewing of this story was Harrison Chase, "one of the series' best villains" ™, who is of course in reality as camp as John Inman. It begins right from his first line, a mincing "I don't think I've had the pleasure". It's actually very clever of the production team to be pitching jokes at the adult audience like that, even if Chase's minority leanings (camp, though not necessarily gay = evil) does force the series once more into a homogenised James Bond territory. Up to this point, Tom's enemies have included a militant woman, an Egyptian, and a blind, one-armed cripple in a wheelchair.

One of Tom's last film roles before starring in Doctor Who was enlivening the generally quite tedious horror movie The Mutations. Starring Donald Pleasence, it featured, as well as some shameless ripping off of Todd Browning, half-human, half-plant creatures that are in modern terms more than a little laughable. While fans may be intrigued by Tom's outfit of floppy hat, scarf and long brown overcoat, or the similarity between his role and Condo from Morbius, what's striking is that the human/plant hybrid that appears in Seeds of Doom is arguably scarier. Okay, Seeds doesn't feature knife stabbings and topless women, but The Mutations was the latter-day equivalent of an 18-certificate movie. Seeds was family entertainment. All that said, this first episode, at least, looks cheap. Extremely cheap. Fans say they don't mind Doctor Who's budgetary restraints, but I'm sure no one actually wants it to look tacky, do they? I can suspend my disbelief with the best of 'em, but when I see the scene where the Doctor and Sarah arrive at the "Antarctic" all suspension is obliterated. Yes, Who is about ideas over presentation, but with Seeds those ideas are cribbed and half-hearted.

Other moans include the "freezer seeming superfluous" bit, a bite of exposition so clunkily written I groaned outwardly. I feel bad for saying this, cos Seeds is okay, but this first episode is lacking in wit or intellect, and is really just a penny-scraping knock-off.
* * ½

I've said before that overdubbing narration only happens in three stories - Robot, The Deadly Assassin and The TV Movie - but it happens in this episode, too, with the Doctor's "grotesque parody of the human form" leading into shots of the semi-Krynoid walking around the snow outside.

This is better actually, its developing plot strands of bent policemen and immoral henchmen giving you something more to latch onto as a viewer. There's even some funny stuff (the "turn around"/"start talking" bits) that would now be described as "Doctorish" but was up to that point fairly new to what had gone before in terms of the character. It's still a bit cheap and a bit brightly lit, but this is a significant step up.
* * * ½

It turns out that matchbox exploding didn't kill the Doctor and Sarah after all, and so they're rescued from Antarctica, which looks suspiciously like a quarry in Surrey. Not a lot to say about this one really - Lis is on good form, though Tom is startlingly self-conscious throughout. There's some location work, but as its shot on video it looks pretty horrible. Like in Zygons (same writer) there's a quarry being used as a quarry, but far more notable is the violent Doctor, slugging people with abandon. Some fans have said to me that they see this as the Doctor showing his dark side, but it's less character development, more the Doctor smacking people one for narrative convenience. Still, as least Miss Ducat - with her "It's Doo cart" catchphrase predating Keeping Up Appearances by several years - adds colour to a somewhat drawn-out instalment.
* * *

Here, after getting into Chase Mansion and then escaping last episode, the Doctor breaks in, escapes and then breaks in again. If this was Pertwee I'd be slagging it to the skies, but there's something more engaging about Tom, and more realistic in his violence. "What do you do for an encore?" "I win!" It's a cool line, even if Scorby's a bit of a posh henchman and it's impossible not to think "Boycie" when you see him.

In many ways this is my least favourite interpretation of the fourth Doctor - an aggressive hardman who says things like "you're pushing your luck, Scorby!" Even in a narrative sense this limits the drama, because if the Doctor has physical superiority to add to his wit and supreme intellect then he becomes the invulnerable Doctor JN-T always complained about.

Incidentally (dreadful pun there) I've not mentioned the music. At the start of this one it reminds me of a Sapphire & Steelish score, with its low percussion and ominous, gradual build-up. It's a superior score, and, naturally, wasn't composed by Dudley Simpson.

The shredder is pure Perils of Pauline, and the observant might note that the alliteration of his Compost Acceleration Chamber is CAC. Quite appropriate for Chase to have a mincing machine though, and this is probably the best episode so far.
* * * ½

There's a slightly cold feeling to this story, with the main hero distant and resorting to bellowing to make up his performance. Thankfully Sarah is at possibly her most effective here.

You know, the same sort of fans that slag off Graham Williams left, right and centre praise Seeds of Doom as the classic it isn't. Yet the much-derided depiction of Kroll is far more effectively achieved than the giant Krynoid here. Having said that, even though the plot - killer plants - is patently ridiculous, it is carried over with considerable aplomb.

It's easy to overlook that this is the final UNIT story for thirteen years. It's realistic that when the Doctor calls on them it won't always be the two people that he knows, doing a star turn. It is a shame not to see the Brigadier and Benton one more time though, even if they would probably have outweighed the rest of the story. While Zygons is a classic and this is above-average, it is notable that Robert Banks-Stewart has relied on UNIT blowing things up for both of his entries. Chase IS a great villain though - he's totally bonkers, isn't he?
* * * *

"Hit it square in the chest!" What's most worrying is not the giant Krynoid - which makes you think Barry Letts has come back - but that soldier's gnashers. He looks like one of those killer rabbits from Watership Down. Why didn't he just gnaw the Krynoid to death?

To be honest, this is only okay, Tony Beckley's superb performance and vague subtext the only things keeping it above mediocre. I like it more for its era than in itself, it's another story symptomatic of a frighteningly strong run. I used to resist praising Hinchcliffe as it's such a terrible cliché, but it certainly has merit. But without these things - and some character development for Challis's Scorby - this would just be another "monster of the week" show. You could see Jon in it, even though it's more ambitious than pretty much anything he'd attempted, for good or bad. Plus, Pertwee's stunt double would never have been thrown around by Scorby. Is it just me or when he doubtfully states "I'm a survivor" do you expect him to break into Destiny's Child? No? Oh, just me then.

If you're looking for plusses in Bank-Stewarts's work then he does subvert the "base under seige" format quite effectively. Essentially we're back to season five, but in Zygons the monsters are the one with the base and here the heroes are surrounded at every corner… but by a single monster. Okay, it's not exactly post-modern genius and probably wasn't even intentional, but while I've been a bit hard on this story the script has vastly greater elements of shading and characterisation than a Terry Nation script. It's little over run-of-the-mill as far as Who goes, but it's light years ahead of The Android Invasion.

Of course, most people would think shooting the UNIT soldiers on video and the model Krynoid on a matchbox on film is a mistake, but I'm sure there was some good reason for it. Wasn't there? Anyway, the end is naturally anti-climatic, as "blow it up" resolutions normally are. It's worthwhile, though, and isn't Chase's death scene (not even shown) horrific? Best bit about the end is Lis seemingly ad-libbing a double take to "Sir Colin". Then, of course, there's THAT ending. Is there anywhere in the first episode that it's explicitly stated that they didn't get there using the Tardis? And surely there could be an unshot scene where they had it hoisted back to England? Maybe? Though why Sarah has to wet herself laughing at events is beyond me. Calm down, love, it ain't that bloody funny!
* * * *

Sadly average by Tom's standards, this is still above the usual norm of the series, if not without its flaws.
* * * *