Sunday, 6 March 2011

Doctor Who - The Seeds of Doom (1976)

Country: UK

Original Transmission Dates:
31/01/1976 - 06/03/1976 (6 Episodes)

Season 13 (1975-76) of Doctor Who saw the programme reach a pinnacle of derivation under the stewardship of producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes. In the wrong hands this might have been disastrous, but in fact the stories that emerged were highly inventive variations on a theme shot through with an enthusiasm only matched by Tom Baker’s beaming smile. The season opener Terror of the Zygons explored the mythology of the Loch Ness Monster within the framework of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Planet of Evil was a direct take on Forbidden Planet (1956), and Pyramids of Mars and The Brain of Morbius delightfully recreated the saturated style and atmosphere of Hammer’s gothic horrors whilst finding time for innovative uses of The Mummy and Frankenstein motifs. The season finale was the most ambitious of all. A six part adventure encompassing both the Antarctic and the English countryside and recycling the themes and plot devices of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951), The Quatermass Experiment (1954), and The Thing From Another World (1951). The resulting tale The Seeds of Doom is one of the most enjoyable stories of Tom Baker’s tenure, and perhaps most impressively is that all too rare six part adventure that doesn’t suffer from too much padding, and doesn’t have episodes that feel tacked on in order to extend the story.

The script by Robert Banks Stewart (who also penned the season curtain raiser Terror of the Zygons) is expertly tailored to the directorial strengths of Douglas Camfield. By this point Camfield was a veteran of Doctor Who whose contributions to the programme can be dated back to the very first story. Camfield would direct 52 episodes and The Seeds of Doom would be his swansong. Camfield’s major strength is action, and his skills were best served by scripts that hare along at breakneck speed and offer little time for thumb twiddling exposition. The story opens in the snowy wastes of Antarctic amid the discovery of a mysterious seed pod. It isn’t long before the meddling scientists, who are partly motivated by scientific curiosity and their own greed for a place in the history books have seen one of their number struck down by the germinating pod. At this news The Doctor and Sarah Jane, who are on secondment to the World Ecology Bureau, are on their way to investigate these odd happenings. It has to be said that the recreation of the Antarctic is only partially successful. The model work of the base is satisfactory, and even the library footage of a plane taking off is seamlessly integrated, but the horribly fake snow, the painted rocks and the unconvincing photographic backdrops are slightly damaging.

The story really comes to life when the action returns to England with The Doctor and Sarah on the trail of the men who have stolen the second pod. The pod turns out to be an alien life form called a Krynoid - a rapacious vampire like parasite which The Doctor describes as a ‘galactic weed’. The Krynoid conceptually at least is an excellent creation and obvious cousin to that other flesh eating plant The Triffid. A novel twist sees The Krynoid grow to gigantic proportions and create a revolution in all the plant life at the Baronial country estate of eccentric millionaire Harrison Chase (Tony Beckley). Chase is a green fingered psychopath whose fanatical interest in botany sees him join forces with the fauna in their revolution over what he calls the ‘animal fiends!’ In his immaculate suits and impeccable mannerisms Chase is a beautifully unhinged villain. He’s just as happy spending time playing atonal music to his rare plant collection as he is feeding soldiers into a recycling machine. Chase uses the greed and avarice of others to further his plans for a world in which the Rhododendron is king. In this he is assisted by the mindless muscle of the malleable mercenary Scorby (John Challis), a brainless thug that The Doctor enjoys an ongoing struggle with. The human villains are so good here that the giant vegetable does at times get lost in the shuffle.

The use of Athelhampton House in Dorset as the residence of Chase is a major success. This is a brilliant location full of winding corridors, gothic architecture, maze like gardens, and murky ponds. It offers plenty of places for concealment and the filmmakers get much mileage out of the spatial possibillities. The Doctor is unusually violent here, and prone to behaviour that is somewhat uncharacteristic. But the gravity of the situation is never lost on the Timelord, whose aggression is a symptom of his own concerns for the future of the planet. In addition to the major of theme of greed (money, power and knowledge) The Seeds of Doom is unable to avoid an ecological/environmental message. When it is all said done the reason for the crisis is entirely due to scientific curiosity, but unusually for Doctor Who the matter is not resolved by superior science courtesy of The Doctor’s ingenuity, but by the fighter planes called in by UNIT. The Seeds of Doom is one of Doctor Who’s most enjoyable stories.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. I always thought the gothic Doctor Who Stories were the best, yes they were rip off's but they were original enough to make great new stories out of great old stories

  2. Then I'll assume the first two or three seasons of Tom Baker's tenure is your favourite period in the show's history. This is when the gothic element reached its peak...THE TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG probably being the most emblamatic. If you're a genre fan Cal, then on some level you have to enjoy/like derivative films & television. The question is whether the film/TV show is imaginatively derivative. These DOCTOR WHO stories most certainly are. Thanks for stopping by buddy!

  3. Ah, the Tom Baker years! Our local public broadcasting station ran this entire era of DW during the early eighties. I had to stay up real late on school nights to watch them (thus dooming my grades due to sleep deprivation). Am still a fan to this day.

  4. Now I suppose it is but not always. You see for me it was exactly opposite to the way you described. I had been a doctor who fan for a quite a large period of my life before I came into contact with Quatermass And The Pit. From there Hammer Horror and then so on and so forth


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