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02 March 2014 @ 05:35 pm
The Randomizer: The Seeds of Doom  
The randomiser seems to have become fixated upon Tom Baker again. Not that we're really complaining. Like, Robots of Death, this is another of the big classic stories which must inhabit the top 20 Doctor Who stories somewhere, though probably doesn't quite squeak the top five.

"I think we've watched this together before," I mentioned to tame layman as we sat down (he'd just negotiated a "no rewatching Doctor Who stories we've seen in the past 5 years" policy).

"That's OK. It's a good one," he said.

The Seeds of Doom is a tale of a mad plant collector and the alien plant that intends to take over the world. It is an example of Doctor Who at its most shameless aping of the gothic horror genre - complete with country house and organ playing (though, in this case, it is some kind of synthesiser).

Harrison Chase, the main villain, is actually a bit different from a lot of Who villains of the Baker era. He has the standard hand-wave excuse for his actions ("he's mad") however Tony Beckley (or possibly director, Douglas Camfield) choses not to portray him in the standard eye-rolling and scenery chewing style. This makes him appear more dangerous and frightening. He is a long way from the pantomime villain, and yet this is a man who will give you a guided tour of his greenhouse and play you his electronic symphony to plants as a prelude to having you executed. The way Scorby and Hargreaves defer to him, even when his decisions appear unnecessarily self-indulgent also emphasises Chase's absolute power within the grounds of his own home, and makes him seem a far more real threat. The fact that Chase appears even more unhinged and frightening after his moment of communion with the krynoid is definitely a testament to the combination of acting, script and direction. Chase's gloves are an interesting touch, never commented upon within the story. They are clearly intended to evoke Chase's distaste for humanity but, of course, they also reference OCD. One hopes that the modern show would be more careful about such a direct link between an actual condition and a villain, but one rather suspects not.

One can't really discuss The Seeds of Doom without at least a nod to Sylvia Coleridge's Amelia Ducat, who effectively steals every scene she is in. She even upstages Tom Baker, though this early in his run, his acting is more restrained than it was later to become.

The Seeds of Doom is also famously more or less two stories run into one. We have two krynoid pods, the first of which blooms in the Antarctic before the second is brought back to Chases's manor. The antarctic sections are more or less entirely separate with John Challis' Scorby taking the role of the main villain, before becoming the henchman in the later episodes. Events proceed at a more rapid pace, with the progression from finding the pod, to infection, to the escape of the krynoid, and finally the death of the remaining base staff all occurring in quick succession. That said, tame layman did have time to muse upon whether he, as a zoologist, would be able to amputate an arm in extremes (answer, yes, apparently - but only because he's spent a lot of time moonlighting as an anatomist). The antarctic sections are let down a little by rather poor snow effects, and clearly very little idea about the actual effects of antarctic temperatures on the part of the production team. However, it does form an effective prelude to the main story.

I was interested to note, on checking Howe and Walker's Television Companion for this story that they claim the Doctor plays no real role in events. That seems an odd claim to me. At the very least, he is instrumental in chivvying authority into action and alerting them in a timely fashion to the nature and gravity of the threat. This is the final story in which the Doctor is acting as UNIT's scientific advisor. It is a strangely low-key affair in that regard, featuring none of the regular UNIT cast that had been established over the previous six years. UNIT functions as an effective mechanism for inserting the Doctor into the action, and for smoothing his interactions with the Antarctic base staff and the powers that be in the UK, and was occasionally used to that effect in later stories. More recently, of course, telepathic paper seems to have taken on that role.

This is, deservedly, another classic Doctor Who story. It rises above its many potential limitations (e.g., the fact that many effects are clearly created by stage hands shaking pot plants) to tell a gripping story with a compelling central villain that never loses sight of the gothic horror roots.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/111127.html.
wellinghallwellinghall on March 2nd, 2014 08:34 pm (UTC)
And even a pun in the last line of the review ... ;-)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 3rd, 2014 09:59 am (UTC)
Unintentional however...
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on March 2nd, 2014 09:23 pm (UTC)
This is an odd one for me. I used to really like it - it has an effective blend of horror, suspense and humour. But in recent years I find myself feeling more and more uncomfortable about the Doctor's violent role in the story. There's a bit at the start of part four where the Doctor jumps through the skylight, wallops Scorby, rescues Sarah, wallops Scorby again and pulls a gun on Chase. "What do you do for an encore?" asks Chase. "I win" says the Doctor. It's directed and acted well enough (and shows Tom Baker could do more than just moody and whimsical) and if it were in a James Bond film or a Batman comic it wouldn't be out of place, but I feel deeply, deeply uncomfortable with the Doctor doing that.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 3rd, 2014 10:01 am (UTC)
I recall that scene - at least I recall the "What do you do for an encore?" line - but I don't recall being particularly surprised by it. I think it is possible to over-estimate the extent to which the Doctor is pacifistic, but I suspect also Scorby is such a grounded villain, arguably far less sympathetic than Chase, that it seems genuinely like the Doctor's best course of action.

That said, Seeds of Doom, was one of the stories that particularly upset Mary Whitehouse, IIRC.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on March 3rd, 2014 01:00 pm (UTC)
I don't actually see the Doctor as a genuine pacifist, merely as someone who avoids violence where possible, but I think in this story the violence felt too realistic, rather than him getting K9 to stun the villains with a laser (etc). It's aesthetic as much as moral: I find it more interesting when the Doctor out-thinks the villains rather than getting the RAF to blow them up!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 3rd, 2014 08:34 pm (UTC)
There are definitely some writers in whose hands the Doctor's pacifism runs no further than not using guns - of course there are some which have allowed him much more nuanced positions.
reggietate: the doctorreggietate on March 2nd, 2014 10:24 pm (UTC)
I have vague, but fond memories of this one. Didn't Tony Beckley die quite young?

It's a glorious crossbreed of The Thing and Quatermass. Those were the days...
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 3rd, 2014 10:05 am (UTC)
The Thing is often mentioned in connection with The Seeds of Doom and while there are strong superficial similarities (the setting and the parasitic alien), the fact that we are never in any doubt about who has been infected by the Krynoid usually makes me feel that the similarities really are entirely superficial. Seeds of Doom is never a story about paranoia or uncertainty.

I had to look Beckley up, and was surprised that hadn't appeared in more TV that I recalled - a young death might account for that.
reggietate: the doctorreggietate on March 3rd, 2014 10:42 am (UTC)
He was 51. Not a spring chicken, certainly, but younger than me! ;-) Seems to have had a brain tumour, but it possibly might have been AIDS back before anyone really knew much about it. Pity, he was an interesting sort of actor, in a minor way.
telperion_15: Tardistelperion_15 on March 4th, 2014 08:16 pm (UTC)
A classic Who that I have actually seen! My boss lent me a selection of classic stories before Christmas - essentially one for each Doctor - and this was among them. I did enjoy it, although I do admit to the odd snigger at the effect relating to the krynoid... :)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 5th, 2014 09:06 am (UTC)
The effect for the "Creature from the Pit" is much, much worse. It has tentacles in a case system which look more or less exactly like big dicks. I believe the cast's acting ability were stretched to its limits.
Pollyjane_somebody on March 15th, 2014 12:01 am (UTC)
Huh, despite commenting on a fairly recent Randomizer post that The Invisible Enemy was the first Doctor Who I clearly remember watching, I find I have strong childhood memories of watching this one after all, especially the Antarctic base parts. (Also memories of at least one other intervening one, the series 14 Talons of Weng Chiang.) I know my mother was (still is!) a big Doctor Who fan (not that she'd have called it that) so I imagine she was watching these serials, and I watched some (or parts of some) of them with her, but perhaps was not a regular viewer before say series 15. For example, I was particularly fond of the novelisation of another series 14 story, the Masque of Mandragora, but definitely didn't watch that before DocSoc. Hmmn, I now quite want to make a little project of watching all the early-mid seventies stories again specifically with a view to seeing which ones I remember from childhood rather than from university or later.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 15th, 2014 05:19 pm (UTC)
If you're going to pick a period of classic Who to rewatch (for whatever reason) then I'd say this is definitely the one to go for. A lot of hits and very few misses.