When scientists in the Antarctic uncover a mysterious seed pod, the Doctor is called in to investigate. He soon realises it is extra-terrestrial and extremely dangerous. At the same time, however, ruthless millionaire plant-lover Harrison Chase has learned of the find and must have it for himself. Meanwhile, the pod has plans of its own…
The Seeds of Doom brings Season 13 to a close in a fantastic style. It is notable perhaps for feeling more like an episode of The Saint or The Avengers (or even Pertwee-era Doctor Who), especially when it comes to some of the Doctor’s actions. This is often attributed to the fact that the writer, Robert Banks Stewart, wasn’t all too familiar with the format of Doctor Who or science fiction in general, but could also be down to how cinematic this story feels in places. It also benefits from great performances from the guest cast and being an entertaining story.
The story perhaps perfectly demonstrates how well a six part story can work for Doctor Who, As the first two parts focusing on the discovery of the Krynoid pods and the final four returning the action to England, it gives the story time to breathe and develop to its full potential. As a result, the crew of the Antarctic base feel like real characters rather than cannon fodder that other stories would throw away in the opening minutes, whilst allowing the villain of the piece, Harrison Chase to make fleeting appearances to let the audience see who is pulling the strings without bring him front and centre, whilst also keeping him as a figure of some mystery whilst he sends his operatives Scorby and Keeler out to bring him the pod. The story feels quite similar to a lot of the Third Doctor stories, sharing a lot of components, such as UNIT, corrupt civil servants and the level of action and noticeably, the Fourth Doctor engages in more fisticuffs and action scenes than usual, even wielding a gun and a sword at different points of the story. With Chase having a private security force, there are lots of scenes of the Doctor and Sarah being chased around and being shot at, and this is a story with quite a high body count and some grizzly deaths – like that of the unfortunate Sergeant Henderson. One of the problems this story does have, however, is that the defeat of the Krynoid feels a bit too easy, with the airforce bombing the creature and destroying it. It does feel as though the writer painted himself into a corner by making the Krynoid too powerful and needed a quick fix. It is a slight quibble with a story that I really enjoyed though.
Douglas Camfield does some wonderful directorial work here and manages to make a story with an undoubtedly limited budget look like it was a movie at times. The story gets off to a great start with some fantastic minature work when it comes the Antarctic base which helps to make us really believe that this isn’t just another quarry somewhere in England. It continues through the action scenes, helped by the fact that Tom Baker did a lot of his own stunts in this story, most notably in the fight with the chauffeur who tries to kill the Doctor and Sarah and jumping through the skylght of Chase’s house at the beginning of Part 4. Camfield was an experienced hand at directing Doctor Who by this point and his decision not to direct further stories due to the toll it was taking on him is a real shame for the classic era.
The sergeant’s no longer with us. He’s in the garden. He’s part of the garden.Harrison Chase
As mentioned previously, this story does has some great guest performances, none so greater than that of Tony Beckley as Harrison Chase. The character almost feels like a Bond villain at times, even though his ecological goals seem more reasonable now than they would have done at the time. Beckley plays the role well, skulking around scenes and his voice full of quiet menace. When Chase is psychically linked to the plant based creature, he maintains an aura of unnerving calm throughout. The only moments when he seems truly rattled are when he notices the incompetence of those around him in carrying out the simplest tasks. The Krynoid looks good in the early stages of taking over hosts, however, when it gets to the stage of growing to the size of Chase’s house, it doesn’t look so convincing. The miniature shots of the creature on top of the house look good though, and apparently the eventual destruction of the house looked so convincing that the owners were sent letters of commiseration.
I would be remiss not to mention some other characters here, namely Scorby, Keeler and Amelia Ducat. Scorby, Chase’s henchman, is a really nasty piece of work brought to life by John Challis, best known for playing Boycie on Only Fools and Horses. He is completely unrecognisable from this role here, effectively playing the nasty side of the character really well. Even when confronted by the fact that his boss has become a lunatic, Scorby still won’t completely trust the Doctor, which is quite a nice touch, and is constantly doubting the ability of others to get him out of the situation, which ultimately leads to yet another gruesome death. Keeler, another of Chase’s lackeys, but less certain of his boss’s intentions, is nicely played by Mark Jones. Keeler ultimately ends up becoming the Krynoid creature, which is unfortunate given the character’s misgivings about taking it back to Chase in the first place. Ultimately, though, one of the standouts is sadly underutilised, in the shape of the eccentric Amelia Ducat, played by Sylvia Coleridge. She is absolutely great in this role and it is a shame that the script does not have more of her in it, not least because she is the only other female character other than the companion in the story. The Hinchcliffe-Holmes era is perhaps the worst at having male dominated stories and Ducat is a breath of fresh air but sadly all too brief.
By this point in their relationship, the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane are really in their stride. Tom Baker is warm and funny when he needs to be, but also irritable when he is not being taken seriously by characters like Sir Colin about the threat the Krynoid poses to the Earth’s security. It is particularly interesting to see how the Doctor reacts to the presence of Major Beresford rather than the trusty Brigadier, who is mentioned as being in Geneva. Whilst the Doctor might see Lethbridge-Stewart as a bit of a stick in the mud, Beresford is treated as a complete jobsworth. The production team seem to have allowed both Baker and Sladen room to add lines in to the script, perhaps respecting that they are at the end of their second and third seasons respectively, with perhaps the most notable being the one below:
Hello, this is Sarah Jane Smith, she’s my best friend.The Fourth Doctor
Sarah Jane is good here too, especially in her exchanges with the increasingly rattled Scorby towards the end of the story, pointing out that he feels impotent without his gun. Sladen states in her autobiography that the experience of working on The Seeds of Death was “a joy from start to finish” and I think that certainly does show in the end result that we see on screen.
Verdict: The Seeds of Doom is a great way to close Tom Baker’s second season as the Doctor. A great foe, combined with a good guest cast means that this is worthy of mentioning amongst the greats. 9/10
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Tony Beckley (Harrison Chase), John Challis (Scorby), Mark Jones (Arnold Keeler/Krynoid Voice), Hubert Rees (John Stevenson), John Gleeson (Charles Winlett), Michael McStay (Derek Moberley), Kenneth Gilbert (Richard Dunbar), Michael Barrington (Sir Colin Thackeray), Seymour Green (Hargreaves), Sylvia Coleridge (Amelia Ducat), David Masterman (Guard Leader), Ian Fairbarn (Doctor Chester), Alan Chuntz (Chauffeur), Harry Fielder (Guard), John Acheson (Major Beresford) & Ray Barron (Sergeant Henderson).
Writer: Robert Banks-Stewart
Director: Douglas Camfield
Behind the Scenes
- The Hand of Fear was originally meant to close Season 13, however, due to issues with the script, a new story was commissioned from Robert Banks-Stewart. The Hand of Fear would become a part of Season 14.
- The cancellation of production of The Hand of Fear benefitted The Seeds of Doom, as it inherited the booking for Outside Broadcast videotape, allowing the story to feature an unusually large creature.
- The final major appearance of UNIT until Battlefield. In the intervening years, the Brigadier would appear in Mawdyrn Undead and The Five Doctors and there was as scene at UNIT Headquarters in the latter story. There was consideration given to cameos for the Brigadier and Benton in this story, however, due to the size of the roles and Courtney’s unavailability, the idea was scrapped.
- The final involvement of Douglas Camfield, who had worked on the show since the 1960s.
- Philip Hinchcliffe disliked the character of Amelia Ducat, and when the script was novelised, the character was largely removed.
- Kenneth Gilbert nearly didn’t appear in this story, as he contracted chicken pox from his daughter and was told by his doctor that he had to take two weeks off. Douglas Camfield reworked the shooting schedules to allow Gilbert to appear.
- This is the last story to feature the original TARDIS prop, designed by Peter Brachacki. According to some reports, the roof collapsed on Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen at the end of the filming of this story.
- John Challis voiced the Fifth incarnation of Drax in The Trouble with Drax.
- Hubert Rees previously appeared in Fury from the Deep and The War Games.
- John Gleeson previously appeared two seasons prior as a Thal soldier in Genesis of the Daleks.
- Seymour Green went on to appear in Colin Baker’s first story, The Twin Dilemma.
- Ian Fairbairn had previously appeared in The Macra Terror and The Invasion opposite Patrick Troughton and Inferno opposite Jon Pertwee.
- Alan Chuntz was a stuntman and extra in many Doctor Who episodes from The Invasion to The Visitation, with this being his only credited performance.
- Harry Fielder was also a stuntman who had appeared in numerous stories from The Enemy of the World until Castrovalva. He was only credited for his appearance in this story and The Armageddon Factor. Fielder was booked to appear in Shada, however, industrial action meant that his scenes were never recorded.
The cliffhanger at the end of Part 3, where the tendrils from the Krynoid pod are stretching out towards Sarah’s arm is really tense and works really well.
If we don’t find that pod before it germinates, it’ll be the end of everything – EVERYTHING, you understand?! Even your pension!The Fourth Doctor
Previous Fourth Doctor story: The Brain of Morbius
Other Reviews Mentioned:
Terror of the Zygons
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