The Seeds of Doom

I suppose you could call it a galactic weed, though it’s deadlier than any weed you know. On most planets, the animals eat the vegetation. On planets where the Krynoid gets established, the vegetation eats the animals.

The Fourth Doctor

Synopsis

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…

Review

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

Parts: 6

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.

Cast Notes

  • 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.

Best Moment

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.

Best Quote

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

The Brain of Morbius

I am still here. I can see nothing, feel nothing. You have locked me into hell for eternity. If this is all there is, I would rather die now…Trapped like this, like a sponge beneath the sea. Yet even a sponge has more life than I. Can you understand a thousandth of my agony? I, Morbius, who once led the High Council of Time Lords, reduced to this – to the condition where I envy a vegetable.

Morbius

Synopsis

Mad scientist Mehendri Solon is looking for a head to house the brain of the criminal Time Lord, Morbius. When the Doctor arrives on Karn with Sarah, his head seems like the perfect receptacle.

Review

If you’re looking for a story where Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes’ gothic approach to Doctor Who really hits its stride, look no further than The Brain of Morbius. It owes a debt to Frankenstein, with pretty blatant parallels to the famous work of fiction. Whilst the story might not be the most original, the direction manages to capture the gothic tone that Hinchcliffe and Holmes were aiming for with their run on the show and, despite being shot entirely in studio, presumably due to a lack of budget, The Brain of Morbius really stands up to this day.

The Brain of Morbius could easily be seen to be an example of a low budget story working really well. Whilst the lack of location work is glaringly obvious and at times it is painfully obvious that the action is taking place on a set, it gives a tense and claustrophobic feeling to proceedings that keeps the audience gripped. The story is not terribly original, but it evokes Hammer Horror films effectively with elements like the stormy skies and Solon’s castle. Even the rubber suit that is the final form of Morbius really works well here as he dashes around the surface of Karn. There are some moments that are really astonishing for Doctor Who, namely the shots of the container holding Morbius’ brain shattering and falling to the floor and Solon shooting Condo seem pretty gruesome for the show, making them all the more effective. The mindbending sequence at this story’s conclusion paved the way for the revived series to insert more incarnations of the Doctor prior to William Hartnell, which was the intention at the time of production, and it works quite well even outside of this context.

The villains are where this story really shines. Philip Madoc was probably highlighted to any production team of the classic series as a reliable pair of hands for a compelling villain. He does not disappoint here in his role of Mehendri Solon, believable portraying a brilliant scientist out for revenge on the universe, which has made him slightly unstable but maintaining a degree of charm. Solon was on Karn at the time of Morbius’s execution by the Time Lords, maintaining the criminal’s brain in a jar. Condo, Solon’s well-intentioned and misled assistant, is a mix between Igor and Quasimodo, developing an affection for Sarah, and the relationship between Solon and Condo is quite well realised on screen. The titular Morbius is well voiced by Michael Spice, adding a sense of menace to the disembodied brain in the jar and makes scenes like the one where Sarah Jane heads towards his voice all the more scary. Morbius and Condo’s body’s are both like patchwork, something which the revived series likes to return to, namely with the Clockwork Droids (in Deep Breath) and Auntie, Uncle and Idris in The Doctor’s Wife. This element is suitably horrific

The third party in this story are the Sisterhood of Karn, led by Maren, the High Priestess. Due to historic conflict between the Sisterhood and the Time Lords, she is not quick to trust the Doctor and Sarah, an element which we don’t see a lot of in stories like this. Cynthia Grenville does well conveying the burden of immortality bequeathed by the Eternal Flame, and I like the fact that, despite the Doctor being able to easily solve the problem of the Flame going out, this does not mean the fact that they are immediately allies – the Sisterhood remain sceptical of the Doctor’s claims that Morbius has returned.

Do you think I don’t know the difference between an internal fault and an external influence? No, no, no, there’s something going on here. Some dirty work they won’t touch with their lily white hands!

The Fourth Doctor

The central pairing of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen is really good. I feel like I say this every time I review a Fourth Doctor serial, but they have such fantastic chemistry and I can see why they are so many people’s favourite Doctor – Companion pairing. They really are at the peak of their powers here, and I think to a certain extent, Christopher Barry let the regulars get on with it, as Sladen states in her autobiography that she thought that the director was preoccupied by the presence of Madoc. She is great in the scenes where she is blinded by Maren’s ring and when she recovers her sight and she and the Doctor have a great exchange. Whilst Sarah might not have a lot to do here, she reacts as realistically as one would when confronted with this situation. Tom Baker veers between serious sombriety, in his rage against the Time Lords and their tinkering in steering the TARDIS off-course at the beginning of the story, to a more comedic slant when standing outside Solon’s castle on Karn in the pouring rain.

Could you spare a glass of water?

The Fourth Doctor

The rage at the beginning of the story really caught my eye, thanks largely to the fantastic podcast, Verity! They are currently returning to stories and re-evaluating them, and in their episode about Genesis of the Daleks, they mention that, as a result of the outcome of this story, the Doctor’s attitude towards the Time Lords and their missions for him changes. Here, he bemoans them pulling his TARDIS off-course, believing that they don’t want to get their hands dirty. His fury is a marked change from Pertwee’s resignation and possibly signals a change in approach towards the Time Lords, paving the way for something more drastic to come in the next season. It is noticeable that Robert Holmes has a different approach to the Time Lords to his predecessor, Terrance Dicks, who liked to portray them as well-intentioned guardians of the universe. The sentence of Morbius shows just how brutal Time Lord justice is, as his atoms were dispersed to the nine corners of the universe. Here it serves to prove just how serious his crimes were, and the Doctor and the Master seem to have got off pretty lightly!

Verdict: The Brain of Morbius is a Hammer Horror influenced story and a lot of fun. It is aided by a memorable turn by Philip Madoc as Solon, a great gothic atmosphere and a good adaptation of Frankenstein to fit the show. 10/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Michael Spice (Voice of Morbius), Philip Madoc (Solon), Cynthia Grenville (Maren), Colin Fay (Condo), Gilly Brown (Ohica), Sue Bishop, Janie Kells, Gabrielle Mowbray and Veronica Ridge (Sisters), John Scott Martin (Kriz) & Stuart Fell (Morbius Monster).

Writer: “Robin Bland” (pseudonym for Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes)

Director: Christopher Barry

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The story was heavily influenced by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and its film adaptations.
  • This story introduces the Sisterhood of Karn, who would later reappear in The Night of the Doctor, The Magician’s Apprentice and Hell Bent.
  • Terrance Dicks disapproved of Holmes’ changes to his script, leading him to ask for the story to be broadcast credited under “some bland pseudonym”. The main change was to make Morbius’s assistant human rather than a robot due to budgetary constraints, something Dicks begrudgingly came to terms with.
  • Philip Hinchcliffe stated that the production team had intended to bring in famous actors as the faces, however, there were no volunteers and so members of the production team were used instead. The faces that appear in the mind battle are, in order of appearance: George Gallacio (Production Unit Manager), Robert Holmes (Script Editor), Graeme Harper (Production Assistant), Douglas Camfield (Director), Philip Hinchcliffe (Producer), Christopher Baker (Production Assistant), Robert Banks Stewart (Writer) and Christopher Barry (Director).
  • Philip Hinchcliffe confirmed that the intention was always that these faces were previous incarnations of the Doctor prior to William Hartnell. The Timeless Children would later confirm this.
  • After complaints were received about actors not being used, the BBC paid a sum to the acting union Equity’s benevolent fund.
  • This is the second of four stories to receive a complaint from Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, who labelled it as “containing some of the sickest and most horrific material seen on children’s television.”

Cast Notes

  • The third of four appearances for Philip Madoc, who had previously appeared in The Krotons and The War Machines. He would make his final appearance in televised Doctor Who in The Power of Kroll. He would appear in the Big Finish audio dramas Master and Return of the Krotons.

Best Moment

Best Quote

The impossible dream of a thousand alchemists, dripping like tea from an urn.

The Fourth Doctor

Previous Fourth Doctor story: The Android Invasion

Reviews Mentioned:

The Girl in the Fireplace

Deep Breath

Books Referenced

Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography, published 2011

Podcasts:

Sega Genesis of the Daleks – Verity Podcast

The Android Invasion

Is that finger loaded?

The Fourth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Sarah arrive at Devesham on Earth, near the Space Defence Station. However, as they investigate the village, they discover that all is not as it seems: the village is deserted, the telephones don’t work, calendars are stuck on the same date and

Review

I’d love to be able to say that The Android Invasion is a lot of fun and feels in keeping with an otherwise superb run of episodes in Season 13. Instead, Terry Nation’s tenth Doctor Who story struggles with inconsistencies, pointless nods to continuity and poor plotting. It is not entirely terrible, however, and does probably suffer from being similar in certain ways to Terror of the Zygons, the season opener and perhaps the blame has to be split between Nation and the script editor, Robert Holmes, for not making these two stories feel more distinct. It isn’t all bad either; the first two parts of the story are genuinely unnerving and there is some solid direction from the ever-reliable Barry Letts.

Ultimately, the main problem with this is the plot, and it is rather frustrating but not surprising that this comes from the pen of Terry Nation who has been capable of great stories, but equally some pretty drab ones. This story features elements such as meteorites, duplicates and viruses which feels as though Nation is throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. When the Devesham that the Doctor and Sarah arrive in at the start of the story is revealed to be a highly detailed duplicate to prepare for a Kraal invasion, it begs the question why they were making such a detailed duplicate only to destroy it. Then there comes the eye patch reveal for Crayford which is just plain stupid. I know that the Kraals have obviously manipulated the astronaut to believe that humanity has abandoned him, but it is never explained why he has never felt inclined to check under the patch before. Further issues include why Sarah’s duplicate’s face falls off when the android duplicates are supposed to be indestructible and why the threat of invasion disappears as soon as Styggron is killed. The most glaring involves the TARDIS pause control, which means that the TARDIS travels from the duplicate woods to the real ones when Sarah puts her key in the lock, which smacks of laziness. Whilst Nation’s basic concept is sound, it feels as though as soon as he put flesh onto the bones, it falls apart.

We then come to the use of UNIT in this story. I’m not sure why the tease of the Brigadier is included after it became clear that Nicholas Courtney was unavailable as it almost heightens the expectation that he will come in at some point to come to the rescue or get in the Doctor’s way. Colonel Faraday is also such a disappointment in comparison and ultimately isn’t good enough to lace the Brigadier’s bootlaces. Anyone who has read my reviews of the Third Doctor’s stories with UNIT knows that they are part of one of my favourite eras of the show, and knows that one of my biggest gripes with Chris Chibnall has been the scrapping of UNIT. Therefore, it is a bit of a disappointment to see Benton and Harry dealt with so shabbily, especially considering that Harry was a duplicate in his final outing with the Doctor, Terror of the Zygons. In Sladen’s autobiography she states that at the time it didn’t feel as though this would be the final appearance for Marter, but with hindsight, it feels like he never really got a proper goodbye. The character is being revised by Big Finish, played by Christopher Naylor and will return to travelling with the Fourth Doctor, so maybe the character will finally get a farewell.

Let’s try the pub!

The Fourth Doctor

Barry Letts does his best with the story and manages to create some striking visuals out of this story, starting from the opening moments when the UNIT soldier staggers through the forest. Other highlights include the Doctor and Sarah walking through the deserted Devesham and the sequence in the pub where the android doubles enter and start acting normally when the clock chimes, which are really eerie. The advantage of bringing Letts back to direct becomes clear in the final part in the Doctor vs. Android Doctor fight, which looks really convincing and an action-based finale reminiscent of the Pertwee era.

The relationship between the Doctor and Sarah is cemented here, and there are some nice moments between them in the first part, like the bit with the bramble, which makes their relationship seem believable. Despite my criticisms of Nation’s story, one part that works really well is the build-up to the cliff-hanger at the end of Episode 2 where it is revealed that Sarah is an android duplicate. It is a clever reveal, with a seemingly throwaway line of Sarah not liking ginger pop, and the fact that the real Sarah wasn’t wearing her scarf when he left her. Combined with the way that the Doctor disarms the android, it builds to one of the better cliff-hangers in Doctor Who history. Among the guest cast, Milton Johns does a decent job with Crayford, the missing British astronaut who is manipulated by the Kraals, but ultimately, better actors would struggle with the eye patch reveal. Martin Friend as Styggron stands out too, even though the Kraals and their plot doesn’t really make sense.

Verdict: Ultimately, The Android Invasion feels as though it has an interesting basic concept but falls apart under scrutiny. Sadly, ultimately it left me feeling cold. 4/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), Patrick Newell (Colonel Faraday), John Levene (RSM Benton), Milton Johns (Guy Crayford), Max Faulkner (Corporal Adams), Peter Welch (Morgan), Martin Friend (Styggron), Dave Carter (Grierson), Roy Skelton (Chedaki), Stuart Fell (Kraal), Hugh Lund (Matthews) & Heather Emmanuel (Tessa).

Writer: Terry Nation

Director: Barry Letts

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • Terry Nation was inspired by the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This would be Nation’s penultimate script for the show, returning for the last time for Destiny of the Daleks. This was his first story not to feature the Daleks since The Keys of Marinus.
  • The first UNIT story not to feature the Brigadier, although it was originally intended to. Nicholas Courtney had committed to a theatre tour believing that he would not be returning to the show. He also stated later to Doctor Who Magazine that he was “very annoyed” after being asked back for a previous story and had his part cancelled at the last moment, after he had already turned down other work.
  • Neither Ian Marter nor John Levene enjoyed returning for this story; Levene as none of the other UNIT regulars were present and Marter because he didn’t see any reason for Harry to be there. Sadly, this would be Marter’s final appearance on the show, as he passed away on 28 October 1986. Levene would reprise the role for Big Finish Productions.
  • Working titles for this story included The Kraals, The Kraal Invasion and The Enemy Within.
  • The comedian Kenneth Williams noted in his diary after watching Episode 2 that “Doctor Who gets more and more silly.”

Cast Notes

  • Milton Johns appeared in The Enemy of the World and would appear in the later Fourth Doctor serial, The Invasion of Time.

Best Moment

The cliffhanger at the end of Part 2, where the Sarah that the Doctor is revealed to be talking to is an android double, culminating in the famous shot where “her” face falls off. It is by far the best part of this story.

Best Quote

Once upon a time there were three sisters, and they lived in the bottom of a treacle well. Their names were Olga, Marsha and Irena…Are you listening, Tillie? I feel disorientated.

This is the disorientation centre!

That makes sense.

The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith

Previous Fourth Doctor story: Pyramids of Mars

Reviews Mentioned:

Terror of the Zygons

Pyramids of Mars

Your evil is my good. I am Sutekh the Destroyer. Where I tread, I leave nothing but dust and darkness. I find that good.

Sutekh

Synopsis

Continuing his attempts to return Sarah back to UNIT Headquarters, the Doctor and his companion find themselves in a Gothic mansion where mummies are killing people. Underneath a Pyramid, the last of the Osirians is imprisoned and plotting his escape to destroy all other life in the universe.

Review

Pyramids of Mars is an undisputed classic story, worthy of mention in the same breath as other great stories from Tom Baker’s seven year run as the Doctor and the show’s entire history. Similarly to another great story, Ark in Space, this was a page one rewrite by script editor Robert Holmes after the initial script by Lewis Greifer was deemed to be unworkable and almost rewrites the Doctor into being a guardian of time, unconsciously sowing the seeds of what the character would certainly become after the 2005 revival. It also features one of the great one-off villains in the form of Sutekh, voiced by Gabriel Woolf – who has reprised the role for audio but the character has never returned in a televised episode.

Deactivating a generator loop without without the correct key is like repairing a watch with a hammer and chisel. One false move and you’ll never know the time again.

The Fourth Doctor

Something that is really striking here is the fact that the Fourth Doctor seems remarkably grumpy in this story. I am not sure whether was due to Holmes’ writing or Paddy Russell’s direction and also ties into the Doctor’s reluctance to take on this role of protecting the established time line. From the behind the scenes documentary and Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography, I know that both Tom Baker and Sladen found Russell difficult to work with, especially due to her insistence on exploring every possible variation on a scene despite the actors’ feeling that they had got the required material to the point that they . In her autobiography, Sladen recalls Bernard Archard comparing the experience to being kept behind after school. In Russell’s defence, the direction in no small part contributes to this story being so memorable and it is probably hard to imagine how difficult it was to be a female director in a male-dominated BBC at the time, possibly why she was so insistent on Elisabeth Sladen firing the gun, not stuntman Terry Walsh later on in the story, especially when you factor in the fact that Sladen is the only female performer in the production. Despite the actors’ finding the experience draining, the results can’t be argued with and the mummies and Sutekh look particularly terrifying, but it is one possible explanation as to why the Doctor might be in such a bad mood even in his few moments of levity. I found the mummies particularly effective and unnerving in the early scenes when they are released from the sarcophagus.

Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor might be down to the script, which is a really strong one but one that sees the Doctor having what might be best described as a Time Lord mid-life crisis – not wanting to carry on his affiliation with the Brig and UNIT, but reluctant to turn back toward the traditional Time Lord policy of non-interference. A scene that really struck me was when Sarah suggests leaving 1911 England as they all know that the World didn’t end then. The Doctor then takes her and Lawrence Scarman to the year that Sarah comes from (1980) to show them the future should they not interfere, a blasted wilderness of thunder, rain and lightning besieging a destroyed Earth. The reason that this scene had such an impact on me was probably because I watched this shortly before watching The Shakespeare Code, where Martha states a similar thing, but the Tenth Doctor simply tells us that the world could end now as time is in flux. I feel that this scene is much more effective way of communicating this to the audience – in the school of ‘show don’t tell’ – but equally, as the modern show is trying to tell a story in less time, I can see how it’s better to be explained in a sentence. The story does fall off slightly in Part 4, as I didn’t really find the puzzles within the pyramid containing the Eye of Horus particularly compelling, but the story does hang together really well as a whole. The Gothic feel and Hammer Horror influences are obvious here, stalwarts of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era with the plot circulating around Egyptian history and mummies.

It’s difficult to find a weak link in the guest cast in what is a remarkably solid production. Gabriel Woolf is superb as Sutekh, which is a part that in other hands could feel really rather overblown, but Woolf underplays the majority of his dialogue at almost a whisper which makes him all the more menacing. Bernard Archard is particularly good, looking like a cross between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in a Hammer Horror film as the possessed Marcus Scarman and Michael Sheard is great in the role of the slightly meeker Lawrence. Archard’s performance in the scene where he gets shot by the poacher, Ernie Clements, and the direction there is really rather wonderful. It is simple effect, shot backwards but the execution is really good.

Verdict: An extremely strong episode, deserving of the label of Classic, Pyramids of Mars is only slightly let down by the concluding part. 9/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Bernard Archard (Marcus Scarman), Michael Sheard (Lawrence Scarman), Peter Copley (Dr. Warlock), Peter Maycock (Namin), Michael Bilton (Collins), Vik Tablian (Ahmed), Nick Burnell, Melvyn Bedford and Kevin Selway (Mummies), George Tovey (Ernie Clements) & Gabriel Woolf (Sutekh).

Writer: “Stephen Harris” (Louis Greifer and Robert Holmes)

Director: Paddy Russell

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The story was originally written by Lewis Greifer but it was considered unworkable. Robert Holmes completely rewrote the story, which was credited under the pseudonym of Stephen Harris.
  • Pyramids of Mars contributes to one of the biggest controversies in Doctor Who: the UNIT dating controversy. Sarah consistently states that she is from 1980, which contradicts earlier adventures featuring UNIT and the Brigadier.
  • The new TARDIS console introduced in Planet of Evil does not appear again until The Invisible Enemy. Due to the cost of setting up the console for a handful of scenes, a cheaper new console and set were designed.
  • The first of two stories in the original run in which the only survivors are the Doctor and his companion, the other being The Horror of Fang Rock. The only character who does not die on screen is Ahmed who was killed off in the novelisation written by Terrance Dicks, despite their being no evidence of him being killed off in the televised story.
  • Sarah is the only female character in this story, the first time that this has been the case since The Smugglers and this would next occur in The Ribos Operation.

Cast Notes

  • Michael Sheard previously appeared in The Ark and The Mind of Evil and would go on to appear in The Invisible Enemy, Castrovalva and Remembrance of the Daleks.
  • Bernard Archard had previously appeared in The Power of the Daleks.
  • Michael Bilton appeared opposite William Hartnell in The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Eve.
  • George Tovey was the father of Roberta Tovey who played Susan in the Peter Cushing Dalek movies.
  • Gabriel Woolf would return to voice the Beast in The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit.

Best Moment

This one is difficult one this week. I’m going to go for two, both of which have been mentioned in my review above:

  1. The scene where the Doctor takes Sarah and Lawrence to the new 1980; and
  2. The scene where Ernie shoots Marcus Scarman, only to see the shot disappear in a puff of smoke.

Best Quote

What’s the matter? You should be glad to be going home.

The Earth isn’t my home, Sarah. I’m a Time Lord.

I know you’re a Time Lord.

You don’t understand the implications. I’m not a human being. I walk in eternity.

What’s that supposed to mean?

It means I’ve lived for something like seven hundred and fifty years.

Oh, you’ll soon be middle aged.

Yes! About time I found something better to do than run around after the Brigadier.

Sarah Jane Smith and the Fourth Doctor

Previous Fourth Doctor Review: Planet of Evil

Reviews mentioned:

The Ark in Space

Books referenced:

Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography, published 2011

Planet of Evil

Planet of Evil - Forest

You and I are scientists, Professor.  We buy our privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility.

The Doctor

Synopsis

Picking up a distress call from the edge of the known universe, the Doctor and Sarah Jane find themselves on Zeta Minor, where a geological team have been nearly wiped out.

Review

Planet of Evil is a story that arguably suffers from being flanked by better known and iconic serials in Series 13 and I was certainly pleasantly surprised on watching it.  Whilst it certainly wears its influences on its sleeves, it benefits from some amazing set design by Roger Murray-Leach and direction by David Maloney, along with strong performances from Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen and most of the guest cast.

Planet of Evil - Doctor and Sarah, TARDIS

The story is perhaps most clearly influenced by The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, with both the titular planet and Sorenson from the third part onwards having multiple personalities.  It also takes ideas from Forbidden Planet, the team from Monestra coming to investigate a missing team and the design of the id creature.  The story itself is relatively simple but it is quite compelling and certainly kept me gripped for its run time, and even has a decent cliffhanger at the end of Part 3 (albeit with a naff resolution) that sees the Doctor and Sarah seemingly being ejected out into space.  Writer Louis Marks brought the anti-matter element into the story and it is interesting to note how different this use of it is to The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity.  It is also enormously to the story’s benefit that it doesn’t feel tedious when the ship is unable to leave Zeta Minor and the crew are refusing to listen to the Doctor and Sarah.  Something that did really stand out to me is that the story goes to the effort to show that the Monestrans have funeral traditions in a brief scene in Part 3, which really makes them feel more fleshed out than a simple humanoid race.   The conclusion is underwhelming, however, and I understand that it was a late change to have Sorenson survive the story at the request of Philip Hinchcliffe.  Regardless of whether the character survived the events of the story or not, it doesn’t change the fact that he was ultimately a tragic character.

We’re stationary.  Suspended in space.

It’s crazy.  The thrusters are at full power.

The answer’s really very simple.  You’ve come to the end of your piece of elastic.

Vishinsky, Salamar and The Doctor

The story benefits from high production values, especially with the design of the forest of Zeta Minor designed by Roger Murray-Leach.  The sinister and foreboding design makes the planet feel like a character in itself and the extensive work that doubtlessly went into the planning and making of the forest cannot be understated.  It certainly looks as real a world now as it would have done at the time of broadcast and made me for one feel as though it went on beyond the limits of the set.  The direction certainly helps the eerieness of the forest – there is so little distinction between day and night on this planet that means that there is almost a constant sense of uneasiness whenever the characters are on the planet.  Additionally, the spacecraft sets are quite effectively used and the effects used to make Sorenson’s eyes glow and the id creature are really rather effective.

Planet of Evil - Sorensen

The performances of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are exemplary here, and it is easy to see why they are regarded by many as the quintessential Doctor and companion pairing.  There is no Harry Sullivan shaped hole in this story which is to the story’s credit – as much as I like Harry, there would not have been enough for him to do here.  The Doctor is suitably incredulous and full of wide-eyed wonder throughout and he feels completely comfortable in this role.  Sladen, on the other hand, is sold rather short by the story, reduced a simple role as a messenger for the Doctor for large parts of the story, but equally, she has come to grips with Sarah.  Sladen’s reduced role is potentially worse because she is also the only female character in the production.  Amongst the guest cast, Sorenson and Vishinsky stand out as positives, with Frederick Jaeger convincingly capturing the emotional trauma of the experiences his character has been through on Zeta Minor.  Ewen Solon is likable as Vishinsky and performs admirably against a variable Prentis Hancock who seems to be largely wooden for most of the story and potentially a better performance would have increased my interest in their power struggle.

Verdict:  A solid if unspectacular story, Planet of Evil benefits from some amazing production design and solid performances.  7/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ewen Solon (Vishinsky), Frederick Jaeger (Sorenson), Prentis Hancock (Salamar), Michael Wisher (Morelli), Graham Weston (De Haan), Louis Mahoney (Ponti), Terence Brook (Braun), Tony McEwan (Baldwin), Haydn Wood (O’Hara) & Melvyn Bedford (Reig).

Writer: Louis Marks

Director: David Maloney

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The jungle was a set designed by Roger Murray-Leach.  It was so impressive that the BBC used it as an example of fine set design for a long time after production concluded.
  • The first appearance of a new TARDIS console, and additionally, the first appearance of the TARDIS interior since Death to the Daleks.
  • This is the first story commissioned by Phillip Hinchcliffe – every previous story had been commissioned by his predecessors, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks.  The story was conceived as a mash-up between Forbidden Planet and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
  • The ship’s main cabin set would be reused in Robots of Death.

Cast Notes

  • The final appearance of Michael Wisher in Doctor Who.  Despite being the original actor to portray Davros, regular theatre commitments would mean that he would be unable to reprise the role.
  • Prentis Hancock previously appeared in Spearhead from Space and Planet of the Daleks and would go on to reappear in The Ribos Operation.
  • Frederick Jaeger and Ewen Solon were in The Savages.
  • Louis Mahoney was in Frontier in Space and would go on to be in Blink.
  • Graham Western previously appeared in The War Games.

Best Moment

Sarah’s walk through the forest is very atmospheric and creepy as she goes to look for the Doctor in Part Two.

Honourable Mentions

The closing shot of the TARDIS spinning away into space at the end of Part 4 is beautiful.

Best Quote

Here on Zeta Minor is the boundary between existence as you know it and the other universe which you just don’t understand.  From the beginning of time it has existed side by side with the known universe.  Each is the antithesis of the other.  You call it “nothing”, a word to cover ignorance.  And centuries ago scientists invented another word for it.  “Antimatter”, they called it.  And you, by coming here, have crossed the boundary into that other universe to plunder it.  Dangerous…

The Doctor

Planet of Evil - ID creature