Doctor Who – The Seeds of Doom

Doctor Who Story 085 – The Seeds of Doom

A scientist infected by the Krynoid.
Source: Wikipedia. Copyright 1976 by BBC

Who Wrote It: Robert Banks Stewart

What’s It About: A mysterious plant pod is found in the Antarctic. The Doctor fears it could be a Krynoid pod—a seed for a carnivorous plant. Krynoids have devastated planets across the galaxy, and he fears Earth could be in danger. Unfortunately, an eccentric plant collector also wants the pod and will do anything to acquire it.

After a long search, I think I finally found it: The Seeds of Doom may be the entry-point to Doctor Who. I think I could show this story to my New Who friends, and they would be intrigued. Seeds gets so much right: it has a great human villain in Mr. Chase; it has a great henchman in Scorby; it has great performances from everyone involved—not a bad performance in any episode; it has some of the best direction and pace, yet more evidence that Douglas Camfield was amazing; it has a truly chilling atmosphere in the first two episodes.

The Seeds of Doom takes its inspiration from a few sources. It draws heavily from The Quatermass Experiment, revisiting the idea of a plant-like alien infecting a human with the intention of unleashing its spores on the Earth—leading to the death of all life. It also has elements of Day of the Triffids, especially as the characters become trapped and hunted by the Krynoid on the Chase Estate. The story also begins with an Antarctic expedition which has shades of Lovecraft and The Thing from Another World. By drawing from so many sources, Seeds casts it’s trope net wide. I think modern audiences can connect with it as it moves from base under siege to gothic horror to house under siege. Even if the Krynoid effects don’t connect (despite being fairly well realized) viewers are invested in the story because the opening episodes were so compelling. From my perspective, this story is almost flawless.

Harrison Chase is a great villain. Indeed, he achieves a villainy that puts him on the same list as Tobias Vaughan. He is the human face of evil that we can connect with over the monster. His second-in-command, Scorby, is a great mercenary who gets more characterization than typical henchmen.

Despite being a great story, and a well-realized one at that, Seeds of Doom shows just how far Doctor Who has come as a family show. This is a dark story; it is gruesome—which is all the more shocking in that we hardly see anything truly gruesome (apart from some plant make-up on a couple of characters). The gore is conceptual, as Camfield leaves us to imagine Chase’s final fate in the industrial mulching machine. This is Doctor Who that requires parents to know the horror-tolerance of their children. And we haven’t even seen how dark this show is about to get.

We haven’t yet met the Peking Homunculus.

My Rating: 5/5

Doctor Who – Terror of the Zygons

Doctor Who Story 080 – Terror of the Zygons

A Zygon looking menacing. But that's what you would expect from a Zygon.
Plotting terror. (Source: Copyright 1975 by BBC.)

Who Wrote It: Robert Banks Stewart

What’s It About: Answering a summons by the Brigadier, The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry return to Earth to find UNIT investigating the destruction of oil rigs in Scotland—destruction caused by something with gigantic teeth.

The first time I saw Terror of the Zygons it was with a roommate who thought the Zygons looked ridiculous. And while I see where he is coming from, the concept behind the Zygons is truly alien. Why shouldn’t they look the way they do? Granted, most American sci-fi on television portrays humanoid aliens. They have ridges on their foreheads or have strange markings on the skin. This is often done for budgetary reasons or because portraying something that looks less human would be difficult from a technical aspect. When aliens don’t look like humans, they tend to be balls of light or some simple visual effect. But Doctor Who has never been concerned with such things. The show will attempt to imagine the alien, even if it is an utter failure. The Zygons aren’t a failure, but I think they look like one due to the human-centric conditioning of other science fiction shows. The Zygons are truly other; their ship is virtually incomprehensible. Even The Doctor has difficulty evaluating the ship’s interior. Truly, we haven’t seen anything this alien since The Claws of Axos.

This story is a masterwork in tone. While the stories in season 12 were thematically darker, Terror of the Zygons adds darkness to the tone. This is probably the first, full-on gothic story of the Hinchcliffe era. It takes place on the moors of Scotland. It has quite a bit of fog. We even get to visit an old manor with secret passages hidden behind bookcases. Add to this shape-shifting aliens, the Loch Ness monster, and the excellent direction of Douglas Camfield, and you have one of the strongest stories of the Tom Baker era.

My Rating: 4.5/5