An Unintelligent Enemy (The Seeds of Doom)
|I was going to just caption this “It’s…”, but then I chickened|
out because it seemed too obscure and decided on an
awkward meta-commentary instead.
It’s January 31, 1976. Queen is dead, but it’s not particularly lonely on the living because ABBA are at number one with “Mamma Mia,” a song that performs that classic pop trick of setting itself a low bar to clear and sailing miles over it. It lasts for two weeks, and is unseated by Silk’s “Forever and Ever,” which lasts one week before falling to The Four Season’s “December ’63,” better known by its not-actual-title of “Oh What a Night.” a song that is frankly alarmingly easy to argue is about someone watching Barbara Wright be menaced by a Dalek so long as one ignores the detail that it’s an American song. It lasts two weeks before Tina Charles takes over with “I Love to Love.” Donna Summer, ELO, Manuel and the Music of the Montains, and The Who also chart.
While in real news, Cuba adopts its present constitution, an earthquake in Guatemala and Honduras kills over 22,000, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the disputed government of Western Sahara, is formed. For our purposes, however, most interesting is the revocation of Special Category Status for people arrested as part of the Troubles. (Special Category Status was a system whereby IRA members who were arrested for bombings and other crimes were treated as political prisoners and given certain privileges, most famously not having to wear a uniform. Its revocation was unpopular among IRA members, and many when arrested refused a uniform, engaging in protest by wrapping themselves only in their prison blankets. This became a powerful symbol for the Irish republican movement.)
Speaking of blowing things up, then, we have The Seeds of Doom. Which is apparently the 16th greatest Doctor Who story ever, at least if Doctor Who Magazine is to be believed. Which, given that it thinks that The Brain of Morbius is only 40th, it probably isn’t. But the fact that Tat Wood flags it in About Time as his least favorite story of the first six years of the Tom Baker era does mean that we have now identified Tat Wood’s most contrarian view about Doctor Who. And that’s interesting, because while I disagree with Wood on some big points, I’m pretty much of the view that he’s the most consistently intelligent commenter on Doctor Who to date. And on the comments, there’s been a larger debate brewing over whether the Hinchcliffe era is, in general, overrated. So here we have a story that, look, let’s just say up front is nowhere near as good as the 16th best Doctor Who story of all time that is flat-out loathed by Doctor Who’s best critic. If we’re going to talk about the overrated aspects of the Hinchcliffe era, here is, I suppose, where we must make our stand.
Wood’s critique stems from one – and actually, as we’ll see, in a way from all three – of the things everybody (By everybody, of course, I mean pathetic fans like me. Sane people, on the other hand, wonder why the same show has unrelated stories called The Seeds of Doom and The Seeds of Death.) knows about The Seeds of Doom. First, The Seeds of Doom is structured as a two-parter set in Antarctica that leads into a four-parter set in England. Second, The Seeds of Doom is the last gasp of the UNIT era. Third, The Seeds of Doom is staggeringly violent. This third of these is, unsurprisingly, the one Wood bases his critique around.
(A clarifying note for obsessives – the About Time books do not distinguish which bits are written by Wood and which ones are written by Miles. It is, however, possible to figure it out in many cases. Based on blog comments by Miles in which he alludes to his distaste for the Graham Williams era, we can conclude that the prosecution critiques in of the Graham Williams era from Volume IV are written by Miles, while the defenses are by Wood. Conversely, in Volume V, the defense critiques talk about recovering from the problems of the Williams era, which pretty clearly flags that they’re Miles and that the prosecutions are Wood. In the case of The Seeds of Doom, there is only one critique, and so it presumably speaks for both. However the author bios at the end of each volume list each writer’s favorite and least favorite stories covered in the book. Wood lists his least favorite as The Seeds of Doom. As a result, I am assuming he is the primary author of the critique and ascribing the argument primarily to him.)
First, let’s acknowledge that the basic observation is accurate. The Doctor engages in an unusual amount of fighting here, and unusually visceral fighting, including an extremely dangerous bit of combat with Scorby, the story’s henchman villain, the creation of Molotov cocktails, and the active decision to pack a gun. And, of course, there’s the conceit of grinding people into plant fertilizer, and the fact that two people are fed into it over the course of the story. It’s a genuinely shocking level of brutality – one that creates a real sense of unease in the viewer.
And it’s worth noting that this has to be taken in a larger context within the series. The Hinchcliffe era has been consistently more violent than the Letts era. For the most part, this hasn’t been that big of a problem. To argue that the Doctor embraces non-violence as such requires, after all, a tremendously blinkered view of the character. The Doctor is not a pacifist. But it is important to note that he not only doesn’t relish violence, he dislikes it and wants to avoid it. He just fails sometimes. And this is something the Hinchcliffe era captures very well – violence is shown to be horrifying here, even when the Doctor is the one engaging in it. (Something that is decidedly interesting about the early days of the Baker era is that, contrary to reputation, Baker is a far more physical Doctor than Pertwee ever was.)
Baker, however, was never much of one for the violence, and in this story it seems to have bothered him more than usual – and with good reason. This led to extended conversations with Douglas Camfield in which they decided that Baker would play it as if he was genuinely afraid of the Krynoids. The problem is that this trick has already been used for so much better villains. It works to bolster Sutekh as a threat by showing the Doctor afraid and out of his depth because he is supposed to be a god. Even the Doctor should be scared of a god. But the Krynoids are just Axon costumes repainted green. And frankly, the most interesting thing about the Axons was that they were bright orange.
I mean, yes. Baker is in fine form here. He finds new ways to merge his continual undercutting and mockery of villains with a real sense of fear and danger. This time he does it with anger, with the Doctor several times going from mockery to either actual shouting fury (generally at Scorby) or to an ice cold rage (with Chase). But it’s not enough. Nothing in the story gives the audience the sense that this is so bad that the Doctor is inclined to pack heat. And when the rest of the story has the volume turned up on its violence just as much, the Doctor’s violence doesn’t look like a reaction to the magnitude of the threat. It just looks violent and like the sort of thing you’d expect from a story that has a man-sized meat grinder.
In fact, the entire story seems spectacularly mis-toned. Right from the start, in which the Doctor is apparently on Earth and at the beck and call of government agencies, there’s a sense that this story just doesn’t belong in Doctor Who as it exists at the start of 1976. And this starts to get to the next thing that everybody knows about this story – that it’s the last story of the UNIT era. In practice, it’s not. Yes, some troops show up who are apparently from UNIT, but there’s no serious effort to make this feel like a UNIT story – not even the token “fake Brigadier” we got for The Android Invasion.
But since The Sea Devils we’ve had the distinct sense that the actual UNIT cast might have been getting in the way at times. Even if this story wholly rejects the standard UNIT paradigm, it’s clear that, like the writer’s last story, this story is an engagement with the basic ideas of the UNIT era. (That the last story also featured the standard UNIT paradigm is largely irrelevant to this point.) And it even has something distinct to say about the UNIT era. But to understand that, we’re going to have to sort out exactly what the role of violence in the Hinchcliffe era is.
We actually talked a little about this question on Wednesday in talking about the way in which Robert Holmes’s ability to add a level of realism – albeit not the sort of realism people usually talk about when they use that word – to The Brain of Morbius by making the characters all low rent and absurd in a way that felt more honest than broad and straight-faced “seriousness” ever could. And we talked about the way this gave the story a visceral feeling that provided an interesting contrast to the increasingly magical tone of the series. Broadly speaking, violence in the Hinchcliffe era accomplished the same thing. Because the stories are trending more towards the cerebral and the fantastic, making the physical action more violent helps compliment that, making the fantastic seem real. And not real in the sense of seeming as though it could actually happen, but rather real in the sense of feeling intimate and physical.
This is an important aspect of violence in the Hinchcliffe era. It’s not just that lots of people die in Hinchcliffe-era stories. It’s that they die bleeding or actually being strangled by people instead of just saying “argh” and falling over as a zap gun goes off. It’s not glamorous action movie violence or Jon Pertwee shouting “Hai!” and people flipping over. It’s ugly, painful looking violence. It’s messy and, the word I keep coming around to, visceral. It feels like this is a world in which actions have consequences.
Once you take the violence in that context – and I think given the Hinchcliffe era at large, that context is very clear – the point of this story becomes clear. Or at least it would if, getting back to our earlier point, it weren’t January of 1976. The Seeds of Doom would make perfect sense where Terror of the Zygons is on the schedule, with Terror of the Zygons going here. The season would, in fact, have been far stronger if this had been the opener, with a few small changes, (The Doctor misses and arrives three months late, so the Brigadier is in Geneva. Harry leaves at the start. Just stretch out the amount of time a Krynoid takes to hatch and you’re good to go.) and Terror of the Zygons, with its farewell to the Brigadier, had been at the end. Or, better still, if this had been at the end of last season where Terror of the Zygons was supposed to be.
What this order would have done is let this story exist in the gruesome context of Genesis of the Daleks, and let it be a quite edgy pushing of the limits along the lines of what I suggested The Wheel in Space might have been – an aggressive challenging of the audience’s pleasures. This would even have made perfect sense with the two episode base-under-siege opener, which would have dovetailed off of the Troughton-critique of Revenge of the Cybermen. And Terror of the Zygon’s critique of UNIT would have slotted in just fine at the end of the season.
Thought of this way, the story begins to seem much more appealing. The UNIT era, after all, always depended on a vision of the show as an action thriller. So here the show gives us an action thriller in which the action is brutal and horrifying to critique the superficial pleasure of the genre. It’s a straightforward and time-honored technique – the sort of thing that, in later decades, Frank Miller or Zack Snyder made careers out of. This would be an absolute triumph, quite frankly.
Unfortunately, however, it’s at the end of the season, long after Doctor Who has been working on a level far more complex than just taking one of its own past genres and subverting it. And long after Doctor Who has already done a far more complex and devastating critique on UNIT – and from the same author. And after hitting those heights as decisively as it did, a story that has nothing more to say than “Man, action movies are pretty violent” just doesn’t quite cut it.
Still, we should be fair to the story. After all, this is the first time I’ve encountered it like this – in something close to its native habitat, following from The Brain of Morbius and preceding a two-entry break/spring and summer break before The Masque of Mandragora. The first two or three times I encountered it were on video, independent as sort of movies. In the past, of course, this has been something I’ve critiqued, complaining that we screw the pacing and feel of stories up by watching the episodes in one shot. And it’s true, serializing this over days or weeks is the best way to watch it.
But if you watch it outside the context of its season, as a six-episode serial that stands on its own – its a taut, visceral action thriller with some very, very good Tom Baker bits. And while I’ll admit that I’m baffled why it’s apparently the 16th best Doctor Who story of all time, when you remember that fandom formed its canonical opinions on stories in the video era, and thus experienced them as stand-alones instead of as a season, you can at least see why this story is beloved.
But especially when you consider how the next season is going to play out and what eventually brings Hinchcliffe’s tenure as producer to a premature halt, this story is unfortunate. No. It’s worse than unfortunate. It’s irresponsible. The Hinchcliffe era works because it pushes the envelope and is willing to be complex, challenging, and genuinely frightening. It’s excellent children’s television because it treats children like adults. And that, in the end, is what gives it a moral authority to shout down the voices of idiots who complain that it’s too dark and scary for children and inappropriate.
Given all of that, it’s infuriating to see the show faffing about with gruesome violence in pursuit of such a slender and overly simplistic goal when, just last story, it was proving that it could be so much more. But worse than that, its cynical. Especially as a season finale. Say what you like about the curate’s eggs of Robert Sloman, but one had the sense that the show was trying to go out on a high note and that it cared about making its viewer happy. This is a season finale that has nothing to say and doesn’t even try to top the bulk of its predecessors. It leaves you with a sickening sense that the past successes of this era have just been down to dumb luck.
This is a story that assumes that children just want to see over the top sensationalism. This is Doctor Who as Rupert Murdoch would design it. It’s the sensationalist, sick and nasty show that its critics in this era accused it of being. And even though for most of the Hinchcliffe era the critics were spectacularly and horrifyingly wrong, it’s honestly hard to say they aren’t in this case. Right now, Hinchcliffe is blowing the license payers’ money on a kiddie lit crossover of Saw and the Quatermass Experiment. Yes, it’s entertaining. And I’ve in the past been willing to give Doctor Who stories a pass just as long as they’re entertaining. And sure. That’s the minimum Doctor Who has to be. In that regard, calling this a worse story than The Android Invasion is unfair.
Except that here I will firmly depart from being a review blog. Doctor Who doesn’t have to exceed the minimum requirement of being entertaining. Sure. But on the other hand, the only reason I care about Doctor Who enough to write over 6000 words about it every week for something approaching fun is that Doctor Who is about something more than being entertaining. In other words, this story may be great television, but it’s bad, bad alchemy.
Because here’s the thing. At this moment in history, Doctor Who really was coming under heavy fire from some critics. We’ll get to the implications of this in a few weeks, but suffice it to say that the main one, a woman named Mary Whitehouse, was a terrible human being. She was quite literally evil, and directly embodied everything that Doctor Who as a show fights against in the culture. And the show, with this story, plays right into her hands by being exactly the piece of cheap sensationalist trash she declared the whole show to be.
So yeah. Tat Wood is right. At least The Android Invasion didn’t make Mary Whitehouse look good.
October 28, 2011 @ 1:46 am
"This is a season finale that has nothing to say."
Is this a problem caused by the exhaustion of producing the entire season? As that's how I feel about the Talons of Weng Chiang, and out of the two stories I prefer Seeds of Doom because at least that criticises the environment (ie, Quatermass as remade by the Sweeney*) it is in, whereas Talons is simply pastiche. An incredibly well made pastiche with brilliant dialogue, but one I've always found empty, and a revisiting of too many story tropes from the rest of the Hinchcliffe era.
But what do I know? For all that I think that, from a production and directorial point of view, the Hinchcliffe era is the apex of Doctor Who, I prefer the Williams era. It may have failed (frequently), but packed in far more intelligent ideas.
Speaking of the Sweeney, is there any chance of you writing a Pop Between Realities on it? It very much informs some of the attitudes of the Hinchcliffe era, and points toward where British television was going in the mid seventies (lavish, fifty minute film dramas starring John Thaw). But also did this in exactly the same way that Holmes did: for all that people remember the 'realism' of the Sweeney (and for that, we can read gritty violence) what is often overlooked is that this was also achieved by making the characters all low rent and absurd in a way that felt more honest than broad and straight-faced "seriousness" ever could.
And, ironically, dovetails into the end of next season as Hinchcliffe is pulled off Doctor Who to make the BBC's answer to The Sweeney, Target, while that show's creator, Graham Williams, was pulled over to replace Hinchcliffe with direct orders not to do what he was commissioned to do on Target!
*Which did finally happen in the John Mills Quatermass series of 1979, which was produced by Euston Films, the Sweeney's producers, run by a certain Verity Lambert…
Oh, and while we're on the Kennedy Martins (Ian having created The Sweeney, Troy having written for it) I know we're a decade away, but I presume you'll be writing about Edge of Darkness in a future Pop Between Realities?
October 28, 2011 @ 2:58 am
I dunno, I'm probably jaded by all the sadism of the Russell T. Davies era, but the only jarring violence for me was the scene where the Doctor wrenches Corby's head around making it look for a second like he'd just casually broken the guy's neck. Otherwise it seemed less violent than say, Jon Pertwee incinerating Ice Warriors.
Ironically, I'd say the main irritation for me in this episode was the ridiculous lengths the villains go to delay killing our heroes. After about the umpteenth time they've managed to escape, I expected Seth Green to show up and yell "Why don't you shoot him NOW?"
Interesting to compare this episode with Alan Moore's early Swamp Thing story involving a similar plant revolt, wherein Swamp Thing solves things by correctly pointing out that plants do in fact need animals as part of their ecosystem.
October 28, 2011 @ 4:11 am
Sorry, this has turned into a long one (but no mention of Yorkshire)…
I agree with almost of all that, though I’d be rather less down on it: I’m with you and Tat that it’s well-made but wrong, but for me it fits in perfectly with the rest of the season – part of why, though I love Season 13, I much prefer 14’s greater wit (in both senses). I tend to think of Seasons 12 and 14 in terms of their underlying themes, but Season 13 more of its surface: I’ve often said it’s the most visually startling of any Twentieth Century season, exploding into rich, visceral, organic colours, with design often recalling Hammer and, appropriately, famous horror stories. And like or not, this feels to me like the natural conclusion of all that, its strengths as well as its weaknesses, if thrills, explosions and horror – particularly body horror – aren’t in fact both at once.
You nail its biggest problem perfectly in putting it in context with Sutekh and saying that “the Doctor's violence doesn't look like a reaction to the magnitude of the threat. It just looks violent”. I’ve never read a better line summing up just why this story feels ‘off’. Even the Doctor’s ‘funny’ lines in the Antarctic are more catty than playful, acting as if the threat’s a huge waste of his time and he’s finally run out of patience with people who aren’t as clever as he is – and part of that, surely, is to do with Tom’s characterisation through most of the season: he’s at his most grim and brooding here, and that causes problems for the show (as well as being very jarring if anyone comes to them ‘cold’ with a mental image of the fourth Doctor as a perpetual joker). And the face-off with the Krynoid, for me, illustrates that problem in both Doctor and monster. The Doctor tends to avoid violence by being clever and witty and talking his way out of it. With the Doctor much less clever and witty and in something of a year-long grump, the programme’s almost saying here, ‘OK, then. If you’re not interested in being amusing to get yourself out of a situation, the alternative’s a monster you can’t talk to [the scene where it does, suddenly, talk is the story’s biggest single misjudgement on its own terms] and therefore have no alternative but violence, and see how you like it.’ And the black humour amidst the horror in the following year (let alone the next three) seems almost an admission that, no, they didn’t like it much.
Ironically, of course, this story borrows very heavily from both The Quatermass Experiment and The Avengers: Man-Eater of Surrey Green, but feels absolutely nothing like either. It has a little of the intelligence and tortured humanity of the former, but doesn’t use any the appeal to it for the climax; and with its brutality and humourlessness, it’s almost a textbook in taking what’s a similar outline on paper and turning it into its antithesis. And I admit that while I love my Doctor Who scary, I also prefer it exactly to come up with a thoughtful appeal and lightness of touch rather than just violence. Whereas ‘middle episodes’ are often dismissed as dull, here they’re the most balanced, with Keeler’s fate gripping because he’s so damned sympathetic, while the final episode little plot or suspense in the last part, just repetitive ‘action’ that could wrap up in ten minutes and where the Doctor can’t even rig up his own big bang. There’s a well-written comeuppance for the pointless hard man, but the Doctor giving up and having the place bombed undermines that moral completely.
[Whoops! Sorry. Continued…]
October 28, 2011 @ 4:12 am
[…And more. That’ll teach me for not having reviewed it myself yet to link to]
And yet I still love it – sometimes. And for reasons that were formed long before the video era (as was The Seeds of Doom’s popularity, if you dig up old polls). The colour, the scariness, the violence, the explosions: this was the perfect story at the end of the perfect season to show to small boys, and I was one of those small boys who thought it was amazing at the time. Today, I find it much more disturbing and much less appealing, but doesn’t that in itself prove Mary Whitehouse didn’t know what she was talking about? A boy who was bloodthirsty only for what was on screen – not for getting into fights – growing up to be sensitive and resolutely non-violent. So I have to guard against a desire to be paternalistically censor-happy and concerned ‘for the children’, because I think children are a lot more sensible than overprotective adults are.
For me, The Seeds of Doom is very like City of Death. No, that’s not a claim seen very often, but hear me out. Though there are points of humour like Miss Ducat’s little oases of eccentricity and Chase thankfully outrageously camp throughout when even the Doctor’s far too butch, not even Tony Beckley can single-handedly drag it back into being Doctor Who when everyone else is playing it like The Professionals. And it’s that approach, Douglas Camfield’s final piece of Who direction taking his style to its logical conclusion, but a little too far to be likeable, that reminds me of City of Death: both stories are amazingly ambitious and in part brilliantly done, but both take their own approach to Who too far to feel ‘right’ for me (what is it with these Douglases?). They’re mirrors of each other – each time I watch one, I feel it could do with a bit more of the other in the mix. But isn’t that the great thing about Doctor Who, that if one story takes its experimentation a bit far, there’ll be a very different one along in a minute?
The one point on which I disagree with you entirely is that “The season would, in fact, have been far stronger if this had been the opener,” swapping it with “Terror of the Zygons, with its farewell to the Brigadier… at the end.” That would have been lovely for the fans, giving a blaze of glory to UNIT… But that’s not what Hinchcliffe and Holmes were about at all. This season was about clearing the decks, and in that context, the unavoidable absence of Nick Courtney does it a favour rather than hurting it. Season 13 would have been entirely unbalanced by having a thrilling UNIT finale: though technically there are more UNIT stories here than in most Pertwee seasons, it isn’t home any more, and without Nick Courtney the organisation quietly dies away. Starting with UNIT; then a trip back where the heart’s missing and it’s all a bit wrong; then they’re just a bit part who could be anyone, really… It’s very much in tune with a season that put a time-travel horror story where UNIT was meant to be – you can’t tell me it wasn’t a deliberate decision to put Pyramids of Mars literally in the place of UNIT HQ, telling the viewer, ‘This is where it’s at now’. Finish with Terror of the Zygons, and the viewer would feel that nothing’s changed, really, and UNIT will be back next year as strong as ever. Show the stories as transmitted, and you feel weaned off them – the show’s moved on.
October 28, 2011 @ 6:35 am
It's a fair point that ditching the bulk of UNIT at the start of the series is more effective in clearing them out. And thus perhaps the best choice is just to not make Seeds of Doom at all. That was intended more as "if you absolutely must try to salvage this story, here's what would have worked" than as a serious suggestion. The correct decision was to commission a better script. 🙂
October 28, 2011 @ 7:02 am
I'd be interested to hear your reasoning for Mary Whitehouse being "quite literally evil", rather than simply being somebody who was passionate about an issue, despite happening to be wrong about it.
October 28, 2011 @ 7:15 am
Unlike every other fan, I have a certain amount of sympathy for Mary Whitehouse. I really do dislike the level of violence in the Hincliffe era, even if it was done less realistically than in the Saward era. There is something distasteful about the regularity of gory deaths in this period.
October 28, 2011 @ 7:21 am
Whereas I hate Whitehouse far more than the party line. But there's an entry planned for her, so I'll save the bulk of my thoughts for that. But the gist of it is that Whitehouse's actual argument is an attack on the validity of art indistinguishable from the American right's attacks on humanities education. She wants to make it so that art's only purpose is the glorification of hegemony. And I consider that one of the most morally despicable positions imaginable.
September 23, 2021 @ 10:04 am
October 28, 2011 @ 7:28 am
Oh, right, an academically grounded hatred. I guess they're the worst.
October 28, 2011 @ 7:30 am
Aesthetically and politically grounded, really.
October 28, 2011 @ 8:07 am
You could so easily do without UNIT altogether, too. If you really must have the Chase place blow up at the end, then the Doctor should construct the bomb. It's not like he hasn't been making Molotov cocktails… it's not like there isn't going to be a lot of fertiliser lying around…
But really, the plot ought to demand that that machine is part of the solution – it pumps ground up people into the gardens at a rate of knots; perhaps if you filled the hopper with herbicide…
October 28, 2011 @ 8:08 am
Chekov did say something about putting a man-sized meat grinder above the garden in the first act, yeah.
October 28, 2011 @ 8:12 am
Very good critique (from both Phil and my fellow commenters). As befitting my new status, gleaned through no particular intent of my own, as the resident contrarian of the site, I of course actually enjoyed "Seeds of Doom". I'm not going to go all "Pyramids of Mars" again and rant for four entries because even though I came out with a slightly more positive view than others I agree with all the main points already brought up and discussed.
Phil's right in pointing out that this one feels a little off, and it does tend to stretch the justification for violence pretty close to the breaking point. However, I'm not sure I'd use it as platform to discuss the excesses of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era or give a thorough evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses quite yet (I personally think "Robots of Death" is the archetypal story from this era and is a much better place to talk about that sort of thing) although it does embody a number of tropes it's known for.
What's incredibly important to point out about this serial is that like "Pyramids of Mars" before it, this is another story that was a last-minute addition to the season tossed in with a token eleventh hour frenzied rewrite. Probably the reason it feels so odd for a Doctor Who story is that, quite simply it's not a Doctor Who story! It was originally pitched to The Avengers and was only re-purposed as such when that team turned it down and Holmes needed another script for Season 13 and thought he could make it work with a few tweaks. This was probably a mistake, though to me anyway it comes off better than the last time he attempted this.
The reason for this is primarily the fact that the villains are actual characters and not cartoonish Evil Things of Evil like Sutekh. There's enough token acknowledgement of motive and development here for me to accept the story (for the most part) and not have me gnashing my teeth about insultingly simplistic morals. The plot basically comes down to a debate over the conceptualization of utopia and whether or not that justifies the draconian means used to get there. This is admittedly not the most sophisticated or original theme ever examined, but it's miles beyond the "Imma destroy the universe because lol" plot of just a few serials prior and that automatically puts "Seeds" MILES ahead of "Pyramids of Mars", "Android Invasion" or any comparable serial from Season 5/Troughton Season 2.
October 28, 2011 @ 8:12 am
This story is also, as others have pointed out, just another Holmes pastiche. The comparisons to Quartermass and The Avengers are apt, especially the latter for obvious reasons, but for me what comes to mind most of all is The Thing: Both stories feature remote Antarctic research bases attacked by mysterious creatures and suspicion over their motivation and who has and has not been affected. Now granted The Thing is far more suspenseful, well-told and nuanced than "Seeds of Doom" but Holmes was nothing during this era if not a master of taking complex and interesting plots and making them decidedly less so. What elevates this one for me above the Blood from the Mummy's Tomb and Invasion of the Body Snatches pastiches we've already seen is the aforementioned, if however fleeting, moments of character development and ethical debate wholly lacking in the previous efforts ("Brain of Morbius" being the obvious and huge exception).
The acting on display here I also really have to take a moment to praise, especially the supporting cast and Tom Baker. Anytime he's onscreen with the antagonists the air just crackles with electricity: Despite this not being one of my absolute favourite stories this may be one of my favourite performances, at least in this stage of the Tom Baker era. Granted, this is probably damning with faint praise as one thing Baker was excellent at throughout his run is saving middling stories and carrying them to completion through sheer force of his stage presence.
Despite my fondness for the acting and for Holmes throwing me a bone by telling a story that's a few pegs above totally rote, I have to concur this one is a bit of a disappointment overall. It's at best yet another Holmesian whole plot lift, perhaps a little more deft this time but not much and at worst fundamentally troubling. It's very clearly not a Doctor Who story and, like "Pyramids of Mars" and "The Android Invasion", is another case of Hinchcliffe and Holmes not taking the time, effort and care they perhaps should have. It is, as Phil said, somewhat irresponsible and it's going to come back and bite them. Hard.
October 28, 2011 @ 10:35 am
Wait, so that's not Michael Palin?
October 28, 2011 @ 2:09 pm
You really think "It's …" would be too obscure? For this crowd?
October 28, 2011 @ 2:36 pm
While we're on monsters in the Antarctic, we should at least give a nod in the direction of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.
Henry R. Kujawa
April 7, 2012 @ 7:16 pm
Alex Wilcock, GREAT comments. Would you believe, I JUST watched "MAN-EATER OF SURREY GREEN" 5 days ago? Perfect timing.
I've always liked this… to a degree. I think it's a great idea to have just ONE 6-parter a season, have it as the big season finale, AND, structure it so it's like a 4 tacked to a 2 or vice-versa (except "ARMAGEDDON FACTOR", which is like 3 2-parters strung together).
Baker's Doctor at this point is like Peter Falk's COLUMBO at this same point. The "act" has become so convincing, you're no longer sure it's an act. Indeed, the Doctor here seems genuinely MAD. (And angry, too.) He smiles too much, nobody can take him seriously, even when they really really should. And in the face of desperately callous brutally violent types, he's shockingly irresponsible. Time and again, he overcomes some armed thug… only to FAIL to take their gun away from them. And the one time he DOES, he sets it down a moment later, for the baddie to pick it up again. IDIOT!!! Everything else aside, THIS was the one thing that repeatedly infuriated me watching this story, from 1979-on (and I've ALWAYS watched it in the context of all the surrounding episodes– every single time– well, except when my PBS station spent the first 8 months running his first 4 seasons TOTALLY AT RANDOM). Anyway, things like this made me GLAD when Colin Baker arrived. HE took crap from nobody!
This was meant to be a NEW AVENGERS? Really? Would have been too much of a remake, perhaps why they turned it down. I'll tell you this, if it had been Mike Gambit and Purdey, MIKE would have not only taken Scorby's gun away, he would have SHOT the bastard!!!
Chase is one of the most memorable– and perhaps scariest– villains in the show's history. And clearly insane. A shame. His scene with Emilia Ducat– what an ADORABLY dotty lady!– show how Chase might have been, if he HADN'T been totally obsessed and insane. Ah well.
Scorby reminds me a bit of Lytton, the sort of thug Eric Saward would have loved… but Saward would have KILLED him anyway. Sarah has been remarkably sweet all this season… until the 2nd half of this story. That sharp tongue finally came out again, only this time, aimed at the right target. The scene where she stands up to Scorby was incredible, and I always get the feeling that just under the surface she's fighting down sheer terror. What a girl. (These days, though, I'd much rather have a Jo in my life than a Sarah-Jane. My, how I've changed!!) It's funny, but Sarah's outbursts wind up being one more thing that makes this story seems like it should have been done a year earlier.
It does seem odd that after 5 seasons straight of UNIT they spent 2 more just slowly drifting away from it. Wouldn't a clean break, followed by the occasional return adventure been a better balance? VARIETY! That's the ticket…
April 13, 2012 @ 7:24 am
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April 13, 2012 @ 7:28 am
I have to agree with Berserker RL there, I think classic Doctor Who is more obscure than Monty Python and I think most classic Who fans would have got it. hah 🙂
As for the Seeds of Doom. I have currently have very little memory of it, though I do remember remembering it, if that makes any sense. It was bothering me that I couldn't remember anything about this episode, because I thought I'd seen all of the available episodes, but this lack of recolection was making me unsure. As I was reading this though, I remembered thinking about it while watching a plant episode of the Avengers and that made me remember that I quite enjoyed the episode when I was a kid, though it was probably just cause Sarah said something entertaining. hah
As for Mary Whitehouse, I dislike what she stands for strongly, but I feel uncomfortable with the word evil being used lightly.
August 27, 2012 @ 2:20 pm
Don't assume anything based on a book where one of the authors decided what went in and had sole contact with the publisher.
August 27, 2012 @ 3:14 pm
Well, fair enough, what are your views on the story then? (Assuming you're the Tat I'm guessing.)
July 8, 2013 @ 2:56 am
Um, I was with you up until this line: 'a woman named Mary Whitehouse, was a terrible human being. She was quite literally evil'
We may not have agreed with Whitehouse's campaigning, but I'm pretty sure that other people have been a wee bit more evil than Mary.