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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

23 Comments

  1. Carey
    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?

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  2. Steve Hogan
    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.

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  3. Alex Wilcock
    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…]

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  4. Alex Wilcock
    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.

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  5. Elizabeth Sandifer
    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. 🙂

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  6. Stephen
    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.

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  7. Matthew Celestis
    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.

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  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    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.

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  9. Tom Watts
    October 28, 2011 @ 7:28 am

    Oh, right, an academically grounded hatred. I guess they're the worst.

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  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 28, 2011 @ 7:30 am

    Aesthetically and politically grounded, really.

    Reply

  11. Millennium Dome
    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…

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  12. Elizabeth Sandifer
    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.

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  13. WGPJosh
    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.

    (cont'd)

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  14. WGPJosh
    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.

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  15. kalyarn
    October 28, 2011 @ 10:35 am

    Wait, so that's not Michael Palin?

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  16. BerserkRL
    October 28, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

    You really think "It's …" would be too obscure? For this crowd?

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  17. BerserkRL
    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.

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  18. 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…

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  19. Kat42
    April 13, 2012 @ 7:24 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply

  20. Kat42
    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.

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  21. Tat
    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.

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  22. Elizabeth Sandifer
    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.)

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  23. John Rivers
    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.

    Reply

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