This is a slightly-tweaked version of something originally published in the January 2011 edition of Panic Moon. Back issues of this excellent fanzine (now, sadly, on hiatus) are still available, here.
Plant monsters. That’s an old one. Where does it come from? Maybe it’s about the Venus Fly Trap, the cactus or the thorns on the stem of a rose. Maybe it’s about the faces that we see in the gnarled bark of trees; the faces that gave us generations of tales about tree folk. We see this in ‘The Seeds of Doom’, in the initial humanoid shape of the monster, in its booming threats, in its communion with Chase, in the way that the Doctor keeps calling it Keeler ironically, having chided Sarah for referring to the transformed Winlett by name.
Maybe it’s the sheer unnerving silence and mindlessness of things that nonetheless seem to have flesh and veins and skin, that nonetheless grow and move and breed. We see this in ‘The Seeds of Doom’, with all the emphasis on skin, blood and pain… and Chase’s obsessional desire to “see what happens when the Krynoid touches human flesh”. We see this in the way the Krynoid moves, unfettered by roots. The way it seethes and crawls. The way it is tentacular, like the octopoda or squid monsters that pervade 20th century literary/cinematic/political monsterology, standing
for the threatened global reach of the powerfully, shapelessly, amorphously unknowable.
Maybe the Krynoid is an echo of the trauma of the first humans to discover that sometimes delicious-looking vegetation gives you agonizing stomach ache… or kills you… or causes terrifying hallucinations. We can see this fear demonstrated in Stevenson, mesmerised by his pod… and Winlett and Keeler so “taken over” that they literally transform into nightmare images of the insane roots that have taken their reason prisoner.
Maybe it’s guilt at tearing up and eating beautiful, living, growing things; we see this in Chase’s later ideological hatred of “animal fiends”. Maybe we can’t help see it – on some level – as exploitation, hence the Doctor’s word: “revolution”. Maybe it’s guilt at the way we wipe out plant species with our industrialised carelessness, guilt that makes us imagine them turning on us. We see this in the existence of the World Ecology Bureau, and Chase’s accusation to Dunbar that the endangered plants are ignored because of a pro-animal bias.
Maybe it’s about ancient history, about wars between peoples over cultivated land covered in crops; organised violence that had been unknown to hunter-gatherer societies for thousands of years until the development of agriculture. Maybe it’s the old and persistent nightmare of the classes of priests and administrators who started to rise once agriculture came, who hoarded the surplus grain and used it to wield power over the people. We see these fears demonstrated in ‘The Seeds of Doom’, with Scorby the violent capturer of coveted plants, with Harrison Chase (the sole proprietor and abbot of a “green cathedral”) lording it over everyone else because of his wealth, owning people “body and soul”.
Maybe it’s to do with the way vegetation encroaches upon human civilisations, almost like an invading enemy, unless carefully held in check. We can see this in ‘The Seeds of Doom’, with its beautiful gardens and hothouses suddenly crawling with green enemies, with an outpost of human order in the howling Antarctic wilderness decimated by plant-life within hours of its introduction.
Maybe it’s the sheer terror of inversion, of a system upon which our world depends (in this case, the consumption of the vegetable by the animal) being inverted. Maybe it’s linked to the stunning changes that humans have suddenly had to face throughout history: warm climates turning icy without warning, for instance. We see this in ‘The Seeds of Doom’, with its very title, with all its apocalyptic talk of a global reversal of the natural order, of man consumed by vegetation. We see this in the way the Krynoid grows, becoming a man-shaped thing, and then a hill-sized thing, and then a house-sized thing. Humans have seen such runaway environmental processes before and we’re seeing them again now, possibly presaging the doom of our species. We’ve seen worlds end. We’ve seen the ruins of once-impregnable citadels swallowed by forest, mighty ziggurats smothered in moss, crumbling empty granaries engulfed by vine and creeper.
Maybe it’s our seemingly innate tendency to imagine monsters, to co-opt anything co-optable for the construction of chimeras made from bits and pieces. Maybe they just hadn’t done a plant monster yet. Maybe they remembered The Thing From Another World or The Day of the Triffids or The Little Shop of Horrors when they were deciding which schlock movie to raid next. Maybe Bob Holmes remembered falling into stinging nettles as a child. Maybe Robert Banks Stewart just hated sprouts.