Doctor Who #424: The Seeds of Doom Part 1

"So you made it. Welcome to the loneliest spot on Earth."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Jan.31 1976.

IN THIS ONE... A seed pod is found in Antarctica, which soon attacks a scientist and turns him into an asparagus.

REVIEW: It's very odd the way this story starts. There's no TARDIS arrival; the Doctor's on Earth and once again working for UNIT. Except we don't see UNIT or any of the UNIT characters. It takes a long time before we even see him, when he's being given a mission by the World Ecology Bureau, and Sarah Jane isn't with him. She only shows up later, dragged to the Antarctic by the Doctor, and there's no mention of her looking for a story (though she may be). Together, they are "the UNIT people" and no more justification for their participation is required. I'm not complaining, but it IS something of a break with a 13-year-old tradition. Regardless, or Holmes and his writers (in this case, Robert Banks Stewart), it continues Doctor Who's horror movie tour, with a story that's part Triffids, part The Thing (from Another World).

I'm surprised at how pacey the episode is given Seeds is to be a 6-parter. None of of the usual TARDIS stuff to pad things out. The seed pods are found and have time to attack someone AND convert them into vegetable matter. The Doctor finds a second seed pod ("they travel in pairs" - so he knows exactly what he's dealing with, it seems), which makes him as guilty as Stevenson of potentially causing the extinction of all life on Earth, doesn't it? And we even meet Mr. Chase, an effete Bond villain obsessed with "plant rights", condemning the unethical treatment of Bonsai trees. I bet this guy never ate his vegetables as a kid. Looks like Dunbar of the Ecology Bureau is a little bit corrupt and selling exotic plants on the side. The episode keeps going back and forth between the UK and the Antarctic, moving the story forward with editing as much as plot.

Because the Doctor does know what's going on, he's a bit more dour than usual, something Sarah Jane picks up on when he's too serious or distracted to partake in their usual banter. Though her role is quite small here, Lis Sladen adds visual dialog to fill it out. She puts her fingers in her mouth to warm them up. She visibly enjoys her warm drink. And always, she observes the Doctor and reacts to his moods. As companion, we're meant to see the world through her eyes, and yet I can't take my eyes off HER. Another great naturalistic performance. I'm also impressed with the design. Whether on a set, in a quarry or looking at models, it's all very well done. The weather effects are effective, the helicopter looks cool, and between the visuals and the actors' performances, everything looks believably cold. Even the old trick of shooting a tentacle attack in reverse looks creepy here. Over the past season, the show's effects have really improved, in no small part by abandoning the over-use of CSO.

THEORIES: Do the alien plants have some kind of affinity with people who themselves have an affinity with plants? We'll see how Chase is affected by them later, but in Part 1, Stevenson the botanist has intuitive knowledge that the seed is still alive and how he might awaken it. Are some of us somehow more connected to "the Green" than others? Is having "a green thumb" symptomatic of a psychic predisposition to fostering plant health and growth, one's brain waves somehow tapping into whatever wavelength plants are "broadcasting" on, the same way classical music seems to have a beneficial effect on them? And is this coherent in the Whoniverse? The Vervoids are a ways away yet...

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The off-beat beginning makes it seem like a script from another show, but a lot is accomplished in the space on 25 minutes, and both cast and crew are intent on hitting it out of the park.


snell said...

"The off-beat way makes it seem like a script from another show..."

This thought isn't original to me, but I forgot where the hell I read it many moons ago, so:

It has been noted that at points Seeds Of Doom plays almost like an Avengers script (Brit TV, not US comic book), particularly the way Chase comes off like that show's typical British eccentric taken to illogical extremes, and the Doctor & Sarah's Steed and Peel act.

Robert Banks Stewart did write of couple episodes of Avengers, so he adapted the style here...or maybe he had an unpurchased script lying around...

Siskoid said...

Yep, fan lore would have it so. The only reason I didn't repeat it myself is because that's not quite apparent yet.


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