The regulars -
Terror of the Zygons written by Robert Stewart Banks and directed by Douglas Camfield
TO BE REVIEWED...
Planet of Evil written by Louis Marks and directed by David Maloney
This story in a nutshell: The planet of evil has been raped and plundered and it wants its minerals back…
Teeth and Curls: Very impressive. Ian Marter has gone and Tom Baker has finally come into his own with a commanding performance. Its not one of his better known stories but if you watch Baker’s performance throughout it is definitely one of his strongest. He’s always rude when trying to cover up his mistakes. ‘Standby for emergency materialisation!’ – I love his crazy eyed enthusiasm for dangers to come. He uses Shakespearean quotes in a very witty fashion; he met him once and thought he was a charming fellow if a terrible actor! When one of the red shirts is murdered he screams ‘GET BACK!’ with such force the audience recoils! He manages to get across the severity and danger of raping this planet and after trying a few times he admits he is tempted to let them destroy themselves. Tom Baker plays such a moody, grave Doctor it is impossible to take your eyes off him (compare with McCoy in Battlefield just watched where I was trying to look anywhere but the Doctor). Given the build up for the horrors on the planet the cliffhanger that sees the Doctor fall into the pit is terrifying. I love how he steals some antimatter in a toffee tin – the magical and mundane sitting side by side. He’s field of science is everything, he’s brilliant! You’ll cheer when he finally punches Salamar’s lights out and then gets a lightning bolt in the chest!
Succulent Sarah: Sarah has been at this lark for so long that she takes distress calls, bodies and guns being pointed at her in her stride! She is absolutely crazy heading back through the alien jungle on her own but I love her independence. Sarah is out thinking the Doctor these days so clearly she has to go…give her her own show! I love her quiet reaction to Sorenson’s rant, Lis Sladen is so confident at this point. She’s superb. Like Tom Baker we adore her.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘From the beginning of time it has existed side by side with the known universe. Each is the antithesis of each other. You call it nothing, a word to cover ignorance.’
‘Fools. They really think they’ll be able to leave with this on board.’
‘You and I are scientists, Professor. We buy our privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility.’
The Good Stuff: Approaching the planet, the eerie music, the alien jungle…the opening scenes generate a stifling atmosphere from the word go. The clanking chains, the whistling wind, the slurping, sucking sounds as Braun is take by the creature, this must have given some children-terrifying nightmares. The jungle is a living thing, shot on film and lit in reds and purples with a mossy, muddy floor with pools and steam curling in the air and fronds hanging from trees. This is the best alien world they ever created in a studio, its freakishly realistic. Zeta Minor being the last planet in the known universe is a fantastic setting for this story. There are lots of interesting places to shoot the split-level flight deck. Wow what must have happened to have turned those desiccated corpses yellow? The sudden zoom in on the inky pit is chokingly scary. Dudley Simpson’s music is at its height here; he scores the deaths particularly chillingly by having the music die away with them. The strobe light guns light up the alien jungle. Either its Hinchcliffe or its David Maloney but this story is full of effects that wouldn’t work in any other story but work a charm here – the Oculoid Tracker is another example. The prop is placed underneath the camera and we see it from the trackers point of view, it’s a pretty ingenious way of selling the idea in a visually interesting way (and the noise it makes is eerie). ‘Our solar system is dependent upon a dying sun, I have discovered a new source of energy!’ – Louis Marks always finds interesting things to do in his Doctor Who scripts. The end of the universe is a chilling prospect, the boundary between existence as we know it and a universe that we cannot understand. The planet is claiming back its own, I love how this story plays by its own rules. Sorenson remains such a watchable story throughout, he is totally consumed with his find and slowly losing his mind. Frederick Jaeger gives a compelling performance as a man on the edge of insanity. Its lovely to have a character like wide boy De Haan complaining about having to do some work! Is Sorenson drinking blood? The ‘clean and tidy’ coffin in space is another surprisingly good effect. Marks tells his story so cleanly, its wonderful when the Doctor tells them that they are coming to the end of their piece of elastic and being drawn back. Go and watch how well De Haan’s death is filmed, never once showing Sorenson’s face and highlighting the shadow up the wall as the creatures makes horrible sucking noises. The end of part three is great because I cannot imagine anything much worse than being lost in space in a coffin. The power games between Vishinsky and Salamar comes to a head here where he forces his subordinate to eject our heroes into space. There is a massive shadow which looms over an extra on the flight deck set…this story is shit your pants scary in places! Sorenson attempting to commit suicide is such a natural reaction, its great how the creature takes over just in time. Both the atomic accelerated Sorenson and the red silky man creatures plaguing the ship are very good. It is really nice to have so much of this story set within the TARDIS after 8 stories away. There’s plenty of base under siege tension in the last episode, its directed very claustrophobically. Its great that it the creature gives Sorenson back, the anti matter creature is a benevolent foe.
The Bad Stuff: After five minutes of flawlessly realised television the Morestran hoover comes gliding into view. David Maloney has another stubborn and unlikable character to cast and once again he fills it with Prentis Hancock. What a shame Michael Wisher’s last role in Doctor Who is such an unmemorable one. I’m on the fence about the anti matter creature, in some shots it looks gorgeous like a creature made from red silk but at other moments its just a red blob on the screen with no depth.
Result: Tonight I turned off all the lights, lit candles and sat back and let Planet of Evil’s rich, moody atmosphere wash over me. Historically trips to the past are very well realised and outer space stories wind up looking farcical but Zeta Minor is brought to life with absolute conviction and style. David Maloney is perfectly suited to stories like this; he captures unseen horrors with real skill and the story slowly crawls under your skin. Planet of Evil is a quintessential Hinchcliffe story, a horror riff, superbly made, very scary and slightly dull for all its perfection (I do like a stories/era to have rough edges). Tom Baker and Lis Sladen are a superb team and so watchable. This is an often forgotten story but there is so much here that works, people write it off as an empty chiller but its much more impressive than that: 8/10
Pyramids of Mars written by Lewis Griefer and directed by Paddy Russell
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Android Invasion written by Terry Nation and directed by Barry Letts
Teeth and Curls: Yay, the Doctor likes ginger pop. So do I, it’s really tasty stuff. For the most part there is something very subdued about Tom Baker’s performance in this story (it might have something to do with him swallowing copious amounts of pond water and getting a nasty throat infection for his trouble). It’s not a bad turn by any means and he still gets to be a man of action and wit but it does seem that the action content has been increased to spare his (clearly weak) voice. If it wasn’t bad enough that Styggron looks like walking mutilated mutton but the big showdown between him and the Doctor is further reduced because poor Tom Baker can hardly get his lines out. It’s certainly not up there with the other big confrontations in season thirteen (‘Loose thinking Broton’, ‘Then I abase you Sutekh…’, ‘Chop Suey the Galactic Emperor!’, ‘Careful I noticed a little green fly here and there…’). Watching the android Doctor firing a gun gave me the shivers. It’s just wrong.
‘Is that finger loaded?’
‘Strange, a village without a future?’
‘I left you up a tree!’
‘I feel disorientated’ ‘This is the disorientation centre’ ‘That makes sense.’
- When Barry Letts talks about Terry Nation’s writing and admits that as a novelist he would be a page turner what he means is that he is the undisputed master of the set piece in Doctor Who. His scripts might not be the most intelligently written nor populated with the most multi-faceted characters but by golly can the man write action and mystery well. Nowhere is this more apparent in the first episode of The Android Invasion which is practically one long set piece as we are drawn into the mystery of this sleepy village, its bizarre occupants and the nearby Space Centre. The opening of the UNIT soldier committing suicide by jumping off a cliff in front of the Doctor and Sarah (awesomely shot in slow motion) immediately gets the audience asking questions whilst proving something very exciting, shocking and very memorable. The mysteries soon start piling up. Why does it smell like Earth after a thunderstorm when the ground is bone dry? Who are the masked individuals with weapons in their fingers? Why is the village deserted? Why is all the money freshly minted and all dated the same year? Why are the villages behaving in a pre-programmed fashion? Who is the UNIT soldier still alive? Why does the calendar only have one date? Let’s face it if this was a book you were reading you would be flicking through those pages at a rate of knots with this many intriguing mysteries to solve. What Terry Nation has struck upon is a fantastically creepy idea (the village that time forgot) which doesn’t cost a fortune to produce but still looks expensive and visually interesting on screen. The scene where the villagers all take their places in the pub and sit/stand stock still until the clock chimes and then go about their business like a normal social crowd is really unnerving. Scenes of the Doctor being shot across the roof of the Space Centre might feel like they have sprung out of the Pertwee era but that is no bad thing and it is very exciting all the same.
- Dudley Simpson is having a field day with this story just as he did with the majority of the Hinchcliffe era which offered him his juiciest material to score. The opening sequence sounds like the entire band is having a fit but it sure jolts you into the story with a start. He is having great fun writing music for the chase sequences in episode one and favours the piano which is marvellous because I think that is the instrument where he is at his best (The Seeds of Death, City of Death).
- If there is one thing that classic Doctor Who does well it is leafy green location work. There are so many stunning parks and areas of woodland around the country and the show really took advantage of that other the years. Pyramids of Mars, Image of the Fendhal, Castrovalva, The Visitation, The Mysterious Planet…it would seem that whenever Doctor Who needed a break from a quarry it would head to the nearest forest for some fresh visuals. The location work in The Android Invasion is one of it’s most favourable features and the opening sequences really capture that feeling of exploring the woods on a lazy, sunny afternoon with friends. The filming in and around the village of East Hagbourne is even better and I don’t think the production team could have chosen a better location to capture that post-Avengers sinister village atmosphere.
- An evacuated village due to a radiation crisis is such a gripping idea that it’s a shame that what is actually going on (a duplicate village as a prelude to an alien invasion) is so disappointing.
- Milton Johns is always good value (so much so that he would be back in a couple of seasons playing a very different sort of turncoat) but has his work cut out for him to make a character like Guy Crayford convince the audience. To his credit he succeeds but the way the Kraals are presented in this story (especially the way they bully and cajole him) it is hard to buy into why he ever believed them in the first place. Johns has a natural air of sympathy about him (he reminds me of Leonard Rossiter in that respect…in fact he looks a bit like Rossiter too) which really comes into effect as he fights with his conscience throughout. It’s only when it comes to his missing eye when the story really lets him down and it would take an actor of rare distinction to pull that scene off with conviction.
- The cliffhanger to episode two works so well because the Doctor knows from the off that he is walking into a trap (the telephone being connected and disconnected instantly, Sarah’s scarf) and so the obvious pointers that this is a duplicitous sequence is for the audiences sake only. Kids must have been screaming at their televisions for the Doctor not to be so stupid (there are so many clues including the biggest of all - the ginger pop - that the script has to point out that their easy reunion has been deliberately planned to see how intelligent they are). I love the cheeky assertion that the entire village, including the gorgeous exteriors, is all one big stage set to practice out an alien invasion on. It’s another idea that suggests a massive budget when clearly barely a penny has been spent. Those Kraal designers have done a fantastic job, they could go in for landscape design if they ever want a change from planetary invasion. If Hinchcliffe was looking to promote really strong cliffhangers then episode two does a smashing job. It must have been utterly destabilising to young kids to see Sarah Jane pull a gun on the Doctor, to watch them tussle and then for her face to drop away and reveal the bulging eyeballs and blank circuitry beneath. It’s in moments like this when The Android Invasion scores biggest wins.
- It is very unlike Doctor Who to introduce a spanking new location (especially one as impressive as the Space Centre control set) in the last episode. Usually all the money has been spent at this point.
- The one scene that really worked in the last episode for me was the Doctor on Doctor fight sequence which was very nicely directed so for a moment it genuinely looks as if there are two Tom Baker’s grappling on screen.
- The sets for the interiors are actually very good but the transference from video to film somehow feels more obvious in this adventure than in many others. The location work is so sumptuous and glossy that the cut to the flat video look of the studio filming really jars.
- The location work around the Space Centre is as strong as it everywhere else in this story (Did they allocate more OB work on this story? It seems to be packed full of the stuff!) but the effects shot of the giant ariel stuck on its side looks a bit shabby (although I was pleased when the Sarah Jane Adventures offered an homage to its unwieldiness in The Last Sontaran, I just wish it could have been the same Centre).
- The Kraals. Yeah, not one of Doctor Who’s finest moments when it comes to monsters. Rubbery humanoid rhinos fronted by a scientist who sounds like he smokes 200 a day and a soldier that does a pretty good impression of George from Rainbow. Their incessant squabbling is reminiscent of similar disagreements in the ranks in The Dominators (and we all know how well that turned out) and their plan to take over the Earth is so riddled with holes and overly complicated you have to wonder if this perhaps isn’t their vocation after all. Humpbacked aliens are never a great idea (they look really comical lumbering about their spaceship) but it is the masks that really let them down because the actors are constantly fighting the rubber and glue to strain a performance through the immovable features. Only Big Finish in their great plundering of continuity would be desperate enough to bring this race of losers back.
- I’m not sure what is the daftest scene. I’ll name them all and you decide. Sarah being trapped in the strangle dance, the cumbersome and unrealistic restraints she is placed in, her falling down a cliff and spraining her ankle, the waltz that the UNIT duplicate and Styggron indulge in before the former falls all over the set in an apoplectic fit, Styggron giving the Doctor a neck massage, goggle eyed android Sarah sitting up and shooting at the Doctor, the horrific way Sarah pulls back her cheeks to suggest she is experiencing G-force at the end of episode three, how the silvery rocket model suddenly becomes a much more convincing one as we leap to stock footage or Styggron’s face turning to snot in the final episode. It’s a hard one to call.
- Why suggest that Brigadier is going to appear when that was never going to be the case? Surely that just invites disappointment?
- It has been pointed out that this story has a great deal in common with Terror of the Zygons and despite having a very different tone when you boil them down to their constituent elements they are remarkably similar. Aliens staging a takeover of the Earth, using duplicates of human beings to take over key positions, a bug in the pub, a doppelganger of the one of the Doctor’s companions, an exploding spaceship, favouring a less subtle method when the first plan fails (the Skarasen/the plague), Whilst Barry Letts’ handling of this story is more than adequate for the most part (especially the excellent location work), he is no Douglas Camfield (who directs the hell out of Zygons) and so comparisons are definitely not in this story’s favour. The design work of the aliens and their spaceship were one of the major strengths of Zygons whereas it is one of the greatest weaknesses here.
- Bizarrely Crayford goes from wanting the Doctor and Sarah kept alive to wanting them destroyed to wanting to convince them of Styggron’s benevolence all in one episode. It’s not the greatest of character consistency. Even Styggron points this out at one point.
- Only in a Terry Nation script would anybody say ‘I’ve found out their whole plan!’ And ‘I will now activate the hostility circuits!’
- Surely Crayford would wonder why Styggron needs to mastermind such a complicated scheme to make their presence known on the Earth? If they are as harmless as they claim to be why can’t they just turn up and say hello? Does he really think that they are only going to take over the Northern hemisphere and live in peace with the humans? Had Crayford genuinely been brainwashed as the Doctor suggests rather than falling for their not-so-convincing spiel then a lot of these questions could have been avoided.
- If Styggron is such an accomplished scientist couldn’t he create a virus that only attacks humans but his own race are unaffected by. Would Space Control really not make the connection between Crayford’s rocket returning and the sudden spate of meteorites that are falling to the Earth?
- The use of Harry and Benton here might have been fun had this not have been their final appearance in the series. As such it is a waste of both actors and proves to be a cruddy swansong for the pair of them. Especially dear Harry who had a much better departure in Terror of the Zygons. And Benton without the Brigadier is just weird.
- They might have been touted as spectacular replicants but ultimately all you need to do is flash a red light, wave a power cable in their direction and flick a switch to disable or destroy the androids. Hardly the most compelling invasion force the Earth has ever faced.
- Colonel Faraday is probably the least convincing authority figure we have ever seen in Doctor Who. And that is working against some pretty stiff competition that includes Walker Parliamentary Under Secretary, Tryst and his CET machine and Bayeuss leader of the Lakertyans. A rotund, ruddy cheeked military caricature without two brain cells to rub together. He’s just there to…actually I don’t know why he is there since he adds so little to the story. It shows you the sort of bird brained ingrate we could have ended up with as the Brigadier if Nicholas Courtney hadn’t taken such care with the role.
- The rocket on top of mission control looks rather like Mr Spoon’s rocket once it has landed on Button Moon. Come on now kids, join in with that nice Peter Davison: ‘We’re off to Button Moon, we’ll follow Mr Spoon…Button Moooooonnnn….’ Sorry about that.
- I know it is an old anecdote of Barry Letts’ and I hate to be obvious but it doesn’t make any sense that all the androids are switched off and the Doctor duplicate still works. At least it gives some credence to Steven Moffat’s repetitive use of sending in a fake eleventh Doctor to face his foes (The Wedding of River Song, The Bells of Saint John) – even the fourth Doctor isn’t immune!
The Shallow Bit: Crayford’s jeans are so tight that it is no surprise that his voice gets a bit squeaky at times.
Result: A fantastic first episode leads into a disappointing Hinchcliffe tale that gets steadily worse with each episode and climaxes on what is probably the weakest installment of the period. Doctor Who has been known to climax on a bum note after a strong start but the nosedive in quality in The Android Invasion is second to none. It might be Barry Letts’ finest direction for the series with some stunning location photography, terrific action sequences, some sophisticated use of the camera and trickery (high and low angles to create drama and menace, slow motion sequences) and a fantastic pace throughout. The trouble is he can only bring to life the story as written and so he has to realise all the horrendous flaws inherent in the script (including an atrociously plotted invasion of Earth, some blatantly sexist characterisation of Sarah and story full of twists that…well aren’t) and the resulting story is a baffling mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, often veering between the two in the same scene. The multiple mysteries from the first episode soon drop away and Uncle Terry starts falling back into bad habits, the second half of the story is one cliché after another (doppelgangers, viruses and meteorites all get their moment in the sun). By the final episode I was asking as many questions as I was about the conundrums of the initial episode…but this time at the gaps in logic, the absurdity of the plot turns and stupidity of the characters. The Android Invasion has some great scenes and stunning location work but ultimately it all falls to pieces in second half and becomes something of an unwatchable mess. Entertaining but flawed beyond belief: 5/10
The Brain of Morbius written by Robin Bland and directed by Christopher Barry
This story in a nutshell: ‘I’ve just had the most terrible dream. First of all I was blinded…then I was attacked by a great claw thing that looked like it was made from butchers leftovers and then I was knocked down a flight of stairs!’
Teeth and Curls: Coming to the end of his second year as the Doctor, Tom Baker is absolutely in his element and delivering the sort of confident performances he is justly famed for. What a grumpy sod, he leaps from the TARDIS and bellows at their heavens as though his own people are Gods! I loved his scathing opinion of them: ‘Some dirty work that they won’t touch with their lily white hands!’ He’s childish and brooding and wont jump into action until Sarah is in danger. Would you believe, I have been using the ‘can you spare a glass of water?’ line for 10 years now when I’m coming in from the rain and it never fails to get a laugh! He’s only 749 but life doesn’t begin until 750! He can feel Morbius’ mind reaching out to his. He is drugged, sacrificed and smacked on the head…this is a dangerous business he is in! I love his penchant for comedy in middle of all the drama (‘Take no notice Solon, I’m delighted to see you – that signing was terrible!’). One of my all time favourite Doctor moments happens in this story when the Doctor tells Solon either he disconnects the brain or he does it his way…and he plays about with a pair of pliers! Its odd how people forget that the Doctor murders Solon with cyanide in this story and yet they make a song and dance about the sixth Doctor’s pop at it in The Two Doctors!
Sumptuous Sarah: Oh lovely Lis Sladen, how good you are in The Brain of Morbius! At this stage, Sarah is literally on fire, she makes me laugh, cry and question my sexuality! Sarah walks from the TARDIS poking fun at the Doctor as only she knows how (‘So there! Bibblebibble!’). Nothing can stop her nose for a story as she heads of to investigate the crashed spaceships. She’s such a smart girl, tipping away her horrid green drink that has been laced with poison and ye gads she is as cool as a cucumber when Solon orders Condo to kill her as she pretends to be unconscious! I would have shat my pants! Sarah wonders if she will ever see the Earth again. Alas her job as a member of the Sisterhood didn’t last too long…her lousy bit of red cloth did not make the grade draped over her head! There are so many moments in this story that show just how well the Doctor and Sarah clicked, one of my favourites comes when she first discovers her blindness and she moans that she will have to become a blind flower seller (‘Lovely fresh violets!’) and he tells her if she keeps moaning he will bite her nose! And the scenes when they are locked in the laboratory (‘how many seconds in a month?’) are pure magic. Poor Sarah, she’s screaming her head off and then gets knocked down a flight of stairs!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Take him, the flame must feed…’
‘The impossible dream of a thousand alchemists dripping like tea from an urn.’
‘Death is the price we pay for progress.’
‘Poor old Condo, perhaps I’ll give him your hair as a memento.’
‘Morbius has got to be stopped!’ ‘He should never have been started.’
‘Chop Suey the Galactic Emperor!’
The Good Stuff: The first scene goes through several subversion, firstly the location is the scariest thing you have ever seen until you see the hideous creature stumbling about and then you are made to feel much sympathy of it as it is slaughtered. Pillars askew, candles flickering, cobwebs billowing, bubbling laboratory equipment, statues, fire crackling – the design is a delicious love letter to hammer horror. Cynthia Grenville gives an outstanding performance as Maren, managing to be both theatrical and naturalistic in a very unusual role. A lot of work has gone into making the potentially kooky idea of the Sisterhood look visually distinctive and convincing – the bleached reds, whispering sibilant chants and their various rituals and dances. All this talk of heads being removed still cannot prepare you for the truly grisly sight at the end of part one (and I bet Mary Whitehouse spat her false teeth out!). There’s a wonderful effects shot of Maren’s ring blinding the audience. I love the relationship between Solon and Condo, you really feel for the brute and how Solon treats him until that fantastic scene where he pulls out the blade (‘you make Condo fool…’). Christopher Barry knows how to build up suspense; there is a slow pan down the stairs and through scientific equipment as Solon talks to a mysterious voice. Solon was the character that Philip Madoc was born to play, giving him the chance to charm, frighten and amuse – he’s even sympathetic at times and his moments of pure psychosis are very entertaining. The second cliffhanger is one of the best in the shows history; Sarah is blind, following the menacing voice and discovering the brain, something we have been denied through the episode (and the idea of us being able to see something so horrific and she can’t is brilliant). The rising music here is phenomenal! The brain bubbling in green fluid is one of Doctor’s enduring images. The Elixir is another great Robert Holmes idea; tiny drop of immortality nectar and the consequences of synthesising it by the gallon would be genuinely catastrophic (go and watch Caves of Androzani to see how far people will go for a liquid that will give you extra years). The scenes that gave Mary Whitehouse a seizure are truly brutal and disgusting but I just love a bit of sloppy brain and blood splattering! Solon cradling the throbbing brain is both hilarious and gross! Its great that the Doctor saves the Elixir and the Sisterhood still betray him to Solon. Another tremendous cliffhanger, mirroring the end of the last episode, again we can see the horror that approaches Sarah and she can’t (every time I watch this I scream ‘HE’S BEHIND YOU!’). Holmes wisely saves the completed Frankenstein’s monster for the final episode. Condo’s bloody, choking death is really nasty. Solon waits whilst Morbius chokes the Doctor before anaesthetising him! The mind bending contest shits all over continuity and upsets a wealth of Doctor Who fans! Morbius’ smoky goldfish bowl looks great.
The Bad Stuff: Its odd because the only aspects of this story I want to criticise are purely superficial, the fake looking wrecked spaceships, the added on storm and the studio bound exteriors all fail to convince. However I think if this story had been filmed on location it would have lost much of its claustrophobic theatrics.
Result: Wowza! This is nasty, playful, imaginative and very frightening in parts; The Brain of Morbius is the ultimate expression of the Holmes/Hinchcliffe gothic horror. The story plunders Shelley with confidence and applies it to a gripping, beautifully thought through science fiction setting. The performances of Baker, Sladen, Madoc and Grenville are astonishingly good and Christopher Barry gives his most thoughtful, engaging direction yet. Dudley Simpson’s music and Barry Newbury’s designs are faultless. I have never failed to enjoy this story despite watching it ad nauseum, its very funny and very scary and sees the Doctor and Sarah’s relationship at its height: 10/10
The Seeds of Doom written by Robert Banks Stewart and directed by Douglas Camfield
This story in a nutshell: A pod found in Antarctica almost spells the end of the world…
Teeth and Curls: Brooding and menacing, the Doctor has never been more alien or mesmerising. It does seem odd that the Doctor can be called in to help with this problem since he seemed to have abandoned his Earthly obligations for more exciting pursuits but since all the other Doctors step into help when it is needed I don’t see why the fourth should be an exception. He seems even more grumpy about it here than in Terror of the Zygons so his complaint about the Brigadier using him in Pyramids of Mars does suggest a little character arc that from this point sees him refuse to be dragged back again. He’s only 749 and he used to be even younger and he hasn’t come 10,000 miles to discuss the weather! He’s marvellously rude to practically everybody he meets, even those on his side and the only person he shows genuine affection for is Sarah. The Doctor’s unsettling narration that plays over scenes of the Krynoid hunting in the snow gave me the shivers – Tom Baker really is a masterful storyteller. He still has some time for some playful moments, I love it when he does a 360 degree turn when asked to turn around! He sounds almost at a loss at human stupidity when Scorby wants to take the pod and enjoys winding up Keeler who is clearly unused to holding a gun on hostages. You will never see such anger from the fourth Doctor again when Sarah is taken away by Scorby – he’s violently frenzied at the thought of his friend in the hands of such an abusive thug. If you ever need to show somebody a scene to show why the Doctor is such a wonderful character then play the scene in Sir Colin’s office when he reports back after the Antarctic disaster! He walks around with a chair on his head, puts it down, goes to sit on it, doesn’t bother, criticises the nature of greed, loses his temper, Sarah steps in, she loses her temper, he steps in, accuses them of having a security leak whilst staring the guilty party right in the face, insults Sir Colin and orders a car! As written it is a functional, if nicely scripted scene but with Tom in the room it becomes a madcap moment and utterly delightful to watch. You’ve got to lose the Doctor’s solution to Sarah’s Krynoid predicament – jump through the skylight and punch Scorby! My he is violent in this story, isn’t he? I love it personally – when dealing with thugs sometimes you have to be thuggish back but I could understand the objections if you didn’t like this sort of thing (yeah Paul Cornell I can see you tutting and shaking your head in the corner!). Actually with the Doctor waving a pistol about I can imagine Cornell having kittens watching this! As I have said before though, this is Doctor Who not Doctrine Who and if you want to watch a Mary Whitehouse spectacular with no tension whatsoever then be my guess. And don’t give all that flim flam about ‘he should be able to find a more intelligent way than having to wave his fist or use a gun’ because sometimes that just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes you have to be nasty back. Try burying your head in the said and pretending that that isn’t the case but it is. And the Doctor diving through a garden with a pistol is an awesome image, says me. Okay, rant over. The Doctor is vicious with Scorby when he starts thinking up ridiculous plans to turn him over to the Krynoid (‘It would make no difference!’). Jon Pertwee’s Doctor may have found the limited intelligence of the military mind tiresome but he never lost it like the Doctor does here (‘Waffle! Waffle! Waffle!). Rather wonderfully when Scorby starts ranting that he is a mercenary and a survivor the Doctor is completely disinterested and when asked to participate in the conversation he sounds is if he has broken his thoughts away from something far more interesting!
Investigative Journalist: Oh Sarah Jane could you be any more wonderful if you tried in this story? Whenever people question why Sarah is so popular I desperately want to point them in the direction of The Seeds of Doom (the trouble is like me once you have made up your mind about something you are happy to give your opinion but you don’t want it to be changed!) which sees the character at her height. And considering (for me) she is the greatest of companions it is pretty much as good as it gets. There’s everything here I associate with Sarah – she is resourceful, witty, moral, brave and extremely active! Philip Hinchcliffe made the right decision in keeping Elisabeth Sladen on as long as he did because by the end of their time together the chemistry between Baker and Sladen is astonishing. With touches, glances and some wonderful exchanges you don’t need the Doctor to tell you that she is his best friend because it is screaming from every frame. Just seeing Elisabeth Sladen on the screen makes me beam my most dazzling smile…and shoehorning her into an Emma Pell type role (if anybody could do that, its Sarah) is simply delightful.
The way she sucks on her fingers as she comes in from the Antarctic cold completely sells the idea of how chilly it is. For all the Doctor saying that for the Krynoid the vegetation eats the animal matter it is Sarah’s reaction (‘that’s terrifying’) that makes the statement really hit home. While the Doctor is being all mysterious and broody (‘you must help yourselves…’) Sarah hits Moberly with the cold hard facts that he is the only one qualified to operate on his friend. I remember when I was watching this story with Simon and he was agonised at the thought of Sarah strapped to a bomb that was about to explode – its one of the most exciting set pieces in Doctor Who’s run. She has no thought for herself after the explosion, she just desperately wants to find the Doctor and make sure he is alright. I cannot tell you how much I love the Doctor and Sarah (looking gorgeous in a long brown jacket) going undercover into Chase’s estate and being greeted by a hail of bullets – surely Doctor Who was never better than this? With all this running about, being savaged, have to rely on wits I just can’t imagine any of the 80s companions working in this story – certainly nobody pre-Ace. The end of episode three always makes me tense (bottom clenches ahoy!) as Sarah is strapped down and left to the mercy of the cracking, oozing Krynoid pod whilst the Doctor watches on helplessly. Proving she hasn’t completely shaken off the idiocy of the companions of the past Sarah accidentally makes the Grinder work faster with the Doctor inside rather than turning it off until she finds the right button! Sarah really gives Scorby the sharp edge of her tongue when he suggests the Doctor sacrificing himself for them (‘Not to save your life! Not after what you did to us!’). Am I the only person who cheers when Sarah turns on Scorby and says that the Doctor has principles and that he (Scorby) is impotent if he isn’t carrying a gun? We’ve come so far since Jo Grant. There isn’t the need to make statements about women’s lib anymore, Sarah proves her worth by heading out into danger when Scorby wants to wimp out and stay behind. The way Sarah attempts to humour Chase as he traps her in the Grinder room is unnerving – she really is brave in the face such a terrifying man and only breaks her composure when he lunges for her. So close to the end of her tenure (sniff sniff…) what if Sarah’s end would have been to be ground up in that repulsive machine? What a way to go! Its lovely to see a season that has seen them face such horrors end with the Doctor and Sarah laughing together. Love you guys!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I understand policemen are few and far between in the Antarctic.’
‘Hired thieves and murderers don’t usually work for love!’
‘What do you do for an encore, Doctor?’ ‘I win!’
‘You’re turning into a plant, Keeler! Think of it…a marvellous new species of plant…’
‘750 Guineas ‘Guineas?’ ‘Plus inflation. Shall we say a round thousand?’ ‘Pounds?’ ‘Done!’
‘Your death will be agonising, Doctor but mercifully quick. Blood and bone contain the most valuable nitrogen elements. Just think…after shredding your remains will pass automatically through my compost acceleration chamber and within 25 minutes you will be pumped into the garden.’
‘Besides I have some wartime experience, you know? Oh yes! I was a sergeant in the ATS! Manned an Ak-Ak gun at Folkestone!’ and ‘Invent a codeword…they love that! What about Operation Nuthouse?’ and of course ‘After all our taxes pay for these wretched civil servants and you can never get hold of them when you need them!’ ‘I am a civil servant, Miss Ducat’ ‘Then you will know exactly what I mean of course!’
· I was surprised at how much tension Banks and Camfield managed to wring out of the unopened pod. It is literally like a ticking bomb waiting to explode and the reverence that everybody treats it with gives it real presence. By the time it burst open and claimed its first victim I was watching through my fingers! The fully mutated humanoid Krynoid is very frightening and in no way resembles a repainted Axon. The sucking, rasping noises they make adds to their effect and the fat vines that sprout from their neck and arms drives home that this is a planet. It’s the lumpy, disfigured face that gets me…the fact that Winlet/Keeler’s features bulge out so grotesquely. It is brilliant the way the story runs for four episodes with a very clear division between the Doctor and Sarah and Chase and his henchmen but when the Krynoid gets out of hand they have to join forces in an uneasy alliance to try and bring it down. For the time the shots of the giant Krynoid atop the house look amazing – its certainly the best ever ‘giant creature’ they attempted at the time! Dodgy dinos, the Skarasen and the Giant Rat don’t hold a candle to the Krynoid! Slow motion Krynoid bashing in the ceiling is very dramatic.
· Not enough can be said about Douglas Camfield’s direction of this story and I will mention him many times in other sections too. It reminds me of Peter Davison’s whining about the directors in his era (probably not without reason) and suggesting a lot of them had an ‘that’ll do’ approach. With Dougie Camfield you never get a sense of ‘that’ll do’ and more a shock of ‘this is how far we can stretch things to make it look and feel as damn well good as possible!’ As far back as The Crusade he was making Doctor Who look as though it had 100 times the budget it did (and is another reason why I don’t buy Richard Martin’s assertion that it was time and money that made his stories look shit – Camfield managed both historicals and outer space stories look professional and slick) and with his two Tom Baker stories there are times when his work approaches the cinematic. Just watch the sequence where the Doctor and Sarah are menaced by the chauffeur through the quarry – it’s a masterpiece of razor sharp editing, imaginative camera angles (the silhouette shots of them running are gorgeous) and energetic action (you can really feel that punch the Doctor delivers). Why Camfield can bring a story to life so much more vividly than others is anybody’s guess (his regimented schedule perhaps so he didn’t lose a second of his time?) but with this being his last Doctor Who story the show truly lost something when he waved goodbye for health reasons.
· The Seeds of Doom is infamous for its edgy storytelling and high violence count but I don’t see how this can be levelled as a criticism considering this is one of the most popular stories from one of the most popular eras with some of the best ever ratings! I love violence in Doctor Who and I genuinely think they pushed the boundaries on the odd occasion of just how far you can go in family television (Condo being shot in the gut in The Brain of Morbius and Lytton’s hands being crushed in Attack of the Cybermen are fantastic examples) and as Eric Saward pointed out (one of the more succinct things he has said in the last decade taking a pause between slaggings off of JNT) if you are going to have an adventure show you need violence and if you are going to show violence, you have to show that it hurts. The sadistic edge to The Seeds of Doom is one of the best things about it – let the kids wet the bed because Doctor Who has never been more exciting! For starters you have the pod bursting open and its spores infecting Winlett and eating through his body until he has mutated into a half man/half plant hybrid, there is talk of amputating his arm, strangulation, Scorby’s casual destruction of valuable equipment, the way he strokes enjoys shoving a gun in Sarah’s face, strapping Sarah to a bomb, the fight with chaffeur ending with him in hospital with a right hook from the Doctor, showers of bullets in the grounds to the mansion, a nasty neck twist for Scorby, Keeler’s nasty transformation as he shivers as though he has caught the flu and his skin turns a scabby green, the Doctor being shoved into the garbage bins over and over is shockingly nasty, there is a horrible blood dripping pattern on the Grinder as if it has been well used and they have scrubbed it clean – ick!, Keeler begging for help but instead being tempted with scraps of raw meat (ugh!), the psychological horror of Chase communing with the plant world, the plants coming alive and swamping over Sarah, Scorby and Hargreaves and strangling the latter, Scorby’s death amongst the screaming plants that eventually drag him down into a lake and drown him, Sarah attacked and shoved in the grinder and finally Chase’s horrendous fate bring eaten by his own machine! And of course a bally big explosion as the Krynoid goes up in flames! That’s enough violence to keep me satisfied for at least…ooh a day?
· Oh my word they knew how to cast Doctor Who in the seventies, didn’t they? With a stellar guest cast like this it is hard to know where to begin. A guess from the top and Tony Beckley’s chilling, slightly camp but utterly hypnotic turn as Harrison Chase had me on tenterhooks. He’s a quiet villain for the most part and moves slowly, almost seductively around his house and has a violent solution to every problem in the shape of his henchman Scorby. The way he flatters and fauns to his plants makes him a truly memorable nasty and the very idea of wanting to turn his victims into manure and pump them into the garden is quite the most revolting thing a bad guy has ever said on this show. A rich, lonely egomaniac who is used to getting his own way, this is the kid who was picked on at school for having an awkward feeling about him. He also has the ability to be blackly funny (‘Why are you shouting Hargreaves?’). Then there is the sublime John Challis as Scorby who is such a world away from Boycie in Only Fools and Horses that it shows just how versatile an actor he is. He’s so convincing as the villainous bully who loves nothing better than shoving people around and threatening to kill them and his sadistic edge gives the story an adult touch of violence which is most welcome. With Scorby people are genuinely disposable and that makes him one of the most dangerous and unpredictable thugs in Doctor Who. Mark Jones’ turn as Keeler is one that seems to be forgotten with the wealth of other standout performances in this story but for me he is one of the best. I love his twitchy, nervousness when trying to play the tough man and the way he apologetically ties people up. His conscience gets the better of him on more than one occasion but with Scorby there waving his gun he manages to (just about) keep it in check. Then once he is transformed into the Krynoid it is one of the most startling and brutal portrayals of a man giving himself up to his instincts and hunger and the scene where he struggles against his bonds and settles, satisfied and breathing heavily at the plate of raw meat on his chest is genuinely disturbing. However the real scene stealer is Sylvia Coleridge who somehow manages to (like Beatrix Leahman after this) out-eccentric Tom Baker! Amelia Ducat (‘Duckett!’) is a delightfully scatty character with most of the shows best lines (‘God Lord! He never paid me!’) and when she goes undercover in Chase’s house it provides some much needed levity to this otherwise dark tale. Seymour Green is a background player but his straight man performance as Hargreaves is actually very funny because he tries to keep up appearances despite the constant dangers!
· You wouldn’t want to provoke an argument but it was for the good of this story and Terror of the Zygons that Douglas Camfield and Dudley Simpson had a falling out because the soundtracks courtesy of Geoffrey Burgeon for these two stories are extraordinary. Zygons is probably my favourite Doctor Who score ever but Seeds is just a heartbeat away with its spine tingling atmospherics, haunting melodies and exciting stings. The excitement he manages to generate as we approach the end of part two is fantastic. He manages to inject some fun and bounce into the chase scenes around the Chase estate. I always laugh my head off in episode three when Chase plays his dreadful ‘Floriana Requiem’ music which is an assault on the ears and reminds me strongly of Malcolm Clarke’s music from The Sea Devils! It only serves to highlight how good Burgeon’s score is. I love the haunting whistles with Sarah explores the cottage and discovers Keeler.
· I adore The Thing from Another World and The X-Files episode Ice and all the other shows that have had a pop at emulating it. There is something extremely sinister about something nasty coming out of the ground in an isolated location and working its way through a small group of people. Doctor Who manages to pull off this claustrophobic environment whilst also having a damn good attempt at pulling off the snowy wastes of Antarctica with a fraction of the budget of the feature film and the America cult TV rip offs. It’s a true testament to Douglas Camfield’s direction that you don’t for one second not believe that the production team didn’t fly out to the north pole to film this story. You see ice floating on freezing water, icy rock faces, pods buried in snow, a cluster of research buildings glowing in the dark Antarctic weather, a mixture of live action snow and effects to give the effect of a real blizzard and dynamic shots of the airplane in the snowstorm. But that is just one of this shows locations and the other is another of my favourites – a menacing country manor house concealing dangerous goings on! Great autumnal location work around the gardens leads to some sumptuous looking chase scenes. The set design is fantastic too with lots of dark menacing shadows in the Antarctic base, leafy open spaces in Chase’s mansion and a set that has jumped right out of The Avengers for Amelia Ducat’s house! Plus the decision to shoot the location work on film and make it look this good means that The Seeds of Doom has hardly aged at all.
The Bad: The one element that doesn’t quite work is the fully grown Krynoid that looks like a rubbery costume rather than an extension of the fabulous make up job in the earlier stages. That and the wobbly tentacle. Some people moan that ending with the house exploding and the Krynoid dying in flames is a disappointment – how exactly?
The Shallow Bit: Make sure you have a good look at the Doctor’s shoes on Dunbar’s desk in episode one – they are hideous. Sarah’s orange woolly hat is so cute! I think Sarah has more changes of clothes in this story that Tegan did in her entire tenure!
Result: As close to a perfect Doctor Who adventure as you will ever find with a sparkling script, plenty of action and excitement, scary bits, gorgeous performances and avant garde direction that lifts the whole piece somewhere above the very high standards already set by season thirteen. The Seeds of Doom blew me away the first time I saw it and it still has that effect on me now; every scene is a gem, all the characters are beautifully defined and played and the story moves at a frantic pace but still leaves time to scare the shit out of you. Some of the horror is quite explicit and on that count alone this has to be one of the most effective adventures – Keeler’s transformation and the revulsion of the grinder is enough to turn even my usually unflappable stomach! You’ll never find a more perfect representation of a Doctor and companion either, Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are both at the top of their game and dazzle their way through all six episode without a single misstep. Add to that a wealth of glorious location work, a chilling adversary in Chase and several era defining moments (the Doctor loses his temper with real fireworks here) and you have something for everybody. It doesn’t surprise me that this story is held in such high esteem – it deserves all the praise heaped upon it and then some. I adore it: 10/10