Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros have green fingers, but it has precious little to do with gardening
Two mysterious seed pods are uncovered in the Antarctic and The Doctor (Tom Baker) flies out to try and discover exactly what was found buried in the permafrost. When everyones’ favourite Timelord and trusty companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) arrive, they discover that what they are dealing with is a malevolent form of vegetable life that is more than capable of destroying all human and animal life on the planet. The Doctor's efforts to stop this from happening are hampered by megalomaniac botanist Harrison Chase (Tony Beckley), who has also heard about this discovery and is determined to ensure that vegetable life on Earth will flourish at all costs...
We have to say from the outset that this is one of the more exalted Doctor Who stories which we aren't the greatest fans of. It is not the case that the ecological message rubbed us up the wrong way (although this aspect would annoy certain sections of society - particularly “liberal” hating Americans, anyway), but there is an underlining air of smugness to the whole proceedings. Doctor Who fandom is so polarized that there will always be one story that most people hate and a minority will love in a way that almost requires sectioning under the Mental Health Act. Not only that, but it’s also the case that some stories held in highest esteem are those which a small amount of fans dislike intensely - we suppose that we fall into the latter as far as The Seeds of Doom is concerned. To quote Sally Field: “Even Bambi has enemies”. It's quite likely that some fans would like to see us burned at the stake in a very Sisterhood of the Flame fashion, but we're sticking to our guns on this one. Anyone for a chorus of “We are the World”?
To practical matters: season 13 was a time of transition for the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who; actor Ian Marter bowed out as Harry Sullivan half way through the season (given Baker's agility in performing his own stunts, the Harry character in terms of doing the rough stuff was rendered more obsolete); Elisabeth Sladen made the decision to leave the show, which she would eventually do two stories into the following season. Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith was arguably one of Doctor Who's definitive companions and her departure would leave a hole, which would be difficult to fill. The Seeds of Doom also marked the final Doctor Who directorial assignment for Douglas Camfield, who was generally regarded as one of the finest directors in the show's history.
Another major transition that occurred during this season was the dismantling of the UNIT family; this was already underway with the axing of Nicholas Courtney as The Brig and John Levene as Benton (both Marter and Levene left the series in the same story, The Android Invasion and Courtney exited in the first story of that season, Terror of the Zygons). The last story in season 13 would effectively close the door on UNIT, even though none of the main UNIT characters actually appear in this story, having been replaced by fairly generic characters. As much as we don’t have a terrible amount of affection for the Jon Pertwee era of the show, the use of that fine bunch of lads at UNIT was always a welcome addition to any story. It didn’t go unnoticed that they were being slowly phased out after Bakers’ first series, and The Seeds of Doom was to be their swansong - but not quite as triumphant as should have been.
This was due to their involvement being in a rather diminished capacity, to the point where there is some debate as to why Nicholas Courtney didn’t reprise his role as The Brigadier. Some claim that he was merely unavailable at the time of filming, but others say that there was too little material for both The Brig and the more prominent members of UNIT for them to be bothered. Courtney’s character was replaced by the rather generic Sir Colin Thackeray, and to top it all off, our boys in green are usurped in the heroics department by the RAF. With the exception of a relatively token appearance in The Five Doctors, it would be years until their last Battlefield...
Where The Seeds of Doom really succeeds is in the subject matter of bodily-horror - the slow and horrifying realisation that a transmogrification is taking place and that the ultimate result of this is that the victim is no longer human. A few years later, George Romero and Stephen King would present a similar idea in a segment of their Creepshow collaboration, The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, which saw mega-bucks author Stephen King as a simpleton who touches a mysterious alien pod and slowly begins to lose his own internal man vs. vegetable struggle.
Writer Robert Banks Stewart struck Doctor Who gold when he wrote the script for the season 13's opening story, Terror of the Zygons, and it seemed almost fitting that he should also write the final story of the season. There are very vague tonal similarities between the two - Zygons features extraterrestrials who intentionally plan to take over Earth because their own planet had been destroyed, whereas the Krynoids just happen to be on our planet and start to take over purely because their hibernation has been disturbed.
With this in mind, the opening gambit owes more than a little to Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World, where a dormant, malignant alien entity lies frozen in the polar ice for millennia. Naturally it follows that a group of curious scientist dig it out for the purposes of examination. It is from there that it pre-empts Ridley Scott’s Alien, where a shady, powerful organisation takes more than a passing interest in the find, and has less than total appreciation for the sanctity of human life.
A running theme through The Seeds of Doom is that of Departmental/governmental corruption, where the trusted men in power have hidden agendas and are using their power to further their ambitions or keep the great unwashed hidden from certain truths. This comes as no surprise, given that it was made in the wake of Nixon’s resignation from office following the Watergate scandal, and it was accurately capturing the western world’s new mistrust of authority. This is where the character of The Doctor really comes into play, as original producer Verity Lambert always referred to The Doctor as an anti-establishment figure; this is ably demonstrated in the opening scene where our semi-eponymous hero is seen in governmental office with his feet on someone else's desk and playing with a yo-yo.
To draw upon The Thing from Another World and John Campbell’s Who Goes There? again, The Seeds of Doom is almost a production-design template for John Carpenter’s version of the tale a scant six years later. Both take a functional, practical approach to building their polar-stations, with few frills and comforts for those poor sods stuck out there, and an army of heating pipes running throughout the facility to maintain life. The resulting Antarctic production design is impressive, with the exteriors defying the generally held perception that such things were crumby on the original run of Doctor Who. Frosty gorges blasted by snow look utterly authentic, and the usual confines are magically transformed into an icy wasteland, and isn’t another case where fans have to mumble to themselves in the face of aesthetic criticism. The only shame is that they were shot on tape, as the luxury of film would have rendered the footage indistinguishable from reality.
Tom Baker gives one of his more animated performances, being almost insolent towards officious authority figures and barking at members of the cast with more fury and passion than usual, The Seeds of Doom comes with a real bone of contention with its own fandom as Baker's Doctor come across as heavy-handed, with a rather militant streak. He is happy to engage in violent fighting (trying to break Challis’ neck on one occasion) and even brandishes a gun near the end of the story, going against everything Doctor Who has ever stood for - well, until the Colin Baker era, anyway...
In this story, Baker is sporting what could be argued is his definitive costume, which sees him wear his usual brown floppy hat, along with a three-quarter length grey-ish coat; it suits his character a treat and makes him the appearance of being Bohemian more so than at any other time during his tenure on the show. The Seeds of Doom provides one of the few occasions where Baker’s scarf served a practical purpose - keeping the cold out in a subzero environment - rather than being a sartorial anchor for the kiddies. Not to mention the bane of knitting relatives across the land when Doctor Who-mad children pestered them to make one - for many such neckwear-conjuring family-members. We suspect that a stronger word than "darn" was employed after agreeing to undertake such a mammoth task...
Speaking of outfits, though she may be the definitive Doctor Who companion in the eyes of many fans, but Elisabeth Sladen dresses like a Playschool presenter - Fred Harris, probably. When she first joined the show, her character's "right-on" nature demanded that Sladen be dressed in what could be best described as stereotypical feminist and/or lesbian attire (complete with pudding-bowl haircut). As her character softened, her outfits became more interesting and elaborate - possibly reaching it's conclusion in Sarah-Jane's final Classic Who story: The Hand of Fear; the episode seemed to deliberately dress her in a pre-school television presenter's outfit and even made fun of her in the script. It’s a good job that she now no longer participates on DVD extras for the Doctor Who range, so we can say whatever the hell we like about her.
Harrison Chase seems inspired by the DC Comics character of Poison Ivy, who champions ecological salvation at the expense of the human population. There has been much criticism that Doctor Who’s baddies set their store out early on, with some form of diabolical scheme, hell-bent of seeing it through strictly because it drives the story, but this isn’t the case with The Seeds of Doom. Chase starts out inspired by the Bond villains of the era (he makes for an interesting pre-cursor to the adversaries in the two Roger Moore films that were about to be released: The Spy Who Loved Me's Karl Stromberg and Moonraker's Hugo Draxx); armed with financial assistance and hired muscle, but over the course of the episodes, he empathises with the Krynoids, almost to the point of psychosis. Their cause becomes his, and is mutated into one of them on an idealistic/psychological level, as surely as Keeler was on a physical level. Character development in Doctor Who villains was rarely as significant or pertinent as it was here, and this is one area where we admit some admiration for the tale. Chase bears more than a striking resemblance - in both physical and sartorial terms - to Warren Teller, the silent parter in the Penn & Teller. Oh, and as awful as his “plant music” was, being the 70s, you can bet that it attracted the attention of prog-rock fans out there. Rick Wakeman must have been so jealous!
One element, which manages to rise above our fairly low opinion of it, is that at least one the villains is painted in shades of grey, rather than the usual black-and-white, which too many expect from the show. Arnold Keeler is a good example, where is spite of his being in the thrall of Harrison Chase, he is reluctant to get his hands dirty in Scorby’s practical, blue collar approach to villainy. It makes his slow transformation from man to plant all the more absorbing, a sharp contrast to the aforementioned Scorby, who seems rooted in two-dimensional villainy. To this end, John Challis does the best he can with the character and shows that there was indeed more to him as an actor than just being the butt of jokes from David Jason for a couple of decades. It's amusing that the actor who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses, the character of which was constantly ridiculed for being infertile (and referred to as a "Jaffa"), would appear in a Doctor Who story entitled The Seeds of Doom. Doubtless Harrison Page would have approved of the title of Boycie's spin-off series. We had been trying to figure out a way of coming up with a pun that incorporated the demise of Challis’ character and the name of a popular labour-saving device found in affordably-priced hotel rooms, but the best we could come up with was the Scorby brown-trouser press...
Speaking of devices which press or otherwise mangle, the use of the compost machine as a way of generating both shock and tension is rather cheap. Ted V Mikels did the same thing a scant four years earlier with The Corpse Grinders, and both contraptions really don’t look as if they are up to the job. Mikels’ gizmo looked like it was constructed from particularly stiff cardboard, but Harrison Chases’ creation seemed as though it would jam if cotton wool founds its way into the mechanism. In any case, it’s an unwelcome throwback to the times of tying a woman to the railroad tracks, as the villain twitches his waxed moustache - so much for the feminist flourishes in Sarah Jane Smith. They set a major sequence of 1973’s Live and Let Die up to use a coffee-grinder in the same way, but fate intervened when they found an alligator farm. Ever wonder why they put so much emphasis on Bond making coffee in his apartment in the movie? Still, Chase has built himself a mechanical marvel: the blades evidently clean themselves after every use.
Well, it’s one thing most fans have always loved, and comes with a number of plus-points. Personally, it left us cold, but we refuse to knife it merely for the sake of it. Ripping things apart for fun is riotously enjoyable, but we’ll only do it when deserved. Seeds of Doom just didn’t jive with us, and that’s it. Right, how about let’s take a look at this here disc.
The Seeds of Doom was shot on lightweight outside broadcast cameras; this is both a blessing and a curse - the blessing is that the original master-tape survived, no lengthy second or third generation film sequences to try and restore. The curse is that the location sequences lose that characteristic quality that only shooting on film can deliver. A fringe benefit is that the image is consistent, with none of the jarring leap between formats, which can catapult you out of the story. Anyway, The Seeds of Doom looks great on DVD, with fairly crisp results and strong colours. We resisted using the term “bloomin’ lovely” on this one, or that the image will give you wood.
Nothing whatsoever to complain about - it sounds perfectly fine, with clear dialogue and Geoffrey Burgon's impressive music score sounds most impressive (you are given the option to listen to it without sound effects or dialogue intruding). Another sterling job, here.
Audio Commentary: With actors Tom Baker, John Challis, Kenneth Gilbert and Michael McStay, producer Philip Hinchcliffe, writer Robert Banks Stewart, replacement designer Roger Murray-Leach and Joggs Camfield (son of the director, the late Duggie Camfield). It's a reasonably lively affair, with Baker being a bit more restrained than usual, but this is probably due to Elisabeth Sladen not being around for him to letch over. It was a nice idea to have Douglas Camfield's son around to participate in this commentary; it allows him to tell some interesting stories about his father that fans hadn’t previously heard, and also for him to hear things from those who worked with him.
Isolated Music: Once again, this option presents the viewer with the option to take in the story with only Geoffrey Burgon's great music score playing.
Subtitle Production Notes: As always, selecting this option presents you with a veritable ticker-tape of fascinating facts, titillating trivia and scintillating script deviations. An interesting emphasis is put on which take numbers you are seeing before your eyes and also gives the reasons why retakes had to be employed.
PodShock: This 37-minute documentary looks at the making of The Seeds of Doom. Featuring interviews with actors John Challis, Kenneth Gilbert and Ian Fairbairn, along with producer Philip Hinchcliffe, writer Robert Banks Stewart, production assistant (and future uber-director) Graeme Harper, original designer Jeremy Bear, design assistant Jan Spoczynski, visual effects designer Richard Conway and composer Geoffrey Burgon. This is a fun and informative look back on the making of this fan-favourite story, with lots of fascinating anecdotes about various problems that arose during the shoot (including one of the guest cast falling ill with a contagious disease - causing the production to be rescheduled and contracts renegotiated). The absence of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen is noticeable, but there are enough participants to help to cover their omission.
Now and Then: We are treated to another in the occasional series that looks at how some of the locations used for Doctor Who have changed over the years. This nine-minute look at the places seen in The Seeds of Doom mainly focuses upon the majestic Athelhampton House, where it shows the grounds in great detail and the transitions between the original location footage and the newly-shot documentary stuff is quite amazing, as the place has barely changed at all in over three decades - well, that's what generally happens with listed building. Oh, there is also a look at what happened to the quarry in Reigate - used to film the Antarctic scenes - well, it wouldn't be Doctor Who without the occasional use of a quarry, now would it...?
Playing in the Green Cathedral: This ten minute piece on the Doctor Who work of composer Geoffrey Burgon is now somewhat of a sombre affair, as Mr Burgon died recently. He talks about his involvement in Doctor Who and the type of scores that he wrote for this story and Terror of the Zygons; Burgon comes across as an engaging person and proud of his work and there are some clips that illustrate some of the methods of scoring for television.
So What Do You Do Exactly?: Graeme Harper is your genial guide through this 14-minutes look at what the roles of various production titles entail. Harper started out on the bottom rung on the production ladder of Doctor Who and worked his way up, so he is the best person to explain all of the duties each post demands. This is illuminating stuff, but most of the positions that existed back then have either been renamed over the years, or the duties spread out to other more recently-created positions. Harper manages to tie this all into the production of The Seeds of Doom, as he was responsible for finding and suggesting Althelhampton House.
Stripped for Action – The Fourth Doctor: Entries in this series on the Doctor’s comic-strip adventures have been released in fairly short order lately, and an examination of the Fourth Doctor's comic escapades are going to be eagerly-awaited by many - this 20 minute segment doesn't disappoint. It charts the sad return to the pages of TV Comic, where the Fourth Doctor had to suffer the indignity of having his head pasted onto Pertwee's body when strips were recycled to save money. It also goes into pleasing detail of how enterprising gentleman - Dez Skinn - took a chance to persuade the commercial arm of the Beeb to let him bring out weekly magazine for Doctor Who. The magazine contained stories with a grander scope, dazzling artistry and more mature subject matter - the rest was history. Contributors for this fond look at a golden era include former Doctor Who Monthly editors Dez Skinn, Gary Russell and Alan Barnes, along with writer Pat Mills, artist Dave Gibbons (yay!) and consultant Jeremy Bentham. This is wonderful stuff, which has a certain nostalgic value for us, as Doctor Who Weekly was first printed around the time that we got into Doctor Who and we certainly remember our eldest brother buying issues of the magazines, which we read very shortly after he had finished with them.
Trail and Continuity: These consist of an off-air trailer for The Seeds of Doom’s first episode and continuity announcements for the fifth. This is nice, nostalgic stuff as always - though only for those old enough to have warm, fuzzy and vague recollections of those times.
Photo Gallery: As ever, this option allows you to view a large number of production, design and publicity photos from the story in question, all accompanied by the music of Geoffrey Burgon and some of sound effects of the show at appropriate moments. It's amusing to see some of the pictures that used to be employed quite frequently in Doctor Who Weekly...
Coming Soon: The last story to be released from Tom Baker's final season to be released on DVD is almost here - Meglos.
PDF Materials: Slip this puppy into your PC and you will be able to access the complete Radio Times Listings and also director Douglas Camfield’s paper edit (or notes, to the uninitiated) for a compilation version of the story in Adobe PDF format.
It's a pity that Elisabeth Sladen now no longer contributes to the Doctor Who DVD releases and her absence here is most certainly felt. The Seeds of Doom will long be held as one of the best amongst Doctor Who fans, even if we don’t hold it in quite as high esteem as others. The extras package, along with a very nice line in video/audio presentation makes this one for the collection. Don’t be rooted to spot, rush out and pick it up for you chlorophyll of classic Tom Baker.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 25th October 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: English, Production Subtitles
Extras: Audio Commentary, Isolated Score, PodShock, What Do You Do?, Now & Then, Playing In His Green Cathedral, Photo Gallery, PDF Files, Coming Soon Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Douglas Camfield
Cast: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Tony Beckley, Boycie from "Fools & Horses"
Length: 144 minutes
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