When scientists unearth two seed pods deep in the arctic permafrost, the Doctor and Sarah Jane rush to investigate. Soon the Doctor’s worst fears are confirmed: the pods house Krynoids, one of the most parasitic and dangerous life forms in the universe. One of the creatures has already infected a scientist, and how a hideous monster is rampaging through the base, intent on total destruction.
When the second pod is stolen amidst the escalating carnage, it is transported into the hands of insane botanist Harrison Chase. From his mansion in England, the plant-obsessed Chase will allow the pod to split open. Both the ruthless millionaire and the rapidly growing carnivorous Krynoid are intent on infecting and destroying our entire world.
Tom Baker is the Doctor in The Seeds of Doom.
X X X X X
Doctor Who – Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith – Elisabeth Sladen
Harrison Chase – Tony Beckley
Scorby – John Challis
Arnold Keeler – Mark Jones
John Stevenson – Hubert Rees
Charles Winlett – John Gleeson
Derek Moberley – Michael McStay
Richard Dunbar – Kenneth Gilbert
Sir Colin Thackeray – Michael Barrington
Hargreaves – Seymour Green
Amelia Ducat – Sylvia Coleridge
Guard Leader – David Masterman
Doctor Chester – Ian Fairbairn
Chauffeur – Alan Chuntz
Guard – Harry Fielder
Major Beresford – John Acheson
Sergeant Henderson – Ray Barron
Krynoid Voice – Mark Jones
Producer: Phillip Hinchcliffe
Writer: Robert Stewart Banks
Director: Douglas Camfield
Original Broadcast: 31 January – 6 March 1976
X X X X X
The Seeds of Doom is serial neatly divided into two sections. It packs a fast moving script, great characters backed with solid acting, and some of the most disturbing images in the history of Doctor Who, all of these coming together to provide one of the best stories not only of Tom Baker’s run, but in the entirety of Doctor Who’s time on television.
The World Ecology Bureau has something that might be of interest to the Doctor. A scientific expedition to Antarctica has discovered some sort of plant pod buried in the permafrost. The Doctor identifies it as extraterrestrial in origin and heads to the research station, Sarah Jane Smith at his side. The Doctor’s not the only one taking a trip to the frozen continent. Environmentalist millionaire Harrison Chase has dispatched the hired gun Scorby to retrieve the pod for his own personal collection. But there’s another player in this drama – the pod itself contains the genetic material to grow a Krynoid, an intergalactic weed that quickly overruns a planet’s ecosystem while consuming all animal life in the process. All the pod needs to gestate is a little bit of heat and a warm-blooded host…
The Hand of Fear was supposed to be the six-part season finale for Doctor Who’s thirteenth season, but Philip Hinchcliffe was concerned that there were too many problems with the serial that couldn’t be resolved before production began. With that in mind, Hinchcliffe turned to Robert Stewart Banks, who had penned Terror of the Zygons, to write a back-up story in case The Hand of Fear couldn’t be brought to production in time. Banks ended up submitting his script, called The Seeds of Doom, in an incredibly short amount of time. Even with the quick turnaround, both Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes were very impressed with the script. The Hand of Fear was pushed back to season 14 (eventually becoming that season’s second story) and The Seeds of Doom went into production as the season finale.
There is a lot to love about Banks’ script. It continues the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era’s tendency to draw upon other stories and genres, cherry picking the best aspects of each and combining them together. The Seeds of Doom pulls from Howard Hawks’ classic sci-fi movie The Thing From Another World with its Antarctic setting (with an assist from HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness), and combines it with the alien body horror of Nigel Keane’s The Quatermass Experiment, throwing in a hint of The Avengers along the way as it borrows from an episode where an alien plant takes over the mind of an insane aristocrat. There’s no winking references or shout-outs to these stories as there would be in today’s meta-heavy storytelling. The Seeds of Doom simply takes the best parts and combines them into something horrifying. And indeed, Mary Whitehouse had a field day with this one.
Strangulation – by hand, by claw, by obscene vegetable matter – is the latest gimmick, sufficiently close up so they get the point. And just for a little variety show the children how to make a Molotov Cocktail.
It’s strange that Whitehouse focuses on the violence within The Seeds of Doom, considering there’s no moment of extreme violence like the gunshot wound and blood spray from the previous story, The Brain of Morbius. To me, the singular most horrifying moment of the story came when a UNIT soldier was fed into a compost machine, complete with a close-up of its spinning teeth mixed with an uncaring Chase staring callously at the results. You don’t see anything, but the direction from Douglas Camfield (this would be his last directing job on Doctor Who, having directed eight stories going all the way back to The Crusade) puts the viewer as close to the terror as one can get without actually being smothered in vegetation. The concept of being attacked by plant life is a bit silly, but Camfield plays is completely straight – branches are breaking through windows, Sarah Jane is wrapped up in vines, and Scorby is drowned after being held underwater by large leaves. The special effects crew does a very good job at making it look like the plants are alive and truly trying to kill all humans. And then there’s the true horror of The Seeds of Doom – the slow transformation of two characters into Krynoids.
In Planet of Evil, the transformation of the lead scientist into a Hyde-like creature occurred with a bit of facial makeup and glowing red eyes. The Seeds of Doom goes the opposite direction. Once infected by the Krynoid, the infection takes hold slowly, spreading across the victim’s body like Kudzu weed. Camfield and the special effect crew don’t pull any punches, lingering on the infected areas so the viewer can see the full effects of the Krynoid. It’s very unsettling, especially since the victims are still alive and full aware of their decaying mental and physical state the whole time until their final transformation ala the infected from the video game The Last of Us. To me, that’s much more horrifying than Molotov Cocktails or a Krynoid being blown-up.
The supporting cast is this one is wide and varied, and to touch upon all of them would take too much space. I can say that there’s nary a weak link in the bunch. The crew of the Antarctic science station, the servants of Harrison Chase, the World Ecology Bureau, even the non-Brigadier/Benton/Yates UNIT squad all add to the story by their presence. The two Krynoid victims lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. Winlett is the first to be infected by the pod, and John Gleeson (who played a Thal soldier in Genesis of the Daleks) plays him as confused, not knowing what’s happening to him and easily succumbing to the weed, becoming a violent monster in the process. On the other side, Mark Jones’ Keeler, a quasi-moral scientist under Chase’s employ, knows exactly what’s happening to him, begging Chase and Sarah Jane for help as he slowly becomes a Krynoid…and beyond.
Tony Beckley (best known for the original 1969 version of The Italian Job) starts off as a bit camp, almost like a scenery chewing 1970’s era Bond villain with Chase’s talk about plants being superior than humanity and how the trimming of a bonsai tree is akin to bodily mutilation. As the story progresses however, Chase becomes much more chilling. Beginning with his refusal to take an infected Keeler to the hospital so he can observe the effects of the Krynoid’s infection, Chase slowly loses his emotions, dispassionately talking about how the world will be made perfect once covered by the Krynoid and feeding a UNIT soldier into the compost machine (and trying to feed Sarah Jane at one point) without a second thought.
The highlight of the secondary cast is easily Scorby, Harrison Chase’s hired gun, played by John Challis who is best known for playing the part of Boycie in the long-running BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses. Scorby is the typical mercenary in that he’s tough and all gung-ho when things are going his way and bullies his victims when he has the upper hand upon them, but easily falls to pieces when the chips are down. Challis plays the role with such relish. He doesn’t get the one-liners or high speeches that other characters do but Scorby still commands the screen every time he’s on it. He’s the “Total Package” when it comes to henchman, and I was actually kind of bummed when he was drowned at the hands of Kyrnoid-controlled leaves. And I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.
There are still a few damsel in distress moments (the third episode cliffhanger is a particular nail biter) for Sarah Jane Smith, but for the most part Elisabeth Sladen’s character holds her own against the secondary cast. Her scenes opposite Scorby are a particular delight as both of them go back and forth, Scorby showing her no respect and Sarah Jane showing him no fear. By this point in her travels with the Fourth Doctor Sarah Jane is being written as almost the Doctor’s equal, or as close as a human could be to a Time Lord. The Seeds of Doom is a very good capsule that captures the magic that made the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane one of the most memorable duos in the show’s history. As a note, this story was to be the last story for Sarah Jane Smith, as Lis Sladen’s popularity was leading her to having to turn down more and more television roles as well as a part in a movie. However, she stayed on for seven more months because of her interest in filming the next serial, season fourteen’s opener The Masque of Mandragora, and would depart at the end of the following story, the finally produced The Hand of Fear.
The Fourth Doctor isn’t really concerned about the World Ecology Bureau until the possibility comes up that the plant pod might be extraterrestrial. Then he leaps into action. It’s a sign of Hinchcliffe’s efforts to fully separate the Doctor and his time as a scientific advisor to UNIY. Indeed, this would be the last time UNIT officially showed up in a Doctor Who story until 1989 in the Seventh Doctor story Battlefield. Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor in this story shows just how concerned he is at the possible destruction of Earth at the hands of the Krynoid. Even his attempts at humor come off as deadly serious (”If we don’t find that pod before it germinates, it’ll be the end of everything. Everything, you understand? Even your pension!”). There’s also a bit more violence on the part of this Doctor that we’ve seen in previous stories, including a fist fight with Chase to save Sarah Jane and his skylight entrance at the beginning of the fourth episode. We do get a little bit of padding as the Doctor will often escape from his captors by shouldering through them and taking off down the garden path, but it’s not enough to truly be noticed as Baker keeps the story’s energy up, including his own banter with Scorby (”I warn you Doctor, I’m not a patient man.” “Well your candor does you credit!”).
Cygnia – Let’s just get this out of the way now: Harrison Chase is one creepy SOB. The gloves, the suits, the 70’s White Guy ‘Fro. As a kid, I always wondered why he didn’t choose to get himself infected by the Krynoid, given his plant obsession. Then again, narcissists never do like to relinquish control.
Take note, M. Night, this is how plants are supposed to be terrifying. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide…
Also as a kid, I remember getting giddy in finding out that “crinoid” was a Real Thing here on Earth (actually a type of marine animal instead of a plant).
But again, the main thing that stick with me? The fact that the infected looked like they were pineapple men!
When I first saw that The Seeds of Doom was a six-parter, I cringed a bit. How the heck could a story about killer plants cover six episodes? I was pleasantly surprised as the first two episodes set in the Antarctic rolled right into the final four episode set in an English manor without any let up. Fast-paced, packed with great performances, and absolutely horrifying, there’s a reason The Seeds of Doom is rightly considered a classic story after all these years.
– Due to the quick turnaround on this story, the costume for the humanoid form of the Krynoid is an Axon costume from the Third Doctor story The Claws of Axos that was spray-painted green.
– After years of use and abuse, the TARDIS prop used for its exterior finally collapsed, apparently with Baker and Sladen inside! A new exterior box was created for the following story.
– Robert Stewart Banks passed away on 14 January, 2016. RIP.
Cobi’s Synopsis – The Seeds of Doom borrows from various sources to provide a serial with great performances across the board as well as some of the most skin-crawling images in the history of the show.
Next up – Between palace intrigue, the machinations of a sinister cult and a rogue fragment of Helix energy, the Fourth Doctor and Sarah have their hands full…
Tom Baker is the Doctor in…The Masque of Mandragora.