Saturday, 19 October 2013

Story 85 - The Seeds of Doom

In which scientists working at the South Pole discover a strange plant gourd buried deep in the permafrost. They defrost it and find that it is only dormant. A tendril emerges and one of the men is infected. He rapidly mutates. Sir Colin Thackeray of the World Ecology Bureau seeks help from UNIT and the Doctor and Sarah travel to the Antarctic. One of Thackeray's officials - Dunbar - sells information about the find to the millionaire Harrison Chase, who is obsessed with plantlife in all its forms. Chase sends a scientist named Keeer, and his security man, Scorby, to the base to steal the pod - using any means necessary. The Doctor realises that the infected scientist is turning into a Krynoid. These carnivorous plant-based lifeforms originate on another world. Fully grown they can measure 50 feet in height. When they germinate, they produce thousands of pairs of pods to blanket the planet, whilst others drift through space to colonise other worlds. The Doctor finds the second pod buried close to where the first was found. As the infected scientist - now a humanoid Krynoid - escapes and goes on the rampage, Scorby and Keeler steal the second pod and sabotage the base - blowing it up and leaving the Doctor and Sarah for dead.

Back in the UK, Dunbar informs Chase that the Doctor and Sarah have been rescued. The stolen pod is soon traced, after Chase tries to abduct them. They find a painting in the boot of their would-be abductor's car, and the artist, Amelia Ducat, confirms she sold it to Chase. The millionaire lives in a huge mansion in extensive grounds - protected by his own private army. Breaking in, Sarah is captured and Chase decides that she would make an ideal host for the Krynoid. The Doctor saves her and, in the confusion, Keeler becomes infected instead. The scientist mutates rapidly and soon breaks free. Dunbar, remorseful of his treachery, goes to the house and is killed by the creature - now a large tentacled mass. The Doctor escapes and goes to see Sir Colin, who calls in UNIT. The Brigadier is away, and Major Beresford is in charge. He offers the Doctor some classified new plant defoliant, and prepares an assault team.

Chase is quite insane, and has fallen under the Krynoid's mental influence. The creature can also influence native flora - causing plants to attack humans for miles around. The Doctor and UNIT Sergeant Henderson use the defoliant to break in and rescue Sarah and Scorby. The Krynoid soon threatens to crush the house. Beresford's attack using a laser weapon fails. Scorby panics and makes a run for it. Falling into a lake, the weeds attack him and he drowns. Chase kills Henderson, disposing of the body in his composting machine. He tries to kill the Doctor by pushing him into the machine, but it is the crazed millionaire who perishes. UNIT sends in bombers, and the Doctor and Sarah flee the house just as the Krynoid is about to germinate. The Krynoid is blown up.

This six part adventure was written by Robert Banks Stewart, and was broadcast between 31st January and 6th March, 1976. It marks the final story of Season 13, and is the final Doctor Who adventure to be directed by the late, great Douglas Camfield.
A new story structure is introduced - whereby six part stories are split into two sections - two parts in one setting and four parts set elsewhere. Robert Holmes felt this was the only way to sustain a story over this episode length. The first two episodes of this story are clearly influenced by the classic Sci-Fi film The Thing From Another World (1951) - remade in 1982, and given a prequel in 2011. Scientists in an Arctic base find an alien buried in the ice. It is a carnivorous, plant-based creature. The film derives from a novella called Who Goes There?, written by John W. Campbell (writing as Don A. Stuart).
The subsequent UK-based episodes 3 - 6 are heavily influenced by an episode of ATV's The Avengers - Man-Eater of Surrey Green which was broadcast in 1965. In this a crashed spacecraft inadvertently brings an intelligent plant-form from space to Earth. A plant-obsessed millionaire falls under its malign influence, and it can make native flora hostile.

The story has a particularly high level of violence - realistic, adult violence at that. The Doctor, in particular, can be quite brutal, waving guns and throwing punches. Stewart and Camfield did come from TV thriller / cop show backgrounds after all. Mrs Whitehouse also complained about people being throttled by "obscene vegetable matter".
Camfield assembles an excellent cast. Principal villain Harrison Chase is played to perfection by Tony Beckley, who sadly passed away at the relatively young age of 51 just as his career in the US was taking off.
He goes from suave and cultured to homicidally insane in a matter of moments. The brutal Scorby is played by John Challis - most famous for his comedic role of dodgy used car salesman Boycie in Only Fools And Horses and its spin-off The Green, Green Grass.
Other performances of note include Sylvia Coleridge as the eccentric plant artist Miss Ducat, who used to "man" ack-ack guns in WWII, and Michael Barrington as Sir Colin - who at one point looks as if he might just take up the Doctor's offer of a trip in the TARDIS. I can see a Big Finish spin-off series called "WEB" in which Miss Ducat and Sir Colin solve plant-based mysteries around the Home Counties.
Sadly, the last of the UNIT stories features none of the regulars. John Acheson's Major Beresford is rather wooden.
Episode endings are:

  1. The infected scientist Winlett has now turned into a humanoid Krynoid. He attacks and kills fellow scientist Moberley.
  2. The Doctor and Sarah flee the power unit just as Scorby's bomb detonates - destroying the entire base.
  3. The Krynoid pod opens and a tendril snakes out - with Sarah its intended victim...
  4. The Krynoid kills Dunbar, then moves to attack the Doctor and Sarah...
  5. Chase traps the Doctor and his friends in the courtyard, as the giant Krynoid looms over the rooftop.
  6. The TARDIS takes the Doctor and Sarah back to Antarctica. But have they already been, or are they still to arrive?

Overall, an excellent six parter. Splitting the action into two distinct parts certainly helps. If you are going to be influenced by other sources, make sure they are good ones. A very good monster - one that deserves a return - and some great performances.
Things you might like to know:

  • The humanoid version of the Krynoid is, of course, a reused Axon costume painted green. Costume designer Barbara lane worked on both stories.
  • The closing sequence of the TARDIS arriving in Antarctica has led many people to think there is a mistake in the plotting. The Doctor and Sarah did not use the ship to travel to the South Pole in Episode 1. This can be easily explained if we take it that the Doctor originally intended to use the TARDIS - setting the course co-ordinates - then changed his mind. Just look at the detour they took getting back to UNIT HQ after defeating the Zygons.
  • Production had to be rearranged after Kenneth Gilbert (Dunbar) fell ill. Michael McStay (Moberley) suffered a car accident between the location filming and the studio. Fortunately, his beard perfectly hid his injuries.
  • Episode 1 went missing just before transmission - having been misfiled. A hasty re-edit of episode two was planned to make it the opener, but fortunately the missing tape was found 
  • It had received a few tweaks over the years, but this marks the final appearance of the original TARDIS Police Box prop, designed by Peter Brachaki back in 1963.
  • Season 13 was supposed to close with The Hand of Fear - but Bob Baker & Dave Martin's scripts were not ready.
  • Whilst Douglas Camfield never directed another story, he did try his hand at writing one. He had an idea for a desert-set Foreign Legion tale. It would have been Sarah's final adventure, and he planned on killing her off.

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