Season 13, January to March 1976
‘I could play all day in my green cathedral’
I bet you could, duckie.
'The Seeds Of Doom' is hard as nails. It’s often regarded as a ‘classic’ Doctor Who. I would argue that it’s not a classic ‘anything’ as such, and in fact, it could be argued that it’s not really Doctor Who either.
It has been intimated that Robert Banks Stewart thought he was writing a script for ‘The Avengers’ rather than a six part Who. Based on a number of scenes you could come to that conclusion. Key to this view is the Amelia Ducat character. She’s the only other female character apart from Sarah and they both represent different versions of feminist principles in the story. We learn that Amelia is thoroughly enjoying the turn of events she’s involved in and hilariously reminds us that she manned ack-ack guns in Folkestone during the war whilst Sarah is not averse to tearing strips off ‘real man’ Scorby and running rings round his henchmen. Both characters are pro-active, resourceful and don’t stand any messing around from their masculine counterparts. Sort of Emma Peel but without the judo and throwing stunt men across the set. Amelia is also a rather smashing Wildean influence in the story which again nods to the sort of wit you would find in a typical Avengers episode. The delightful scene in which she and the Doctor discuss her painting is more of an homage to Wilde than to the Steed and Emma capers but the absurdist British wit is much the same.
‘We found it in a car boot’
‘A car boot?’
‘Yes, a Daimler car boot’
‘The car is immaterial!’
It’s real flash of playfulness in an otherwise terribly grim affair and as a sliver of Wildean wit it also counterpoints with the effete Harrison Chase who is not averse to sprouting camp quips along the way. Beats everyone else sprouting green tendrils, I suspect.
Personally, I think the way the story has been produced has more in common with ‘The Sweeney’ or ‘The Professionals’ than ‘The Avengers’. I’m sure Camfield thinks he directing a gritty Regan and Carter episode with a dash of ‘Day Of The Triffids’ thrown in. He even has John Challis as Scorby and Tony Beckley as Chase. Both of them were in the ‘The Sweeney’ and the series itself was revolutionary in the way it portrayed ‘hard men’ - policemen, their informers and the criminals they were after. It blurred the boundaries and also was an interesting observation of ‘real men’ under pressure. Just like this then.
Camfield seems to have a penchant for essaying such men – whether it’s the Brigade-Leader in ‘Inferno’ or Scorby in this. Both flex their muscles repeatedly only to be seen cracking under the pressure towards the end of the story. If this is ‘The Sweeney’ via Doctor Who then it may go some way in explaining many of the brutally violent set-pieces. There’s an awful lot of gun-weilding, the Doctor included, and much fisty-cuffs, again even the Doctor punches an assailant in the face twice. To quote Rose, ‘You can really smell the testosterone’.
Along with the macho posing, we also get the extreme body horror of the man-Krynoid transformations. They're pretty visceral and effective, full of well-played suffering and quite disturbing. And if you notice, the men who are transformed are passive, non-aggressive types. Keeler (a wonderfully nervy performance from Mark Jones ) is only a mercenary by proxy. He’s a scientist just like Winlet and both are victims of a rampant mercenary masculinity – the humans and the alien. Does the Krynoid therefore behave as a transformative catalyst, changing reasonable and intelligent men into aggressive, world dominating galactic weeds? Is the Krynoid machismo on a grand scale?
For me, Camfield is here obsessed with ‘what makes a man a man’. On the one hand he has mercenary, macho males like Scorby and strangely, and rather uncharacteristically, the Doctor and has a fine time trying to decipher what makes men like Scorby tick but on the other he has passive, sensitive types like Keeler and ultimately, the villain, Harrison Chase.
Chase is a very interesting character. Is he perhaps the first obviously ‘gay’ villain in the series thus far? The brilliant Tony Beckley ushers in several additional influences, having played Camp Freddie in ‘The Italian Job’ and a villain in another film that also permeates this story with its influence, ‘Get Carter’ (the fight between the Doctor and the chauffeur in the deserted sand pit/quarry is a visual echo). Chase is obsessed about his own nature and this is expressed through his fetish about plant-life. Towards the end of the story, when finally possessed by the Krynoid, he literally comes out of the closet and says, ‘At last I can join a world I’ve always wanted to join. One of beauty, colour and sensitivity’. If that isn’t a coming out speech, then Scorby’s a big girl’s blouse after all. One can also take a similar view to that postulated by Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ in which the forces of nature (the birds) are seen as explosions of aggressive feminity (the mother-in-law psychically attacking the Tippi Hedren character, Melanie, for even daring to take her son away from the family unit). Is Chase, as a closeted gay man, using the Krynoid to activate his fear/disgust at the macho men he has surrounded himself with and that he has hidden behind and to become the ultimate wall flower?
The plants are symbolic of roots and primal forces, plunging into the Underworld, where the dead and the past are buried in layer upon layer. This eruption of forces is akin to unconscious drives bursting to the surface of reality and a flowering of creative energy. The two pods could be seen as sperm drops that fertilise the unconscious realms and throw light on the true nature of Scorby and of Chase. Both seem to go through a rite of passage as a result of the Krynoid’s development.
You could also compound the eruption of primal forces with Chase's knob twiddling on the synthesiser. One would expect something pastoral and soothing to serenade the plant world with but Chase gives them a discordant, atonal symphony. No wonder they get stroppy.
Finally, what of the Doctor? The Doctor (in his current persona) acts atypically here. He thumps people, brandishes a gun, leaps through skylights and tears a strip or two off several civil servants. But he also tends to stand back and quite merrily allows UNIT to get in there and bomb the Krynoid out of existence. It is the Doctor’s ambivalence, his sense of the inevitable, that’s hard to reconcile here. Sarah is always busy defending him as an exemplar of the heroic to the cynical Scorby but he’s being so atypical here that it’s hard to agree with her.
Overall, we have a real curate’s egg of ideas, themes and actions that really shouldn’t work. But Camfield deftly manages it all, makes it look grim and gritty with it all being shot on OB video and just when the man in the rubber suit threatens to bring the whole lot toppling down, he gets Geoffrey Burgon to ram home the conviction of the actors and shores it all up with haunting incidental music. The miniatures are really good too, the opening shot of the helicopter at the Antarctic base through to the Krynoid sitting on top of Chase’s mansion are well executed. They even get away with the CSO shots of the Krynoid suit with the OB exteriors of the mansion.
It’s clearly Robert Banks Stewart’s idea of Doctor Who with some obvious input from Holmes and Hinchcliffe. At the time it contributed to Mary Whitehouse’s concerted attack on the programme and she might have had a point – the notorious ‘how to make a Molotov cocktail’ scene and the Doctor’s sudden penchant for breaking the necks of thugs could be seen as imitative behaviour. Plus add in the machismo, the guns, the nasty body horror transformations, that composting machine and it’s a relief when Amelia Ducat does camp it up for ten minutes!
It might not be what we’d like to think of as Doctor Who but it’s gripping, grim and played to the hilt with conviction. It sticks out as being much grimmer from the rest of the season and the series won’t be as grim as this for a long time. At least until Camfield protégé Graeme Harper makes ‘The Caves Of Androzani’.
THE SEEDS OF DOOM BBC Video VHS (BBCV 5377 Cert U -deleted)
Doctor Who is copyright BBC. No infringement intended.
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
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