[10 May 2011]
Ice is the perfect genesis for an alien menace. It’s cold and hard which creates an automatic distance from humanity, and its appearance can be altered. Imagining its adaptability is perhaps its most unsettling characteristic, the knowledge that with just a little push it can change states and create a new set of problems for us humans.
When a team of scientists studying the arctic permafrost discover a grapefruit-sized seed they should know better than to take it back to their lab to study. Indeed, when the seed begins to thaw it splits open and tentacles lash out at the nearest human. The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) are sent by UNIT to investigate, and what they find is a man slowly turning into a plant, “A human being whose blood is turning into vegetable soup,” says the Doctor. The effect is disturbing, evoking the specter of disease and infection through the use of creepy, gelatinous makeup that’s sticky, green and oozing.
The seed, the Doctor says, is a Krynoid, a type of alien vegetation that eats animals, and its been waiting 20,000 years to germinate. There’s safety and isolation and cold in the arctic, but word of the seed’s discovery reaches Harrison Chase (Tony Beckley), a wealthy collector of rare plants who becomes obsessed with adding the seed to his arboretum, even at the cost of every human life on earth.
For much of the story Chase is like a James Bond villain, pulling the strings of henchmen and lieutenants away from the action. He has a frozen, disconnection demeanor that hides obvious madness. Fortunately it doesn’t stay hidden for long. As part of caring for his plants Chase plays them discordant electronic music which he’s composed. He stands on a small dais and turns knobs and dials, keeping one hand on a keyboard and saying, “I could play all day in my green cathedral.” He envisions a world in which plants are the dominant life forms, and, cementing his status as a Bond-worthy villain, he begins his project by feeding the Doctor into a composter. The blades spin wildly, a predicament sure to make the Doctor second guess wearing such a long scarf.
It’s always easy to like Tom Baker’s Doctor, and “The Seeds of Doom” is a great showcase for Baker’s best work. He’s funny and loose, always tastefully chewing scenery or breaking it over the back of a goon. The Doctor even wields a gun, though he never fires it and disposes of it as soon as possible. He’s studious and reserved in one scene and unhinged in another, and always a joy to watch.
The recent passing of Elisabeth Sladen brings her role in Doctor Who as a whole into focus. Here, Sladen is at her best, particularly in scenes with Chase’s head goon, Scorby (John Challis). She plays the damsel in distress, too, but it’s Sarah Jane who rescues the Doctor from the compost.
Awed by the Krynoid’s rapid growth and increasing size, Chase feeds and nurtures it, helping it grow even bigger. Chase’s estate can no longer contain Krynoid, and it lumbers about the grounds roaring, a massive Swamp Thing with tentacles and leaves tangled all over its massive body. Soon it towers over the roof of the manor house, bringing to mind countless other giant beasts in so many movies.
Though the story is great fun, the bonus features are not. They’re dry, uninteresting and unnecessary. The lone exception is “Stripped for Action”, which features the origins of the Doctor Who comic strips and features interviews with comic legends Dez Skinn, Dave Gibbons and Pat Mills. There are also great reproductions of artwork from stories that ran in Doctor Who Weekly as well as the earlier TV Comic.
“The Seeds of Doom” is a good giant monster story with a Night of the Living Dead-style siege. There are themes of conservation and environmental responsibility, but they’re secondary, supplements to all the monster madness. The transformation of a tiny seed into a giant monster is a clear enough message that even tiny problems can grow out of control, and that the way they start may bear little or no resemblance to how they end.