Classic Series Review
The Seeds of Doom
Staring Tom Baker as the Doctor, Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith
Director: Douglas Camfield
Alright, I was not planning on doing another Doctor Who review for a while, but this little fella just came in the mail the other day, and to be honest I have been deriving a ton of fun from watching it over the last few days, so I felt it was worth my temporary ban to temporarily review it, temporarily, of course.
The Plot: This is a long episode, so I am going to try to keep the summary to the important points, and get on to the DVD special features as quick as I can.
At a research station in Antarctica, a group of researchers turn up a mysterious pod of unknown origins. They take it back to base, and radio back to England to share the discovery. There, two men from the world ecology bureau show 4th Doctor Tom Baker pictures of the pod. The two men think little of it, but the Doctor seems strangely worried, and insists on leaving as soon as possible to investigate. He also warns the men not to let anyone touch the pod until he arrives.
As the Doctor prepares to leave, one of the men, Richard Dunbar (played by Kenneth Gilbert) spirits away to the mansion of the flora obsessed millionaire Harrison Chase, played brilliantly by actor Tony Beckley (whom many might recognize from the 1969 film The Italian Job) Chase is fascinated with the idea of owning an extraterrestrial plant, and immediately dispatches two men to get it. They are Scorby, a thuggish but strangely eloquent mercenary, and Keeler, a nervous and ill-fated botanist. Now, why a millionaire who is obsessed with plants needs a mercenary for hire on the payroll is beyond me, but he also has a home patrolled by armed guards, so who am I to judge?
You can tell this is a serious episode. I’m wearing my serious face.
Arriving in Antarctica, the Doctor discovers one of the crew has been infected by a mysterious vine that came shooting out of the pod. The Doctor quickly identifies the pod as Krynoid, and goes out into the ice fields to find the second pod he knows must be there. While he and Sarah Jane search, Scorby and Keeler arrive and pretend to be lost. They make themselves cozy, planning on staying until their plane can leave again. While the Doctor and Sarah Jane try to deal with the crewman who is ill, Scorby and Keeler begin making plans to find, and steal, the now useless first pod.
After much running about, from bad guys and Krynoid, The Doctor and Sarah manage to narrowly avoid being blown up by Scorby and Keeler who have themselves managed to locate and steal the second pod, and escape the base leaving the Doctor for dead.
Upon arriving home, the Doctor finds himself the target of a deadly assassin (heh, Doctor Who joke) who fails to kill the Doctor, but does lead him to an eccentric old woman, who in turn leads the Doctor and Sarah to Chase. What follows is classic Who, with the inevitable Doctor vs. Madman speech, where in the Doctor explains how terrible their plan is, and the Madman (Chase) ignores the Doctor. This of course leads to the villain’s eventual downfall. Just once I wish they would listen to him. Now that would be a surprising episode. The Doctor shows up, explains how terrible their plan is, and they agree and leave. Hardly thrilling, I know, but definitely new.
In the end, the Doctor and Sarah manage to escape from killer vines and a vicious wood chipper, as well as defeat the villain, and save the world from giant, killer plants. And the episode ends with a fun Tardis misjump leading Sarah Jane into the snow in her swimsuit, and the Doctor with a pun. I’m glossing over a lot, including the Doctor’s fight scene and Sarah’s verbal jousting with Scorby, but I don’t want to give too much away. Trust me, there are a lot of great lines and fun surprises in this episode.
In my opinions this is one of the best scripts of the Tom Baker era. It contains all of the elements of what made Baker great, without skewing too far one way or the other. The plot is straight forward, but with depth and subtlety to it, and the actors take the material seriously, which is always important in an episode like this.
This episode has all of the classic Who Elements, including, but not limited to:
1. Evil alien menace that does not appear threatening until it is too late
2. Danger only the Doctor can see, but quickly shown to others
3. Eccentric super villain with his own mad schemes
4. Nervous scientist who keep telling super villain they are insane
5. Sarah Jane trapped and screaming
6. Doctor caught in machine that might kill him
7. Exploding models
8. Mutated Humans
9. Brutal henchmen
10. UNIT soldiers
And that’s just what you’d expect. You also have a Doctor who is, in this episode, much more subdued than normally. Not we’re missing his usual quirks and goofiness, but in a lot of ways this episode reminds me of another six-parter, Genesis of the Daleks. Baker is serious and focused in the episode, and while jokes are made, you can tell how dangerous he considers the threat by how seriously he takes it. He really strikes a nice balance in this story that shows what a good actor Baker really could be.
The rest of the cast is also superb. Liz Sladen is, of course, the greatest companion ever to travel with the Doctor (sorry Adric) and does an excellent job here as well. I know I have watched classic Who with several friends who complain that all Sarah Jane does is get herself trapped so the Doctor can rescue her, and while I agree that happens a lot, there is a lot more to her character than just getting stuck. When you watch the scenes between her and Scorby, a mercenary for hire who would just as soon shoot someone than talk to them, you really get an appreciation for Sarah’s spunk and determination. She holds her own in all of her scenes, and has no problem standing up for herself.
The rest of the cast is fantastic as well, and this episode really feels like it has some major gravitas because of that. There are few moments that make one groan, and even fewer where the viewer is bored. In a word, it’s fantastic.
This episode does have some kind of cheesy effect for the modern audience, and yes, you can occasionally see the sets wobble in the background, but that’s really part of the charm. To keep it in perspective, pick up one of the Doctor Who DVDs that has new, redone special effects, or watch the rerelease of Star Trek with the new effects. As bad as the effects look today, with newer effects it looks even worse. Just enjoy the campy charm, and stop worrying.
This DVD is so packed with extras they had to include a second disk. Not only do you get commentary on each episode, several of which include Tom Baker himself, you also get info track subtitles that reveal fun facts about each episode, a feature on the making of the episode, a special on Doctor Who comics in the 70’s, a feature on the music of the episode, and even a tour of the property used in filming. All in all you have at least 10 solid hours of quality viewing here, much with repeat watching value.
Packaging: One thing that does irk me just a bit is that occasionally in England they release special sets of the Doctor’s adventures in collectable boxes. With a feature like this, a 6 part episode with 2 full discs, it would be neat if they could have done a special edition box. As is, it is pretty standard, like the other releases, and contains no inset material, which is also disappointing.
Still, it’s a nice picture on the front, but it’s nothing to write home about.
Two disks? Amazing!
Commentary track: 9/10
Bonus features: 8/10
Total score: 8.5/10
New, this DVD will run you about 28 bucks on Amazon. Not cheap, but at the same time well worth it. Even the casual classic Who fan will find this episode a treat. This one is definitely a buy.