Friday, October 27, 2017

The Thing-a-Thon: Doctor Who: "The Seeds of Doom" (1976)

In Antarctica Camp 3, several scientists -- Moberly (Michael McStay), Winlett (John Gleeson), and Stevenson (Hubert Rees) -- excavate from the ice a mysterious vegetable pod.

Found at a layer that indicates it is more than 20,000 years old, this vegetable pod becomes of interest to the World Ecology Bureau in London. 

The Bureau contacts UNIT, and sends the Doctor (Tom Baker), and Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) to Antarctica to investigate it.

The Doctor determines the pod originated not on Earth, but a distant planet, and orders the scientists to keep it well-guarded until his arrival. His orders are disobeyed, however, and one of the scientists is attacked by the pod and assimilated it by it. The pod is actually a malevolent alien life-form called a Krynoid.

A “galactic weed,” the Krynoid travels the universe dispersing seeds to habitable planets, and then destroying all animal life there. Now it is a race against time: can the Doctor stop the Krynoid from spreading before it takes over all plant life on Earth?

A millionaire and plant-lover named Harrison Chase (Tony Beckley), is secretly working against the Time Lord to help an adult Krynoid germinate and rule our world.

The thirteenth season of classic Doctor Who (1963-1989) culminated with “The Seeds of Doom,” a serial from Robert Banks Stewart that is clearly inspired both by John Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” and the 1951 film, The Thing.  The (excellent) narrative re-purposes settings and characters from the history of The Thing productions and literary works.

As is the case in both “Who Goes There” and The Thing, an alien life-form that is buried in the ice (whether at Antarctica, or the North Pole, like the Hawks/Nyby film), is unearthed here, revealing an alien menace. 

Similarly, the Krynoid is plant or vegetable-based life in “The Seeds of Doom,” and as you may recall, the Thing (James Arness) in the fifties film is characterized as an “intellectual carrot” made of vegetable matter.

Mind boggling…

It’s intriguing how “The Seeds of Doom” adopts different aspects of The Thing’s narrative across the decades. From the novella, we get here the idea of an evil contaminating our life form and altering the shape of a human being, which is then able to infect others similarly.  And, the larger threat is of a new and inimical life-form taking over the Earth, eliminating the human race in the process.  In the case of this Doctor Who tale, the Krynoid escapes Antarctica, and gets to Great Britain, where things get out of hand quickly.

From the 1950's film, primarily, “The Seeds of Doom” takes the aforementioned nature of the monster (vegetable rather than animal), and the idea of a possibly-mad ally helping it along.  In the movie, Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) -- whether from lack of sleep, bad judgement, or poor character -- attempts to propagate a “Thing” garden at the base, and preserve the “wise” being (despite its readily obvious violent qualities). Here, Harrison Chase, an eccentric millionaire, chooses intelligent plant life over his own species, and plays, essentially, the same role in the drama. He is the turncoat to his own species, deluded about what role he would play in the “New Order.”

“The Seeds of Doom” has always been one of my favorite Doctor Who serials of the Tom Baker era. The first sections, set in Antarctica are claustrophobic and terrifying, and the nature of the Krynoid threat is well-established.  For a low-budget show, some of the effects still manage to be creepy and disgusting.

Meanwhile, the last chapters of the serial -- with an adult Krynoid towering over Chase’s mansion, and harnessing the power the Earth’s vegetation -- plays like some gonzo (and thoroughly enjoyable) kaiju movie.

One other element worthy of discussion here involves the presence of the Doctor, the protagonist. In other versions of The Thing, characters such as McReady/MacReady, Kate Lloyd, or Pat Hendry have to play “catch-up” to understand the situation and the nature of the threat the Earth faces.

In “The Seeds of Doom,” the Doctor -- with all of his knowledge of time, space, and alien life-forms -- has an advantage they didn’t. He knows all about the nemesis he must contend with, and is ready for battle, almost from the beginning.

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