Friday, April 23, 2021
In this episode of animated series, Star Blazers (1979), The Argo’s energy transmission unit fails upon the vessel’s departure from Jupiter. To become functional again, the battleship now requires special “titanium” crystals only found on Saturn’s moon, Titan, an inhospitable, frozen world.
The Argo deploys small mining crafts to the icy surface, with Wildstar, Nova and IQ9 all participating in the recovery mission. Unfortunately, the Gamilons learn of the expedition, and deploy space tanks to run off the Star Force. IQ9 lifts and destroys one such tank, and Wildstar escapes from captivity after finding an operating hand-gun in the ice.
Incredibly, the gun belongs to Wildstar’s dead brother, Alex. Derek, Nova and IQ9 soon also locate Alex’s crashed ship -- now a derelict -- the Paladin. The heroes manage a return to the Argo before being captured again, and Wildstar wonders if his brother, even in death, is still looking after him.
Only 359 days remain until the extinction of all life on Earth…
“I see it would be hard to be human,” IQ9 notes in this episode, and that’s very much the point of the story. Here, Derek unexpectedly finds evidence of his brother’s death, and must come to terms with it. He is told by Avatar that Alex “survives” in him, and in “the Star Force” but the episode nonetheless carries a heavy emotional wallop. One of the final scene finds Wildstar and Captain Avatar talking about what Wildstar found on the planet, and a single tear drop falls from Avatar’s face. I wondered if he was crying for Alex Wildstar, who gave his life to save the Earth flagship, or for his only son, who also died in the Battle of Pluto.
Captain Avatar has been my favorite character on the series thus far, but Wildstar grew on me a bit in this episode, in part because his discovery of Alex’s hand-gun and the Paladin is so damned unexpected. A viewer definitely shares his sense of surprise at the discovery.
So far, Wildstar has seemed -- at least to me – hard-headed, impulsive and temperamental. This episode shows a bit more shading than that, and I appreciate it. I know that Star Blazers is actually his “hero’s journey,” so I’m watching his maturation closely.
Once again, the visuals in Star Blazers are quite dynamic, and even beautiful. There’s a shot I absolutely love here of the icy planet surface as the Argo suddenly becomes visible, moving into the frame, overhead, above mountains. It’s as though the great ship has been obscured in thick mist or fog, only to break through that barrier and emerge clearly. This composition while being quite beautiful, also “sells” Argo’s size. She’s a huge ship.
The most emotional visual section of the episode, however, involves a montage of the derelict Paladin on the ice cliff. A variety of shots show reveal the destroyed ship alone in the ice, an image of isolation and loneliness. On the last final withdraw from the ship, we see the ship from Wildstar's perspective as the Paladin seems to blend into the ice itself, a lost memory. It's haunting.
I also really admired the final flyby of Argo in this episode. As the ship goes by, Captain Avatar is visible standing alone in the top tier of the conning tower, presumably in an observation deck. He cuts a solitary, sad figure, but I loved the point of detail.
Once more, some of the science in a Star Blazers episode doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Dialogue suggests that Titan possess an environment “similar to Earth except it is very cold.”
Well, cold is putting it mildly, isn’t it? And it Titan doesn’t possess an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere like Earth? The expedition should thus all be wearing space suits throughout the journey. Again, my barometer is this on “distraction.” If I’m pulled out of the story by a technical point that seems wrong, it bears mentioning. This is another one of those details.
All these problems could have been removed from the series if only the writers specified that Argo had journeyed outside our solar system already, and was visiting new, unexplored worlds. Then, they would have no responsibility to conform to our understanding of our neighboring worlds.
Thursday, April 22, 2021
In the fifth episode of Star Blazers (1979), the damaged Argo is dragged into the gravitational pull of the planet Jupiter. After passing through a layer of dense clouds, the Argo unexpectedly finds a “floating continent” and sets down there for repairs.
Unfortunately a Gamilon fighter base is also secretly stationed on that very continent, and a terrifying trap is sprung. Wildstar does battle with an enemy fighter, but for Argo to escape the Gamilons, the wave motion gun must be tested for the first time.
Fortunately, the gun works.
In fact, the weapon is so powerful and destructive that it obliterates not just the Gamilon base, but the entire floating continent. Captain Avatar concludes that the ship “used too much power” and must be “very careful in the future.”
Meanwhile, the Gamilons are stunned at Argo’s power, and now the game is truly afoot.
Only 361 days remain until Earth’s destruction…
The Argo’s shakedown or trial-by-fire continues in this episode as the wave motion gun is deployed for the first time. The power of the thing is incredible, and a little frightening. Watching this episode, I wondered if that was actually the point. Much of Japanese genre entertainment features terrifying technological advances, from Gojira’s (1954) Oxygen Destroyer to Star Blazers’ wave motion gun. No doubt, this is a result of the country’s well-founded fear about nuclear warfare.
The implicit question of any such weaponry is, simply: what kind of man does it take to control a technological innovation of such terror and raw power? In this case, fortunately, Captain Avatar is that man, and he is depicted as wise and eminently reasonable. His response to the deployment of the powerful weapon is to pull back; to think about the future and the proper application of the device. He promises to be very careful in the future. This is indeed a reassuring strategy, and again, I find myself drawn to Avatar. I like his sense of calm and “centered-ness.”
I won’t make any more comments this week about Argo being able to traverse the distance from Mars to Jupiter without the star drive (after harnessing that incredible power to reach Mars from Earth), since I covered it thoroughly last week. I will note, however, many of the beautiful images this week, like Argo listing to one side in the rainbow-hued atmosphere of Jupiter, or the white-hot flower and destructive flare of the wave motion gun. I also love the visuals of Argo skimming the ground and lifting off - its nose ascendant -- as it leaves the floating continent.
Instead, I’ll only note that this animated series has done a good job so far of getting viewers on the side of the beleaguered Star Force. Although the wave motion gun is a terrifying thing, there’s also a sense of accomplishment and triumph in the destruction of the bad guys. Although the Argo defeated the ultra-menace missile and survived an engagement with a Gamilon carrier, this is the first instance in which the Gamilons have really taken it on the chin, and had their arrogant confidence shaken. They were clearly not ready for the Argo to bear so much power, and it’s good to see the conquering aliens rocked back on their heels, at least a bit.
The Argo, we now see, can at least defend itself on its long journey to Iscandar. But after damage on Mars and repairs on Jupiter, the great battleship better get moving…
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
In this episode of Star Blazers (1979), the great ship Argo tests its wave motion engine for the first time.
In the Central Strategy Room, Captain Avatar and his top crew strategize for space warp, described aptly in the dialogue as a “giant step across space.” The problem, as everyone realizes is that if calculations are wrong by even a degree, the Argo could become lost forever in the corridors of the “fourth dimension.”
The region selected for the Argo’s first jump is “Area 14,” a span of territory between the Moon and Mars. Alas, a Gamilon carrier approaches the Argo as it nears those coordinates, and Derek Wildstar launches a squadron of Argo’s small fighters to intercept it. One ship -- Conroy’s – nearly doesn’t make it back in time to join the Argo.
The Argo succeeds on the jump, and reaches Mars in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately, the ship is badly damaged in the jump, and the crew must undertake repairs before the Gamilons can locate the battleship and resume their bombardment.
Only 362 days remain until Earth will be destroyed…
Between this episode and the next, The Argo is getting a shakedown of sorts. The engine is tested here at space warp capacity, and the follow-up episode involves the first deployment of the wave motion gun.
Much of this episode consists of building tension in terms of the first space warp jump. Mark Venture is understandably concerned and anxious, since he is Argo’s navigator, plotting the vessel’s trajectory through space/ time. More suspense arises when Conroy is almost left behind as the countdown to space warp ticks down. My friend SGB has written before in the comments about the “emotional component” of Star Blazers, and this scene certainly fits the bill. Once again, as viewers we are asked to contemplate the notions of duty and sacrifice in the service of a greater good. Captain Avatar is prepared to leave a man behind because the consequences of mission failure are, literally, global.
All these moments work well, and the moment of space warp doesn’t disappoint, either. The episode cuts to a trippy montage of the ship crossing planes of existence, it seems. Images of the ship in flight double and triple, and the Argo even seems to travel through the corridors of time…where it briefly meets itself. It’s a pseudo-2001 visual “trip,” and as such, awesomely psychedelic.
Less satisfactory, however, are the exact details of the space warp. It is reported in the dialogue that “thousands of light years” are traversed in a matter of moments, but the Argo bafflingly emerges near (a snowy) planet Mars. On average – because both it and the Earth move -- Mars is some 225 million kilometers distant from our world. A light year is approximately 9.4605284 x 1012 kilometers in distance, so the Argo hardly jumped at all.
In fact, it didn’t even jump one light year, let alone thousands, if Mars was its destination.
Now, I am not at all a person who believes that science fiction programs must be entirely scientifically accurate to be enjoyable. In some sense, a focus on scientific accuracy over drama can take the fun and imagination out of certain narratives. But, there should be some surface attention paid to scientific accuracy. In other words -- just on a general level – I know that Mars is not a light year distant, let alone thousands of light years distant.
I wonder if the original Japanese series made this error in science, or if it was an error in translation to English. In other words, I wonder if in the Japanese original, the planet the Argo jumps to is not actually Mars, but rather one much more distant and far outside the solar system.
Regardless, this is a jarring mistake that raises many distracting questions. And that, generally speaking, is my threshold of tolerance. I’m willing to let pass a lot in the name of entertainment and imagination -- I’m a die-hard Space: 1999 fan, after all -- but what does appear on screen generally shouldn’t be so amiss that it actually distracts from the narrative.
What makes the mistake worse is that in the follow-up episode, Argo travels from Mars to Jupiter in a matter of minutes without using the wave motion star drive. The distance from Mars to Jupiter is approximately 3.18 AU or 419 million kilometers, which is greater than the distance between Earth and Mars.
So basically the Argo space warps to travel a shorter distance (Earth to Mars) and conventional engines to traverse a longer one (Mars to Jupiter). Again, I ain’t a science expert, but I know enough about space to be distracted by all this.
Despite the goof, I still have “faith” in what Star Blazers is “doing,” to borrow a line from Derek Wildstar. In particular, I’m enjoying the series as momentum builds, and the Argo passes one crucial test after the next as it begins its long journey.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
The Star Force saga continues in the second episode of the animated series, Star Blazers (1979). This chapter depicts Yamato’s (or Argo’s) baptism of fire as it faces its first challenge from the Gamilons: an ultra-menace missile.
This episode also introduces several additional Argo crewmen, including Chief Engineer Orion, head mechanic Sandor, assistant pilot Eager, and officers Conroy, Dash, and Homer.
Even better, the episode escorts viewers on a tour of the impressive Argo’s interior, from the holography room which can display 3-D “memories of Earth” (an early version of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s holodeck?) to Sandor’s machine shop. We also get a good look at the fighter hanger bay, and the Wave Motion Engine and gun areas of the ship. There’s even little information introduced about the science underlying the wave motion technology, which involves tachyon particles and the folding of space itself.
Future episodes establish the first test of the engine at “star warp” speed and the inaugural deployment of the Wave Motion gun in battle (near the floating continents of Jupiter). But there’s a powerful and memorable image in this episode: Avatar and Wildstar standing in the turret/muzzle, essentially of the gigantic weapon. This visual sells the size of the thing perfectly.
Additional character background also gets filled in during this early episode of Star Blazers. The audience learns that Wildstar isn’t the only person who lost someone he loved at the Battle of Pluto. In fact, Captain Avatar lost his only son as well, a fact he carries with him every moment of every day. Wildstar learns this information when he is trying to determine “what kind of man,” his captain is, and his answer is clear. Avatar has faced personal tragedy, but that fact isn’t going to paralyze him when there is a planet to save.
Captain Avatar, who is rapidly becoming my favorite character, also gets to offer another one of his great nuggets of wisdom here: “The less time you have, the more you need to use it wisely.” Sometimes I think that’s the story of my writing career!
The episode ends with the notion that 363 days remain until Earth’s destruction…
Although the central threat of this Star Blazers episode -- the ultra menace missile – is a bit of a dud, the story nonetheless functions ably as the second chapter of a longer work, like a TV novel. The Argo has become a character in the drama herself, and so this episode wisely reveals much more of the great ship.
We also see and spend more time with the Gamilon leader Desslok here, and he sounds, unfortunately, like an adenoidal Roddy McDowall, which makes it a little difficult to take him seriously as a threat.
It’s also a little strange that the robot IQ9 boasts such a pronounced New York accent. I wonder who programmed him with that little touch?
One factor I appreciated about this chapter involves the Star Force personnel saying goodbye to Earth and loved ones. Parents cry and cheer during a parade, and onlookers quarrel as Earth’s future hangs in the balance. This sequence puts a fine point on the bravery of Argo’s crew.
These young, dedicated people are going where none have gone before, with full knowledge that a dedicated enemy will be nipping at their heels throughout the journey.
Monday, April 19, 2021
In Japan, the animated series Space Battleship Yamato first ran on TV from October 1974 through March of 1975. It was followed by two other successful series featuring the same universe and many of the same characters, in 1978 and 1980, respectively
The original series finally came to American shores, with some dramatic alterations, as Star Blazers, in 1979. The series’ first season was dubbed over in English, and the characters were given new, westernized names like Captain Avatar, Derek Wildstar, and Mark Venture. Even the great ship Yamato became, instead, the Argo, after Jason’s mythical vessel.
The re-vamped series premiered post-Star Wars (1977) in the U.S. on September 19, 1979, and quickly became a critical part of the pop culture firmament if you were a 1970s space kid.
I have always watched the series as Star Blazers, not as Space Battleship Yamato, so I’ll be blogging the Americanized version of the material in the weeks ahead, particularly the first twenty-six installments, which comprise one narrative, or complete story arc.
The series’ first episode -- which I’ve seen titled as both “Battle of Pluto” and, on DVD, as “S.O.S. Earth! Revive Space Cruiser Argo” – establishes the crisis, characters, and essential universe of Star Blazers.
It is the year 2199 AD, and the hostile Gamilon race has bombarded Earth with “planet bombs.” The fall-out from these devastating bombs has decimated life on the Earth’s surface, and mankind has moved underground to escape the toxic radiation pollution.
Unfortunately, even the underground cities are endangered now. The bad news is that all human life will be rendered extinct in one year’s time if nothing is done to save the planet, which has been termed “hopelessly contaminated.”
Meanwhile, the war with the Gamilons goes badly. Earth’s space navy is “all that stands between” the alien battle-cruisers and Mother Earth. In the Battle of Pluto, old space salt, Captain Avatar watches from the bridge of his flagship as his forces are soundly defeated. The captain of another ship, Alex Wildstar, saves Avatar’s flagship but at the cost of Wildstar’s ship and crew. It is a time of sacrifice, and honor.
Meanwhile, Alex’s brother, Derek Wildstar, unexpectedly learns of a new hope for the planet while stationed on Mars. Queen Starsha of the distant world Iscandar has sent a critical message for the people of our world. The natives of Iscandar possess a technological innovation called the “Cosmo DNA” which can restore the planet, removing the lethal radioactivity.
Furthermore, Starsha provides the blueprints and plans for a propulsion system called “the Wave Motion Engine,” which can carry an Earth ship the 148,000 light years to Iscandar and back…just in time to resolve the crisis.
The most pressing concern, however, is that there is no ship is available to make the survival run. But wily old Captain Avatar has a secret plan. The Earth’s future rests in excavating its forgotten past. The sunken battleship Yamato from World War II has been found, and is currently being re-fitted as a space vessel for the long and dangerous voyage to Iscandar.
Wildstar and his friend, Mark Venture, join Captain Avatar on his quest. They also meet a lovely nurse, Nova, and the comical Dr. Sane. Another sidekick is the robot, IQ9, who can split into three segments and then-re-form. Together, this team -- as well as a dedicated volunteer crew -- must get the Yamato – re-christened the Argo -- safely into the sky before it is destroyed by Gamilon bombers…
The episode ends with urgent notice that there are three hundred-and-sixty-four days remaining until the Earth dies.
I grew up with Star Blazers (as well as Battle of the Planets) and remember in the early 1980s visiting Forbidden Planet in New York City with my Dad to buy toys and models from the series (and also from Doctor Who). I still have a Gamilon battle-cruiser on display in my home office after all these years, as well as a red spaceship/“aircraft carrier” that I haven’t seen yet on the program.
As I watched the inaugural Star Blazer episode for the first time in years, I noticed especially how the imagery -- particularly how it pertains to Captain Avatar -- generates and sustains a sense of suspense and mystery. Throughout the first episode, the character is drawn with his back to the audience and to other characters too, making him feel removed and enigmatic. This composition repeats at least three times in the first half-hour, and of course, we learn in the first episode what Avatar’s secret is: Yamato awaits.
I had also forgotten-- despite the obvious and central appearance of Yamato as a sea-going ship in outer space -- how thoroughly Star Blazers mines its central nautical metaphor. Officers speak of “space knots” in terms of speed, or observe that the ship’s “stern is damaged.” When buffeted, the great lumbering space cruisers also list to the side, as if knocked off balance while sailing an ocean setting.
The space battles, with pivoting turrets and blaring weaponry, remain visually impressive, even today. I love how the ships explode, for instance. They seem to puff up first – their insides shattered – before they burst outwards in a blossom of destruction. I was also struck by the terrifying depiction of destruction on Earth. There’s an image of a small rural home or building struck by the Gamilon bomb, and at the moment of impact, the edifice melts away like a liquid until nothing solid remains.
The premise for Star Blazers is both tense and adventurous. A countdown has begun for Earth, yet at the same time, the episode acknowledges that no human has “ever gone” as far out in space as Iscandar, making the destination a mysterious one too
I also appreciate the conceit at the crux of Star Blazers: that the secret of our future survival rests in our past. Yamato/Argo is just a “pile of scrap metal” to some eyes, but the past can be re-purposed and made vital again if only we remember it, and learn its lessons. Thus I feel very strongly the Argo is a metaphor for how human beings face each day: experience and history are our guideposts, going forward. Star Blazers literalizes that notion with the Argo, a ship of war now transformed into a vehicle of hope.
Saturday, April 17, 2021
In “Treasure of the Moks,” Thundarr, Ookla and Ariel run afoul of Cordon, a notorious pirate who leads the gang known as “the River Rats.”
The River Rats and their leaders have been plundering every village on the river for weeks, and now a Mok village is imperiled.
To stop the pirates, Thundarr, Mok and Ariel must attack Cordon’s impressive pirate ship, a modified U.S. Naval aircraft carrier from the 20th century…
The fifth episode of Thundarr the Barbarian, “Treasure of the Moks,” like its predecessors, is noteworthy primarily for the imaginative visuals it crafts.
In this case, there’s a fantastic sea-going vessel on display. It’s a pirate ship that is one part wooden pontoons and one part a contemporary aircraft carrier. The vessel is huge, and the renderings of the pirate ship do a fantastic job of conveying size. More than that, there is interesting detail on the ship. Since the deck is flat, there are tents, castle-ramparts and other “future” structures atop it. It’s like a sea-going village.
Also, Cordon has armed the aircraft carrier with catapults, instead modern-day turrets.
At one point in the episode, Cordon takes the ship into the sea near an ancient Naval Base, and the episode features visuals of a vast, Sargasso Sea (another cult-television favorite theme…).
Seeing vessels as imaginative as Cordon’s ship, I wish we had gotten a line of Thundarr the Barbarian action figures and vehicles back in 1980. That would have been amazing.
In terms of series continuity, there are two major points to consider about “Treasure of the Moks.” First, we meet Ookla’s people (including a female), but there is little or no discussion why Ookla began traveling with Thundarr.
Secondly, we learn in this episode that the sun sword is “locked” to Thundarr’s hand-signature. Cordon steals it at one point, but it is useless…the blade doesn’t extend or ignite. This raises the question: was the weapon built for Thundarr? Or does he merely know the secret of what, I assume, is a 20th century device.
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
The Doctor (Tom Baker) and his companion, Leela (Louise Jameson) find that the TARDIS has landed inside a vast, tank-like mining vehicle traversing a barren desert world.
The travelers in time and space also find that they are in terrible danger. Specifically, crew members aboard the colossal rig are being killed by an unseen assailant who leaves behind “corpse markers” on each victim. These tags are typically used to signify that a robot has been destroyed.
The Doctor and Leela soon learn that the rig’s crew -- and the society from which it hails -- is completely dependent on humanoid robots. In fact, several “classes” of robots are aboard the rig, including the Dumbs (mutes), the Vox, and the SuperVox. The Doctor concludes that somehow the robots have overcome their peaceful programming and are committing murder.
The question soon becomes one of human survival. Are the robots developing awareness of their status as slaves, or is there a dark humanoid force behind the killings?
In my 1999 book, A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television, I tagged “The Robots of Death” as one of the best Doctor Who serials ever produced, and I still feel that my initial assessment is accurate. In particular, I believe that this conclusion regarding quality is merited because of the production design and costuming, which enhance a story that is about nothing less than the horrors of slavery. In this case, however, the slaves are not human beings, but robots.
First and foremost, the robot costumes in “Robots of Death” underline the theme about slavery. The machines wear Asian-themed serving clothes which suggest their status as underlings. Their molded plastic faces, similarly, show only a mask of politeness. In other words, the robots represent the smiling but subservient face of a peasant or slave class. The Robots don suits of plain green, or black, and this gives the impression that they are not really meant to be noticed. They are but…background noise in an indulged culture.
By purposeful contrast, the men and women aboard the mining rig wear impractical, ornate, glittering costumes that shine and dazzle. These costumes are frequently gold or silver, to boot. Each human character also wears an ostentatious or flowery head-dress to indicate his or her individuality and even, in some sense, “royalty.” Again, a clever costuming touch creates a contrast with the appearance of the robots, who all look virtually identical. Individuality then, is for masters, but not slaves.
Similarly, the mining rig “crew” wears elaborate painted eye-make-up, and again, if there is time to apply such intricate designs on the face every day then it is clear that someone else -- namely the slaves -- must be responsible for the day-to-day operation and survival of the Empire.
The costumes and make-up in “The Robots of Death” thus express beautifully the idea of an alien culture both decadent and indulgent in its own luxury. In regards to the production design, the interior of the mining vessel forwards the very same notion. It looks more like a comfortable ocean liner than a utilitarian mining craft.
The crew’s behavior -- indulging in petty competition, gossipy talk, and lavish feasts -- also reinforces the notion of a culture that is so separated from the struggle for life and death that its people no longer even recognize that they are in danger. The humans here treat the robots only as things, and have grown so lazy and complacent that their race would actually die out without the robots serving and maintaining the basics of civilization.
Outside of the production design, wardrobe, and make-up choices that adeptly reinforce the notion of a corrupt society and an exploited underclass, “The Robots of Death” plays very much like an Agatha Christie novel. Each character on the mining vessel boasts a mysterious history, a secret identity and perhaps, even, a motivation for murder.
The story resolves with the truth about a man named Taryn Kapel who was raised by robots and is sensitive to their exploitation. The name Taryn Kapel seems very similar to Karel Čapek, the late-nineteenth century author who introduced the world to the term “robot.” In this way, "Robots of Death" connects right here to our experience and history on Earth, and the development of automation.
“The Robots of Death” is a remarkable serial, and one augmented by brilliant execution, but it succeeds so admirably because it reminds viewers of an unpleasant human quality (and one later seen in regards to the Ood).
Humans prize comfort, at times, over equality or justice. Only the Doctor -- an outsider -- can point out this foible.
And he does it with a grin.
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
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.
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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