“THE SEEDS OF DOOM” – Season 13, Serial 6, Story 85 – Written by Robert Banks Stewart; Directed by Douglas Camfield – It’s the end of one of the most satisfying seasons in Doctor Who history with an absolutely fantastic serial that sees the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith battle a vegan fundamentalist straight out of a James Bond film. There’s even a bit of globe-hopping. Because This Is As Close As We’re Gonna Get To Seeing The Doctor Star In A Bond Movie.
Growing up in the States, there were a handful of British imports that made an impact on Childhood Me: Tolkien, Narnia, Python, Bond, and to a much lesser extent, the Doctor. Being a cartoon fan and a comic book fan and as interested in telling stories for as long as I can remember, I was always crossing characters over in my head. I liked to pit one set of toys with another or against another and like most kids, I reckon, all of the stories I read or watched or created existed in the same nebulous reality inside my head.
I can’t say the Doctor ever played a role in any of these cross-narrative stories, because as I’ve explained elsewhere, I wasn’t a huge DOCTOR WHO fan as a kid. I really didn’t become a fan until the relaunch, and while I don’t spend much time imagining the Doctor hopping behind the wheel of Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, I do think quite a bit about how they are both fundamentally different, yet the constraints of the serialized character can cause them to come to similar outcomes.
And by this, of course, I mean entering meaningful long-term relationships with the ladies.
While not virginal, the Doctor does not make a habit of bedding his Companions, which is not a habit he shares with Bond. Yet both of them only rarely enter into long-term relationships, and when they do it’s mostly handled off-screen. Instead of thinking about a team-up between the two, I have wondered how these men would be different if their roles were reversed. The idea of “James Bond with a TARDIS” is what led me to create Bellingham and let him loose in my Gunfighter Gothic universe.
All of which brings us back to THE SEEDS OF DOOM, which is probably as close as we’re going to get to ever seeing the Doctor run around in a James Bond story.
Make no mistake that SEEDS is still a classic Baker/Holmes/Hinchcliffe Gothic horror story, but I get that Bond vibe, too, for a few reasons. The first is that the Doctor does a wee bit of globe hopping this time around. The blueprint for SEEDS can be seen in serials like PYRAMIDS OF MARS, in which a scientific expedition uncovers something seemingly benign which turns into something deadly, but unlike PYRAMIDS, which spends only a few minutes in Egypt, SEEDS give us a couple episodes up in the Arctic, where an expedition has found alien plant seed pods in the deep ice.
There’s also a constant sense of espionage going on here. The Doctor often either pretends to be someone he’s not or hides his true identity (and for good reason), but in SEEDS we’ve got the brilliant henchmen Scorby who pretends to be medical help but is really there to steal. The espionage vibe is helped by the Doctor being sent to the Arctic to investigate the discovery by a government official instead of tagging along with UNIT. The feeling that I get is that SEEDS is one of the more government-involved serials; various government agencies show up all the time in WHO, of course, but here it really feels like the World Ecology Bureau is using the Doctor like their special agent.
The most striking Bond vibe comes from the serial’s villain, however. Harrison Chase is a megalomaniac ripped straight out of Bond Central Casting. He’s rich, cultured, wears gloves all the time, wants to take over the world, given to a bit of monologuing, likes to dispose of his enemies in ridiculously grotesque ways, and has an obsession.
In this case, plants.
The seed pods that those scientists find in the Arctic? They’re alien pods that will birth the Krynoids, which latches on to your arm and turns you into the Swamp Thing, basically. As the grennery takes over the human host, it starts to grow and grow and grow, until it will eventually choke all other life from the planet.
Chase, the Krynoids, Scorby, a double agent operating inside the World Ecology Bureau … all of it combines to keep the threat serious and engaging. The two main sets – the cramped Arctic labs and Chase’s castle – both give the serial a cramped, uneasy feeling, and the music is really strong this time out, adding to the serial’s tension. There’s a bit of humor added in the person of Amelia Ducat, an elderly, not-quite-as-absent-minded-as-she-appears painter of flowers, who greatly enjoys partaking in a bit of espionage of her own.
The real star of this serial, however, is the Doctor’s anger. He lashes out furiously on several occasions, and while it’s impractical for him to yell at someone every week, seeing him lash out at Scorby, at the Arctic scientists, and at the World Ecology Bureau and UNIT administrators who are dragging their heels (yelling at them and over them, “Waffle waffle waffle waffle!” to show his displeasure) really gives SEEDS an undercurrent of danger. It’s so much more effective than when the script makes him say things like, “This is a threat to the entire planet.” Artificially raising the stakes through hyperbolic statements is as lame a strategy as has ever been invented, and SEEDS provides a perfect example of how to raise tension in other ways.
SEEDS OF DOOM is a fantastic serial and one of my favorite Fourth Doctor stories. Robert Banks Stewart delivers a phenomenal script and Douglas Camfield’s direction is superb. His use of close-ups, for instance, to help reinforce the Doctor’s intensity, is just good, smart direction. From start to finish, all six episodes of this serial hit hard and linger deep.