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13x6. The Seeds of Doom
Writer: Robert Banks Stewart
Director: Douglas Camfield
Script Editor: Robert Holmes
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe

Synopsis: When two dangerous alien pods that can infect humans and turn them into carnivorous "Krynoid" plants are discovered in Antarctica, the Doctor and Sarah race to contain the threat, first at a scientific research facility and later in Britain, where a wealthy botanist named Harrison Chase seeks to nurture this new life form and help it gain dominance over the Earth.

Review: Like a lot of Doctor Who fans, I first started watching the series at a fairly young age. "The Brain of Morbius" was the first serial I saw in its entirety, and right after that came the first serial to truly scare me, that being "The Seeds of Doom" (though I did manage to stay on the sofa, as opposed to behind it, for the duration). At the ripe old age of 28, I'm not so easily impressionable, but all the same, this is one serial where the "body horror" motif that recurred from time to time during the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era is both front and center and genuinely disturbing.

I am referring, of course, to the fact that, despite the series' relatively low production values, the transformations of both Winlett and Keeler into Krynoids is handled convincingly. Keeler's metamorphosis is especially unsettling because he remains lucid throughout, with Chase successfully hindering any attempt to stop the process and even those who do have his best interests at heart, such as Sarah, nevertheless being frightened of him, and rightfully so. It's clear, however, that once the transformation is complete, there is no reasoning or negotiating with the Krynoids. As in "Pyramids of Mars" when Laurence Scarman was taken over by Sutekh, the Doctor insists to the researchers at the Antarctic base that nothing remains of Winlett and that their only choice is to destroy the Krynoid. He has kind of an odd moment earlier in the story when he refuses to amputate Winlett's arm himself, telling the others, "You must help yourselves." I'm not sure if this is because he honestly doesn't feel qualified to do it, or because he prefers to let humans survive by their own skills if they can get by without him. In any case, once the story shifts back to Britain, it's pretty much a non-stop, brutal fight for survival with the Doctor fully engaged. He's a little more short-tempered and violent than usual, but we understand why: he knows that the Krynoids will soon have full control of all plant life on Earth and that it will be game over for the human race once that happens. When he yells at Scorby for wanting to sacrifice him to the Krynoid to save the rest, I got the sense that he wasn't angry because his life was being threatened, but rather because of Scorby's selfish short-sightedness and failure to realize that it would only buy them a little time at best. At the same time, his essentially moral nature still shows through, as when he tries to rescue Chase from being crushed to death in the grinder even after Chase had tried to kill him and Sarah.

Part of what makes "Seeds" hold up so well is the supporting cast. The other two scientists in Antarctica are perhaps a bit underacted (maybe they're supposed to be portraits of scientific detachment, but they just seemed a little flat to me). But Chase, Scorby, and Keeler are all believable people who make for an interesting set of contrasts. Chase, of course, is a nutcase, but Tony Beckley is convincingly cold and indifferent towards other humans (he even responds "I don't care" when someone tells him he's being "inhuman") and equally convincingly obsessed with his plants. Scorby and Keeler, who are uncomfortable partners for the first two episodes, make for an effective contrast. Scorby is an unashamed thug, cheerfully willing to kill in order as long as he's well-paid by Chase and equally willing to put his own welfare ahead of everyone else's. He has an interesting scene towards the end when his bluster fades and he seems almost shell-shocked that his "every man for himself" philosophy has finally failed him. His fatal attempt to escape the house and outrun the now lethal plant life surrounding the house could, in the context of this battle for survival, be seen as a failure to adapt his thinking and accept the need to work with others to survive this crisis. Keeler, meanwhile, is the most tragic character of any of them. He's been hired by Chase for his brain rather than his brawn, and while he can't quite bring himself to stand up to Scorby, he doesn't want to kill anyone at the science facility and does his best to talk Scorby out of it (though he fails). The fact that he himself is horrified at his eventual transformation but finds himself helpless to resist it and abandoned by his colleagues both heightens the sympathy for his character and makes the transformation itself all the more unsettling: Keeler is much more of an Everyman than, for example, Noah in "The Ark in Space," who suffered a similar fate, and just as unwillingly.

"The Seeds of Doom" is technically a UNIT story, though it doesn't feature the Brigadier, Benton, or anyone else that we might normally expect to see. Stylistically, it's somewhat akin to "The Green Death," in that it features solid plotting and characterization and works well as a procedural drama (albeit with more action and suspense than "The Green Death"), while falling a bit short of the "Silurians"/"Inferno" standard of subtext and underlying commentary. The idea of cooperation as necessary for survival is present, with both Scorby and Chase embodying the failure to accept that -- Scorby through his general selfishness, and Chase by being so aloof and wrapped up in his obsessions that he literally fails to acknowledge himself as human. But for whatever reason, the thematic elements don't feel quite as front-and-center as they have in some of the most sophisticated scripts: "Seeds" seems more concerned with the interactions of its characters and with the simple logistics of getting from A to B than with getting this particular point across. The fact that the whole situation is resolved by the RAF bombing the Krynoid is perhaps indicative of the script's focus on characterization and mechanics over theme. It makes sense within the framework of the story, but it's not especially creative, and it doesn't carry quite the same impact as the ending to a serial like "The Ark in Space" or "Genesis of the Daleks."

Still, if the worst one can say about "Seeds" is that it's not quite as good as "The Ark in Space" or "Genesis of the Daleks," that's hardly a negative recommendation. Though it may be a tiny bit more superficial than either of the aforementioned, it's still an intelligent and at times disturbing story that makes good use of its characters, and I carry no hesitation in naming it the best of Season Thirteen.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of four)

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