5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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THE SEEDS OF DOOM
"You mean like aggressive rhubarb?"
Another of Hinchcliffe's season of riffs on classic horror themes, The Seeds of Doom is another excellent adventure from the golden era.
One of its big draws is its alternative take on Who - it's the Doctor, Jim, but not as we know him. There's no reasoning, no agonising, no applied science - just fisticuffs aplenty and some really big explosions. And it works a treat.
Seeds Of Doom's premise is by no means original, and of course it isn't meant to be. Ostensibly a rework of The Thing, it also owes a great deal, right down to the Krynoid's rattle, to The Day of the Triffids. But it works very well nevertheless and these days has a very modern resonance (we're surprised Monsanto hasn't bought up all the videos).
Six-parters can sometimes dawdle, but the speed of the Krynoid's takeover lends a sense of urgency that drives the action on. It also severely limits the Doctor's options, which makes his resorting to "bullets and bombs" shortly after decrying them seem like a rational response rather than a cop-out. And the non-speaking (apart from one unfortunate slip) alien, while exceedingly nasty, leaves enough rootspace for the human cast to flourish.
And what a terrific cast it is. The main villain, Chase, starts off in the camp James Bond mode (Greenfinger?). His first lines protesting the mutilation aspects of bonsai, together with his black gloves, leave us in no doubt that he's going to turn out to be a bad, bad man.
As time passes, the campness dwindles and he becomes chillinger and chillinger. Although we're not as impressed with him as some critics - the character's a bit on the one-note side - he undoubtedly makes an effective villain, the credit for which is mostly due to a hypnotically convincing performance by Tony Beckley.
John Challis, better known as Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, also does an excellent job with the predictable role of Scorby the Evil Mercenary. And the lesser secondary parts are terrific. The scientists in the Antarctic feel like real people. Keeler, torn between horror at violence and fear for himself, is a gem of a character. Amelia Ducat is a comedic joy. Even Dunbar, pulled further and further down a road he never intended to take until at last he makes things right, and Sir Colin, for once a quasi-human face on bureaucracy, are beautifully observed and genuinely interesting characters.
And then there's the Doctor and Sarah. Needless to say, they both shine. We've probably never seen a greater range in the Doctor's character, from sunny good humour right through to the more ranty end of the spectrum (we particularly like the way he yells "Winlett?" at Sarah when she has the temerity to refer to the Krynoid by his, er, maiden name. Tetchy, tetchy, tetchy.).
He starts off concerned but almost detached ("You must help yourselves"), but becomes as emotionally open as we've seen him. We're not used to him being quite so annoyed, but when humankind's about to succumb to greenfly and people are being just plain thick, why not, we say. And sure, he's violent, but you don't fool us, Doctor - that's hardly new, no matter how many sanctimonious speeches you make about how it never gets you anywhere.
It's a rattling good performance from Tom Baker, so mesmerising that it cunningly conceals the fact that despite seemingly being in the thick of the action the Doctor doesn't really have a very large part to play in the way events unfold. In fact, you could even make a case that the whole thing's all his fault: if he hadn't dug up the second pod, the first Krynoid would've run out of food pretty quickly and withered on the vine (sorry, but as Solon would say, these puns are irresistible). Sarah also sparkles here, ably backing the Doctor up and putting up an impressive show of strength in her scenes with Scorby.
The settings also add a lot to the story. Since we're easily bored, we particularly like the way the split between Antarctica and England gives us something new to look at. Polystyrene snow aside, the Antarctic setting wonderfully conveys an isolation that makes Scorby's genuinely, um, chilling plan all too achievable. And the lush greenery of the Chase mansion lends a tranquillity that makes the horror of the Krynoid that much more effective. As for the Krynoid itself, we've seen a lot worse. (Since we don't give two figs (ouch!) for monsters, that's high praise from us.) The model work with the Krynoid snacking on the mansion's quite good, really, although the Antarctic models are a bit too Tracy Island in their effect.
Although the story trots along nicely, there's still a bit of padding. The sequence in the quarry where the Doctor and Sarah work together to overpower the chauffeur is a cracker, but it's entirely unnecessary. Why doesn't the Doctor just take the chauffeur's gun when he knocks him down in the first place? Similarly, there are a lot of unnecessary capture and escape sequences chez Chase when the Doctor annoyingly keeps bowling over the villains and rushing away without disarming them or tying them up. There are also some over-elaborate murder attempts in the Batman style (the explosion in the Antarctic and death by compost). And why do Sarah et al lock themselves in the cottage in the first place instead of just running away? But these are minor quibbles compared to the strength of the story as a whole.
Wow. What a winner. We'll never be cruel to a lettuce again.
MORAL: Slay it with flowers.
When they first arrive in the Antarctic, Sarah has her hand tucked in the Doctor's coat pocket. Bless.
DOES MY BUM LOOK BLUE IN THIS?
Sarah's outfit seems a tad minimal for the Antarctic. Which makes her survival overnight facedown amongst the styrofoam even more mysterious.
THE NEW BLACK
Green goo seems to be all the rage in alien infestation. This is at least the third time we've seen it.
PASS THE BONESAW
The Doctor's plan to amputate Winlett's arm is ridiculous. No wonder Sarah says he's not a doctor of medicine.
There's an unusually arty shot of the Krynoid in the snow with a voiceover from the Doctor.
ROGER WILCO. OR SOMETHING
Scorby does a rubbish job of flicking the send/receive switch on the radio - the person on the other end's halfway through his speeches by the time Scorby gets around to it. Mysteriously, though, it doesn't seem to hamper their communication.
HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU?
The difficulty the Doctor has in convincing the scientists that Winlett's not quite himself is very reminiscent of the same theme with Scarman in Pyramids of Mars.
THE DEFINITE ARTICLE, YOU MIGHT SAY
There are some great moments here which characterise the Doctor's unique personality. We love the way he turns in a circle when asked to turn around by Scorby and his rejoinder to Scorby's "I'm not a patient man", "Well, your candour does you credit!". And nobody can say "Pod!" quite like Tom Baker. At the end, it's a very characterising moment for the Doctor when he turns his head away as Chase goes through the machine. His bewilderment that Chase was trying to pull him into the machine as he was trying to pull Chase out is also very him.
NO, THE FIVE-STAR HOTEL ROUND THE NEXT ICE FLOE
"And there's only one place he can find food and warmth." "You mean this camp?" Duh!
AND WHILE YOU'RE AT IT PUT THE KETTLE ON
Why does Scorby give Keeler the box holding the pod, then tell him to tie the Doctor up?
Chase, hampered by his gloves, accidentally tears out two cheques and gives them to Amelia Ducat.
THEY DON'T MAKE 'EM LIKE THEY USED TO
Scorby yanks on the door of the cottage before he opens it. While he's yanking, the wall to the right of the door is wobbling.
THE SHADOW KNOWS
The shot of the Krynoid's shadow falling over Chase is incredibly effective, and subtle too. Nice!
THE MISSIONARY POSITION
Why are they all so desperate to convince Chase that he's wrong? Why not just ignore him?
IVY SENT ME
It's not supposed to be a big surprise that Chase has been taken over by the Krynoid, is it? Given that Chase immediately goes into the familiar depressed-cardboard routine, it's pretty bloody obvious.
THE CABBAGE SOUP DIET
What's in it for the Krynoid to incite plantular revolution? If the plants kill all the animals, the Krynoid's dinner plate's going to look a bit empty.
DON'T LOOK, ETHEL
The poor little UNIT soldier going through the compost machine, even by implication, is really horrific. (We don't care about Chase, of course. Compost to compost.)
IT'S MARVELLOUS FOR THE LEAVES, I FIND
Twenty acres of lethal lashing greenery, and the Doctor uses an eensy little puff of steam? What's that going to do?