Sunday, 26 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom

Part One

“That chap you called in from UNIT- is he quite sane?”

Another story from Robert Banks Stewart is an exciting prospect given how fantastic Terror of the Zygons was, and this starts off promisingly, with a mysterious and clearly alien spore being found in Antarctica. Our first sight of the Doctor and Sarah is a little odd though- from the beginning he’s basically acting as a government agent with the only reason given being a throwaway reference to UNIT. This doesn’t sit well with the Doctor’s recent impatience with his ties to UNIT, and seems to owe an awful lot to Banks Stewart’s history as a writer on The Avengers.

Still, it’s a great episode, however oddly it slots into the series- and it slots in particularly oddly in the context of the marathon. Tony Beckley gives an excellently camp performance as Harrison Chase from the start, although the character is yet another aspect of the story which seems to owe as much to The Avengers as Doctor Who. And John Challis is great as Scorby too. Maaaarleeene…

Oh, and just to remind us it’s the BBC in the mid 70s, we get the Governor from Porridge too!

Lots of great ratcheting up of tension here though, with a nice little base-under-siege style Quatermass Experiment situation developing. I could do without all these extra superpowers the Doctor keeps picking up, though- apparently he’s not that bothered by the Antarctic temperatures. I don’t remember hearing anything about this in The Tenth Planet.

Part Two

“I understand policemen are few and far between in the Antarctic.”

John Challis is fantastic as the cuckoo in the Antarctic nest, exuding real menace, and the presence of the weaker character Keeler really emphasises this. This episode has it all- it’s a tension-packed episode full of excitement with Scorby and the creature as this episode’s threat, while intrigue continues back in London with Dunbar’s betrayal (his reasons are petty, carefully calibrated for us to have no sympathy for him) and Harrison Chase’s general Bond villain demeanour.

But of course, this excellent two-part thriller is only the beginning.

Part Three

“A car boot?”

“A Daimler car boot.”

“The car is immaterial.”

This episode changes the scene4 to Whitehall and Chase’s mansion, but the non-stop action continues. And there’s never been so much fisticuffs from the Doctor as we see here, not even during the “Hai!” Pertwee years. On the other hand, there was a fair bit of this sort of thing from John Steed in The Avengers
Oh, and Amelia Ducat is fab. If also a bit of an Avengers character.

We’re reminded this is Doctor Who, though, as the Doctor is marched up to Harrison Chase at gunpoint, entirely under Chase’s power, and he declares “Hand over the pod.” The confrontation between the Doctor and chase is great, Chase coming across as a cross between a Bond villain and Prince Charles. He also gets what is possibly the best line of any villain ever: “I could play all day in my green cathedral.”

Towards the end, we get even more fisticuffs from the Doctor…

Part Four

“What do you do for an encore, Doctor?”

“I win!”

The overall tone may be very different (no more harping on about The Avengers till the end of the review, I promise), but this story has a lot in common with The Ambassadors of Death in that the main threat, for most of the story, is not the alien being but the human reaction to it. Only in this episode does the threat from the Krynoid itself really start to become established.

So, the Doctor crashes through the glass skylight, gets stuck in with the fisticuffs, and pulls a gun on Chase- not the sort of thing you’d traditionally associate with the character, but then one thing this marathon has taught me is that the Doctor tends to use his fists and, yes, guns, rather more often than generally thought. Although, to put things in perspective, we also have Scorby being really violent.

We get even more fun in the shape of Harrison Chase’s nasty Bond villain deathtrap, and just when you think things can’t get any better Amelia Ducat herself turns out to be spying on chase for the World Ecology Bureau! Dunbar decides to redeem himself and is, inevitably killed, but the Krynoid is starting to grow very big indeed…

Part Five

“Invent a code word- they love that.”

Scorby has a change of heart and decides to side with the Doctor and Sarah, which is believable. Scorby may not be very nice- in fact he’s pretty much your standard psychopath- but he’s a rational psychopath and can clearly see that Chase is a nutter.

Sir Colin calls in UNIT. Ok- but why wait until now? Still, the Brig’s in Geneva and we won’t be getting any actual familiar faces at all. For the first time UNIT is portrayed as just some organisation, and feels much more distanced from the Doctor and Sarah because of it.

There’s some good character stuff here, with Sarah giving Scorby the sharp end of her tongue and the Doctor’s impatience at the reluctance of both Major Beresford (who he?) and Sir Colin to attack a private house. There’s a plot reason for this scene, yes, but it shows very clearly how less tolerant of this sort of thing this Doctor is as compared to his predecessor.

Unfortunately, the Krynoid can talk. This is something of a misstep, and feels very silly in the context of the atmosphere that has been built up. Nevertheless, things are getting a bit desperate, and it’s becoming clear that the ending of the story is going to owe as much to The Quatermass Experiment as the earlier parts.
There’s another kind of déjà vu that comes in towards the end, too- just one story after we saw a brain in a jar, we get a building being attacked from the outside by plant life. It’s The Keys of Marinus all over again!

Part Six

“I’m a survivor, right?”

Scorby gets a nice little speech about his mercenary past and self-reliance, and then pretty much gives up, which rather nicely serves both to flesh out his character and to make it clear to the viewers, who know their tropes, that he’s going to get killed very soon.

There’s a lot of nasty stuff going on with the composting machine- the sergeant actually does get crushed, while Sarah and the Doctor take turns in rescuing each other from that gruesome fate. Of course, Harrison Chase ends up a victim of his own machine, as we always knew he would.

Bizarrely, the Doctor actually offers Sir Colin to join Sarah and himself in the TARDIS. It would have been rather interesting if he’d said yes.

Well, that was all great fun, a very high 4/5. Unfortunately in this extraordinary season of mostly 5/5s it’s one of the lesser lights, but it would be a highlight of many a lesser season. I didn't really mind the way Doctor Who pretty much turned into The Avengers for six weeks as it was all such fun, but all the same I wouldn't like this to happen every time!

As for Season 13 as a whole… wow. 4.5/5, an incredibly high mark which easily takes first place. It simply blew me away. I’m genuinely excited to find out whether the next one can possibly top this!

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