Tom Baker excels as the "Double-O 4th" Doctor, taking on a `green-fingered' villain in an epic action thriller. Twine your tendrils round this ripe fruit of the DVD range and take root in a classic tale of greed and grotesque greenery! 5*
(Review of the DVD Edition plus reviews of the Special Features.)
Robert Banks Stewart wrote only two completed stories for `Doctor Who', but two of the very best. `Terror of the Zygons' and `The Seeds of Doom' opened and closed a superb season in style. Where `Terror' felt like a Fourth Doctor story despite its earthbound UNIT setting, to me `The Seeds of Doom' seems like a splendid hybrid, a familiar offshoot grown from the serious science fiction action roots of Jon Pertwee's first season, plus darkness and green horror grafted on to perfectly match the rest of the aptly numbered `Gothic' Season Thirteen.
Tom Baker is at his very best in a terrific performance as the Doctor faces the appalling threat of the Krynoid, an alien plant species that will turn all Earth's green kingdom against the "animal parasites". It's also an unusually stern performance for this Doctor, there are a few moments of irreverence at the expense of villains and officials, but for the most part the Doctor is intense and serious with flashes of anger and quite ready to use direct violence in his desperate struggle to save humanity.
Whereas Jon Pertwee would have employed `Venusian Aikido', here the Fourth Doctor is a full-on action hero as he breaks through windows, jumps villains, bangs them against car doors, throws very effective punches, puts one thug in hospital and smashes another over the head with a chair (a moment that has Tom Baker saying "good heavens!" on the commentary!) It's more like watching Mr. Bond or `The Saint' at times, brilliantly directed by Douglas Camfield, famous for his `Doctor Who' action stories from `The Web of Fear' to `Terror of the Zygons' and this one, which sadly was his last. Apart from a few model shots and brief stock inserts, there was no film used in this story; the extensive location work was also done on video and this creates a seamless, colourful and very sharp production which looks excellent on this DVD and upscales to an HD TV perfectly.
Two Krynoid seed pods have lain frozen in the Antarctic for years, quite safely, until they are dug up by a scientific expedition and returned to the warmth and light of their base. This is a story about greed as much as alien greenery - the Krynoid wants to live in what for it is the terrifyingly natural way, but the threat to Earth also comes from human avarice - first a scientist protective of his discovery, then a corrupt official out for money and finally the covetous desire to own the pod at all costs from millionaire Harrison Chase.
Tony Beckley gives a gloriously greenery-chewing performance as the cold, crazed plant-loving (and animal and human-hating) aristocrat with black gloves, a palatial manor house, a "green cathedral" of plants serenaded on his electronic organ and a growling beast in a back room - his lethal, chomping compost-grinder... Every `Bond villain' needs a henchman and he has one of the best. John Challis is superb as Scorby, ruthless and violent but with a streak of dark humour; as his brutal world collapses around him, he and the Doctor play off each other brilliantly as they are forced into an alliance against the growing green menace.
And what a menace! From dormant pod, to waving tendril to human possession and then by horrific body-transforming stages to a towering monster, the Krynoid is an unforgettable grotesque created by excellent design and model work and great acting by Mark Jones as the unfortunate Keeler, a botanist with uncertain morals who gets much too close to his work ... I hadn't watched this story since its first broadcast almost 40 years ago and yet I remembered so many details from all six episodes; that's how strong this production is.
Set partly in Antarctica and partly around an English country house, the excellent location work and really impressive model filming are backed up by superb sets by designers Roger Murray-Leach and Jeremy Bear, stylishly lit with appropriate brightness and `Gothic' gloom. Where some `Doctor Who' stories have just a few sets, this one creates not only a snowbound scientific base in detail, but room after room of Chase's mansion (some used for just one brief scene) including his plant-filled "green cathedral". The sense of scale is impressive; this is an attempt at making a big-screen thriller on a `Doctor Who' budget - and it works! Geoffrey Burgon's distinctive music (also heard in `Terror of the Zygons') adds to the filmic quality and creates a great atmosphere; sometimes ethereal and otherworldly, sometimes filled with tension and menace.
It's a very unusual story in that, apart from his vital knowledge of the threat the Krynoid poses to Earth, the facts that the Doctor is a Time Lord and a scientific genius are irrelevant here. Tom Baker effortlessly adds the Doctor to the ranks of great action heroes of fiction from Allan Quartermain onwards; the weapons and technology he uses are all of actual or believable Earth origin. Even the ultimate solution is a human one, not a device of the Doctor's invention - I won't give away too much, but it's safe to say the Brigadier would have loved it!
There's a large and excellent guest cast, but unfortunately Nicholas Courtney wasn't available to appear in what would have been the final `official' UNIT story of the era, so here UNIT is represented by his deputy Major Beresford (John Acheson) when they are called in by Sir Colin Thackeray from the World Ecology Bureau (Michael Barrington). For once in `Doctor Who' we have a civil servant who investigates and takes useful action and is not just a pompous ass! Helped by the wonderfully eccentric flower artist and would-be amateur agent Miss Amelia Ducat (Sylvia Coleridge) "I have wartime experience!" - they provide essential aid to the Doctor and Sarah, who need all the help they can get. Elisabeth Sladen is excellent as usual, and is provided with some very good dialogue and a quite balanced mix of `damsel in distress' and `heroine to the rescue' action; without her timely intervention, the Doctor would have met a very sticky end - and even he could not have regenerated his way out of this one...!
Open the pod and plant `The Seeds of Doom' in your DVD player, then watch the story grow through six episodes of outstanding horticultural horror. Krynoids are a very invasive species so look out for the tendrils ...
Five pods - I mean five stars, thanks for reading. 5*
DVD Special Features:
On Disk 1:
The commentary is very good with a great set of contributors. John Challis is especially good with many fun anecdotes, as is Tom Baker of course. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe, Robert Banks Stewart and Roger Murray-Leach give interesting and entertaining details of the production, Joggs Camfield remembers his father's work as Director and Kenneth Gilbert (Dunbar) and Michael McStay (Moberley) remember their guest appearances in the story.
On Disk 2:
`Podshock' (37 min) - an excellent and very well-presented `making of' feature with many of the same contributors (but sadly not Tom Baker), also joined by composer Geoffrey Burgon.
`Now and Then' (9 min) - a comparative tour around the locations decades later, mainly the gardens of Athelhampton House in Dorset.
`Playing in the Green Cathedral' (10 min) - an excellent interview with composer Geoffrey Burgon about his innovative music for `The Seeds of Doom' and `Terror of the Zygons'. As I'm also a fan of the 1970s BBC adaptations of M.R. James' ghost stories (which I highly recommend), I was pleased they highlighted the superb, unsettling music he wrote for `The Treasure of Abbot Thomas'.
`So What Do You Do Exactly?' (6 min) - a very good short feature with Graeme Harper, then the First Assistant Director to Douglas Camfield, talking about the production. Of course he became a well-known director himself, including in the world of `Doctor Who' for the riveting `The Caves of Androzani' and the later `Revelation of the Daleks'.
`Stripped For Action - The Fourth Doctor' (20 min) - if you are a fan of the `Doctor Who' comic strips this will be enjoyably nostalgic, it's quite interesting even if like me you've never read any.
The Photo Gallery (5 min) is very good, with some familiar pictures that will leap out at any fan my age who owned the 1976 edition of Target's `The Making of Doctor Who'. Now I can see them in colour!
`Radio Times' Listings in PDF format, also Douglas Camfield's paper edit for the (unmade) 90 minute omnibus edition, which I found interesting. No doubt the `Bonsai' version would have been good, but the full luxuriant growth of the six-parter is much better!
Two fun Easter Eggs, both thanks to contributions by John Challis.