Doctor Who Project: The Seeds of Doom

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I’ve heard of flower power, but that is ridiculous.

It took until 1976, but Doctor Who finally turned the Doctor into a secret agent, replete with a loquacious super-villain who commands an army of uniformed henchmen for a foe, in Robert Banks Stewart’s “The Seeds of Doom” (Story Production Code 4L). Aside from the alien plant creature bent on consuming the planet, this story could have featured Roger Moore or Patrick Macnee with little alteration. The Fourth Doctor’s scientific knowledge advances the plot but does not inform the resolution in the least; he’s an action hero, through and through, jumping through windows, donning disguises, brandishing pistols, and wrestling with bad guys mere inches from whirring blades of death.

The Doctor with an unlikely accessory

“The Seeds of Doom” could not have been made during Hartnell or Troughton’s runs. Indeed, the analogous Second Doctor story, “The Seeds of Death,” which also features deadly alien seed pods finding their way to Earth, centers around the dangers of technocracy, the Doctor having to match wits with bureaucrats and Ice Warriors, the former being perhaps the more difficult foe. In Stewart’s tale, the Fourth Doctor confronts a chlorophyl-thirsty megalomaniac who composes orchestral overtures for his beloved plants and commands a giant garden estate patrolled by flunkies with matching jumpers and submachine-guns. No subtle disquisition on humanity’s increasing tendency towards centralized thought, this.

Harrison Chase, friend to all plants

It wouldn’t be a Robert Banks Stewart story without world agencies, and here the World Ecological Bureau’s Antarctic expedition finds a giant seed pod buried twenty thousand years deep in the permafrost. The Doctor is dispatched by UNIT to assist the investigation, but before he can arrive, the pod releases a tendril that infects a researcher. The hapless man turns into a Krinoid, a “galactic weed,” in the Doctor’s parlance, that has the nasty side effect of consuming all non-plant life on any world where it germinates. They always travel in pairs, and the Doctor helpfully digs up the second pod to prove his point.

Meet a Krinoid

Harrison Chase, the wealthy hortiphile, learns of the pod through a corrupt contact at the WEB and sends two henchmen to retrieve it (and dispose of any pesky witnesses). Given that the story starts in Antarctica, at a weather-isolated base, one feels at the beginning that the action will take place in this small space, with a dwindling number of survivors fighting against the plant-creature and Chase’s thugs. Stewart has other ideas, though, and by the end of the second of six episodes, the initial Krinoid is destroyed in a blast triggered by the bad guys, killing the last of the researchers as well. Only the Doctor and Sarah survive, because of course they do.
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Doctor Who Project: The Brain of Morbius

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Chop Suey, the Galactic Emperor!

To address the obvious: Robin Bland’s “The Brain of Morbius” (Story Production Code 4K) essentially recreates Shelley’s Frankenstein by way of Hollywood and Hammer Films, down to the dramatic lightning strikes, a stumbling Igor, a stitched-together monstrosity, and a torch-waving mob ushering in the monster’s end. But Bland—a pseudonym for long-time Doctor Who writer and script editor Terrance Dicks—spices up the otherwise tired tale with an impressive amount of ephemera regarding the Time Lords, adding interest to the surprisingly effective horror trappings on display.

It was a dark and stormy night

The TARDIS materializes on the foggy planet Karn, guided there, according to the Doctor, by the Time Lords. He’s certain they’ve summoned him yet again to carry out their “dirty work,” and he refuses to help them, declaring, “I’m just going to sit here and do nothing.” Sarah attempts to get the Doctor interested in the plot at hand, remarking on all the crashed space ships nearby. Even the discovery of a headless alien, killed after escaping one of the wrecks, piques the Doctor’s interest only mildly. So Dicks whips up a sudden rainstorm to drive the time travellers to take shelter in a nearby structure, helpfully silhouetted on the horizon by blue lightning.

Uninvited house guests

Inside, Solon and his hook-armed assistant Condo argue about the usefulness of the alien head Condo has recently procured using said hook; when the Doctor and Sarah arrive, seeking respite from the elements, Solon cannot help but remark upon the perfection of the Doctor’s head, a creepy comment that the Doctor takes in stride. The storm has knocked out the power in Solon’s abode, allowing these scenes to be shot with low lighting to amplify the ominous feeling. The audience already knows that Solon occupies the “mad scientist” role, leading to an odd sense of gullibility about the Doctor, who senses no danger when he and Sarah succumb to a drugged glass of wine.

Just the right size

Solon needs the Doctor’s “magnificent” cranium as a receptacle for the brain of Morbius, who formerly led the High Council of the Time Lords before being disintegrated for attempting to take over the galaxy, as often happens. But the Doctor is spirited off the operating table just before the head-removal procedure by the Sisterhood of Karn, who possess telekinetic powers. The red-robed novitiates aren’t trying to save the Doctor, though—they just want to be the ones to kill him…

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Doctor Who Project: The Android Invasion

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Let’s try the pub!

Terry Nation writing a Doctor Who story about robots wanting to invade Earth isn’t entirely noteworthy, unless, as in “The Android Invasion,” (Story Production Code 4J), those robots are not Daleks. Here, an alien species known as the Krall seeks to take over the Earth as a replacement for their radiation-suffused homeworld. The Krall’s master plan (sorry) involves building a small number of android doppelgängers who will surreptitiously replace key personnel in a British space research center—and, for some reason, in a nearby pub.

Stepford Souses?

Indeed, a good chunk of the four episode story focuses not on the execution (and subsequent foiling) of the planned conquest but rather on the androids learning to pour ginger beer, hop out of lorries, and count out shillings’ change in a replica of the research center and nearby town. For unexplained reasons, the TARDIS materializes near this Potemkin village on the Krall planet instead of on Earth, and while the Doctor is puzzled by anomalous energy readings, he and Sarah have no idea that they are countless light years from their intended destination. Wonky TARDIS circuits are a screenwriter’s best friend, it would seem. Almost immediately, they are set upon by white-clothed helmeted figures with finger guns, and as they rush to escape from these surprising foes, they see a UNIT soldier jump off a cliff to his death for no apparent reason.

Not quite the welcome wagon.

Upon examining the body, the Doctor notices that the soldier’s billfold contains brand new money, all the coins scratch-free and minted in the same year. An odd coincidence, repeated once more when the Doctor and Sarah enter the deserted village and find similar fresh currency in the empty pub’s till. More ominously, the pub’s tables hold half-full mugs of beer. Peering through blinds, they see the missing drinkers return, hauled in a truck driven by the same mysterious helmeted figures. The people clamber out of the truck without emotion or sound, then resume their places in the pub. On cue, they all begin talking and drinking once more.

Next stop, Android Junction!

The Doctor and Sarah see the “dead” UNIT solider among them, increasing their bafflement. Our time travellers postulate various theories as to how these people are being controlled and/or re-animated, believing themselves to be on Earth in an actual British town, but they never once consider them to be androids. The viewer, however, has already been tipped off by the story’s title, as well as by establishing shots of the UNIT soldier walking alone in a jerking, halting, mechanical manner. These are robots, android copies of human beings, programmed, for some reason, to drink pints.
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Doctor Who Project: Pyramids of Mars

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Egyptian mummies building rockets? That’s crazy!

Only Doctor Who could get away with the title “Pyramids of Mars” (Story Production Code 4G) for a story set primarily in southern England, but series script editor Robert Holmes and Lewis Griefer (collaborating as Stephen Harris) nevertheless keep the Egyptian theme paramount. Just as “Terror of the Zygons” incorporated the Loch Ness monster into the Doctor Who universe, this story explains the Egyptian pantheon as the super powerful Osirians, a race known throughout the galaxy for their intellect and longevity. And of all those Osirians, only Sutekh, also known as Set, the god of death and destruction, remains, trapped beneath an Egyptian pyramid by Horus and the rest of the long-dead deities.

Behold the time-space sarcophagus

Trapped, that is, until a doughty English archeologist, Marcus Scarman, cracks open Sutekh’s earthly tomb and discovers a sarcophagus that also functions as a time and space tunnel to Sutekh’s subterranean prison, as tends to happen. Indeed, right from the start of this four episode story, the technobabble comes on strong and unceasing, with copious references to psytronic energy and various other plot-propelling scientific terms, culminating in an unsatisfying deus ex machina ending. Still, much is forgiven by having mummies turn out to be bandage-wrapped robots which do, in fact, attempt to build a rocket—pyramid shaped, of course.

Rokamid? Pyraket?

Sutekh intends to use the rocket to destroy the Osirian devices in a pyramid on Mars that keep him paralyzed beneath the Egyptian pyramid housing his tomb. Handily, his tomb contains all the necessary components for said rocket, along with servitor robots to construct it. Once Scarman triggers the sarcophagus, he falls under Sutekh’s mental domination and brings all of the rocket parts and mummy robots to a house that stands on the exact ground that will eventually become UNIT headquarters. While this change of setting makes sense in production terms, it being far easier (and cheaper) to film in an English country house rather than building several Egyptian-themed sets, from a plot sense there’s little to recommend it.

The initial pystronic energy released by Sutekh’s contact with the outside world affects the TARDIS, causing the “relative continuum stabilizer” to fail, drawing the Doctor and Sarah to Scarman’s house in 1911. The Doctor realizes that inconceivable mental energy would be required to break the TARDIS’ barriers, and the thought both frightens and fascinates him. “Something’s going on contrary to the laws of the universe. I must find out what,” he declares, to Sarah’s dismay. Though often faced with overwhelming odds, it’s rare that the Doctor encounters a foe he considers far more powerful than he is, one capable of destroying the universe: Sutekh.

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Doctor Who Project: Planet of Evil

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It’s fifteen degrees to night.

It’s for the best that Doctor Who story titles aren’t subject to truth-in-advertising laws, because Louis Marks’ “Planet of Evil” (Story Production Code 4H) would otherwise find itself hauled before the magistrate. The planet in question, Zeta Minor, “the last planet of the known universe,” does house a portal to an anti-matter dimension, whence an energy creature that kills a good score of humans over the course of four episodes originates, but there’s no actual malice or ill-intent involved. If anything, the anti-matter monster fights for good, or at least for survival, because removing any anti-matter from Zeta Minor will result in a cataclysmic explosion, destroying the universe. Like, the whole thing.

Please drop all anti-matter you might be carrying.

“Planet of Moral Utilitarianism” doesn’t make for a very pithy title, however, so “Planet of Evil” will have to suffice. The set dressing and direction do go to great lengths to create a moody, dark, and claustrophobic environment on the planet, helping to foster a sense of tension and horror reminiscent of the battlefield scenes in “Genesis of the Daleks” and the mine scenes in “The Green Death.” In order to keep the monster hidden until the obligatory revelation at the end of the first episode, though, the hapless human miners and guards killed by the creature must fall to the ground wrestling with an invisible foe; the inevitable campy gurning somewhat undercuts the desired effect of terror and malevolence.

Stop hitting yourself!

Once revealed, the anti-matter creature’s design proves to be both effective and well-conceived, the glowing red lines matting brilliantly against both the humid jungle and the later beige-and-white interior scenes. It’s hard to imagine that this is the same show that gave us the woeful animatronic Loch Ness Monster just one story prior.

The humans, from the planet Morestra, seek to harness the power of anti-matter crystals found on the planet to provide their civilization with limitless energy to replace that of their dying star. Apparently, by the year 37,166 (as dated by one of the plentiful gravestones scattered in the encampment), humanity still hasn’t figured out its energy problems; even the spaceship sent to rescue the mineralogical survey team headed by Professor Sorensen (Frederick Jaeger) has just enough fuel to reach the far-flung planet and return, leaving little in reserve should, say, an anti-matter creature decide to prevent the ship from taking off again.

Attempting to escape Zeta Minor

The Doctor and Sarah, somewhat off-course on their intended short hop from the Scottish Highlands to London, arrive in the temporal-spatial vicinity of a distress call sent by one of the miners. The TARDIS homes in on the signal, and the Doctor feels compelled to investigate, with the result that he and Sarah are poking at a desiccated body when the Morestran space patrol shows up. As is typical, they are blamed for the multitude of deaths, and over the course of the first three episodes, every time they escape from the Morestrans, they stumble upon another victim of the energy creature and are blamed for that death, too.

Our time travellers find themselves subject to much ill-treatment in this one, including one nearly-successful attempt at summary execution by being tossed into space, so much so that Sarah asks, “Do you ever get tired of being pushed around?” The Doctor has reached his limit, it seems, responding, “Frequently,” and not much later, he punches someone out.

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Doctor Who Project: Terror of the Zygons

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That, Doctor, is a kilt.

If ever a story could explain the demise of Doctor Who‘s UNIT era, Robert Banks Stewart’s “Terror of the Zygons” (Story Production Code 4F) fits the bill. This, the penultimate UNIT story, shows just how out of sync the militarism and regimentation of the Brigadier’s bunch has fallen from the frenetic energy and mordant sarcasm of the Fourth Doctor. Where UNIT’s deployment of mortars and bazookas and lots of lads shooting rifles not quite straight added to the visual excitement of the Second and Third Doctor’s adventures, here they just get in the way of the Fourth Doctor’s investigation of the Loch Ness Monster.

Benton's back

Indeed, it’s odd that most Third Doctor UNIT stories did not suffer greatly from the presence of Lethbridge-Stewart, Benton, and Yates, given that regeneration’s incredible disdain for military solutions; the Fourth Doctor, by contrast, shows no great compunction about blowing the beasties up and would seem a better fit in theory. The friction comes much more from stylistic approaches, as well as a tendency towards four episode stories in Tom Baker’s era. In “Terror of the Zygons,” Stewart’s plot spends scant enough time on the shapeshifting Zygons who have hidden in Loch Ness for hundreds of years; the inevitable padding that comes with the Brig telling Benton to call someone on the radio which then fades to location shots of UNIT troops milling about a forest just eats up valuable screen time. One can almost hear the audience groaning for the action to shift back to the Doctor. And, of course, nothing UNIT does actually changes the direction of the plot in the least.

Right from the start, the Doctor shows his irascibility at the Brigadier for summoning him back to Earth for so trifling a matter as the destruction of a few oil platforms off the Scottish coast. Only the siren song of a mystery can get this Doctor interested, and finding tooth prints of an enormous beast in the rig wreckage does the trick. Stewart does a nice job of not mentioning Loch Ness until deep into the second episode, allowing viewers to piece together the appearance of a long-necked prehistoric creature with the Scottish moorland setting before finally springing the connection.

Scarf swap

Doctor Who is often associated with this trick of using an unexplained real-world phenomenon as a plot device, elucidating the incident in the course of advancing the narrative—aliens are almost always responsible—but in truth, this technique dropped off after the first few seasons, the last instance coming in Season Five’s “The Abominable Snowmen.” In this case, the mystery might have been better left unexplained, for the Zygons use the Loch Ness monster as…a milk cow.
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