Season 13 – Story 85
“There’ll be a transition period, a grotesque parody of the human form. By now, Winlett himself no longer exists and we must destroy what he’s become” – the Doctor
Two Krynoid seed pods are excavated in the Antarctic on 20th-century Earth. One infects a scientist called Winlett who is later killed in a bomb blast, while the other is stolen by Scorby and Keeler, two men employed by wealthy botanist Harrison Chase. Following the pair back to Chase’s English mansion, the Doctor and Sarah are helpless to prevent the second pod contaminating Keeler. Nurtured by Chase, the new Krynoid grows rapidly. Can the Doctor prevent the next stage of its life cycle: the dissemination of its deadly pods across the globe?
Part 1 – Saturday 31 January 1976
Part 2 – Saturday 7 February 1976
Part 3 – Saturday 14 February 1976
Part 4 – Saturday 21 February 1976
Part 5 – Saturday 28 February 1976
Part 6 – Saturday 6 March 1976
Location filming: October-December 1975 at Athelhampton House, Dorset; Buckland Sand and Silica Co Ltd, Surrey; BBC TV Centre, London
Studio recording: November/December 1975 in TC4, and December 1975 in TC8
Doctor Who – Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith – Elisabeth Sladen
Harrison Chase – Tony Beckley
Charles Winlett – John Gleeson
John Stevenson – Hubert Rees
Derek Moberley – Michael McStay
Richard Dunbar – Kenneth Gilbert
Scorby – John Challis
Arnold Keeler – Mark Jones
Amelia Ducat – Sylvia Coleridge
Sir Colin Thackeray – Michael Barrington
Doctor Chester – Ian Fairbairn
Hargreaves – Seymour Green
Major Beresford – John Acheson
Sergeant Henderson – Ray Barron
Chauffeur – Alan Chuntz
Krynoid voice – Mark Jones
Guard – Harry Fielder
Guard leader – David Masterman
Writer – Robert Banks Stewart
Designers – Roger Murray-Leach, Jeremy Bear
Incidental music – Geoffrey Burgon
Script editor – Robert Holmes
Producer – Philip Hinchcliffe
Director – Douglas Camfield
RT Review by Mark Braxton
Season 13 ends the way it began, with grit, attack and top-flight scares. A six-parter that never wilts for a moment is always something special, and Robert Banks Stewart offers another unusual invasion and stick-in-the-mind monster.
The archive-raiding of the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era reaches its zenith here, the story’s brew of misguided ice-cap dig, biological incursion and horticultural rampage cheerfully referencing The Thing from Another World, The Quatermass Experiment and The Day of the Triffids, in that order.
Not many Doctor Who creatures had a life cycle as well thought out as the Krynoid. From pod and tendril to bogeyman and leviathan, this versatile vegetable really breathes on screen. Reverse playback gives its whipping tendrils shocking life, some stuttered breathing courtesy of the sound department chills the blood, and the increased application of scrunched-skin make-up is suitably ghastly. Even the spraying green of an old Axon costume for the Krynoid’s intermediate stage works well.
The shambling-marquee phase isn’t quite so effective – especially as the shuffling motion of the stagehands beneath is laughably obvious – but distinguished modelwork to depict the manor-dwarfing colossus restores credibility at the end.
A formidable foe requires a fiendish foil, and Harrison Chase effortlessly occupies the upper reaches of Doctor Who’s villainy league table. In fitted suit and never-removed black gloves, and as portrayed by Tony Beckley, Chase is elegant, calmly spoken and fascinatingly demented.
Sidestepping the usual clichés of the scene-hogging malefactor, he is crazed not by power and world domination per se but by a pathological empathy with the plant kingdom – one that makes him an instant ally to the Krynoids. Even a rare burst of hackneyed panto-rage (“Why am I surrounded by idiots?”) can’t dent his classy credentials.
You can just imagine the fun that Banks Stewart had inventing a backstory for Chase: former bankroller for notorious East End crime syndicate becomes disillusioned with organised crime following an abortive heist, changes identity, has elocution lessons, uses ill-gotten gains to fund a long-standing passion for geraniums…
His minions are no less impressively written and cast: self-preserving cynic Scorby (a pre-Boycie John Challis looking like a Left Bank jazz enthusiast); anxious, in-over-his-head botanist Keeler (Mark Jones); and venal bureaucrat Dunbar (Kenneth Gilbert). Add steely biddy Amelia Ducat, by-the-book ecology honcho Sir Colin Thackeray (Michael Barrington, already familiar to viewers as Governor Venables in Porridge) and a crop of minor notables and the story overflows with toothsome characters.
Keeping them all in line is the Doctor, and Tom Baker is at the height of his experimentation. His performance is rangy and unpredictable, variously charming and shocking. In one episode he baits his captors with childlike impudence. When Scorby says, “OK, start talking”, he replies, joyously, with: “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had perfect pitch…”, and his Mozart motif continues when, at gunpoint, he casually parps a snatch from the Piano Concerto No 23. However, in a later instalment the Tomfoolery has gone and the viewer’s sympathy for the Doc wavers as he totally loses it, shouting himself hoarse at his detractors.
It’s an eyebrow-raisingly physical turn, too. Punching faces, cracking necks and waving a sword or pistol, the Doctor seems to have tossed aside his pacific principles. But – in the context of an abrasive, action-stuffed adventure peopled by madmen and heavies – the approach fits. You wouldn’t want him like that every week, mind.
The Seeds of Doom is an abnormally violent outing. The pen of Mary Whitehouse was probably snapping as she furiously scribbled notes – six months later she had compiled her case against the show, The Deadly Assassin proving the final straw.
For me the body count was all part and parcel of Doctor Who, but one thing has stayed with me – and it wasn’t visual. Chase’s death gurgle in the compost crusher must be the most disturbing thing ever heard in the programme. Otherwise the manner of his demise had a Roald Dahlian poetic justice that I expect most kids lapped up.
Not that the serial is exempt from criticism. Some of the Antarctic scenes do look wincingly polystyrene-y, the rebellious foliage on the Chase estate is plain silly, and Unit’s showing – once again minus the Brigadier – is a poor one. And that’s a surprise when you know who’s holding the reins. In other respects it’s a brilliant bow-out from precision-master Douglas Camfield, easily one of the show’s top five directors.
The plot itself contains one giant crevasse: it takes a ridiculous amount of time for the Doctor et al to know how to tackle the Keeler-Krynoid, having seemingly forgotten that the Winlett-Krynoid was killed by an explosion.
Some have lambasted the Doctor’s action in digging up the second pod, unleashing murder, mayhem and, let’s be honest, a much longer story. But he clearly states the pods come in pairs, and the second one needed to be dealt with rather than lie like a ticking time bomb in the snow.
Overall it’s a rich, classy serving, with plenty of meat accompanying the vegetables. Robert Banks Stewart fully deserves his place in the show’s hall of fame. He may have only two Doctor Who stories to his name, but what belters they are.
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Radio Times archive
[Available on BBC DVD]
Illustrator Frank Bellamy
The greatly admired illustrator and cartoonist Frank Bellamy contributed many artworks for Radio Times between 1970 and his death in 1976. The billings above feature one his final Doctor Who illustrations. (The very last was for the 1976 repeat of Planet of Evil, below.)
In winter 1973, we ran a short piece on Frank Bellamy and photographed him in the RT art department at Marylebone High Street. He’s seen below with reporter Madeleine Kingsley and art editor David Driver. (Photographer Jeremy Grayson. Copyright Radio Times Archive)
Frank Bellamy died on 5 July 1976, and we published a short notice in Radio Times (17–23 July 1976).