DW60: The Seeds of Death vs. The Seeds of Doom

The Seeds of Death was a 1969 Patrick Troughton adventure in which Ice Warriors take over the moon-based headquarters of T-Mat and use the mass transportation system to send deadly foam-spewing spores to Earth. The Seeds of Doom was a 1976 Tom Baker story in which a deranged millionaire who’s a bit too fond of plants takes possession of an extra-terrestrial seedpod which germinates into a deadly flesh-eating vegetable creature. Apart from their similar titles and the fact that they are both 6 episodes, they have nothing in common. So, it would be madness to write an article comparing the two… wouldn’t it? Hey, Doctor Who is 60 years old this year – madness is in the air, so if there was ever a time to compare and contrast The Seeds of Death and The Seeds of Doom, this is most certainly it.

They don’t even share the honour of having been adapted for Target books by Terrance Dicks, because The Seeds of Doom is one of those rare examples of a story adapted by former producer Philip Hinchcliffe. I suppose you could say that share the fact that they were not adapted by their original author; The Seeds of Death was originally written by Brian Hayles – creator of the Ice Warriors, who appear in this story – but was adapted by Terrance Dicks many years later, after the original author’s passing; The Seeds of Doom was written by Robert Banks Stewart and, as I just mentioned, was novelised by its producer Philip Hinchcliffe. Nor can you say that they were both scored by Dudley Simpson, because although The Seeds of Death was an early example of Simpson’s work on the series, Doom director Douglas Camfield didn’t get along with Simpson and insisted his story was scored by Geoffrey Burgeon.

Look, I could spend all day listing what they don’t have in common and it’d be a very long and boring list, so let’s look at each story in turn and see what we can glean at the end of it all, eh? The Seeds of Death was a 6-part serial from Patrick Troughton’s third and final season as the Second Doctor. It featured the return of the Ice Warriors, who had proved very popular in the previous season story called… er, The Ice Warriors. Much like the Cybermen story The Moonbase (in fact, uncomfortably like it), the alien invaders take over a base on the moon and disrupt essential services on Earth as a prelude to a full-scale assault. In the case of this story, those services are T-Mat, a mass transit teleportation system co-ordinated from the Earth by a computer that sounds like music hall comedian Max Wall. The Ice Warriors intend to use T-Mat to send to Earth deadly foam-spewing seeds, that are actually more like spores… but The Spores of Death doesn’t sound as good.

The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arrive at a space museum (no, not that one) ran by a grumpy old retired astronaut called professor Eldred and no sooner have they done so than the authorities arrive to beg him to help shoot a rocket off to the moon to find out what the hell is going on with T-Mat. In an unlikely turn of events, the three time travellers, whom no-one knows from Adam, are allowed to pilot the vital rocket mission. Arriving on the moon, they find the base under siege (of course, this is a Patrick Troughton story) by the Ice Warriors and much chasing, hiding and getting locked up ensues. The action eventually switches back to the Earth, where the titular seeds threaten to drown the English countryside in foam, allowing Troughton to indulge in copious amounts of characteristic clowning and “oh, my giddy aunt!” howling.

I’ve got a real soft spot for The Seeds of Death, although it’s far from being Troughton’s best story. It was unexpectedly released by BBC Video on VHS and Betamax in 1985, the first commercial video release not to be a Tom Baker story. Even at the time, this black and white story seemed out of place and it’s hard not to imagine they might have thought they were clearing the rights for The Seeds of Doom and didn’t want to admit their howler (after all, just a few years earlier they wiped episode one of Invasion of the Dinosaurs thinking it was The Invasion). However, fans were delighted, myself included; I’d only ever seen one Patrick Troughton story before, when The Five Faces of Doctor Who screened The Krotons… and we didn’t have a video recorder then. In the years before the Sell-Through VHS revolution, pre-recorded video cassettes were very expensive to buy, but luckily my parents had a friend who worked at WH Smith and could get a substantial staff discount.

I remember clear as day that Christmas morning, sitting in my parents’ living room, curtains closed, munching on my traditional Christmas brekkie of peanut butter on toast and utterly transfixed by The Seeds of Death. It’s one of my most treasured Christmas memories and if I could go back there right now to watch it for the first time again, smelling the turkey roasting in the kitchen and hearing my Mam & Dad laughing in the next room, I most certainly would. As a Doctor Who fan, it’s often impossible to separate individual stories or episodes from the circumstances in which you first saw them, so I’m never going to have an entirely impartial view of The Seeds of Death; I’m always, to a certain extent, going to associate it with that blissful Christmas morning. It even feels a bit wrong to watch it these days on DVD in its episodic format, because the omnibus edition seen on the original BBC Video edition was the one I fell in love with.

There’s a lot to enjoy in The Seeds of Death though; Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury are at the top of their game as Jamie and Zoe, with the latter getting far more to do in these episodes than any female companion up to this point. Although Patrick Troughton is only three stories away from his departure in The War Games, there’s no sense that he’s winding down or playing the Doctor with any less gravitas than he did at the very beginning. One of the great things about Troughton is that he’s utterly consistent throughout his entire run – the consummate actor, never giving less than 100%. There’s some beautiful direction in The Seeds of Death from Michael Ferguson, with lots of interesting camera angles and lighting effects and Dudley Simpson’s urgent score buoys up the action in all the right places.

Seven years later, we have The Seeds of Doom, a 6-part (hey, they have that in common!) adventure by Robert Banks Stewart for the climax of Tom Baker’s second season. A common template for the Tom Baker era 6-parters is to have a 4-parter with a 2-parter tagged on the end – you can see it in Talons of Weng-Chiang, The Invasion of Time etc. But The Seeds of Doom switches it around and has what is essentially a 2-parter followed by a 4-parter. The first couple of episodes riff on The Thing from Another World, with the Doctor and Sarah arriving at an Antarctic research station to find that a seed pod the researchers found in the ice has germinated and infected one of their number, turning him into a deadly vege-man, which the Doctor reliably informs us is a Krynoid.

Plant-mad billionaire Harrison Chase (a superb guest appearance by Tony Beckley) has heard about that discovery and has sent his ruthless henchman Scorby and his less ruthless mate to steal it. From episode three, the action switches to Chase’s stately manse in the English countryside, where things become less Thing from Another World but take a distinct turn toward the 1965 Avengers episode Man-Eater of Surrey Green, written by Philip Levene and Doctor Who co-creator Sidney Newman (uncredited). There’s a great deal of vegetable-based horror and, when things get too big and nasty, UNIT turn up, but it’s not the UNIT you’re looking for because Brigadier Lethbridge Stuart is in Geneva, Colonel Faraday is visiting his mother and Sergeant Benton is tired and shagged-out after a long squawk – so it’s Major Beresford. Who…? No, I’ve never heard of him either.

Once again, I have a distinct memory connected to watching this story (or at least part of it), but because I was only 6 years old, it’s less reliable than my Seeds of Death nostalgia. In my mind, I have a distinct image of watching episode six of The Seeds of Doom, where the giant Krynoid goes all kaiju on Chase’s stately home, in the flat of my paternal grandparents in Filey, North Yorkshire, where they had moved around that time. My recollection is that this took place in the scorching summer of ’76, when the fire-escape leading to their flat was coated with crispy ladybirds that crunched under foot when you unavoidably walked over them, but the final episode of Seeds of Doom was broadcast on 6th March 1976, which was well before the British summertime. So, my memory has failed me on this one, but I definitely watched it in my grandparents flat, so we must have weekended there earlier in the year.

For many years, I had less distinct memories of The Seeds of Doom than of the rest of Season 13 and I’m not sure why. I could vividly recall Terror of the Zygons or The Brain of Morbius, but my memories of The Seeds of Doom were restricted to the giant Krynoid trashing Chase’s gaff. I’m not sure why this was, because I definitely watched it and when I finally caught up with the story on *cough* pirate VHS *cough*, there were a lot of things about the story that seemed very familiar. Perhaps I’d suppressed a lot of it as a 6-year old; it’s a surprisingly dark story in a season which is renowned for being particularly dark. The scenes of a man begging for death as he realises that his body is being taken over by the Krynoid would be strong meat in an adult drama series, let alone a family adventure series being broadcast on Saturday teatime.

The Seeds of Doom is not without its flaws and most of these stem (no pun intended) from the fact that in many places, it doesn’t really feel like a Doctor Who story… or at least, not a Tom Baker Doctor Who story. It starts with the Doctor being called in by a Government department to investigate the mysterious seed pod found in the Antarctic, which would work fine as the opening to a Third Doctor story, but the Fourth Doctor no longer works for UNIT and mere weeks ago, he was shouting an anti-authoritarian rant at the Time Lords for expecting him to do their dirty work! Later in the story, he punches a man in the face and waves around a gun in a threatening manner; it just doesn’t feel like the Doctor. Director Douglas Camfield was all over this kind of tough action and had intermittently directed Doctor Who since its early days, but this is the first time the violence has been so overt and it feels at times more like an episode of The Professionals than Doctor Who.

For all of these awkward moments, The Seeds of Doom is rightly regarded as one of the triumphs of Tom Baker’s era. As a 6-parter, it never flags and rattles along at a breathless pace; despite his propensity for rough stuff, Camfield brings an exciting cinematic quality to the story and it’s never less than thoroughly engaging. Tom Baker and Liz Sladen are at the top of their game and there’s fantastic guest support from Tony Beckley as Chase, John Challis as Scorby and the inimitable Sylvia Coleridge as Amelia Ducat. The humanoid stages of the Krynoid are a redressed costume from 1971’s The Claws of Axos and the location recording is all shot on Outside Broadcast (OB) video, but these cost-saving measures go largely unnoticed  and The Seeds of Doom is a classy and polished production that perfectly caps a very well-received season.

So, which do I prefer…? Well, I have a strong nostalgic attachment to The Seeds of Death and I never watch it without a big smile on my face. It has problems; it’s stretched out at 6 episodes, but less so than a great many other 60s stories and Troughton’s disappearance from episode 4 is more noticeable when watching the episodes than it was in the omnibus, but I adore this story and would happily watch it over many other more worthy additions to the canon. I have less attachment to The Seeds of Doom, but I can fully see that it’s a very impressive production. Possibly more so than any other 70s episode, this looks like a movie split down into 6 instalments and broadcast at Saturday teatime. It’s far from perfect, but you can’t help but admire the sheer scale of it all; an ambitious idea that rarely fails to hit its target. You know… I just can’t pick a favourite; they’re both terrific for very different reasons.

You feel disappointed, don’t you? You feel let down because you’ve read this entire article waiting for a decision of which is best out of The Seeds of Death and The Seeds of Doom and what do you get…? A draw! But hey, that’s the way it is with Doctor Who. I’ve never understood these people who crop up on Twitter with declarations along the lines of ‘I love Time and the Rani, so Pyramids of Mars must be crap’ – you’re allowed to like both. I suppose it’s the folly of youth to cling to a label, but you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself; you can be a fan of Jodie Whittaker and still love William Hartnell and that’s no problem whatsoever. I can honestly say, in this Sixtieth Anniversary year, that I’ve never seen an episode of Doctor Who I didn’t enjoy. Sure, I like some more than others, but it’s all got that special quality that draws me inextricably towards the series and makes me a Doctor Who fan for life!


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