Category Archives: season 13

The Seeds of Doom

The Seeds of Doom (unrelated to The Seeds of Death, incidentally) starts in the Antarctic, when an excavation uncovers an alien plant pod. As the pod opens, infects one of the humans and turns him into a plant-like creature, I expected a run-of-the-mill monster story all set within the base. An isolated location, cut-off from the outside, with danger of death all around.

The frozen plant pod is dug up from under the ice.

The frozen plant pod is dug up from under the ice.

But the story actually only spends two episodes there. The base is blown up and a second pod is taken back to England, whereupon the stakes are significantly raised. Another infected human becomes an enormous monstrosity (a Krynoid) that threatens to turn all plant life on Earth against humans, and replicate itself into more man-eating monsters and take over the planet. To be honest, I preferred it when the stakes were lower, but I must admit, this one is well done.

The giant Krynoid attacks the mansion!

The giant Krynoid attacks the mansion!

It is a monster story in the truest sense. There’s no attempt to reach an understanding with the creature, despite it showing its intelligence. We’re left to the Doctor’s word that it is an unstoppable evil that must be destroyed, and who are we to question him? But the human face to this evil is Harrison Chase, a millionnaire plant-lover, who I was sure would turn out to be an alien himself (he’s so oddly calm and strange), but he is simply a madman who succumbs to the power of the plants.

Chase tries to infect Sarah Jane with the plant - all in the name of scientific curiosity.

Chase tries to infect Sarah Jane with the plant – all in the name of scientific curiosity.

Nevertheless, most of the characters are more memorable than usual, and even Chase’s thug-for-hire (Scorby) has a personality that almost makes you feel sorry for him, probably because he’s played by John “Boycie” Challis and gets more than two lines of dialogue. Meanwhile, the Doctor does his thoroughly enjoyable routine of calm mockery and occasional shouting, and this time does a surprising amount of physical fighting too.

The Doctor narrowly escapes a messy end, then nonchalantly claims that would have been a waste.

The Doctor narrowly escapes a messy end, then nonchalantly claims that would have been a waste.

It doesn’t shy away from a bit of violence, either real or implied. Chase’s sticky end in the vegetable grinder is more ‘clean’ than one might realistically expect, but it was probably a hard job to get away with what they did! Elsewhere, you have vines strangling people, giant tentacles smashing through windows and another explosive finish as UNIT calls in an airstrike to kill the creature in the nick of time. On this whole, it’s fairly good, and hasn’t aged as badly as you might expect.

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The Brain of Morbius

The last couple of seasons have seen an increase in frightening imagery, grotesque monsters and grisly horror, and this comes to a head (ho-ho!) in The Brain of Morbius, which is basically a classic horror story in sci-fi clothing.

"Yesh mashter."

“Yesh mashter.”

In an obvious adaptation of Frankenstein, a crazy scientist (Doctor Solon) and his hunchbacked assistant (Condo) are building a creature out of spare body parts in a spooky castle on a misty night. I assume they’re in the Cliché District of Parody City, but it doesn’t specify (actually, it’s planet Karn). An evil Time Lord called Morbius, long thought to be dead, is sitting in a jar in Solon’s lab, a floating brain waiting for a new body to be completed.

The brain of Morbius, in a jar. For some reason, it glows when it talks.

The brain of Morbius, in a jar. For some reason, it glows when it talks.

This must have been one of the scariest Doctor Who stories at the time. Unfortunately, as an adult, it looks too corny and fake to me, but any kids in 1976 would have been given nightmares at the sight of a headless monster sitting up, not to mention people getting killed, beheaded, shot and burned alive. Even for me, it’s decidedly creepy; the moment when Solon is measuring up the Doctor’s head makes me wince just a little.

Sarah regains her sight moments before the Morbius monster attacks.

Sarah regains her sight moments before the Morbius monster attacks.

This story also introduces some more Time Lord lore in the Sisterhood who guard an elixir that they use for eternal life, and that the Time Lords have used to prevent failed regenerations. During the final battle of minds, I also enjoyed seeing the many past faces of the Doctor (and, presumably, Morbius?) being displayed on the screen. Having recently seen ‘Nightmare in Silver’, where a similar scenario occurs, I see a definite homage here!

A battle of the minds, the Doctor versus Morbius.

A battle of the minds, the Doctor versus Morbius.

As for the Sisterhood itself, this small group of cultish space witches did not make for good viewing, particularly with all the irritating chanting they do. The Doctor makes a good point about the futility of life without death, but the words ring hollow when spoken by a 749 year old Time Lord, and the Sisters go on using the elixir at the end anyway.

"Sacred fire, sacred flame..." Shut up!

“Sacred fire, sacred flame…” Shut up!

Overall, as a corny horror story, this was fine. I would have liked to see Morbius fleshed out more, as he comes off as little more than a ravaging monster. Sarah Jane gets to act blind for a while, which she does well, but I am getting tired of the way her hysterical lines are delivered as though she’s hyperventilating. I can’t stop noticing it now! The Doctor is remarkably watchable and gets some great lines. I love how matter-of-fact and calm he is in ridiculous situations.

The Android Invasion

I continue to be impressed by how much this TV show achieves with so little. An alien invasion, android duplicates of people, a copy of Earth, bombs going off, a space rocket launch and the whole human race in danger of extinction, and yet much of it simply filmed in a little village or a forest or in the standing UNIT sets. Quite amazing, really.

The Doc gets some great lines, including this one: "is that finger loaded?"

The Doc gets some great lines, including this one: “is that finger loaded?”

It’s often best to simply let your imagination fill in the gaps, and that’s put to good use here, because you’re not quite sure of what’s real and what isn’t. I really liked the twist that they were in a training area, with clues being slowly revealed. The android Sarah Jane was another great reveal, and the moment when it falls over and the front of its face comes off, or when one of the other androids bursts into flames and melts, is pure sci-fi horror at its best.

A freaktastic reveal!

A freaktastic reveal!

Before they know where they are, it seems like a village of brainwashed people, acting very strangely indeed. The space-suited androids, the abandoned village, the phones that don’t work, the calendar with the same dates on every page, and the superb moment when the clock strikes midday and all the people in the pub come to life, is all so wonderfully creepy.

The Kraal.

The Kraal.

The actual aliens themselves, the Kraal, are just another in a comically long line of rubber-masked menaces who want to conquer the Earth. I thought they were Sontarans at first, but then you get a good look and they’re not. They’re a bit dinosaur-looking, and there’s obvious limitations in getting the rubber mouths to move properly, but they are effective enough. I found it hard to believe the human astronaut would believe them to be benevolent, as they so obviously aren’t, but it’s all part of his brainwashing.

The optimistic British space program appears again, to retrieve its astronaut from Jupiter. Uh-huh!

The optimistic British space program appears again, to retrieve its astronaut from Jupiter. Uh-huh!

A few of the UNIT bunch return, including Harry, but there’s no sign of the Brigadier in this story, as he’s said to be in Geneva. There’s quite a lot of action towards the end. The Doctor gets into a few fights and, at one point, jumps through a window! He and Sarah continue to play off each other well – there’s definitely a trust developing between them and some relaxed dialogue. Sarah doesn’t seem to get hysterical as often, either. Good stuff, and if this is what Terry Nation can do when he’s not writing Dalek episodes, I hope he continues to not write Dalek episodes!

Pyramids of Mars

I can usually tell when a good story is about to unfold, and this is the case with Pyramids of Mars, too. In an immediately refreshing change, the scene is set in 1900s Egypt, with an excavation of a pyramid tomb releasing an ancient power from its sleep. Shortly thereafter, we join the Doctor, who pilots the Tardis towards an energy reading that takes them to UNIT HQ… only decades before the present day when it was the site of an old mansion.

The Doctor and Sarah in the treasure room.

The Doctor and Sarah in the treasure room.

The Egyptian theme makes for an interesting change, and this is another story that uses aliens as legends and gods, this time the Osirans, who were an ancient and powerful race of aliens who imprisoned Sutekh away millennia ago.

Sutekh attacks the Doctor with a mind-control beam.

Sutekh attacks the Doctor with a mind-control beam.

Sutekh, the “devil”, god of destruction, the most powerful creature in the known universe, must never be released. For much of the story, he communicates from his ‘prison’, while he uses the body of archeologist Marcus Scarman as a puppet. His dead-eyed expression and convincing performance are put to very good effect. In fact, a lot is done with very little, very few sets, a small cast, and a seemingly small budget, despite a visit to Mars in the final episode, and an excellent peek at a (possible) desolate future through the doors of the Tardis.

Marcus Scarman, the puppet of Sutekh. Look at those cold dead eyes.

Marcus Scarman, the puppet of Sutekh. Look at those cold dead eyes.

I am enjoying these shorter four-part stories a lot. This one doesn’t drag at all and the storytelling is well-paced and makes sense. If I have one complaint, it’s that the ending is somewhat sudden and contrived, with the Doctor able to trap Sutekh forever in a timey-wimey portal. This seems unnecessary, as Sutekh could have been defeated by beating Scarman to the Eye of Horus at the end (through the temple of riddles), but instead Scarman gets there first and destroys it. The mansion burning down at the end nicely sets history back on track.

The robo-mummies guard the missile aimed at the Mars control station.

The robo-mummies guard the missile aimed at the Mars control station.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable serial. The plot is interesting, the robot mummies are good, and the dialogue between the Doctor and Sarah is more natural and witty than normal. They also have a good team dynamic, working together well. Success!

Death by hugging. Ouch!

Death by hugging. Ouch!

A couple of noteworthy mentions. Firstly, Sarah confirms that she is from 1980, which is the first time UNIT has been been given a definite date in time. (This would put the Third Doctor’s adventures in the late 1970s.) Secondly, after Sarah tries on some different clothes, the Doctor distractedly calls her Victoria, remembering his former travelling companion. A nice touch. There’s also a moment where the Doctor admits to being tired of being a UNIT employee, tied down to one place. This is perhaps the start of a breakaway from Earth, or at least the end of the Brigadier as a regular.

Planet of Evil

In a change of scene, we now head into space, far in the future, at the very edge of the known Universe. A remote mining mission is being investigated by the military after it failed to report in. Most of the team is dead, killed by a mysterious creature, but one survivor remains.

Vishinsky meets a gradually unhinged Sorenson.

Vishinsky meets a gradually unhinged Sorenson.

There’s an intriguing “dual reality” theme in this, at least initially. As the creature kills, the victims literally disappear, only to reappear later as dehydrated corpses. Since the creature only attacks at night, I was hoping there would turn out to be some night/day duality at work, but this doesn’t turn out to be the case. Instead, the plot evolves into a more standard monster story, with it infecting the crew and running amuck. The disappearing/reappearing trick doesn’t happen anymore and isn’t questioned again. Disappointing.

The Doctor and Sarah are brought aboard the ship.

The Doctor and Sarah are brought aboard the ship.

The monster does avoid the usual “obvious rubber suit” problem by being largely invisible (using a clever visual effect). Elsewhere, general production values are quite high. The rayguns use a nice practical glow effect. The ship interiors look good, but the uniforms are unflattering. There’s also a lot of grisly deaths/bodies and a sense of dread and terror, which is appealing.

The antimatter creature emerges from the pit of nothingness - a void between our Universe and its anti-matter equivalent.

The antimatter creature emerges from the pit of nothingness – a void between our Universe and its anti-matter equivalent.

I think the main issue with the this one is that the threat of suspicion from the space officers is greater than that of the monster itself. The Doctor and Sarah often find themselves being accused of bringing danger with them, just because they conveniently find themselves amongst it. Here, they are almost executed, whereas the monster barely threatens them. Only a level-headed commander (Vishinsky) saves them from pointless death.

The Doctor and Sarah are almost ejected into space.

The Doctor and Sarah are almost ejected into space.

Overall, this wasn’t bad. I did enjoy the sciency elements, and antimatter made for a good McGuffin of the week, but the plot could have been more ambitious instead of falling back on clichés.

Terror of the Zygons

Apologies for the short break in updates, but I’ve been in Scotland. By an astonishing coincidence, so has the Doctor!

The Brigadier and UNIT are back again. I must admit, I have missed them a little. They’ve been a mainstay of so many episodes now, the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton have probably been in more episodes than any regular travelling companion. This time, they’ve been having a problem in Scotland with some oil rigs being destroyed, and as it turns out, a giant cybernetic monster has been attacking them. Not only that, but it’s being controlled by a race called the Zygons, another in a line of rubber-suited aliens. The costumes are getting more ambitious on this show by the week.

The Zygons are a visually interesting bunch, like bipedal octopodes.

The Zygons are a visually interesting bunch, like bipedal octopodes.

As villains, they are not especially unique. Separated from their planet, they are ruthless because they have nothing to lose, and they want the Earth for their own. Their ability to transform into copies of humans makes them quite similar to the aliens from The Faceless Ones – in fact, why not just bring those back? I can’t really see why the Zygons were popular enough to be revived in the upcoming 50th anniversary special, but maybe it’s just nostaligia. And why not? Their ship interior design is at least quite interesting, very organic and gloomy, like a living creature itself. More could be done with them, certainly.

The Zygon ship reveals itself.

The Zygon ship reveals itself.

I also like how the Zygons’ monster turns out to actually be the Loch Ness monster; taking a legend and making it real is a fun way to put the frights into the kids watching at home. This was an ambitious story, with the creature attacking London at the end, before disengaging its attack. Nevertheless, despite its ambition, it was a somewhat mediocre serial overall.

Nessie attacks!

Nessie attacks!

More concerning is it appears Harry is staying behind with UNIT! I was getting used to the two-companion dynamic, but maybe this is for the best.