There had to be one story that just missed out on it’s place in the top 50 – and this Tom Baker adventure which concluded his second season as the Fourth Doctor earns that dubious honour. Which is an unfair accolade, because The Seeds of Doom really is a sensational story.
Set towards the end of the UNIT era, the Doctor is summoned back after a research team in the Antarctic discover a seed hidden in the snow. It opens, and infects one of the researchers in the station, who begins to transform into a plant-like organism. The emergency would be contained, but for the intervention of the wealthy Harrison Chase, an individual with a disturbing affinity for plant life. He sends his hired muscle, a resourceful chap named Scorby, to recover the seed for examination in his laboratory. While the original seed is now empty, it transpires that there was a second seed hidden in the snow.
The plant creature in the Antarctic is killed after Scorby rigs the base with explosives, and so the Doctor and Sarah chase him to Chase’s estate in England. It is discovered that the seeds are in fact alien lifeforms – Krynoids – who are completely inimical to all flesh creatures. After the Krynoid infects another human and begins the transformation process anew, the Doctor has to quickly figure out how to stop the Krynoid from turning all plant life against humanity.
As I say – this is a superb Doctor Who adventure. The plot is intelligent and well paced. Every cast appearance is well weighted – whether the eerily dispassionate Chase; the amoral adventurer Scorby; or the delightfully dotty Mrs Ducat. Baker himself is at the very height of his powers, and Season 12 deservedly has a reputation as one of the very best in the show’s history. Scorby in particular deserves praise, sitting alongside Regan (from The Ambassadors of Death) as a highly successful villain – intelligent, enterprising, resourceful, and with a clear idea of what he wants to get in life and how he’s going to get it.
Why then is it no higher? Well, as with several other adventures (Remembrance of the Daleks is a prime example) it suffers from no other crime than the generally outstanding quality of Doctor Who in general. It is no worse than many of the stories above it, and would sit comfortably alongside stories in the top ten.
The reason it sits so low then, is that the story is unrelentingly grim. Brilliant, yes. But you do feel afterwards like you want to spend the afternoon in a sunny garden with a puppy. Parts of the story are quite edgy – Harrison Chase for example cheerfully feeds anyone opposed to him into a grinder that is used to feed his compost heaps. Even the odd mirthful moment provided by Mrs Ducat cannot balance the hard edge of the story. It doesn’t make it a bad story … just one that I think I would have enjoyed better if there had been a few lighter moments.