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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Banks Stewart’

Robert Banks Stewart died recently. His was not really a big name, but he created the BBC detective series Shoestring and Bergerac. He also wrote several episodes of The Avengers, and ten episodes of Doctor Who from one of the periods when the series was at its absolute peak. This is what I wrote about one of those stories, The Seeds of Doom, over 15 years ago, and very little has happened to make me change my assessment since. RIP.

It’s been argued many times that Tom Baker’s first three seasons were DW‘s high water mark in terms of combining creative, critical, and popular success: this era’s classics still stand up well today. And, Genesis of the Daleks aside, what they have in common in script terms is their gleeful pleasure in ransacking the horror movies of Universal and Hammer for all sorts of visual and dramatic cues. All this we know; all this is obvious. What’s less obvious is why The Seeds of Doom features amongst their number so automatically.

Krynoid1

The roots (sorry, it’s obligatory) of this story show. The Thing From Another World (stealing from the Nyby version and anticipating Carpenter’s), The Quatermass Experiment, even an Avengers episode. But even so, these aren’t the usual sources for a Robert Holmes-commissioned script. And then there are the influences that never seem to get mentioned – mainly the James Bond franchise and similar gritty action-adventure series.

The Krynoid is a far from typical Doctor Who enemy. It lacks a face, a complex agenda of any kind, even a voice of its’ own for most of the story (the scene in Episode Five where the Krynoid actually speaks is one of the few in the serial not to ring true). It is in every sense alien, compared to the usual villains of the time – Davros, Solon, Sutekh. If anything this foregrounds the truly human adversaries the Doctor and Sarah must face, the Krynoid only becoming the true menace in the last third of the story. Before that, the characters are motivated by human flaws, and these drive the story: Stevenson’s curiosity, Dunbar’s ambition, Scorby’s greed, and Keeler’s cowardice.

Only Chase seems like a ‘normal’ villain. Surely one of the Hinchcliffe era’s strengths was the producers’ realisation that, in order for the fourth Doctor’s personality not to unbalance the drama, he required opponents equally capable of mesmerising the audience, and in Harrison Chase they had one of their best. In theory simply a normal human, he stands up well alongside any of the series’ celebrated superhuman enemies. It’s telling that episode five closes with a shot of Chase’s expression rather than the more obvious threat of the looming Krynoid.

The sense that this is not a typical Doctor Who story carries through elsewhere. The Doctor is an aloof, often intimidating figure, almost totally devoid of his usual humour, brusquely patronising his allies and dealing with his foes with ruthless violence whenever necessary. Science is seen almost as a threat, and is no solution to the menace. It’s amusing that, shortly after telling Scorby that ‘Bullets and bombs won’t solve everything’ the Doctor is reduced to calling in an airstrike on the Krynoid to resolve the situation – and when else have events outflanked him so completely that he’s forced into such blunt tactics?

The production values and performances don’t let the script down. The WEB being fairly obviously based in BBC TV centre raises a smile, as perhaps might the Antarctic exteriors, but these don’t detract from the story. Other than perhaps Chase’s army of two, all the performances are faultless. Apart from Tony Beckley as Chase, Mark Jones as Keeler and John Challis as Scorby are particularly good – Challis is lightyears away from his much more famous role in the BBC’s Only Fools and Horses…

This is Doctor Who pushing the envelope more completely and more extremely than any of the so-called oddball stories. The series has seldom been so down-to-earth, so dark, so casually and openly violent. And it’s seldom been so compulsively watchable.

(Respect is of course due to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide, which has permitted my emanations to hang around the internet for overĀ a decade and a half.)

 

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