Botanicult Fiction: Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom
By Alex Henderson, Curator of Collections, Royal Botanical Gardens
Doctor who and the seeds of Doom, written by Robert Banks Stewart, was the final story of season 13 of the original classic series. It is a botanical and gothic horror masterpiece which is not something you get to say every day! I was only six years old when it was broadcast in 1976 and it changed my life. The story begins in the blizzards of Antarctica where a scientific survey team discover a plant-like pod deep in ice. Scientific marvel turns to panic when the pod breaks open producing a tendril of death in search of human flesh. Back in London The Ecology Bureau calls in the fourth Doctor for help. The Doctor confirms the pod is of extra-terrestrial origin and identifies the life form as a Krynoid, a species of sentient plant life able to spread itself through star systems and considered to be a dangerous pest. Enter the villain, millionaire monomaniac Harrison Chase. Chase is an obsessive and compulsive plant collector who considers his life’s work to protect the plant life of Mother Earth. His large English estate is filled with diverse plant collections and upon learning of the Krynoid will do anything within his considerable power to acquire the specimen for his collection. Unfortunately for Chase, he forgets that the Krynoid is not of Mother Earth and all botanical hell breaks loose (spoilers)!
As a six-year-old my mind was absolutely captured by Krynoid biology. In this one story I learned (fictitiously of course) that Krynoids launch their pods into space via vast explosions. Upon opening, pods infect their prey, consuming a body from the inside and turning it into a walking mass of vegetable matter which becomes a juvenile Krynoid. Adult Krynoids are an amorphous mass of mobile vegetable growth with giant tentacles and never stop growing. They are able to merge with and form hive minds with existing vegetation. Most impressively they are able to cover the entire biosphere of planets and change worlds.
Way back in 1976 I didn’t realise the Doctor was giving the young me my first look into the world of plant collecting, plant collections and what we now call invasive plants. I had no idea that watching this particular Doctor Who serial and the imagination explosion it created in my mind would be a pivotal life moment, guiding me gently towards a career of working with plants and plant conservation. The serial was novelised in 1977 by Philip Hinchcliffe for Target Books and remains one of my favourite Doctor Who novels to date. Now if I can just get Harrison Chase to fund my plant collecting trip to Antarctica MUAHAHAHA….
Botanicult Fiction is an affectionate review of plants in pop culture viewed through the lens of plant nerds and curated for your reading or viewing pleasure during this challenging time of self isolation