Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Volume 4.4

It’s not just the regeneration of The Doctor that marks the end of an era in the world’s longest running serial in television history. Some of the Doctor’s companions had just as much impact on the tone of the show and the fans. When asked who is the greatest companion ever to appear many fans would automatically name Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elizabeth Sladen, who originally joined the Doctor on his travels for three years initially. With this set of reviews we chart her last few stories alongside the Fourth Doctor.

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Seeds of DoomThe Seeds of Doom

Certainly something of a mini-epic to cap off the 13th season of Doctor Who. It begins in the Antarctic a team of researchers uncover an object resembling a large seed pod. It turns out to be of vegetable matter and has been buried under the ice for 20,000 years. Richard Dunbar of the World Biology Bureau agrees to send the Doctor to investigate but also brings the pod to the attention of Harrison Chase, a millionaire with an interest in rare items.

Meanwhile in the Antarctic the pod has been absorbing ultra-violet rays and splits open. A tentacle emerges and lashes onto one of the researchers and infects him. While he begins morphing in a human/plant hybrid The Doctor arrives with Sarah Jane to investigate. At the same time a pair of mercenaries hired by Chase appear with the story of being stranded and needing shelter in order to steal the pod. The Doctor revels that the pod is a Krynoid, a galactic weed that infects planets and wipes out any living creatures inhabiting them. The situation becomes more urgent when the Doctor finds out that one of the two Krynoids have already infected a human and they’re trapped with it and two violent mercenaries in the Antarctic.

Halfway through the story the action shifts back to England with Chase having obtained one of the two Krynoid pods. As Chase experiments with the pod The Doctor races to stop him but fails to prevent the seed from hatching and infecting one of Chase’s men. As the Krynoid infected human grows in size it becomes more difficult to stop.

Seeds of Doom

It’s getting all Cthulhu in here.

Definitely a solid serial. The extra two episodes gives it room to flesh out the plot with conspiracies and betrayals along with the usual amount of kidnappings, traps and the Doctor relying on his wits to get out of perilous situations. It’s not an episode that stretching the boundaries of the series but it does make good use of the usual Doctor Who tropes and provides a good couple of settings. The special effects of the Krynoid mutants mark a solid step up in the series up to this point.

The Masque of MandragoraThe Masque of Mandragora

The Doctor is giving Sarah Jane a tour of the TARDIS that includes his gargantuan boot closest when he stumbles across the alternative control room (containing the Third Doctor’s smoking jacket and cravat plus the Second’s flute). He notices that a swirl of living energy is drawing the TARDIS inward. The vortex – the Mandragora Helix – contains an intelligence that begins physically attacking them before sending the ship on a crash course for Earth during the 15th century. Unbeknownst to the time travelers a particle of the Hex energy has hitched a ride with them.

Finding themselves in the Italian countryside where a peasant revolt is being quashed by the aristocracy. Among the aristocracy things are equally unsettled. The Duke lies dying and his brother is trying to wrest control of the serfdom from his nephew. Both factions have their allies, among them a, ‘astrologer’ who foretold the Duke’s death as part of a scheme by the Duke’s brother to have him poisoned. In addition there is a cult that should not have existed at that point in history who seem connected to the Hex energy that is obliterating people.

The Masque of Mandragora

Again, another solid episode by it seems to be lacking the right amount of scope. For all the talk about increasing civilian unrest and how close the revolution is to the keep we never really get to it. They could be talking about rabid opossums for all it matters. There’s also plenty of talk about meeting Leonardo da Vinci throughout the episodes but this amounts to nothing more than a tease, and considering how often they bring it up it’s quite a let down. These quibbles aside it’s an entertaining story with enough action to keep things fun. The Doctor using his scarf to trip up an executioner is worth the watch alone.

Hand of FearThe Hand of Fear

Right off the bat this is one of the best serials in the Fourth Doctor’s canon. The Doctor and Sarah Jane land in the middle of a quarry. Oblivious to the sirens sounding they remain unaware that the place is about to be blasted. They make a run for cover but get buried. By the time they get to Sarah Jane she’s come into contact with a disembodied and petrified hand wearing a gemstone ring. They rush her to the hospital but it turns out that she is being possessed by the hand and escapes. She heads takes the hand to a nearby nuclear power station with the intention of exposing it to radioactive material, insisting that ‘Eldrad must live’. Although The Doctor does get Sarah Jane back to normal the hand is quick to memorize others and it isn’t long until the alien Eldrad is unleashed.

When Eldrad manifests herself she is revealed to be a a traitor and criminal who was sentenced to death millennia ago, with the only surviving portion being the hand that wound up on Earth. Any attacks by Earth’s forces only strengthens Eldrad and the Doctor is left trying to make a deal to return her to her homeworld of Kastria. Instead the Doctor tricks her by trapping her in the time vortex, releasing her 150 years after she’d been sentenced to death. The final eventually it comes down to The Doctor and Sarah Jane facing off against Eldrad on her homeworld as she tries to take control.

Hand of Fear

These are a good set of episodes with an interesting villain. The scenes where Sarah Jane is under the control of Eldrad have a strong impact and it drags out some strong responses from The Doctor. When she ultimately decides to leave The Doctor at the end of the serial and return to her own time it feels as though it’s done with little fanfare or response from the Doctor. The closing gag of the Doctor accidentally (?) dropping her in the wrong town is funny but it feels like an almost bitter departure, aside from the final lingering freeze frame.

This is in part at the request of Elizabeth Sladen who felt that her departure from the series shouldn’t form the crux of the episode as the show’s focus should remain on The Doctor. Nonetheless, considering her status in the series, it’s a shame that she’s so abruptly dismissed.

Sarah Jane Smith gif