“It’s down there… in the darkness…in the pipeline… waiting…” – Van Lutyens
Another great one from the Troughton era, this is the one I would pick (if the video existed) from this time period to show as a perfect example of a standard Doctor Who episode with the Doctor and crew being dragged into a growing crisis in a remote location which they have to combat and solve just at the height of an invasion. It’s got a lot of atmosphere of a horror story to it—innocent victims attacked in their home, a man being dragged to his seeming horrible death, and seemingly possessed people acting menacingly off kilter.
The overall plot is quite a good one—a reason it made a great novelization (my first exposure to the story) which follows the screenplay pretty much exactly. Unlike a lot of six-parters, the pacing of this one builds well (barring some padding of in a long scene of silliness as the Doctor tries to fly a helicopter), creating a great sense of tension and ending on cliffhangers that are quite good. The backstory of the seaweed creature’s appearance and its progression are unfolded quite well in the course of the story but its origins are squarely left a mystery: Is it alien? Is it a mutation? Is it simply an undiscovered species interacting with (and changed by) humanity in its first contact? The story does well to keep this unanswered. The use of a corporation acting in autonomy under a dictatorial director will be used again throughout the series. It’s also notably the story where we are introduced to the sonic screwdriver!
Several of the characters are played quite large with good characterization inserted into the dialogue: Robson flies of in a scary rage non-stop but it’s easy to see that his pride masks the insecurity of a skilled but self-taught worker who has risen to a level usually filled by people with advanced degrees. And that the upper leadership of the whole operation is a strong female character is a surprise in this era of television.
I don’t think any classic companion gets as much of a storyline about their departure as Victoria who increasingly throughout the story speaks up about her growing weariness at constantly being in danger and fear. It’s not a surprise at the end when she announces her intention not to continue traveling. What’s particularly interesting is how much space the Doctor insists on giving her to make up her own mind about it, even spending a couple days for a slow goodbye so she can be sure. She and Jamie get a whole scene to discuss and share their feelings. It’s not at all the hasty and sudden departures we are used to.
- The sonic screwdriver!
- The TARDIS floats on water
Best unsettling moments:
The horror suspense elements of this story offer several quite unsettling scenes one of the most iconic being the odd pair of Oak and Quill coming into the bedroom of Maggie Harris. As their mouths open with a hiss to let out the toxic gas that overcomes over her, the scary gaunt face of Quill with mouth agape is bad enough but the close-ups of the blackened lips and crooked teeth of the pair really make it absolutely hideous. I am sure the scene of Maggie later calmly walking possessed into the sea was also quite startling but unfortunately we can’t see it. Even Robson walking out of the foam softly saying “Come in, Doctor. I’ve been waiting for you.” is super eerie since it is so soft and in contrast to his previous bluster.
I like pretty much everything about this story (other than the fact that it is missing) but I do think the seaweed itself could have looked better. The moving arms of it are all right but the fronds supposedly growing from the possessed humans look like obviously tacked on strands of pine needle and the piece left for Maggie that the Doctor examines does not at all look like “slimy and horrid” as described.