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A Reply to... The Seeds of Doom - An Appreciation

By Phillip J. Gray

This is a response to certain aspects of The Seeds of Doom - An Appreciation by Guy Blythman published in TSV 43. The article brought up some very interesting points, some of which I intend to dispute. In particular I would argue that Blythman has offered a spurious correlation between 'campness' and 'homosexuality'.

There is much in Blythman's article with which I agree. I found The Seeds of Doom to be a disappointment when I saw all six episodes for the first time earlier this year. Certainly the production values are excellent, as Blythman notes, but the story leaves much to be desired. It is alarming how little the Doctor and Sarah seem to do. They bumble about Antarctica and the grounds of Chase's house for six episodes before the arrival of the RAF to destroy the Krynoid. The lack of a more active role for the Doctor in the final resolution of the story is disturbing and can be attributed mainly to the writer's inexperience of the conventions of the series (although criticism could be directed at script editor Robert Holmes for not ensuring that the Doctor was more central to the story's conclusion).

I however strongly take issue with Guy Blythman's idea that Harrison Chase was a 'camp' character, the underlying and simplistic assumption being that this automatically makes him gay. Blythman's use of the terms indicates a certain conceptual crudeness thankfully not fully brought out in the rest of the article, but requiring redress nonetheless. The two major issues are in Blythman's terms whether Chase is 'camp', and whether he is 'gay', and the relationship between the two features.

Blythman's analysis of the relationship between the characters in The Seeds of Doom is constructed around a view of Harrison Chase which is debatable at best. The prime characteristic determining the relationship between the characters is portrayed as being (homo)sexuality. Blythman attempts to extrapolate some of the background to the situation and to link this to what appear to be alarmingly preconceived ideas about 'campness' and 'homosexuality'. Indeed he makes no bones about describing Chase as "retaining an effete, 'camp' manner", liking to be "surrounded by butch males" (apparently a contrast to Chase's own 'effeminacy') and that "Chase probably despises Scorby for his loutish manner, while the macho mercenary returns his master's dislike for him, though not openly expressing it, on account of his effeminacy." I can find little evidence for extrapolations such as these, although of course any such discourse is opinion on either side. But Blythman's apparently unthinking use of terms such as 'effeminacy' and 'camp' reveal the intellectual bankruptcy behind his discussion.

In my opinion, there is no on-screen evidence which suggests that Harrison Chase is a gay character, beyond stereotypes relating to behaviour and speech. Chase displays no sexual interest in any of the other characters in the story, and his smugness is suggestive of no particular sexual orientation. Harrison Chase's relations with the other characters are dominated by a self-obsessed fastidiousness which if anything suggests asexuality rather than any definite sexual orientation. As the character's obsession is with plants, it seems more logical that this rather than any sexual characteristic would be the prime motivation for the character. I would suggest that old-fashioned power is a much more likely basis for the relations between the characters in The Seeds of Doom, particularly the power exercised by Chase over his employees such as Hargreaves, Scorby and Keeler. The relationship between Scorby and Chase, rather than being based on some kind of repressed homosexuality as implied in Blythman's article, is more likely to be based on mutual recognition of each others' strengths. Chase values Scorby's loyalty and brutality, and Scorby his employer's wealth, influence, and the opportunities for the expression of brutality which his employment allows him. The relationship between Chase and Dunbar is dominated by the former's recognition of the other's greed, something which Blythman does acknowledge. Economic rather than sexual power, I would suggest, is a more likely candidate for the relationship between Harrison Chase and his employees.

It seems to me that Blythman has subscribed to the mistaken assumption that if a character is 'camp' then he must be 'gay', a syllogism which belies a crude conception both of behaviour and sexuality. Many gay people are not camp, and many camp people are not gay. 'Campness', as I understand it, is the cultivation of eccentric behavioural characteristics to make up for a poor self-image or a perception of insecurity. An excellent article entitled The Steel Queen, in the British fanzine Cottage under Siege, adopts a more sophisticated and therefore more profitable approach to the subject. The assumption Blythman's article seems to have been based on is the widely-held belief that campness is synonymous with homosexuality. This is plainly not true, as The Steel Queen article suggests. 'Camp' people project a picture of themselves to the outside world and in their interaction with other individuals which may or may not be their 'real' personality; as the Cottage article succinctly states, "the cultivation of a heightened, eccentric or glittering persona that disguises the mundanity or, in extreme cases, the tragedy of the individual lurking beneath".

The classic case, revealed recently in the publication of his letters and his diaries, is the late comedian Kenneth Williams, who despised his roles in Carry On films and numerous appearances in media genres within which he was expected to behave in a 'camp' fashion. Williams' diaries reveal a terrible sense of both insecurity and self-doubt which apparently led him to adopt outrageous behaviour in the pursuit of acceptance. This is not necessarily true of all people judged by others to be 'camp', but I think it has a great deal to do with many of them. The candidates for the most 'camp' characters in The Seeds of Doom (according to the definition above) are actually the Doctor and Amelia Ducat, both of whom display eccentricity in alarming quantities and whose behaviour is very unpredictable. Yet they do not feature in Blythman's attempts to rationalise the interplay between the story's characters, despite displaying all the quantities of 'campness' bar one: the ability to be stereotyped as a gay man. In the context of the Doctor Who series the most camp figure of all is the Doctor as played by Jon Pertwee, in terms of speech, behaviour and flamboyant dress sense. Yet to suggest that Jon Pertwee is gay or was playing a gay character would seem almost laughable.

I hope that these comments have prompted people to think a little more deeply both about the nature of 'campness' in The Seeds of Doom, but more importantly, about the use of terms such as 'camp' in everyday discourse and particularly to avoid the facetious assumption that flamboyant behaviour is some kind of automatic indication of homosexuality.

To end on a lighter note, in response to a comment Blythman makes towards the end of his article, I regard Graham Williams' era as being far more 'intellectually complex' than John Nathan-Turner's, although the term 'pretentious artistry' summarises the latter very well!

Right of Reply

Guy Blythman responded to the points raised in Phillip's article in a letter that appeared in TSV 45. Guy wrote:

Concerning Phillip J Gray's piece in TSV 44 replying to my Seeds of Doom article, I must refute the charge that I am "intellectually bankrupt", guilty of a "conceptual crudeness" or have "preconceived notions" about things. However, Phillip's ire appears to be the result of a misunderstanding which was not his fault.

As submitted, the passage which appears to have caused him the most offence was rather different in certain respects from what actually appeared in print. I described Chase as "retaining the effete manner we observe in the 'camp' form of 'homosexual'", and later went on to say "of course there is no reason to suppose all homosexuals are like Chase in either their manners or their morals". I had realised that I might unintentionally give offence if the passage were not phrased very carefully, and that was something I did not wish to happen. It was edited (for what reason is not clear although I'm sure it wasn't mischievous) in a way which unfortunately had the effect of changing the sense of what I was saying.

I agree that "many gay people are not camp, and many camp people are not gay". My own personal experience of society confirms this. So campness can indeed have nothing to do with sexuality, although when I say that some homosexuals are 'camp' you know what I mean.

Phillip is wrong in stating of my article that "the prime characteristic determining the relationship between the characters is portrayed as being (homo)sexuality". Which characters? The Antarctic scientists? Keeler? Sir Colin Thackeray? Beresford? Henderson? There is in fact no homosexuality in the story, not even on the part of Chase, whom I only suggested may have been gay at one time. Regarding the explanation for Scorby and the guards, I thought that as well as being necessary to protect Chase's extensive possessions, as well as add to them clandestinely, they were "probably also leftovers from a time when Chase liked to be surrounded by butch males". In other words, sex may originally have been the reason for their employment, but Chase's feelings towards them later changed to the point where they were there for the sake of convenience only. By the time of The Seeds of Doom Chase has of course given up on Homo Sapiens in general, as far as emotional attachments are concerned, and decided to put his faith only in plants. That is why, in Phillip's own words, he "displays no sexual interest in any of the other characters in the story". When Phillip writes, "As the character's obsession is with plants, it seems more logical that [a self-obsessed fastidiousness which if anything suggests asexuality rather than any definite sexual orientation] would be [his] motivation", he is mistakenly thinking me to be on quite a different wavelength from himself where the subject of Chase's ultimate sexual allegiances is concerned.

There is no homosexuality, repressed or otherwise, in Chase's relations with Scorby. The relationships between Chase and his retinue are indeed primarily economic (as well as having a lot to do with "old fashioned power"), as my explanation for Keeler's involvement with Chase ought to have suggested.

On the understanding that campness and homosexuality are not inseparably linked (something which, as is made clear above, I quite accept), I'm quite entitled to think of a character like Chase (who, it must be remembered, is after all fictional) in the way I did in my article, if it makes him more interesting!

Guy Blythman,
Sunbury-on-Thames, England

Editor's reply: The line in Guy Blythman's article in TSV 43 which reads "As well as retaining an effete 'camp' manner, Chase is petty..." was indeed edited. The original version read as follows: "As well as retaining the effete manner we observe in the camp form of homosexual, Chase has all the characteristics of the nastier sort, which I'm afraid does exist even though to say so might seem bigoted. He is petty..."

This item appeared in TSV 44 (June 1995).

Index nodes: The Seeds of Doom