Doctor Who: The Roots Of Evil

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Green fingered Christopher Morley opens up the pages of The Roots Of Evil.


Philip Reeve's The Roots Of Evil, the Fourth Doctor's entry in the 12 Doctors, 12 Stories anthology, does what some might say Doctor Who has always done best- taking a familiar location & making it seem alternately wonderfully & terrifyingly alien! In this case its the Heligan Structure, a forest-like space station hewn from a sentient tree. But as the prologue tells us, this space-faring answer to Cornwall's Lost Gardens of Heligan hides a dark secret. No cream tea, Harry, to paraphrase an exchange from Genesis Of The Daleks!


"Above the dead surface of a nameless world, far out among the Autumn Stars, the Heligan Structure hangs alone in the hard, cold light of space. A tree that has never known the tug of any gravity, except its own, it has grown immense, stretching out its massive branches in all directions. Among its glossy leaves the people build their homes and halls and galleries, but the tree does not notice them. It is sleeping, as it has slept for centuries, dreaming its long, slow, bitter dreams of vengeance..."
And its against this backdrop that the Doctor & Leela arrive, at some point after The Sun Makers going by the reference to their ''steel hives on Pluto''. Where the rest of the galaxy sees a hero, though, the inhabitants of the Structure see a hated enemy. Only at this point in his personal time-line he hasn't done anything wrong! Not yet anyway. His future is their past, so you can understand his confusion at the legends surrounding his deceitful nature & mythical ''Blue Box''. It's permeated their culture to the extent that even their very names reflect the desire for revenge- Ven, the teenager saved by a very useful scarf in the early parts of the story, rejoices in the full name of ''Vengeance-Will-Be-Ours-When-The-Doctor-Dies-A-Thousand-Agonising-Deaths''. As the object of that vitriol observes, '' Well, that is a bit of a mouthful, I can see why you shortened it...'' then offers him a jelly baby anyway!



But why does everyone have it in for the Doctor? It seems that a later incarnation is the reason they were forced onto the Structure in the first place, & the not quite as dead as everyone believed him to be Director Sprawn – who's managed to become one with the great tree-has been tampering with the genetic structure of the Heligan itself, turning its spores into warriors in an effort to track down the Time Lord. The only trouble there being that the spores are blind & so can't differentiate between him & the humans aboard, not that Sprawn cares. He still harbours a grudge over the Eleventh Doctor getting in the way of his plans to colonise another planet, Golrandonvar. To do so he would've needed to dispatch the alien natives of that world, the Thara. Exterminate them, if you will.

But the Doctor's never really liked that word, has he? And so he sided with the Thara, driving the humans onto the Heligan Structure. Those he helped to banish have never forgotten the affront, even building a statue of their bow-tied nemesis in a monument to holding onto grievances. His younger self seems to be unimpressed upon his first glimpse of it, though:
"There is a certain resemblance. Two ears, two ears, one nose- I suppose you could call that a nose? And its true that I've changed a bit over the years. But I'm certain I've never looked like that."
His later self's bow tie also comes in for a little scorn, perhaps a senior moment for the Doctor as he seems to have conveniently forgotten that he also wore one just two selves ago from his point of view.
"I mean, he's wearing a bow tie! Ridiculous objects! I wouldn't be seen dead in a bow tie!"

But neck adornment or no neck adornment, he does manage to save the day- resetting Sprawn's deliberate chemical imbalance & returning the spores to their proper, more peaceable nature. Which in turn allows them to break free & make more of themselves to create a veritable galactic forest, similar to its real world- equivalent.

A visit to which comes heartily recommended, especially after the magnificent job done in restoring the gardens back to something like their best! Here's the story as told by those involved in it:
"At the end of the nineteenth century its thousand acres were at their zenith, but only a few years later bramble and ivy were already drawing a green veil over this “Sleeping Beauty”. After decades of neglect, the devastating hurricane of 1990 should have consigned the Lost Gardens of Heligan to a footnote in history.
Instead, events conspired to bring us here and the romance of their decay took a hold on our imaginations. Our discovery of a tiny room, buried under fallen masonry in the corner of one of the walled gardens, was to unlock the secret of their demise. A motto etched into the limestone walls in barely legible pencil still reads “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber” with the names of those who worked there signed under the date – August 1914.

We were fired by a magnificent obsession to bring these once glorious gardens back to life in every sense and to tell, for the first time, not tales of lords and ladies but of those “ordinary” people who had made these gardens great, before departing for the Great War.

We have now established a large working team with its own vision for our third decade. The award-winning garden restoration is already internationally acclaimed; but our lease now extends into well over 300 acres of the Wider Estate, leaving the project far from complete.

We intend Heligan to remain a living and working example of the best of past practice, offering public access into the heart of what we do.

Our contemporary focus is to work with nature, accepting and respecting it and protecting and enhancing the variety of habitats with which our project is endowed."

If all this has inspired you to make a visit, see http://heligan.com/visiting-us/ for a comprehensive guide. At least wait until the weather perks up, mind, or you might need a scarf yourself!
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