The Curse of Peladon
The Ice Warriors
The Seeds of Death
|Dates||Jan. 25, 1969 -
March 1, 1969
With Patrick Troughton, Frazier Hines, Wendy Padbury.
Written by Brian Hayles. Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed by Michael Ferguson, Produced by Peter Bryant.
|Synopsis: The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe battle the Ice Warriors, who take control of Earth's teleportation system: T-MAT.|
An Ignored Classic? by Joseph Nunweek 1/2/98
When people wish that they could have the 'classic' lost Troughton serials, they tend to ignore what we still have-- such as The Seeds Of Death-- one of the three existing televised Ice Warrior stories - and the last monster story of its era.
The setting works well-- Earth in the future, where humanity has settled into an era of lethargy, no longer exploring space and happy with the ability to T-mat themselves all over the world.
Then the Warriors use the 'infallible' T-mat to take over Earth. There is an impressive scene as a Warrior walks through a dying forest, killing guards. The Ice Lord Slaar is well played by Alan Bennion, and Gia Kelly was probably one of the best psuedo-companions the Doctor has had. Dudley Simpson's score is one of the sixties' best.
Unfortunately, after reading the outline for other Troughton stories, The Seeds of Death seems to be telling a story which is a mix of The Moonbase and The Ice Warriors. I can forgive this. It's my first Troughton after all.
Patrick Troughton was excellent as the Doctor. Sadly, Jamie and Zoe didn't do very much except for scenes in the rocket. All in all, it's not as bad as...well, people should remember it.
A Review by Michael Hickerson 2/2/98
So sue me, I love The Seeds of Death.
Because up until the time that someone kindly returning the lost treasure Tomb of the Cybermen, this was my favorite Troughton story. I really enjoyed watching the Ice Warriors strut their stuff in their attempt to conquer the Earth. Their plan is pretty basic-- take over a Moonbase, use the seed pods to destroy human life, and then use Earth's greatest point of pride (T-Mat) to cement their invasion. It's so simple and, yet, it's so devious.
The Ice Warriors are essentially some of the better villains the series has seen--simply because Brian Hayles gives his monsters a bit more history and motivation than most sixties Who monsters. In The Ice Warriors, we see the lower echelons of their military unit. Here we get to see the command structure of this alien civilization and later, in the Pertwee era, we'll see them move from a race bent on conquering to the galaxy to a race that is willing to work toward peace and harmony. Slaar is a perfect villain because he honestly thinks his plan is foolproof. It's nice to see the little chinks in the armor that the Doctor is able to exploit in order to win the day and a few things that Slaar underestimate (such as Fusham's self-sacrfice to help our heroes!)
And like the Cybermen, I find the Ice Warriors a far more effective villain in their black and white glory. (It may also have something to do with the way they tower over Troughton and company in this story!) They have a bit more menance that they do in color. Part of this may be due to Dudley Simpson's impressive musical score for the episodes. He gives the Ice Warriors a distinctive, musical theme that lifts the episode even higher for me.
And no review of a Troughton story would be complete without a mention of his wonderfully understated performance as the Doctor. The Seeds of Death contains one of my favorite lines when the Doctor boldly informs the Ice Warrior that he is not be killed because he is a genius. Also, the Doctor is his manipulative self in the final episode as he tricks Slaar into thinking the beacon is still working. A nice, quietly dark moment for the second Doctor, that has shades of his earlier manipulation in The Evil of the Daleks or the aforementioned Tomb of the Cybermen.
The Seeds of Death is what the Troughton years is all about-- enjoyable Doctor Who from beginning to end.
Large Pot Lids by Geoffrey Glass 12/3/98
There are several elements which pop up repeatedly in Second Doctor monster tales. The Seeds of Death is the last and has all of them, but they are put together so well that, rather than seem like an imitation, it becomes a representative.
First, of course, there are the monsters, and the Ice Warriors are suitably big and dangerous. But the monsters are seldom the focus-- slightly silly they are much more effective behind the scenes, and here it is the people in the story that give it character and make it shine. Fewsham, Brent, Radnor, Phipps, Kelly, even Eldred and Osgoode, are all excellent and a joy to watch; indeed, they overshadow poor Jamie and Zoe and, at times, the Doctor. I can even imagine this story being good without him.
Needless to say, Troughton is a definite asset. He covers the whole range of his character, from frantic dashing about to casual fearlessness as he hunts an Ice Warrior with large pot lids and an unflinching acceptance of the inevitable when he is confronted by Slaar at the end.
The plots of the time often revolve around an isolated human outpost or an invasion of Earth. Almost uniquely (The Web of Fear being the only other such story), The Seeds of Death covers both angles wonderfully with the occupied moon base and the Earth under siege from fungus.
This story also follows the pattern of being set in a future whose vision is clearly and happily of the sixties. Other details, from the superb music to the outer-space introductory sequence and the credits scrolling up over the drifting rocket at the end of episode two, add to this sense of when the story was made. Only the underwear-pattern pyjamas are a bit of an embarrassment.
Fury from the Deep, The Web of Fear, and The Abominable Snowmen are missing. The Tomb of the Cybermen is now the classic Troughton story, but in part it is good for being a bit of an exception. For me, The Seeds of Death is the other story that, by combining the best parts of an era, shows and stands in for what has been lost. Regardless, it is thoroughly enjoyable.
A Review by Leo Vance 26/11/98
Slow? I don't think so.
On the good side for this story are a lot of things. The Ice Warriors have never been better and work best in black and white. Slaar is a superb character, and Patrick Troughton puts in a comedy performance after two 'straight' stories, delivering the immortal line: "I'm a genius." Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury simply can't fail, and Commander Radnor is good as well. Gia Kelly is superb, and Fewsham couldn't be better acted. The script is very well written, and the scenes with the Ice Warrior stalking through the countryside are magnificent.
On the bad side, admittedly the story is, at times, not fast, but there is always enough interest and action to pull through the padding, so I don't think you can really call it slow. The random way of discovering the water, and the simplicity of Slaar in not realising the transmitter is not sending are also bad points.
Another rival for the Troughton crown, but unable to equal The Tomb of the Cybermen. 9/10
The Trial of a Troughton Story by Rob Matthews 29/4/00
Case for the prosecution:
Case for the defence:
It's one of few remnants of an era - and a hugely charismatic lead actor - that we'll never see again. As such, there's a... pleasant melancholy involved in watching it. Oh, what the hell. I love you, Patrick Troughton, and I hope they have all your episodes up there in heaven. In the meantime, The Seeds of Death will most certainly do.
What to buy as my first Doctor Who DVD? Well, tempting as Resurrection and Remembrance of the Daleks were (deleted scenes and such? ooo!), Seeds of Death is a story I've been waiting to see again for ages now. 'Bombay-Canberra-Information-Situation', Slaar, that addictive 'bumm-tingk-boi-oing!!' music, Gia Kelly, the Doctor-Jamie-Zoe team... Okay, it's a load of crap, I've always thought, but a load of crap that I have a lot of affection for.
Since seeing it again, I've reappraised it a bit. In my previous review I concentrated rather too much on what I saw as the story's one major flaw, the cop-out with water, and suggested that the only really good things here were the performances of the regulars and some of the guest cast. That wasn't really fair. Seeds of Death is, in its opening episodes, an ingeniously conceived story. The central T-Mat idea is way ahead of its time, a kind of 'physical superhighway' akin to the information superhighway - it's like the internet become manifest rather than virtual, a 'worldwide web' which you can use to download synthesised food supplies and human beings rather than just MP3s and porn. Of course, this serial was made decades before the whole net revolution, but with the odd change of terminology here and there to emphasise this rather prescient aspect of the story (it could for example be referred to as e-trav rather than T-Mat), this is a script that could be made today and still seem current. Indeed, if you consider the Martian invaders 'terrorists' who are not only in posession of biological weapons of mass destruction, but who also hijack our own technology to use against us, the story would probably be too near the knuckle to be made now.
Some critics argue that it's too unlikely Earth's authorities would be so reliant on T-Mat that they'd junk spaceflight wholesale. Pessimist that I am, that actually seems quite believable to me. The story is on one level a warning against complacency, and it's not unreasonable to suppose that a government would want to cut costs wherever they can. By the same logic, if all Earth's T-Mat traffic could be dealt with by one server on the moon, why would they bother to trouble the taxpayer by building further facilities? Indeed, it makes sense that the Earth Control base would not be at the centre of the operation, since it would be more vulnerable to attacks or misuse than a control centre located on the moon. Presumably no-one can reach the moonbase except via transmission from the Earth Control centre - the only way a terrorist group could hijack the T-Mat system would be travel to the moon by spacecraft, which, as we see, is all but impossible. Except for unforeseen invaders from Mars of course...
So I think the story is actually pretty well thought out to start off with. Sadly, somewhere around the halfway-mark it begins to falter into illogic. For my money this starts with the scene where Slaar decides to use T-Mat to 'suspend the Doctor in space, between the moon and Earth'. As opposed to, oh I don't know, just shooting him with his little sonic gun. This is blatant silly padding, since it involves Fewsham having to meddle with the T-Mat setup, presumably overriding all kinds of tricky failsafes despite his oft-stated lack of expertise, and then having to put it all right again so that Slaar can continue with his plan. Okay, maybe Slaar is just a sadist ('delaying an execution to pull the wings off a fly', as Who's own bard once said); but this story doesn't call for a sadistic villain, it calls for a desperate and efficient one. The Martians are invading Earth out of desperation and, as Terrance Dicks rightly points out on the DVD commentary, more should really have been made of this - the Ice Warriors' motives are not honorable, but they're understandable. The scene also goes wrong with the Doctor's implied rescue, which is botched and confusing, plus it relies on the notion that neither Slaar nor Fewsham were actually looking at the cubicle when the Doctor was despatched - and surely if Slaar was really pursuing this odd course just for jollies he'd sit back with a martini and cigar and see the Doctor off with a superior sneer?
The other major plot miscalculation, as I've mentioned, is the use of water to destroy the fungus. Okay, the Martians are aware of this little problem with their bio-weapon, and it's reasonable that they'd take pre-emptive action against a large-scale artificial deluge by sabotaging the weather control centre. But surely it would have been even more reasonable to breed a fungus that wasn't vulnerable to Evian in the first place? It might have been a better idea to have had the fungus infected and wiped out by the common cold bug - which would if nothing else made for a a neat reference to (okay, rip-off of) The War of the Worlds.
It's also a bit convenient that the Martian fleet have 'insufficient fuel for manoeuvre' - partly because it's not explained why, but mainly because the Doctor couldn't have foreseen this lucky coincidence. Which is a pity, since if it had been emphasised that the Martians had, so to speak, left in a hurry, then it could also have been suggested they hadn't had time to perfect the seed pods.
So, it's a shame that it goes awry, but the story does still have more great qualities than bad ones. I mentioned last time round my love of the Doctor-Jamie-Zoe team (who can blame Wendy Padbury for cracking up when she opens that door to let Troughton and an avalanche of foam in?), and Gia Kelly (I think every workplace has someone indispensable like her). Radnor and Eldred make a great pair of old-friends-cum-sparring partners too. It didn't occur to me in my last review, but seeing the story again I also realised what a standout character Fewsham is. It's easy to dismiss his cowardice, but we almost take heroism for granted in drama, and his thread of the story reminds us of how difficult it actually is to become a hero - the question in your mind is always, What would I do in that situation? I'd like to think I'd do what Osgood does, sabotaging the invaders' plans even though he knows he 'll be killed for it, enjoying his moment of triumph even though he knows he's about to die (this alone is a gem of a scene - that grimace as he turns and waits to be wibbled into oblivion) - but when it came down to it, would I really be able to do that? Or would I, like Fewsham, do anything, anything at all, to avoid pain and death? Even at the cost of all self-respect? Fewsham (bugger! What's the actor's name again?) gives a great performance, with only that 'I want to live!' line coming over as slightly hammy.
Something else I only really realised after watching the DVD was how creative the direction is. Ferguson makes great Graeme Harper-ish use of the sets, with a lot of very clever mis-en-scene (for example, Kelly and the technicians obliviously working away on the control console, sandwiched in the shot by the profiles of Slaar and his subordinate), and use of high and low angles. The montage bit with the preparations for the rocket takeoff is well put-together; the shot where the inverted numerals of the countdown are projected over Kelly's eye could even be seen as proto-cyberpunk imagery, despite the charming quaintness of the font used. And the POV shots in the opening episode are especially effective in creating suspense - it's unsettling somehow to see the actors delivering their lines right to camera. Plus it means the Ice Warriors can get right down to business in the very first episode, and still not be revealed until the cliffhanger.
Doctor Who was a much better show just one series after this was made, of course - the difference was that stories like The Silurians and Inferno not only provoked thought but followed their lines of thought through to conclusion, without the deviations and cop-outs that mar Seeds of Death. Still, this serial is a step in an intelligent direction, and if anything deserves a little more credit than it gets. Just a little. I still love it for Troughton's performance (that final confrontation with Slaar is fantastic entertainment - 'No, I'm afraid you've failed there too. We can destroy the fungus' - cue a literal hissy fit from the effete Ice Lord). But I don't love it just for Troughton anymore.
It's a bunch of great ideas not quite followed through, but worth applauding for their ambition. The Seeds of Greatness, anyone?
The Seeds of Dumb by Andrew Wixon 11/10/01
Even the best DW stories sometimes fall victim to plot-hole-itis - a lovely great tapestry of plot with a few gaping ragged holes in it here and there. But The Seeds of Death is different. It has a huge yawning void with a few lonely strands of plot billowing feebly in the wind. This must be one of the most comprehensively stupid DW stories ever made.
Consider: Earth is so reliant on T-Mat that within a few hours of it breaking down mass starvation becomes imminent. This is despite the fact that the system is still 'in its early stages'. Development must have taken a spectacularly long time as all other forms of transport have already been put in museums. For no apparent reason T-Mat is dependent upon a Moon-based relay, so that if it suffers a serious breakdown beyond the abilities of the Moon technicians there is absolutely no way it can be repaired (there's no way of getting to the Moon). Never fear, though, as a 70-year-old museum curator has built a full-size three-person interplanetary rocket in his spare time and at his own expense. And when T-Mat does break down the authorities are quite happy to let three complete strangers with no previous knowledge of the system go off in the rocket to fix it. That all seems quite believable to me - I'm just off to Milliways for breakfast.
I could continue to go on about the story's other failings - dancing Ice Warriors, the Doctor's instant sideburns, the terrible pacing - but these are just incidental compared to the sheer dumbness of the central concept. And it's a genuine shame the story's hobbled from the outset as there are many good things here struggling to escape. The direction is rather good, during particularly the lone Ice Warrior's rampage across Hampstead Heath. Similarly the score, which almost sounds like something a young Jerry Goldsmith might have produced. There's a bizarre corridor-jogging sequence in episode three that's so off-the-wall it approaches genius. And there are the Ice Warriors themselves, always a classy enemy for the Doctor. This is their weakest appearance, of course, but they still look good, as does the effect of their weapon. I've always thought that Alan Bennion's different Ice Lords are amongst the best masked performances in Doctor Who, and though Slaar lacks Izlyr's cold wit and Azaxyr's menace it's still a creditable job. It's clear why the production team brought the Warriors back - it's just a pity they couldn't find a better vehicle for them. As vehicles go, this is a Reliant Robin with a cracked back axle.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 23/1/02
On the face of it, The Seeds Of Death is little more than a base under siege story, but it does reintroduce the Ice Warriors, who fare better than previously. This is thanks to Alan Bennion`s Ice Lord Slaar, another nice touch being the hierarchy system used for the Warriors. The setting is nothing too special however, a weather control station. The ideas are more interesting though, T-Mat and the titular seeds being used as a form of attack. Of the cast the regulars fare better than the supporting cast, although Gia Kelly is quite striking. In summary then if you`re looking for the last great Patrick Troughton tale, then watch The Seeds Of Death.
A strong epic by Tim Roll-Pickering 6/2/02
The Seeds of Death sees the Ice Warriors returning to the series in a story that has derived many elements from the earlier The Moonbase. But this story is no overlook retelling but instead a strong epic that holds up well throughout its six episodes.
This story is based on the premise of one form of technology dominating the world to the point that the human race can no longer function properly when something goes wrong and so remains highly topical to this day. Although a staple of science-fiction, teleportation is rarely used in Doctor Who and so Brian Hayles' (and, if you look at the video sleeve, Terrance Dicks') script contains some strong ideas about instant teleportation as a transport system. Also of interest is the computer operating much of the operations on Earth, suggesting that once more humans have put all their eggs in one basket. Somewhat weaker is the concept of the Weather Control Bureau which does come across a little too much of a plot convenience and it also raises the question of the weather in the other parts of the world that had seed pods sent to them.
The characters are less than memorable though, with only Eldred making much impact, helped by a strong performance by Philip Ray. But the story is especially effective in the way that the Ice Warriors come across as such a strong threat, as shown by how hard it is to deal with one without a great deal of effort and equipment. The music accompanying the Warriors and the video effect of their guns also add to their strong onscreen presence and makes them seem especially strong even when there is only one on Earth. However Slaar suffers from being smaller in size than the other warriors and has a design that suggests a chief scientist far more than a commander.
The idea of the seed pods being used to terra form the Earth so that its atmosphere is more suitable for the Martians brings a degree of realism to the story, as does the fact that the invaders come from a neighbouring planet and so have a natural reason to take over the Earth specifically. The Doctor and his companions are given good material in the story and the former's notable line of 'I'm a genius' is one of the most memorable moments showing him under pressure and asserting himself at the same time. All in all the writing makes The Seeds of Death a very effective adventure and it is strongly helped by the direction and design, giving the story the feeling of an enjoyable movie. There are few shots that do not feel natural and there's a strong sense of the scale of the story through the use of exteriors and model work even though the budget restrictions make it impossible to show the chaos ensuing the world as a result of the breakdown of T-Mat.
Whilst not one of the greatest stories ever, it is a strong example of much of what is good about the series whilst at the same time telling a good story. 8/10
A Review by Ben Jordan 17/4/02
The Ice Warriors return to once more do nasty things to the Earth and its people. Only one man can stop them - and does.
Isn't retrocontinuity wonderful? Not long before re-watching this story had I re-read Godengine, one of my favourite NAs, which features Slaar's son and expands somewhat on the Ice Warriors attempt to take over Earth. You might want to read it yourself. If one TV baddie has benefitted well from the NAs, it's the Ice Warriors, in my opinion. Lifting them above the 'rubber-suited monster of the week' that inevitably tarnished the foes of the small screen, the NAs, such as this one, go some way towards making the Mars meanies more of a people than mere antagonists. Of course some readers (likely those not so enamoured with those novels unlike myself) may say 'Hmf - I was suitably entertained by the Ice Warriors on the telly, and I didn't need no new-fangled New Adventures to increase my scare appreciation-quotient, thank-you-very-much.' To those people I say: good. Your ability to suspend your disbelief is still perfectly intact despite the modern age of dark, gritty cgi sci-fi. And don't get me wrong. I seem to come across a lot of negative views about this story. But since I quite enjoy it, miraculously more than I used to, I suitably ignore them.
The main criticism seems to be that it's long, padding, and boring. Well it is a bit of a strain if you're 'brave' enough to watch the whole thing in one go. It would have helped to have the episodic version, rather than the compilation, although on this occasion, DWM #274's archive feature helped me to break it up into 6 distinct episodes. The keyword here is break of course, because by it's nature and longevity, capture-escape-monster killing people-capture-escape etc sequences are repeated over and over in Doctor Who, and a rest is needed between cycles. If a story is made well of course, you shouldn't even notice this, but Seeds is a long story in any case. Pacing myself with this story is no doubt one of the reasons why I enjoyed it more now. However another reason I would imagine lies in growing up.
Like many Who fans, as a child, I took Dr Who quite seriously, in that as-yet-uncynical way that children can. Later of course you find that you do so when you're older, and in any case, taking something seriously as an adult is a world apart from what seriousness is as a child. Either you then dismiss the programme's faults and lose interest, or you simply re-evaluate the whole thing and find new ways to enjoy it. Seeds Of Death benefitted greatly from the fact that my perspective of it has shifted so greatly.
One thing that I love about Season 6 is the team of Troughton, Hines, and Padbury. Indeed, it's the acting all round which saves the story. Troughton's antics of running up and down lots of corridors from the Ice Warriors is hilarious. His cry of "Your leader will be angry if you kill me - I, I, I'm a genius!" followed by "Geniusssss?!" has me chuckling everytime. We all know that he may clown around like a lunatic on occasion, yet he knows exactly what's going on and how to deal with it. Full of energy and emotion, Troughton's Doctor is a delight to watch. It's very plain that Jamie is largely superfluous in this 21st Century environment of T-Mats, retro (in more ways than one) rockets, and solar power. Nonetheless, he's always willing to contribute in any way possible, and the writer deliberately includes moments where brawn succeeds over brain, such as a sudden need to tackle the Ice Warriors directly. Zoe's girl-power genius is shared by Controller Gia Kelly, and both make up for the lack of feminine involvement with their intelligence and strength of character.
The Ice Warriors themselves are unfortunately less reptile-like and interesting than they were in their debut story, but they are still menacing and ruthless. The scenes of an Ice Warrior roaming the countryside on his way to Weather Control are well shot, unintentionally better to some degree because of their monochrome nature. One shot I especially like is the silhouette of said Warrior, accompanied by the alien rattling of his... er... god knows, actually. The Warriors ultimate demise is brought about by their underestimation of humanity brought upon by arrogant superiority. A typical trait for villains in Doctor Who, and used a little too much. Nonetheless, it makes for some good dialogue at the end:
Slaar: You have destroyed our entire fleet!Another aspect of Seeds that I really like is the music, and I wish a soundtrack could be released. The 'danger theme' which is played throughout the serial, largely a piano piece with synth is my favourite. Of all the stories in this season, it's the music from The Seeds Of Death which I particularly enjoy and remember, although Invasion's soundtrack isn't bad either.
Doctor: You tried to destroy an entire world.
Slaar: Earth will still die. The seed pods will destroy your atmosphere.
Doctor: No, I'm afraid you've failed there too. We can destroy the fungus.
In terms of real weaknesses, I think that this is largely to do with the inability to emphathise with the situation, despite its severity. This of course, is because we are told not shown, the ramifications of T-mat failing, nor can we be really afraid of an impeding invasion of Martians when all we see of them is a head on a t.v screen, plus some small computer-depicted circles of a fleet, resembling snooker balls, all triangled-up and ready to go into the sun. Scary stuff. Budget restrictions of course, but not entirely an excuse. Even stock footage of starving people might have helped. There are of course other weak aspects, along the lines of daft props (those heat controls are hilarious) and cheap models, but these are not fair criticisms to make of a 1969 programme in the 21st Century. Although these do detract from the story, I still feel that what is on screen is well-paced enough to be enjoyable, and thus not boring and padded. So long as you stop here and there of course.
Well, it isn't the season's finest hour. It isn't an entirely cohesive script that impacts on the audience in the way it should. But it's still fun, and the Ice Warriors kick ass in monochrome.
Return of the 1960s by Nick Needham 13/9/02
The Seeds of Death was in the first magical batch of Dr Who videos I ever bought, back in the mid-to-late 1980s. (The other two in the consignment were Death to the Daleks and Pyramids of Mars.)
Of those original three, it was The Seeds of Death that entranced me. Partly this was the soul-kindling nostalgia factor: Patrick Troughton had been the Doctor I remembered best from my childhood, and I also enjoyed fondly nightmarish memories of the Ice Warriors. To sit there in front of a TV screen and see it all again was the next best thing to actual time travel. I was back in the 1960s, still at Brampton Road primary school, the playground whited out with snow, and 9 year old boys waddling menacingly with outstretched forearms going "Sssssss-you-will-be-destroyed-ssssssss". Which reminds me, harking back to the first Ice Warriors story, there was a song about Napoleon we had to sing in music lessons - "Boney was a warrior" - which somehow got changed in our singing to "Varga was an Ice Warrior".
But I digress. I've now watched The Seeds of Death more times than I can count. It still impresses me. It's not in my personal canon of classics, but I never find it anything less than engaging, endearing, and entertaining. It's a sort of glorified comic strip adventure brought to life with a sense of pace and style that almost blots out its cardboard defects. The direction is consistently imaginative (including weird shots through Ice Warriors' legs), and the soundtrack is one that not infrequently goes romping through my mind on all manner of occasions, as though ideally designed to fill up a mental vacuum and spice up a tedious patch. Patrick Troughton is on fine comic form ("But Doctor, what about the Ice Warriors?" - "Oh, I've met them before"). The character of Fewsham even threatens at times to break out of his comic strip persona with alarmingly anguished signs of guilt and conscience (that shot of him sitting alone in the lunar control room, slumped in despair, with tortured synthetic music as the camera closes in). Slaar is also a nasty addition to the Dr Who gallery of villains, exuding more doom-laden chills than a dozen of his lumbering subordinates.
I know, the blindingly obvious labels on the various controls, including wet and dry weather, are all a bit much even for a comic strip; but I'm sure I never noticed them as jarring elements back in 1969. (Even a true classic like The Daleks has a give-away "radioactive" label on a Dalek Geiger-counter, doesn't it?) And yes, the human characters are a bit on the two-dimensional side. But I find the whole thing such an undemandingly enjoyable "alien invasion" escapade, I can forgive the flaws. Especially when it has the truly unearthly capacity to make the 1960s live again...
A review of the DVD by Jonathan Martin 23/4/03
The Seeds of Death on DVD? Yeah!!! Couldn't wait to get my hands on this, one of my all-time favourites. It's not news to anyone that these B&W stories have had a lot of work done to them, and look great, but I was agape when I started watching this - it looks absolutely amazing! Saying it looks like it was filmed yesterday is hardly an original exclamation, but I could pop in a movie made last year, turn the colour down, and it wouldn't look any better then this! Of course it adds to the effect when all I've seen is my crummy old ex-rental tape where the picture's just dreadful. The restoration team is going from strength to strength. The transfer's not so impressive when it comes to more conventional problems like pixelation however, but we can't have it all.
Anyway, on to the extras, starting with the all-important commentary. Firstly, what a great idea to have four people involved, and swapping around every now and then, it's a guaranteed way to have a diverse range of memories, without it getting too crowded. The four involved in this case are director Michael Ferguson (informative and fun, just what you want from a director), Frazer Hines (much improved from Tomb commentary), Wendy Padbury (charming, but a little quiet in the last couple of episodes), and Terry Dicks, who's funny, (but not as funny as in The Five Doctors) and always has a wacky viewpoint of what's going on on-screen, though in my opinion he uses the "lets make fun of the cheap budget" jokes a little too often sometimes. It's good to see them all praising the sets and acting and everything, but never going overboard and forgetting to mention anything else, like in one or two previous commentaries. These four provide a very enjoyable, above average commentary, and although Seeds is a long story, even for a 6-parter, thankfully it never gets close to being boring.
As for the extras on disk two, Sssowing the Ssseedsss is the only imposing one, which features interviews with Alan Bennion, Sonny Caldinez, Bernard Bresslaw and Sylvia James, and agreeably, there are few cases of retelling stuff we already know, and it's a very enjoyable, informative doco. There's not a great deal else though, the censor clips are riveting but unsurprisingly all too brief. The Last Dalek featurette didn't interest me too much though; it seems to me they put most of the good footage on the Tomb release. Thus all there is left is the standard photo gallery, and waste of time "TARDIS Cam" where its credits run longer then the actual "feature". Thus the extras disk seems a little empty, running about 40 minutes or so altogether, compared to the 155 of disk one.
Regardless of the lack of extras Seeds is a must have, and I can't wait to see some more of season six on DVD!
A moral quandry... by Joe Ford 5/5/03
Before I start this review I have a confession to make. Just recently I have stopped watching all Doctor on the TV (videos, DVDs, UK Gold repeats...). Why? Have I finally betrayed the show and moved onto flashier exploits? Err, no. I've not given up on Doctor Who I'm just so incredibly BORED of it. I love the show, I love its diversity, its vast array of characters, its incredible pomposity and melodramatic-ness! But unfortunately I have watched every one of my videos a minimum of ten times and can now practically quote them all back to front! I know where every mistake is, every classic moment of dialogue and every decent FX is situated. There is nothing new about watching the same videos over and over again. It's boring. I prefer to switch my energies to the books and audios where they are constantly giving me something new to savour and are, obviously, more in tuned with today's media. I'm no traitor, I just need my imagination fed, not stifled and watching the same old guff over and over doesn't achieve that.
But I bought The Seeds of Death today on DVD, a story I only recently managed to acquire on video anyway and one I've only seen a few times. Was this the ultimate Doctor Who experience that was going to kick start back into appreciating the videos all over again?
No. But it's damn entertaining anyway.
It's actually quite telling that whilst I was halfway through episode two my boyfriend joined me on the sofa to watch. And he laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And I got very annoyed. "Why are you laughing?" me says. "Just compare this to Enterprise!" he says (the latest tedious entry in the Star Trek saga being a particular favourite show of his!). And he was right. Both shows have shuttle launches, alien characters, futuristic humans in funny pyjamas, etc. And watching Enterprise you are treated to a truly polished production. Effects worthy of a movie, alien make up so good you could believe it was real and actors emoting their hearts off to try and convince you science fiction is a truly eloquent genre. And what does The Seeds of Death offer us? Crappy models that wobble in the sky, Ice Warriors who are so slow and inept, lumbering through the corridors and turning left and right and attempt to be scary.
I would choose Seeds of Death over Enterprise any day of the week! And why? Because it's FUN! The one thing current SF seems to have forgotten entirely is to have a bit of a laugh! And there was Troughton, Padbury and Hines goofing about every week offering us some top quality entertainment effortlessly! I can't imagine Captain Archer rushing about the corridors of a moonbase, frightened of his own reaction and using the excuse that "I'm a genius!" to save his life all the while slapstick music is pumping out of the speakers! And nobody on that damn Roddenbery spin off is as laughably stupid as Jamie who spends the entire story being patronised, condescended and generally treated like a right twerp! The regulars are the ones that are truly responsible for the feel of the show and with these three on board it doesn't matter if the story is diabolical (The Krotons) there is still something to enjoy!
Fortunately this story is not diabolical. It's not worth gold but it is a solid, entertaining run-around that lasts its six episodes length with relatively few Joe-sighs at the padding. Another comparison with Enterprise comes in the stereotypical nature of both shows. Enterprise lives off of the entire back run of Star Trek episodes and of the first clutch I saw there wasn't anything there that wasn't done on DS9 or Next Gen better. There is no drive to the show to produce anything original or above the mundane. Well while The Seeds of Death trades off of Doctor Who's past (ahem, let's see now, the moonbase from The Moonbase, base under siege from the whole of season five and the futuristic setting and Ice Warriors from The Ice Warriors... so little that is original there then!). But the main difference between this and Enterprise is that Doctor Who attempts to dress up it's similarities, there is so much energy and excitement in this story, so much enthusiasm for what they are making it is impossible not to get wrapped up in whets going on despite the odd dodgy effect.
And topping Enterprise once again is the brilliant direction. Michael Ferguson deserves and award for achieving so much with so little. His small sets appear vast thanks to a number inventive high angled shots and they come across as super slick thanks to some terrific shots of characters silhouetted against lights. He even frames his shots well, one excellent example is an early scene with Miss Kelly and Radnor where the camera moves with her away from a wall and Radnor is standing in the background framed by a door. It all looks beautiful, so even when the effects don't always work I was still complimenting the production.
The plot by the Ice Warriors is pretty good but does take a good while to get going. Fortunately the aforementioned character humour is there to remind as to stay watching while the green creeps prepare their deadly seed pods. Once the action moves to Earth things get terribly exciting with some stunning scenes of a lone Ice Warrior stamping across Earth soil impervious to resistance. These rare location shots are worth their weight, not only giving the story a real sense of scale but gorgeously filmed themselves. Even the shadow shot of the Warrior reaching the weather bureau is another to give you the creeps.
It's non stop fun from then on. The Doctor throwing all those solutions over the pods as it grows, Jamie and Zoe menaced through the corridors of the bureau, Troughton covered in the deadly fungus and the quite excellent final show down between the Doctor and Slaar, superbly lit and shot, giving Troughton yet another chance to play up his sinister side. The last two episodes are probably the best in terms of pace, set pieces and character interaction.
And all the way we have Dudley Simpson's hysterical music which exposes the age of the story whilst adding to events considerably. The screwball piano score as the Doctor walks the bureau corridors with the solar panels always gets my foot tapping! Add in some lovely shots of both the earth and the moon plus some decent acting from the guest actors (Fewsham is always commended but I much prefer the crabby Eldrad and Miss Kelly, both strong personalities driving the story on) and you have a very good Doctor Who story from a much maligned season (personally I quite like it!).
It's so nice to get the chance to watch a Troughton story from begining to end and despite its minor flaws this was an enjoyable venture back into TV Doctor Who for me. Can't say when I'll be doing it again though. What we fans need is some more of these old black and white stories returned because for now with no new Doctor Who on the horizon the love of TV Doctor Who is waning. Long live the books and audios!
A Review by Jason A. Miller 7/4/04
I made up my mind to leave Ohio in January 1999, and moved six weeks later. I somehow got wrapped up in a very intense relationship during those six weeks, knowing quite well in retrospect that it was never going to work once I left the state for good. However, she was a Doctor Who fan, and so was I. You just don't let these rare connections drift by. We spent a good portion of our time together watching my Season 6 Patrick Troughton videotapes (getting far as Episode 4 of The War Games until the inevitable happened). The only disagreement we ever had (apart from the move) was on the quality of The Seeds of Death. She thought it was enjoyable fun. I thought it was a dull slog. Maybe that's why we didn't last. Was I being too critical?
Seeds of Death has always been on the lower region of my own Doctor Who rankings. On paper I should love it: I'm a fan of The Ice Warriors and The Curse of Peladon, two other stories featuring the same villainous Martian marauders. I similarly have great fondness for the Season 6 Doctor/companion pairing. Fraser Hines almost never embarrassed himself as an actor during three long seasons. Wendy Padbury, of course, is a doll. Archaic word, but it actually fits. Cutest face ever.
Each of Patrick Troughton's stories -- whether you're watching on TV or merely listening to the surviving audio -- is a seminar on how to play Doctor Who. You can always count on Troughton for a riveting mixture of physical clowning and top-tier problem solving -- usually at the same time. Seeds of Death is notable for a shockingly well-directed madcap chase sequence in Episode 3, as Troughton runs back and forth down the same lone corridor set, making it seem as if he's running for miles. He slips and slides, turns and twists, and does comic double-takes at every distorted mirror reflection. Finally, when the Ice Warriors have him cornered... he talks his way out of it: "Your leader will be very cross with you if you kill me.... I'm a genius!"
However, Seeds of Death itself never tickled my imagination the way other stories did. The Ice Warriors, let's face it, aren't well-used here. Slaar (Alan Bennion, who played three different Ice Lords across the years and gave each of them distinct shadings) is only allowed to stand around a control room on the Moon and terrify a dwindling cast of stock BBC actors. The most interesting of these (Harry Towb) is killed off after ten minutes. There's a lot to be said for Terry Scully's nebbishy performance as Fewsham, the moonbase technician who turns traitor to save his own life until he finally summons up the courage to redeem himself with a noble act of self-sacrifice. However, we've seen this performance many other times across the years, so the hurdle is set high. His best moment is the scene in Episode 5, after Fewsham's already made up his mind to betray the Ice Warriors: he's seen standing alone, frowning, wringing his hands, waiting for Slaar to find him. That's quite a good shot.
The DVD builds up a solid case that this story is a neglected Troughton gem. The crowded commentary track features the companions (Hines and Padbury) making cogent remarks about the action -- when they're not busy laughing at Troughton's clowning or about their own slips and line fluffs. Much is made of Jamie's frequent groping of Zoe. You can always count on this reaction when someone asks what it was like to work with the late Troughton: "Ohhhhh" (Similarly, when asked what William Hartnell was like, the reaction is a less enthusiastic "Well..."). Director Michael Ferguson delivers a good account of how he directed the story. Since he's speaking 34 years later, it's impressive that he remembers what he does. Script editor Terrance Dicks should be allowed on every commentary track, even for the stories he didn't oversee. The commentary picks up intensity once he shows up for Episode 3. If you don't have time to listen to two hours of actor ramblings, the one episode to listen to is Episode 4, where Ferguson and Dicks discuss the story alone.
A long featurette, amusingly called "Sssowing the Ssseeds", describes how the Ice Warrior costumes were made, and three actors tell us what it was like to work in them. Speaking of costumes, the VidFIRE process that restores the episodes to their original videotape look, works so vividly that you can actually count the paint brushstrokes on the Ice Warrior helmets. The other extras on the bonus disc do not pertain to Seeds specifically, but provide archival footage from a dozen other Troughton stories that no longer exist.
I find the production-note option increasingly tiresome when Richard Molesworth is the writer. His formula seems to be: provide all the other acting credits of all the other actors in the guest cast; give us the day and the location of the filming of all the model shots; and describe the originally conceived plot of the episode. Only the last of those three items interests me. It's possible to provide fresh text commentary for decades-old Doctor Who stories -- see Martin Wiggins' contributions -- so I think Molesworth could depart from the formula without hurting anyone.
At this point in my life, with new Doctor WhoM a year away, I am never going to fall in love with The Seeds of Death. I may never watch it again. However, the DVD series, with their focus on what works (and, more importantly, by getting the story's actors and production team to laugh at the shortcomings), serve the important task of rehabilitating the less-remembered stories, and work hard to dispute the notion that Doctor Who was always done on the cheap, without thought. Fair enough. Job well done. Next DVD, please.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 25/5/04
On the recent DVD release of The Seeds of death, the picture quality looks absolutely phenomenal, thanks to the VIDFIRE treatment and from the painstaking effort placed in cleaning each frame. It's a pity the same remedies couldn't have been applied to the script, as it surely could have benefited from having a few of the rough spots removed. Terrance Dicks often complains that six-part Who stories were difficult to do without resorting to padding, and it's easy to nod alongside him. Still, this was the first time I watched the serial in episode format and that helped. By limiting myself to two episodes a sitting stretched over several days, I didn't let the viewing become tedious. The best I can say is that it isn't boring, which isn't an enormous compliment, but it's enough.
One way you could look at the structure of much of this story is as a reworking of the basic base-under-siege pattern that was so prevalent and successful. However, instead of a base, we're presented with a small storeroom; the Ice Warriors effortless capture the entire outpost within minutes rather than (as in the past) not managing it until later episodes, or, indeed, ever. But this actually works, as the storeroom is a convincingly confined set, and you can really believe they these people are pinned in here hiding from great danger lurking in the corridors.
As with many serials from the era, the production is a mixture of silliness and splashes of surprisingly effectiveness. The sets are quite good, and the director successfully makes it appear that there's more than one corridor on the moonbase. As for the silliness, well, other reviewers have mocked the characters' "nappy-wear" costumes, but it looked to me more like some joker had darkened their visible panty lines with permanent marker. I concur with the opinion stated many times on the DVD commentary track: "Not really flattering, no."
One of the major negatives is the story rests so heavily on a hokey piece of fictional technology. T-Mat is the equivalent of Star Trek's transporter, allowing anyone in the world to beam to anywhere else in the world by bouncing a signal off the moon (presumably it only works on half the planet at a time, but this isn't addressed). The world's supply of hamburgers and Chicken McNuggets are delivered via this medium, so a slight delay means starvation for millions. So naturally, this vital, irreplaceable technology is all controlled through one sloppily organized (the opening scene shows the world's food supply delayed by five minutes because of one mistake) point, a relay station. This design flaw becomes most apparent when the aliens invade and start stomping through it.
And the lack of redundancy extends to the operators, too. Apparently there's only Miss Kelly who really understands the T-Mat system, only she can fix it when it breaks. What happens if she falls down a sinkhole on the way home from work? The whole world would be thrown into chaos! Hasn't anyone heard of backups for personnel or equipment? With T-Mat so important (lives are at risk within mere hours of the malfunction), she must be on call twenty-four hours a day. She must have zero time to eat, sleep, vacation, or use the toilet. Well, at least we know why everyone wears diapers in the future.
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the directing in this episode. On one hand, Michael Ferguson does a great job with some short individual scenes. There are set pieces with a lot of tension. That parallel zoom-in thing he does is very effective. But the overall story never feels real or dangerous. The threat from the Ice Warrior's oh-so-dastardly plan remains a little too abstract in tone. There's no real tension from it; I never felt the characters or the world were seriously in jeopardy. Yet I was able to easily accept that they were in immediate danger from, say, the soldier shooting at them. That stated, I did like the way the plot (where there is of it) unfolds. The Ice Warriors plan is multi-staged, and we get to see them constantly one step ahead of everyone.
The places where the story works best are where focus is placed on its human components. The regular cast and the guest actors play it all very nicely and believably (a few wooden extras aside). Terry Scully as Fewsham gets a lot of deserved credit for playing the collaborator whose conscience is slowly eating away at him. Harry Towb steals the show quite nicely... until he's killed off after a scant ten minutes. The Earth-based characters play off each other well, too. I really like the scene where Phillip Ray's Professor Eldred fusses over the would-be-Astronauts while the Doctor gently humors him.
Speaking of the Doctor, I think a large part of what makes Seeds watchable is that I simply love this Doctor-companion combination. I'd watch them in anything. A little remarked upon scene comes near the end, where the defeated Ice Lord orders his heavy to destroy the Doctor. Patrick Troughton calmly closes his eyes, his character peacefully preparing for death. Until he suddenly spots Jamie in harm's way and leaps across a table to spoil the warrior's aim. It's nicely underplayed, which is classic Troughton.
The Seeds of Death isn't terribly good. But ironically, the DVD of it is, simply because of the wealth of material on it that isn't The Seeds of Death. The Sssowing The Ssseedss documentary is relatively interesting, although if one were being unkind, one could simply sum up the 25 minutes with the sentence: "The costumes were uncomfortable." The Censor Clips and The Last Dalek thing are diverting enough, though I'm not sure if I'll ever feel the need to watch them again without a story to go around them.
While watching the main story, I wrote down many jokes and then had to erase them when I listened to the commentary track, because Terrance Dicks had already made them. I have no bad things to say about this commentary. All you need to know is that good old Uncle Terry is on it, which automatically places it in the top-tier.
Review extras (things which may amuse only me):
"Your leader will be angry if you kill me... I'm a genius!" by Terrence Keenan 2/9/04
Okay, after putting it off for a while, I finally broke down and picked up The Seeds of Death DVD, mainly to get a Troughton/Hines/Padbury fix. They're a fave/rave TARDIS team of mine and it's just too much fun to watch this trio riff off each other.
But, first things first....
The first three episodes are wonderfully slow in a building-up-the-menace-properly way. You have three interesting characters: Eldred the curmudgeonly rocketeer, whose angry that his work has been cut off by T-Mat; Gia Kelly, the real head of T-Mat, as she is the only one who knows all the technogubbins behind the curtain; and Fewsham, the screw-up tech on the moon who is trying to stay alive only because like most humans, he's afraid to die. Mix into this the Ice Warriors, led by Slaar, a group of aliens with a solid reason for invading Earth -- survival of the species. Slaar is ruthlessly efficiently in the early episodes, having the techs whacked on the moon for the slightest reasons.
But the second half.... well, things go a bit awry. Slaar turns into a sadist for very little reason, the Martains' plan, which seemed quite sound in the beginning, goes down the toilet for unexplained reasons (not enough fuel?). Characterization goes by the wayside, except for Fewsham's death, where he sacrifices his life at the right time to help Earth.
And then there's the soap bubble machine....
There is a nice use of minimal sets to evoke a planet. The B&W photography also adds serious menace to the Ice Warriors themselves -- compare how they look in Seeds to the Peladon stories and you'll see what I mean. The direction is strong, and helps cover up a lot of sins.
The other big disappointment for me was the TARDIS crew, which were good, but not their usual great. Wendy Padbury is the standout of the regulars. Terry Scully's Fewsham and Louise Pajo are the tops on the guest stars's side of things.
The DVD has a fun featurette on being an Ice Warrior, featuring interviews with Sonny Caldinez and Alan Bennion. Also included on the USDVD are the recently found New Zealand censor clips, a commentary track, and the ususal stuff.
The Seeds of Death is a decent, but not brilliant Troughton serial. Best viewed late at night with the covers under your chin.
Coming of Age by Mike Morris 15/2/05
A funny thing happened as I was writing this review; well, I've been writing it for months now in thirty-second segments (such lack of diligence. It won't do). Anyway, there I was, checking up the Guide, and I saw Joe Ford wondering at fans who can't be arsed with anything pre-Pertwee. Well, I'm one of those fans; I've never reviewed a pre-Pertwee story before. I never thought I would, either.
I mean, yes, if it says Doctor Who on the label, then obviously it's Doctor Who. Still, me and early Doctor Who don't really mix all that well. That's not to say that I don't think it's any good; I'm sure it is. It's just that I'm not really able to take it seriously. If I reviewed The Sensorites or The Time Meddler or Tomb of the Cybermen or The Invasion, I'd end up saying that it's too slow and too stagy. I think these qualities are pretty much inherent in Doctor Who of the black-and-white era, so it's not really fair to dismiss stories because of them; it's like criticising a novel because there are no special effects. Still, they're not qualities I like. They annoy me and they get in the way of the story, and that's why I can't really be bothered with pre-Pertwee, even if I'll stick it in the player every now and then.
The important point here is that there's a big difference between subjective reviews (as in "I don't like it") and objective reviews (as in "I think it's no good"). I don't like Hartnell/Troughton-era Who, but I would never say that Doctor Who of that period is rubbish. It's got qualities, all right, it's just that they're not ones I can appreciate, because they're bound up in conventions that annoy me. Just as the general public can't ignore Doctor Who's dodgy visuals, I can't ignore - amongst other things - the mannered dialogue that tends to dominate early Doctor Who stories. I don't review stories of the era because I don't really engage with them, and it's a rule of mine not to criticise something when I don't engage with it; if I were to write a review on why, say, Planet of Giants is a pile of horseshit, it would be like someone who hates SF and has only seen Timelash Part One telling us why Doctor Who is a load of old bollocks.
Which brings me to The Seeds of Death. Because I was shocked, amazed, and astounded by The Seeds of Death. When I bought the DVD (oh, the joys of completism) I had never seen it before. Oh, I'd read the novelization I think, or at least I presume I had, since I knew the plot. But no, I'd never seen it.
And it was absolutely bloody brilliant. It was quite the best Troughton I had ever seen. I was simply blown away by just how mature it was; how tautly directed, how neatly scripted, how ambitious and modern. I'm no Troughton connoisseur - I've never even seen The War Games, for crying out loud - but this story is light years ahead of anything I've seen. The Ice Warriors, The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Invasion, even The Mind Robber; it towered above them all.
Oh my. Big praise indeed. But not undeserved, I would suggest. What I noticed was that this is the earliest Doctor Who story I've seen that's actually, well, television; that actually uses the cameras as a storytelling tool rather than an inert object to capture the drama. To see this in a Troughton story is an unbelievable jolt, one I simply couldn't get over. And so, while this story would appear to be generally thought of as a bog-standard base-under-siege tale (although actually it really isn't), I saw it as something far more crucial. This is The Big Step Forward. This is Doctor Who shaking off its early conventions and maturing into real, full-on television.
You're sceptical? Then watch Episode One, and we'll talk. Look at how tight this story is. You'll see the device of showing everything from the Ice Warrior's point of view, and you might notice how carefully it's done; using a wider lens to accentuate the close up, framing the actors statically in the centre of the shot, and shooting down on them ever-so-slightly to suggest the extra height. You might see the steady zoom into the T-Mat capsule just before we first see it operate, and then the reversed zoom away, linking it all into the studio and establishing that edge of plausibility that would have been missing from a bog-standard cut away. You'll see the Ice Warriors' weapons flaring straight at the camera. You'll notice how many panning shots there are, how many close ups, how the static cuts and locked-off cameras that we take for granted in stories of this period are simply not there. You'll realise, perhaps, just how far ahead of its period this story is. And that's before we see those towering shots of the Ice Warriors looming out of the sun in the later episodes.
The result; everything is more tense, more natural, more believable. The drama seems to matter. The world we're immersed in - the no-boundaries world of the near-future, with a T-Mat on the moon that regulates yet enslaves this insular planet, leaving a world entirely reliant on this one piece of technical wizardry - makes sense, even if we only ever see two rooms. Brian Hayles had tried this before, of course, with his global ionisation scheme which we saw in The Ice Warriors being much the same scenario - the entire world dependent on a single, fallible piece of technology - but that was never as believable as this world is.
Michael Ferguson, take a bow. The Ambassadors of Death was a magnificent achievement in itself, but your work on this is unbelievable. We know the pressures that Troughton-era stuff was made under, but you turned out something as slick and as tense as this. You are, therefore, the forgotten great director of Doctor Who.
Direction is one thing, but there's a damn sight more to this story than the way it's shot. The script is excellent; the performances are marvellous; the design is well-conceived, and even the ubiquitous foam seems well-used.
The use of the Martians, for example, is intriguing. Much play has been made of them being sadistic, which I think rather misses the point. The Ice Warriors showed us the Martians in a fundamentally different position, marooned and without any purpose beyond their own survival. We saw Varga as an essentially reasonable being, albeit disoriented and intimidated by his surroundings, and reacting as a soldier in an environment that was unknown but not necessarily hostile.
This time, we see a warlike race at war. Their behaviour isn't at all sadistic; it's calculating, clinical and terrifying. These Warriors don't enjoy inflicting pain, they simply don't consider it in moralistic terms at all. Their objective is conquest and Slaar goes about his business without any emotion whatsoever.
Is that so brave? You bet. Admittedly, if one hasn't seen The Ice Warriors, I'm sure the creatures in The Seeds of Death would seem a little characterless, but this story really kicks off its predecessor. Besides, the characterless nature of these soldiers is, in a way, a character in itself. Doctor Who's depiction of military characters tends to go in two directions; either they're power-crazed psychotics who will inevitably go insane, or they're morally aware leaders with a warriors' nobility. What we don't see, ever, is the military portrayed as controlled, intelligent people whose job is, at times of war, to kill and to perform hideous acts. To be confronted with that truth is far more terrifying than the usual story of the leader going mad. Slaar and his army behave, ultimately, as soldiers would in that situation - how the Brig and nice Sergeant Benton would behave if they were ordered to (a quick glance at the news in the last year or so backs that up) - not psychotic, not evil, just doing their job. In spite of the hissing voices and rubber suits, they're the most plausible military force I can remember seeing in Doctor Who. Because of this, they're the most terrifying and the most repellent.
The knock-on effect is that the threat they carry is more tangible, and the fear of the characters under their control is something the viewer empathises with. This story is not really about the Martians, it's about those people they threaten. Hayles skilfully avoids falling into clichés here, something of a novelty in these days when so many sci-fi films lapse into hurrah-for-war machismo and clunking speeches about the glory of fighting for freedom (The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, I'm looking in your direction). There are no grizzled heroes here. Gia Kelly is competent and businesslike, but never seems that emotionally involved, and is rather arrogant and unlikeable. Commander Radnor is very much a bureaucrat and comes across as concerned about his job more than anything else. We do see a noble self-sacrifice on the moon - the sabotage of the equipment in Episode One - but this happens before the Martians have made their death threats clear, and you get the impression that the crew don't really believe that the Martians are going to kill them. After that first death the remainder of the crew scatter, concerned about staying alive.
Only Fewsham stays behind, and what a character he is. Again, Hayles doesn't give him any false rationales or cynical ambitions to make the pill easier to swallow. Fewsham is clearly a good man who betrays the planet because he's terrified, because - as he says so simply in Episode One - he doesn't want to die. Wonderfully portrayed by Terry Scully, he invites the viewer's empathy and makes the threat of death seem incredibly real.
As the end of the above paragraph implies, the fact that there are no heroes makes for more heroism than most Doctor Who stories ever give us from a guest cast. Kelly and her less competent superior just get on with their job. Like real people they bicker and argue (the initial worries over the rocket launch are beautifully done), the tensions between them providing a little spice, but they never stop working to get the men off the moonbase. They don't bother with speeches to let us know how wonderful they are, they just do their work. Kelly volunteers to go to the moon and put herself in danger without a second thought, simply because she's the most competent person to do so. That's a scene which could easily have been hijacked by some big emotional I-have-to-do-my-duty speech, but instead, Kelly just states her position calmly and then goes. Decision made. Done.
In fact, the only genuinely emotional scenes we get are from Fewsham, which are about nothing more noble than self-preservation. But it's a joy to see something so often ignored as a story device being treated with such seriousness, and it means that when he finally shows courage it's far more moving than it would otherwise have been. Somehow, the old "Obey us or die" cliché is made real by simply being treated as something that matters; by showing us the reality of a character facing death; by giving us the horror of ordinary people caught up in a life-or-death struggle. But it does it without ever coming across as pompous or macho, and that's really admirable.
The story is stretched a bit thin, but that's a fault that it shares with pretty much every Troughon or Hartnell. There are a lot of chase sequences, including a truly bizarrely trippy couple of minutes involving the Doctor that winds up with that "I'm a genius" line. But the plausibility generally carries it through, and again, it's down to that man Ferguson. He doesn't rush his shots but shoots them tightly, with a huge, booming score. We get the entire countdown to the rocket launch, to make it seem really as important and momentous as it should be. And he really goes to town on the Warriors, those into-the-sun silhouettes foreshadowing his incredible work on Ambassadors. The only real blot on his copybook is the Martian Leader, who's decorated with glitter for some reason and feels completely out-of-place.
There's stupid science too, the most obviously silly bit being how a tiny quantity of gas, which doesn't kill anyone in a single room, can somehow start to engulf the whole of England. Still, the T-Mat stuff is well conceived, and the sequences in the rocket are great. Some great scenes with the regulars too. This is the best Troughton performance I've seen, using physical comedy to wonderful effect and putting some sort of twist on every line in a way that I thought only Tom could do. To be honest, it's only lately that I've started to get the whole Troughton thing; I'd always thought of him as a little too cartoonish, but here he's bristling with a suppressed fury that gives his clownlike performance a real edge. His scenes with Slaar are a joy. Frazer Hines is, well, Jamie; always enjoyable, as is Wendy Padbury, who's really got her slyly innocent know-it-all persona down pat by now.
Anyway, I've said this before, but I'll say it again; part of the joy of Doctor Who is how it could make universes from cereal packets, or in this case from some balloons and a couple of sets. Hayles was very much a practitioner of this art, and here he achieves it best, giving the story an epic feel from very limited resources. This is why the base-under-siege tag that's thrown at it is rather unfair. The base isn't under siege at all, it's quickly subjugated, and the story revolves around the execution of a brutal plan against a hard SF backdrop comprising numerous settings and a great sense of scale (the rocket trip to the moon helps this enormously). Backed up by one of the most exquisite exhibitions of backs-against-the-wall direction ever to grace the programme, the result is a storming tale that stands up remarkably well today.
This is often spoken of as a run-of-the-mill story - oh, if only that were true, I'd have every Troughton story in my collection. No, this story is astonishingly good and head-and-shoulders above those that surround it. It's a sharp script pushed to the limit by Michael Ferguson, and an utter delight. Go get it.
A Review by Finn Clark 13/4/07
I didn't enjoy this story years ago on seeing the VHS release, but I assumed it had suffered from being edited into movie format. This may have been true, but watching my BBC DVD has taught me that The Seeds of Death is further handicapped by being rubbish. It's not even flamboyantly bad like The Underwater Menace, which is at least entertaining. It's just flabby and stupid. More precisely, it's a depressingly one-dimensional plod in yet another dull Troughton-era SF future, which runs in circles for six episodes and then stops.
Scarily, this isn't even one of Season Six's famously bad stories. Those would be The Dominators and The Space Pirates. Suddenly I've gained a whole new perspective on how Doctor Who managed to manufacture a cancellation crisis after The War Games. I was almost shocked to find something with such an innocuous reputation to be so worthless... it's like watching Star Trek.
To see the extent of its failure, consider this. The Seeds of Death should have been the Ice Warriors' big iconic story. All the best monsters have a defining high concept and the Ice Warriors have two: (a) ice, and (b) Mars. The former was covered in their previous story, but here we have Martians invading Earth! H.G. Wells alert! It's the War of the Worlds! Rampaging aliens, killing galore and runaway terraforming plantlife! This should have been a landmark story, but it's not. It's never offensively horrible, but it has almost nothing to recommend it.
Let's address the story's biggest problem first: its near-future setting. This may not look like an obvious target for ire, but that's become my pet hate in Troughton stories. That Star Trek line earlier was no accident. It's sterile and bloodless, with bored actors standing in front of computers instead of doing anything that might resemble actual human activity. It's the death of drama. What are these people's lives like? Do they even exist when they go off-duty? I've no idea. It's paper-thin, with nothing for the story to bounce off. Admittedly, Eldred has another viewpoint on the wonders of the future, which could have been interesting, but once he's launched his rocket he ceases having anything to offer.
There are things I like. There's a sense of worldwide scale in the opening scene's mentions of Moscow, Canberra, etc. What's more, there's none of the self-conscious internationalism of many other Troughton-era futuristic stories. Everyone's white and English... thank goodness! No accents from hell! They're using their real voices and I for one breathed a sigh of relief. Multi-culturalism is good, but less so are crap BBC "actors" being thrown off-balance by having to do a dire accent and thus perpetrating performances that would shame a pantomime.
This has subtextual implications for T-Mat. Is everyone in power English? Why's that, hmmm? It's also interesting that Gia Kelly is "the only one who really understands T-Mat", despite the fact that it's been around long enough to turn rockets into forgotten museum pieces. Was it stolen from aliens or something? What's more, the T-Mat network looks surprisingly limited. There seem to be very few transport points for a system that's even made cars obsolete, plus of course everything must be funnelled through the moonbase. I also repeat that only one person in the world "really understands" it. This is all interesting, although alas I'm pretty sure it's the consequence of sloppy thinking from Brian Hayles and Terrance Dicks instead of some kind of attempted subversive statement.
I wouldn't mind so much if T-Mat were ever used for anything clever, but it feels like a plot device. Is this a message story? It's hard to think of a real world equivalent of overreliance on T-Mat. Overreliance on oil is hardly the same thing, although imposing such an analogy gives us the amusing notion of Brian Hayles advocating the return of steam engines. (In contrast, the Ice Warriors' previous story had addressed a then-topical scientific fear, that the environment would go blooey in a new Ice Age. Admittedly that's the exact opposite of today's environmental concerns, but I give points for even an attempt at scientific awareness.) Returning to T-Mat, the Doctor doesn't even do anything clever with it in the end! Instead he wins through shooting and satellite signals. Bleah.
Meanwhile, the Martians are imbeciles. Slaar is his own worst enemy, killing people he shouldn't and needlessly antagonising the humans right from the beginning. Had he taken over the moonbase in episode one without gratuitously shooting people, people might have been more cooperative and not sacrificed their lives just to foil his plans. However, stupid bloodthirstiness could be characterisation. Worse are the incompetent Ice Warriors, repeatedly failing to see what's in plain sight. Phipps could have led a brass band up and down the moonbase and they still wouldn't have caught him. Their survival instinct regarding deathtraps isn't impressive either.
The good things about the Ice Warriors are all visual. I like their imaginative death effects, for which the sixties had a knack. There's nothing like a nice death. It's the Doctor Who equivalent of the gore shots in horror movies. There's also some effective location work with the Ice Warrior and a foam machine. I particularly liked the shot of the Ice Warrior silhouetted against the sun. In action it's cool. That was fun, especially when killing people. Yay!
The sole interesting thing in this story is Fewsham, a weak man being forced into evil. Terry Scully gives us a character study of someone who'd love to shut his eyes to the consequences of what he's doing, but can't. Even after he's surrendered to the enemy, he can't help occasionally resisting. I love his expression on "Is that the last?" Fewsham in particular is what makes me buy the Ice Lord's decision to kill the Doctor by T-matting him into space instead of just shooting him on the spot. Why go to all that trouble? They shot everyone else. Obviously it's a "let's kill the hero in an unnecessarily complicated way so he can escape", but I think Slaar's doing it for its effect on Fewsham. He's running out of humans. Fewsham's useful. Slaar's deliberately testing and/or trying to break him.
However, even a good story would struggle with the stupidities and infelicities on display here. Episode four has a visibly breathing corpse and an actor unconvincingly pretending that he can't fit through an aperture that's blatantly big enough. Er, Zoe? How does "almost instantaneous" equate with "faster than light"? Oh, and when an Ice Warrior's about to shoot you, don't stand there like a lemon just because it's the cliffhanger. Why does no one in episode five consider that the Ice Warrior might already be in the Weather Control Centre? Oh, and that fat guy's death waddle in episode three isn't a highpoint either.
Mind you, one apparent silliness actually makes sense. The moonbase's heating control is a ship's wheel, which looks stupid but remember that this is the moon. I can see why one might make it a heavy wheel instead of just a switch. It's not just air-conditioning. It's life-support.
In fairness, this isn't a base under siege story. The script gets straight to business, with the Martians attacking the moonbase only five minutes in. (That's earlier than the first appearance of the TARDIS crew!) That was refreshing. I'd been expecting one and a half episodes of "I'm sure there's something out there, Commander". I also liked the irony of Jamie and Zoe being the ones who locked the Doctor outside in the foam for the episode five cliffhanger.
This story's poverty of imagination can be measured by the fact that this is one of the few occasions when a Virgin NA innovation actually improved the source material. I try to forget that the books ever happened when watching An Unearthly Child, The War Games, Planet of the Spiders, Remembrance of the Daleks, etc. but here the Thousand-Day War adds depth and weight of future history. Despite the Doctor's best efforts these events are still going to lead to interplanetary war. Remembering that gives the story unearned gravity.
As was traditional then, there's realistic space travel. (See also The Space Pirates and The Ambassadors of Death.) They gloss over the spacesuit walk that the Doctor and co. must have done to get from the rocket to the moonbase, though.
The Seeds of Death isn't interesting. It should have been huge and iconic, with a dramatic Independence Day alien invasion as the pods went crazy and transformed the world. Unfortunately, the Martian invasion of Earth is mostly portrayed through two elderly actors in a control room. There's also some iffy acting, with one-dimensional dialogue that can only be played with tedious sincerity. That's this story's problem. It's simplistic and simple-minded; without wit and perhaps even witless. At six episodes, it's a long haul with little to show for it. Episode four doesn't even have Patrick Troughton! Its flaws aren't beyond the reach of other tales, but it doesn't inspire the goodwill to help you overlook them. There are worse stories. Unfortunately that's the nearest I can get to a commendation.