Monday, 14 December 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Seeds of Death

They don't seem to hiss as much in this one.
Doctor Who - Season Four, Story Five - The Seeds of Death
Written between 16th and 26th October 2015

After the joy of Cyberman Month, I was going to carry on the theme, with December becoming Ice Warriors Month. Seeing as there's so much else going on, and the fact I wanted to review the amazing The War Games, I decided to leave the two colourised Ice Warriors stories for my hopefully rejuvenated run-through of the Pertwee years. So here we are with the penultimate story in this little black and white saga - The Seeds of Death, which follows up the Ice Warrior's initial high-concept Base-Under-Siege story with... a high-concept story using the Base-Under-Siege format. While I'm not exactly surprised at this repetition, there are a few things in this story's favour.
     Far in the future (although how far is unspecified), humanity has abandoned its space program in favour of a global teleportation system (known as T-Mat) organised from a Moonbase (no, not that one). Things are going smoothly until a tiny squadron of Ice Warriors invades said Moonbase, and begin coercing its staff into sending poisonous seed pods down to the surface of the Earth. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arrive before the pods are sent, and head up on mankind's last manned rocket to find out exactly what's going on. The pods create a self-replicating fungus which begins to spread across the Earth's surface, choking people and killing wildlife. Because the fungus is allergic to water, the Ice Warriors attack a weather station, but The Doctor manages to swoop in at the last minute and stop them, saving Earth.
     This story was broadcast in 1969, six months before the Apollo 11 mission had landed man on the moon. This makes the story's vision of the future rather pessimistic, and at the same time brilliant - sharply contrasting the 60s love of space and adventure (and really Doctor Who itself), the story manages to predict what actually ended up happening - we made it to the Moon and stopped. While we didn't stop all space travel - sending unmanned probes to take pictures of the Solar System and even sending one probe outside of the influence of our Sun - there are some interesting parallels with the defunding of NASA, the abandonment of the manned Space Program in the 1970s and a general sense of anticlimax to the Space Race. All before Man had even set off for the moon.
      The Seeds of Death is a Base-Under-Siege story, it's true, although it never really feels like that. There's a genuine sense that the Earth is in danger this time, even if the effectiveness of the Ice Warrior's soapy bath foam is undermined by both how silly it looks (Zoe is visibly giggling her head off in one "tense" scene) and by the Shyamalan-worthy fact that water stops it from working. The Ice Warriors, who can see Earth from their spaceships, decided to invade a planet whose surface area is 70% water and where water literally falls from the sky using a fungus which hates it. There are no words for this level of stupid. As for the setting, I wish they had a window on the Moonbase like in that previous story called The Moonbase - they could have even replicated that set and had some amazing continuity! For a part-time viewer it's hard to really appreciate that they're alone and isolated on the moon - The Ice Warriors was great for this, showing the hardships our characters faced while wandering the harsh ice of a future Britain. This time, the best we got was a fairly fun shot of an Ice Warrior wandering around in open countryside.
The Doctor is, in fact, afraid of suffocation in this scene,
and not simply enjoying a relaxing bubble bath.
      The Ice Warriors in this story are slightly less effective than in their premier, with their numbers having been knocked down to a measly two guys, and their motives being less "complicated struggle to survive" and more "mwhahaha let's conquer the earth for shitz lol." The serial is the first, however, to develop their culture as if they were actually people, establishing an apparent caste system with leaders called "Ice Lords" who are superior to all others and who get to wear an extra special silly hat. As mentioned, the shot of an Ice Warrior wandering around Britain was actually fairly interesting, even if it confused the narrative (when in the timeline of this story was the Earth frozen over?). The problem is, this story could have easily been done with the Cybermen of this era - and it might even have felt more appropriate, with the use of the Cybermen as a fear of technological progress fitting perfectly with this story's themes.
      The Seeds of Death does have something to offer those tired of the Base-Under-Siege format - it's got a fun and rather appropriate prediction about the future of humanity, its Leader/Voice-of-Reason/Traitor characters are all really well-developed for what they are. It does retread a lot of the format's problems and the appearance of the Ice Warriors doesn't really make that much sense thematically, but the story is exciting and pacey and more than makes up for it. The Seeds of Death's pessimism about the future of mankind may have been somewhat warranted, but it certainly made for a good story. 

Thanks

NEXT WEEK: We say goodbye to black and white stories for the moment, with The War Games.

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