Doctor Who Reviews: The Seeds Of Death

About 15 sets of waffle ago, I mentioned that remakes were more common than you think in Doctor Who. The Moonbase was a blatant remake of The Tenth Planet. And then two seasons later, along comes The Seeds Of Death to mimic The Ice Warriors with all the gusto of a Les Dennis and Dustin Gee 24-hour marathon.

The Ice Warriors are back with a vengeance and are again hell-bent on terrorising an isolated bunch of quaking Earthlings. We get the same sort of characters as before. Radnor is Clent but without the stick and the limp. Eldred is the stubborn, anti-authoritarian old goat like Penley. Miss Kelly is the Ice Maiden replacement for the frosty Miss Garrett, but with a big, blonde ponytail that’s so stiff it could probably remain intact in the face of a nuclear explosion.

The one notable difference between the two stories is that the Ice Warriors aren’t so scary this time around. Whereas in their début, the Warriors were unearthly giants that could turn your average Scottish hippy into quivering jelly with a clench of - well I suppose you could call them fists - this time around, they’re not so threatening. Most of the time, the Ice Warriors plod aimlessly up and down corridors, narrowly avoiding collisions with the scenery. When one of them materialises in the T-Mat cubicle on Earth in Episode 4, it then decides to do a jolly dancing jig.

The Ice Warrior Shuffle is the low point of The Seeds Of Death, although even the victims’ deaths lack punch. Characters tend to wave their arms in the air and dance around like drunkards japing about in a hall of mirrors. At least Alan Bennion adds some degree of authority as Slaar the chief Ice Warrior, his hissing, sibilant tones providing enough chills for the kids and for Fewsham.

Ah, Fewsham. The first five episodes revolve around the breakdown of the poor sod as he’s mentally tortured by the Ice Warriors. We’re frequently treated to close-ups of Fewsham’s creased visage, which resembles a cross between a gnome and a little boy that didn’t get any Christmas presents. Life doesn’t so much rain on Fewsham - it downpours on him on a constant basis to the sound of booming, mocking laughter.

In order to survive, Fewsham is forced to carry out the Warriors’ fiendish plan of transmitting deadly seed pods to T-Mat Cubicles across the globe. He is also forced to betray his work colleagues and also apparently beam The Doctor into the middle of space. It’s all rather pitiful, like watching a school bully picking on his victim on a loop. At least Fewsham does get to die a hero’s death as he finally shows some gumption by betraying the Warriors’ plan to The Doctor back on Earth. Terry Scully does a great job of playing the luckless worker, and as the DVD commentators point out, he’s got the perfect craggy, anguished expression to carry it off.

The other characters are a bit harder to warm to. It doesn’t help that the blokes inexplicably wear Y-Fronts on the outside of their trousers. We’ve seen Radnor’s and Kelly’s types before - huffy, by-the-book bores who speak in pompous, know-it-all voices. Eldred, likewise, is the archetypal grumpy old man, pottering about in his museum and moaning to himself like Victor Meldrew in the Science Museum.

The subject of new vs old also rears its head again. This time, swanky T-Mat cubicles are pitted against old-fashioned rockets. Personally, I can’t see what’s wrong with travelling by T-Mat. Compared to travelling by bus or train, it’s a breeze. No delays. No traffic jams. No smelly weirdos plonking themselves next to you. No grumpy bus drivers, who I swear have some sort of grudge against all passengers. Pop yourself in the cubicle, and bingo! You’re at your destination in seconds. Again, though, the message seems to be Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket, as Radnor and his team place too much reliance on the T-Mat system, which inevitably goes awry. Problem is, we’ve already had this message in The Ice Warriors, and to be honest, it was actually more subtle than in The Seeds Of Death.

I like the idea that museums of the future feature inventions and gizmos that are still in prototype form today. At least The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie pretend to show some interest in Eldred’s relics. With only two more stories to go after this, make the most of one of the best Doctor/companion teams in the series’ history. Patrick Troughton shows no sign of fatigue, turning in a performance that takes in endearing goofiness (the clowning around in foam at the end of Episode 5) and surprising ruthlessness.

It’s rare to see The Doctor commit murder so freely, with the aid of his portable oven, and he seems oddly dispassionate when the orbiting Warriors are sent on a one-way ticket to the sun. “You tried to destroy an entire world,” he retorts gravely when chided by Slaar for his actions. Not only this, but The Doctor’s somehow found a magical sideburn grower, since they’ve grown to Tennant proportions after he’s had his holiday-influenced power nap in Episode 4.

Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury are also well up to their usual standard, even if, as Padbury notes on the commentary, Jamie’s more clueless than usual.

Padbury, in particular, captures Zoe’s character well in this story - a mix of faithful companion and bossy boots know-it-all. Her best moment is when she snaps at the anxious Earth team for getting their knickers in a twist when The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie go up in the rocket. As for that scene in which they feel the G-force: it’s priceless - never has there been so much gurning in Doctor Who. This scene would only be beaten by both Jon Pertwee (when he starts wrestling with a rubber Nestene, Goodie-style) and Sylvester McCoy when he starts pulling strange faces while ranting at Light.

One big boost to The Seeds Of Death is Michael Ferguson’s accomplished direction. Ferguson takes a rather run-of-the-mill script and turns it into an ambitious, fast-paced action adventure worthy of the big screen. Some of his shots are truly inspired, such as the backward countdown over Kelly’s face, the shot of Jamie and Zoe sipping on futuristic Slush Puppies (as shot through a transparent wall) and the attacks on the Ice Warriors (with fast, negative alternating jump cuts). Ferguson’s also adept at handling the action sequences, including the cliffhanger to Episode 5 and the odd chase in what seems to be a Hall Of Mirrors. Did the base on the moon build their own funfair to alleviate their boredom?

Those sequences are quite comedic, thanks to Troughton’s considerable comic timing and also to Dudley Simpson’s rather daft score. I’ll make a grudging confession here - this is one of the very few Simpson scores that I'm not keen on. Normally he comes up with the goods every time, but that annoying piano/glockenspiel plinky-plonky theme (first heard when Radnor et al lose contact with The Doctor’s team on the rocket) grates and to make matters worse, it’s repeated to the point of annoyance throughout the story.

The Seeds Of Death is still enjoyable fare, thanks to the efforts of the regulars and Michael Ferguson’s crisp direction. It doesn’t quite have the same impact that The Ice Warriors had, but it’s still worth a look - if only for the hilarious sight of a foam-covered Troughton waddling around like a snow-covered penguin. No wonder Wendy breaks into unscripted giggles.

* Classic monsters ahoy in the 1970s run of Doctor Who and these are discussed (along with lots more!) in my ebooks on sale now: