Friday, November 21, 2014

"The Seeds of Death"

Aired: Jan. 25 - Mar. 1, 1969

6 Episodes

Story 48

Written by Brian Hayles

Directed by Michael Ferguson


Synopsis


Materializing on Earth in the 21st Century, the travellers discover that all travel on the planet happens through T-Mat, a matter transmitting device that beams people and freight instantly to destinations all around the globe. Overseen by Commander Radnor and his assistant Gia Kelly, T-Mat is currently on the blink and mass panic is ensuing all over Earth. As the Doctor is one of the few people with practical experience, the travellers agree to pilot an obsolete rocket to the Moon relay station, where the problem seems to originate.

The moon station has in fact been taken over by Ice Warriors as part of the first stage of an invasion of earth. They plan to T-Mat deadly seeds pods to the Earth's surface which emit foamy spores that draw oxygen from the atmosphere. This will suffocate humanity but terraform the Earth for the Martians who require less oxygen.

The Doctor and his friends manage to escape the moon and return to Earth, whereupon the Doctor deduces that the seed pods are vulnerable to water. He and Jamie and Zoe head to a weather control station and succeed in fighting off an Ice Warrior long enough to create a torrential downpour, destroying the pods.

Returning to the Moon, the Doctor is able to alter the course of the approaching Martian fleet so that it will fly into the Sun. The invasion by the Ice Warriors is thwarted.


Analysis

The Seeds of Death is hardly the most original or well-written of serials. It's a sequel to The Ice Warriors, and it's yet another variation on the base under siege. There's more than a little padding, the production cannot effectively communicate the scale of the invasion (one Ice Warrior wandering around the countryside, spraying soap bubbles isn't exactly an impressive invasion), and the resolution to the threat of the spores is perhaps one of the most  ridiculous in the series' history. Honestly, water should never be used as solution to an alien menace, especially when the last appearance of said aliens featured ice everywhere.

So, why is it that I love the story so much? Part of it has to be its structure. Yes, it's padded, as all six part stories are, but Hayles' scripts were significantly re-written by assistant script editor Terrance Dicks, arguably the best writer the series ever had when it came to story mechanics. The simplistic story is paced well, and populated by interesting characters with clear objectives. The creation of a hierarchy to the Ice Warriors through the use of Ice Lord Slaar gives the story an interesting antagonist, and through his relationship with Fewsham we get more than a ranting villain, but a soldier. It's here where the Ice Warriors start to gain some of the noble shadings and little details that make them among the most nuanced and interesting of Doctor Who's monsters. They're not Iago or anything, but they possess far great individual characterization than, say a Cyberman, and it's refreshing to see.

Speaking of Fewsham, his character might be the single best thing about the story. Played brilliantly by Terry Scully, he appears at first blush to be a craven coward, but as the story goes on, we come to see him more as just a regular man, weak certainly, but desperate to survive and make the best of a horrific situation. And while we all think we'd be noble and defiant like Osgood, we're far more likely to try and stay alive like Fewsham. And yet, when t comes down to it, the character has an internal line he will not cross. His journey from weak survivor to hero is very real, and a rare gem in an era where we would often get little more than archetypes. 

In the final analysis, The Seeds of Death is a well-produced, exciting story with a pretty unoriginal story at its heart. But the energy of the production, including Ferguson's well-paced and slick direction, nice design and some solid performances from both the regular and supporting cast, elevate it above the familiar story into an entertaining, if slight, watch.

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