Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Seeds of Death written by Brian Hayles and directed by Michael Ferguso


This story in a nutshell: The reptilian rascals are back and this time they have their sights set on Earth…

Cheeky Chappie: To give you some idea how superlative Troughton is in the role this story doesn’t feature anywhere near his best material from season six (that goes to The Mind Robber, The Invasion and The War Games in my book) and yet this is still an exceptionally well judged performance and some very engaging characterisation. Troughton played the Doctor with effortless enthusiasm and whenever I pick out one of his stories I am suddenly reminded that he was probably the best Doctor we ever had. I think it might just be the lack of material to watch that makes me forget. Trust the Doctor to get giddy with excitement at visiting a space museum - to the first Doctor it was more like a scientific exploration but the second is just like a kid in a sweet shop, he can't wait to skip out there and see what's on offer. He is so sweet in his passion for the exhibits, offering a gesture of support to Eldrad. You just want to hug him when he tries to calm Eldrad down and help with the rocket programme. He gives Zoe a very funny look when she hands him some figures and he declares ‘I couldn’t have done better myself!’ The chemistry between him and his brainbox protege is always a delight. He skips about the Moonbase like a sprite with a fabulous Dudley Simpson piano score that perfectly suits his character. Troughton shows off his comic genius as he blanches at the audience, spotting the Ice Warriors and indulging in a riotously funny sequence running through the base like a demented pixie! ‘Your leader will be angry if you kill me!’ he exclaims, ‘I’m a genius!’ The Doctor rather enjoys winding up Slaar, suggesting that the Earth has far more resources than they actually do. He talks quietly to Fewsham and prickles at his conscience, the manipulative little git. He’s very excited about travelling by T-Mat but finds the experience disappointing because you don’t feel anything. For the Doctor, travelling is an experience, not just a means of getting from A to B. There is a great exchange that reveals the Doctor’s approach perfectly: ‘We’ve tried to attack it!’ ‘Yes, but have you tried to understand it?’ He tries conventional science but it turns out he works best under pressure, throwing all manner of solutions over the expanding seedpod until he discovers the antidote totally by accident. That's one of the things I always liked about the second Doctor, he always seemed to trip over the solution to a problem at the last minute. He never has everything mapped out (as exemplified by his frequent panic attacks). Troughton mucking about in the foam is worth the admission price alone and he has the ability to make it both blissfully funny and dramatic at the same time by just going for it. His chemistry with Jamie sparkles when the Scot tries to help: ‘Is that the one?’ turning the lights out ‘No Jamie!’ There’s a wonderful visual of the Doctor walking through the weather control bureau with huge solar lights held out in front of him. He looks a bit pathetic swamped by all the lashed up machinery, but he knows exactly what he's doing. He’s defiant in the face of Slaar’s threats and tells him to get on with killing him. It's a cold statement, asking the Martian to murder him but he has saved the lives of everybody on Earth and it feels as though that us reward enough if he has to be dispatched. Sending the Martian fleet into the sun is a bloodthirsty solution for the Doctor – far more worthy of his seventh incarnation but proof that the second Doctor could be a very sinister, unforgiving figure at times, for all his frivolity. You’ve got to watch these diminutive Doctors! They sure look cute but let your guard down and it's a massacre. Lovely funny business heading back to the TARDIS with a soaking wet crew.

Beautiful Brainbox: I really like Zoe as a companion, I think she compliments Troughton’s Doctor perfectly and because of their constant oneupmanship they are extremely funny together. It's like watching two little kids in the playground trying to best each other - I half expect the Doctor to snort 'and so's your mum!' at any minute! This might be a little controversial but I feel that the sixth season of Doctor Who could have survived just as well without Jamie. As much as I like Frazer Hines in the role (and he’s gorgeous) and will always treasure his presence in the show, Jamie’s character had come to the end of his usefulness at the end of the Fury from the Deep and he probably could have left with Victoria. If you look at the stories in this season you have the Doctor and Zoe exploring the Land of Fiction whilst Jamie is left holding the string, the Doctor and Zoe foiling the Cyber invasion whilst Jamie sleeps and rests in a hospital bed, the Doctor and Zoe heading into the Dynotrope to face the Krotons whilst Jamie the thickhead is left in the dark and the Doctor and Zoe infiltrating the military prison and gate crashing demonstrations of the processing machine in The War Games – plus Zoe does all the clever stuff in this story while Jamie is just there to back her up as the muscle. Aside from a few cute scenes and the ever-reliable Hines/Troughton chemistry, Jamie is pretty superfluous to requirement this season. Whereas the interaction between the Doctor and Zoe is fresh and interesting, she's too useful to get rid of but irritatingly smug to have around. Just like season seven was just the Doctor and Liz, I feel Troughton and Padbury could have held up this season perfectly well on their own. Again, I want to add that I do love the character of Jamie, but I feel that his characters perhaps wasn't best served in his final season.

I love how Zoe talks to Jamie as though he is subnormal – telling him to look at a dial and asking ‘do you think you can manage that?’ You would have thought that Zoe and Miss Kelly would have something of a totty brain-off but actually they get on very well, ganging up on the others with their reliance on logic. Zoe seems to be well into this adventure lark now, willing to squeeze into the grille and turning the heating up - ‘I’m smaller than you and I’ll probably be a lot quieter too!’ she hisses at Jamie. There’s a very revealing scene where Phipps’ has a panic attack and Zoe coldly diagnoses his nervous exhaustion but cannot empathise with him. She's all logic and no heart. Her photographic memory comes in very handy again. Seeing Zoe spread eagled against a bank of pulsing lights as an Ice Warrior advances to gun her down makes for a memorable cliffhanger. Whilst everybody else condemns him, Zoe defends Fewsham saying that he saved her life. I don't know if it's the lighting or the fact that it is shot of film but during the sequences set outside the Weather Control Station both Zoe and Jamie look as pure as the driven snow. I defy anybody to avoid laughing as the foam pours in and a soggy wet Troughton stumbles onto the set covered head to toe in bubbles! In Padbury's assured hands, Zoe is a marvelously engaging character and adds a great deal to this runaround.

Sexy Scot: Everybody thinks that Jamie is being left behind but he wont here a bit of it and yet once they are rocket-borne he declares that it is worse than travelling in the TARDIS! The best Jamie moment comes at the end of the story when he distracts an Ice Warrior by going ‘ner-ner-ne-ner-ner!’ (well okay he doesn’t say that but it’s just as funny!) so Zoe can open the door and let the soggy Doctor in and T-Matting to the moon to protect the Doctor in the face of Ice Warrior weaponry.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Is that the one?’ ‘No Jamie!
‘You have destroyed our entire fleet!’ ‘You tried to destroy an entire world.’

The Good Stuff: The opening sequence is a great example of the visual imagination that was rife during the Troughton era – the stories may have become more formulaic but the approach to realising the show was extremely creative (there are similarly strong title sequences in The Ice Warriors and The Space Pirates). The model work is exemplary and the story offers strong geographic markers throughout by panning across to either the Earth or the Moon depending on where the next scene is set. Add that an unforgettable Dudley Simpson score and we are off to a good start. Isn't it marvelous how the computer voices in the 60s tales have such attitude? Miss Kelly is an immediately striking character and not the sort of female character that I would expect to stumble across during this period of the show. She is cold, resourceful and authorative and has wonderfully bossy lines like 'please don't stop me again otherwise I shall have to go above your head!' With both Zoe and Miss Kelly, The Seeds of Death pushes strong female characters to the fore (it's Fewsham and Phipps who panic and lose it under pressure). Michael Ferguson knows how to build up suspense and tells the invasion of the Moonbase from the POV of the aliens, looking through their eyes at the terrified crew members staring back, horrified. The question of everybody's lips is what could possibly cause that much panic and dread? How much mileage does Ferguson get from that wall of pulsing lights? His silhouette shots look especially striking in black and white. Just like the New Series had the cheek to stick Cybermen in various locations all over the world, The Seeds of Death does the same thing but with the far more mundane T-Mat capsule. You have to admire their cheek. Fewsham elevates the Moonbase sequences considerably, a character that we can really buy into because he is trapped in a no-win situation of co-operating with the Martians or being killed. As much as we all like to think that we would be willing to sacrifice our lives in a similar sort of situation I am prepared to admit that it probably isn't as simple as that. Put in Fewsham's position I think many of us would follow in his footsteps and it's that 'what would I do?' that elevates this character from the other, stock characters that populate this tale. Despite his stubbornness (many writers think the obstinacy adds shades of character but more often than not it is just annoying...and irritatingly Doctor Who stories are often full of them to make sure that the Doctor is prevented from saving the day in episode one), I really like Eldrad, an old man with fading dreams of a rocket flying into space. The effect of the Ice Warrior gun is great because it looks like it literally sucks in your insides and scrambles them. When you find out how easy it was to achieve it impresses all the more. There is a close up on Fewsham as Miss Kelly T-Mat’s up to the Moon to confront him where he really looks like a man waiting to be hanged. I couldn't have sympathised with him more at this point. The Ice Warrior suits have been properly blinged up in this story, their armour shines and they look spanking new and menacing. You cannot fault the ambition of a story that has the line ‘if we crash into a mountain range we’re done for!’ and cut to a shot of the POV of a rocket screaming towards the moon! Even if they didn't have the budget to support such an idea, that never stopped Doctor Who in it's early years. Alan Bennion’s hissy voice is very effective plus the Ice Warriors have a new burbling growl, which sounds gives them real presence. After three episodes of skipping from the Earth to the Moonbase it is great to go outside for some impressively mounted scenes of the Warrior stomping across Hampstead Heath. Asking Fewsham to beam the Doctor into space is horrible and Terry Scully plays it for real. There's no attempt to cut away from this agonising choice, as drama so often does. Fantastic shots of the warrior silhouetted by the sun and storming through the foam, pish to those of you who think these creatures were presented as a genuinely frightening force in Cold War. I love the foam covering the camera, for a moment it feels like the danger is spilling from the story out of the TV into our homes. Slaar and Fewsham share a very arty scene silhouetted against the lights, as I said Furgeson really gets his money out of this smart piece of design. The moment when Slaar realising he is being filmed and turns to the camera to cut the link always makes me heart skip a beat. I love it when the villains direct the camera directly. How wonderfully pathetic does Slaar sound when he realises that he has been tricked into sending his fleet into the sun. It;'s a good thing that he dies because he was never going to live that one down.

The Bad Stuff: Those awful nappy trousers! There are some awkward early moments – Osgood turning to his death being far too aware of the camera placement, Eldrad’s absolute stubbornness and the victim who gives a very vacant, toneless plea for help from the moon! Simpson goes crazy with his drums at some points and the music is almost deafening. Perhaps Murray Gold took this story as inspiration. The montage of fuzzy stills make for an unconvincing rocket take off sequence and the model work is pretty ropey compared to great stuff being done elsewhere in this story. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe pull at their faces to simulate G-Force, a trick that trips up all the best Doctor Who characters. I know it should take ages to prepare a rocket and get from the Earth to the Moon but taking a whole episode to get from one location to the other means the padding starts from an early point in this six parter. Watch out for the fat fella who attempts to escape the Ice Warriors in episode one and wobbles horribly to his death. Hilarious stuff. The Balloons of Death more like! Brent’s body is visibly breathing (and his fingers twitch as well) after he has expired. Phipps has trouble trying to squeeze through a grille that is clearly large enough for him to slip through with ease. After an impressive entrance smashing through the T-Mat capsule on Earth the Ice Warrior does some weird kind of Abba music video dance where he turns left and right to frighten the base personnel  It just looks odd. I would just groove on down with him. Phipps’ body vanishes from the grille at the beginning of episode five. Give that extra a round of applause…when the Ice Warrior enters the Weather Control Bureau he has nearly as an apoplectic fit and runs about the place like a flea on a griddle. If water kills the seedpods surely Earth is just about the worst planet to terraform? The Grand Martial is beyond bling.

Result: The Seeds of Death is one of those stories that often gets shuffled into the pack which is a shame because there is a lot to recommend it. Nowadays they could easily squeeze this plot into 45 minutes which leaves the almost three hour running time full of padding but shot this well running around and hiding from monsters has rarely been as much fun. The Ice Warriors are beautifully shot in this story, they look great and it’s probably the story where they exude the most menace. Michael Ferguson is the forgotten classic Who director whose work is always stylish and very imaginatively shot (here he deploys pans, fades, zooms, shooting through sets, high shots, extreme wide shots on location, quick cuts, shadows and silhouettes) and The Seeds of Death would be a lot sorrier without his masterful handling of the somewhat repetitive material. There is a point around episode three when it feels like all the arsing about on the Moonbase is going to play out forever but Terrance Dicks is on hand to guide the story back to Earth and gives the story a real shot in the foot with the introduction of the Weather Control Station. Also the inclusion of Fewsham adds a great deal of pathos to the story that would otherwise be missing, he is one of the unsung guest characters that really injects a great deal of realism to an otherwise frivolous bit of running about. Troughton is sublime and Padbury isn’t far behind and all the guest performances are strong. My heart wants to give this ridiculously engaging story a 9 but my brain wants me to give it an 7 so lets split the diff: 8/10

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