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…
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