DVD Extras include:
Padded Off StoryThe plot is actually quite good, all set to explore a variety of interesting scientific concepts and bring the Ice Warriors back for a more battle-oriented tooth-and-nail struggle to do justice to their name - all of which helped elevate this to be the season six Troughton story I anticipated I would enjoy the most before I actually first saw it. Unfortunately, there is about a full episode's worth of padding scattered throughout the entire script, generally taking the form of some character arguing that, because the plot involves danger, wouldn't it be better if we waited or took our time or maybe even did nothing at all? Or, I'm all upset at watching most of my friends die, and now I'm lost and can't remember the way so just let me waste some screen-time, why can't you? No, none of this forms any sort of character-arc or really tackles any issues. At the end of the day, the formula reveals itself for what it is: padding. A real bore for the audience.
But padding aside, the real problem with "The Seeds of Death" is the fact that Michael Ferguson was not at his best, and his worst Doctor Who story here features some atrocious directing. Mind you, Ferguson does have my sympathies in trying to figure out how to keep such a padded story interesting, and to his credit he does apply thought to composing many of the shots and sequences artistically and cleverly, but those thoughts often had vaguely little to do with the telling of the story or with capturing the mood of the scene. They attempt to be clever on their own merit, while the story gets lost. Action is often blocked out in ways that are completely embarrassing, while the wrong bits of information are visually withheld. I first saw this one as the then-newly-released movie-length VHS video was shown at a convention, and it was extremely sad to see such a large number of die-hard fans practically falling asleep on their favourite program. I nearly nodded off myself!
"Beam me up, 'ss Kelly."Doctor Who's answer to Star Trek's transporter beam is introduced for the first time in this story, called Travel-Mat or T-Mat here, although later stories would slightly alter the name to Trans-Mat, short for Matter Transmission. Ferguson does a lame job of directing the whole of the first scene in T-Mat control, with cameras out of focus, or pointing at a person's legs instead of their faces, etc., but his all-too-obvious avoidance of a proper dissolve effect to introduce the much-used T-Mat idea in his story is pretty unforgivable, especially as the run-on recording of the early days of Doctor Who had given way to (relatively) advanced editing control and out-of-order recording. Even if corners must be cut, the most important place to keep a full effect intact is at the beginning when the process is introduced, and it is here that Ferguson does his worst to it, building the anticipation that future uses of the device will be equally cheap. The camera doesn't even get locked off properly enough to do the jump-cut, hence the cut-away to Miss Kelly in the midst of Radnor's entrance. The best part of T-Mat's introduction is the narrated slide show that Zoe manages to activate - good stuff. The Doctor sums it up best in episode five, after his trio's first trip is done with another mis-aligned jump cut for departure and a total lack of empty-booth footage on arrival: "I find T-Mat travel rather disappointing - there's no sensation at all!"
Granted, the DVD has improved this effect enormously by realigning the jump-cuts and making sure that the transitions flow smoothly, which goes enormously far to help modern audiences enjoy the effect, such as it is. Still, we don't get the effect in many places where we would ideally still need it.
The TARDIS makes an equally cheap entrance: only the interior is shown with the over-echoed sound that isn't allowed to finish. The cut to the museum does not bother to show anything of the police box either, until an all too brief insert appears several scenes too late. The upcoming dialogue plays off the assumption that the audience knows about the Doctor and his mode of conveyance, and the travellers are once more needlessly enigmatic about explaining themselves, particularly as this society has learned to accept sudden materialization.
The Ice ZombiesThe Ice Warriors get into the story right off the bat, ahead of even the Doctor and his friends, although their identity is hidden fairly well for the first episode (especially since there is no mention of them in the story's title). Unfortunately, they seem to be a greater source of cheapness than menace. As far as plot is concerned, the camera's avoidance of them in the first episode is totally contrived, as the characters who are on hand to see them at the end of the first episode are the same ones who have been seeing them since the beginning, and there's no mystery or exploration in the plot to enhance this non-revelation. Leader Slaar's voice is such a quiet whisper that about half of his lines were completely inaudible in the VHS version, and we had to guess what he had said from others' responses - thankfully this has all now been cleaned up for the DVD version, and Slaar is now completely understandable. The mirrorlon effect looks absolutely terrible this time around - instead of contracting an image towards the centre to give an impression of implosion, it usually just wobbles around in this story and makes it very difficult for the audience to know what in tarnation they are supposed to be looking at, much less who actually just got shot and killed. The effect only gets done justice in a couple of shots in later episodes, often on location.
Revealing the Ice Warriors visually also reveals the poor coordination between acting and directing. The Ice Warriors display such a lack of menace that it is more appropriate to call them Ice Zombies. Poor shot planning and sequencing has the Ice Zombie firing at a bolting Phipps, after which he takes cover around the corner with one of the hammiest, most idiotic facial expressions ever thrust into a camera's close-up. The order of these shots proves conclusively that an Ice Zombie cannot hit the broad side of a barn, as Phipps must obviously have been right in line with the Zombie's gun during the firing.
One thing that does work well here, particularly in bringing back some menace to the Ice Warriors, is Dudley Simpson's music. As with the previous Ice Warrior adventure, we get creative instrument sounds and a good deal of power and energy in the story's music. Additionally, the DVD restoration team has brought the quality of the sound to a very high and enjoyable level. There are a few sections that still betray the program's age, but for the most part this is a really outstanding job, highlighting what has always traditionally been one of Doctor Who's great strengths: that of a very effective and atmospheric soundtrack. Indeed, had this adventure been lost, and our only assessment of it been through a surviving soundtrack, we would probably be ranking it as a highly suspenseful story.
Characters and ActingI have no direct complaints about Fewsham, as his character is rather well-fleshed out and Terry Scully plays it well, balancing accuracy with little mannerisms that keep Fewsham interesting. I'm not sure if it was wise to confine so much of the Ice Zombie menace to guarding a handful of people and keeping them under duress. This dynamic is not rich enough to sustain audience interest over five and a half episodes, and poor Fewsham has little chance of doing anything outside of this - the main factor sapping audience interest away from his character. The Ice Zombies have practically nothing to do in early episodes except play hide and seek with an equally small handful of resistance characters. This becomes much sillier than necessary, as the lowest point of the directing proves that an Ice Zombie can stand two feet from the broad side of a barn and stare at it without seeing it at all. Also, from a story structure point of view, the first Ice Zombie gets vaporized way too early and way too easily to maintain any sense of menace about them.
The Doctor and his friends involve themselves with the locals out of heroic impulse and in a timely fashion, however it is the guest characters who hoard the dialogue. Professor Eldred needs to delay the plot for a good 15 to 20 minutes to meet the story's timing requirements, and so even though his long-time theories have at last been proven right and the opportunities he's always wanted are presented to him on a silver platter, he digs his heel in and drags that plot, without any of his dialogue offering the frustrated audience any clue as to what might motivate this. Early episodes are full of minor characters who are neither scripted nor acted out in anything of an interesting fashion. Harry Towb's Osgood is one of the few that actually adds something worthwhile to the story, and it's too bad we didn't see more of his face in focus during his first scene. Radnor, Kelly, and Eldred are not badly constructed characters, it's just that their interpersonal conflicts are not motivated in a clear manner worthy of our interest. The actors do an exceptional job of playing them under the circumstances, and in the end I think this story has one of the best casts in all of season six.
Although models of the Ice Zombies' spacecraft are notorious by their absence, the model work actually done in this story is of a refreshingly high calibre, particularly the Earth rocket that our three regulars pilot, as well as its take-off and landing ports on the ground and the moon. The dependencies on homing signals are ridiculous in this adventure though. Unlike "The Invasion" (story no. 46), where the loss of a signal is merely an inconvenience forcing one to use "Plan B", Brian Hayles' writing (or Terrance Dicks' script editing) would have us believe that without the signal it is impossible for any Human, Martian, or Gallifreyan to even be able to find the right planet. Okay, the whole theme of the story is the lack of wisdom in depending on one thing, putting all one's eggs in one basket, etc., but this is going a little too far beyond believability and common sense. Can they not look out the window and steer manually, like the Apollo 13 moon mission apparently did? And besides, how did Slaar's little group first find the moon and land safely, if he's only just bringing the signal transmitter with him?
The Doctor finally gets some good bits in episode three as he gets to where the real action is, confronts Slaar, and initiates curiosity in the Ice Zombies plans. Unfortunately, this good stuff doesn't last, as episode four allows Patrick Troughton to go off on holiday. The episode is not as Doctor-less as many others, with a double playing him unconscious and at the centre of several quite suspenseful story beats. The companions and guest characters are kept in line and focused on all the right goals in Troughton's absence; it is chiefly the story padding that drags this episode down, which would still have been there with or without Troughton. Episode Four's best strength surrounds the demonstration and bit-by-bit revelation of the Ice Zombie's plans, investigated by Fewsham, Radnor, and Eldred. Many of the zooms in and out of the T-Mat booths are effective, but over-use of the zoom control is a sure way of spotting an amateur videographer, and the over-use here begins to take away from the visual momentum and replace it with monotony. In one shot, the T-Mat jump cuts finally prove more effective than dissolves, as an Ice Zombie bursts out of a booth on Earth. Nice moment! A bit of location work adds an extra element of believability to the story. On the VHS version all that outdoor stuff somehow managed to seem terribly claustrophobic and thus not as enjoyable as it should be, but this feeling doesn't seem to affect the much crisper, cleaner DVD presentation.
Good Final Episodes"The Seeds of Death" finally manages to pick itself up and become half-way decent in the final two episodes. Episode five in particular keeps the Doctor extremely busy, and he manages to solve just about all the mysteries and problems in one half-hour installment. Most of the concluding action is reserved for episode six, however, and it is generally an improvement on what has gone before. The stakes are raised, and the good guys put their own cunning to great use. The only new element that really flops near the end is the sound of the Martian homing signal - again quite a lame thing for an army of Warriors to be dependant on. Maybe that's what hypnotized them into becoming Zombies instead.
Many Doctor Who stories work well when the episodes are combined into one movie-length show, but "The Seeds of Death" is the epitome of a story that needs to be shown as separate episodes only. Its earlier sleepy pace badly needs to be broken up by the occasional burst of a popular theme song and cool opening graphics, while four or five of its most suspenseful moments can linger a bit longer in a viewer's memory. Doctor Who is particularly adept at turning these elements of a serialized program into one of its major strengths, a power which it just about doubled the following year for season seven, and the movie length version of "The Seeds of Death" on VHS does the story no favours by removing this asset of the program.
The story here is probably not strong enough to justify double-dipping on the Special Edition DVD if you'd already bought the earlier DVD from 2003/2004. Me, I'd been waiting 8 years for the price to come down on the regular DVD before I stooped to buy it, since the VHS had so put me off of the story... and bizarrely, the price STILL hasn't come down on the original here in Canada. I don't know who's going to buy that now that the new edition is cheaper and comes with extra bells and whistles. So, I'm happy to skip it and go directly from VHS to the Special Edition DVD which I am enjoying. As for extras, I don't know why the featurette "Lords of the Red Planet" is listed everywhere as a history of the Ice Warriors. It is actually a making-of documentary focused on this one story "The Seeds of Death", and takes its title from a previous story idea that almost got made in place of this one. The TARDIS-Cam feature is also bizarrely labeled - both this one and the very different one on the DVD for "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (story no. 91) are labeled as being number six. Well come on, that can't be right! "The Seeds of Death" originally came out first, so this one is probably no. 5 in reality. You'd think someone would have caught this before the Special Edition came out. The Special Edition has left out the previous DVD's featurettes "The Last Dalek" and the New Zealand Censor Clips.... and why not since they had nothing to do with this story and are repeated in the much more appropriate "Lost in Time" DVD sets.
This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
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