One of the latest Doctor Who serials to get the Special Edition DVD treatment is the fifth serial of season six, “The Seeds of Death.” Originally aired in six installments from January through March of 1969, “The Seeds of Death” is set only about a century into the future, at the end of the 21st century. On this Earth, transportation has become so simple due to the invention of the T-Mat, a teleporting device, that mankind has grown lazy, and stopped exploring space. This spells bad news when the T-Mat system goes down, stranding people on the moon.
The stranding is actually part of a larger problem, though. The Ice Warriors, a scary group of Martians led by the Ice Lords, have returned, and are planning on using the moon as a launching pad for a full-scale Earth invasion. The valiant moon crew try to hold off these baddies until help can arrive, but this is easier said than done, and there are grave consequences to the attack.
The Martians have a smart plan: infest Earth with a fungus that will make life unsuitable for humans, but ideal for the Martians. In this way, the Ice Warriors can force the natives out of the way without risking their own lives in combat. Taking control of Earth’s weather system allows the Ice Warriors to make conditions great for the fungus, ensuring the best rate of growth possible, and a quick take over. It’s a shrewd plan, and one that people are not prepared to defend themselves against.
Luckily, The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines), and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) have found another way to bring help to the embattled moon base. Professor Daniel Eldred (Philip Ray, Z Cars, Little Big Time) runs a museum of rockets, and has maintained the technology necessary to leave the planet via means other than the T-Mat. The Doctor and his companions arrive on the moon, and it isn’t long before they understand the scope of the problem.
Can the Doctor and his friends save the day? Or is Earth doomed? Does anyone who has ever seen a sci-fi series not know the answer to that question?
The solution to stop the fungus, (SPOILER) it can be killed by rain, is a little too simplistic for my taste. Even if the Martians control the weather, can they really hold off water falling from the sky forever, a natural part of the planet’s process? And if they do, what kind of widespread, devastating effects might that have on the globe as a whole? Perhaps the Martians don’t need such liquid to survive, and don’t care about other life. Maybe the fungus will make permanent changes, and it won’t matter if it’s destroyed after a certain period of time. But the way that this conclusion is presented doesn’t seem to hold up to scrutiny if one stops to analyze the larger implications.
The T-Mat seems to be pretty plainly borrowed from the American Doctor Who contemporary series, Star Trek, which began using the transporter in 1966, over two years before “The Seeds of Death” aired.
That being said, “The Seeds of Death” is a solid story. It’s hard to go wrong when delivering a clear villain against which to root. This is a typical hero tale, with the good guys fighting against evil. They suffer losses while doing so, but the major characters live to fight another day, and the enemy is repelled. The environmental overtones, which may not have been intended, but are present when viewed with modern sensibilities, as well as the distasteful caste system of Martian society, further separates “us” from “them,” providing a serial as black and white as the film of the day.
So perhaps “The Seeds of Death” isn’t as complex and deep as other Doctor Who adventures, but it’s a fine mix of the usual sci-fi adventure ingredients. A lot can be said for entertaining popcorn entertainment, especially when it is presented with the quality of the Doctor Who brand.
“The Seeds of Death” was already released on DVD back in 2003. This edition, though, has remastered picture and sound, a welcome update. There are also a wealth of DVD extras, including an audio commentary with Hines, Padbury, script editor Terrance Dicks, and director Michael Ferguson. Present on the two disc set are the customary PDF materials and photo gallery.
Besides the standards, “The Seeds of Death” Special Edition contains a number of specialized featurettes. “Lords of the Red Planet” is a 30 minute special about the Martians, discussing various aspects of the fictional civilization, and how the characters were developed for Doctor Who. “Sssowing the Ssseedsss” is slightly shorter, and concentrates on the behind the scenes story of this particular serial. Director Ferguson presents a three minute “Monster Masterclass,” and Peter Ware and Nicholas Briggs talk about recurring Who monsters for sixteen minutes.
Doctor Who “The Seeds of Death” Special Edition gets a recommendation from me. Check it out, as it is on sale now.