‘The Seeds of Death’ is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is an entertaining, well-directed story with good use of monsters; on the other it drags in places and features several plot contrivances that are hard to swallow. 

The return of the Ice Warriors is both welcome and well handled. In their debut story, they were a small group of stranded aliens, aggressive and ruthless but motivated by survival above all other concerns. Here, they are a well-organized invasion force operating from a position of strength, and this makes a considerable difference. In ‘The Ice Warriors’ their leader Varga was a bully; here, their leader Slaar is positively sadistic. He clearly enjoys psychologically tormenting the terrified Fewsham and deals out casual death to anyone who stands in the way of his plans. In episode three, his decision to kill the Doctor by T-matting him into space is pure sadism; it would be quicker and easier to have him shot by one of his warriors, but instead he chooses an elaborate and unpleasant means of execution simply because he can, and he relishes the opportunity to force Fewsham to accept his part in the Doctor’s apparent death. Alan Bennion plays the character well, making Slaar both commanding and thoroughly unlikable. As a result, the Doctor’s smug revelations about just how thoroughly he has been defeated in episode six are extremely satisfying. Slaar’s distinctive slim-line costume also makes him stand out from his warriors, and is an impressive addition to the Ice Warrior mythology, demonstrating the hierarchy within their ranks. The Grand Marshal also serves this purpose, and contrasts nicely with Slaar in that he seems far more pragmatic than his cruel subordinate, concerned purely with the survival of his fleet and reprimanding Slaar for his casual slaughter of Fewsham, which necessitates the acquisition of a replacement human and thus jeopardizes the Ice Warriors’ plans. It is also a nice detail that the Grand Marshal, safely ensconced in the atmosphere on board his ship, does not rasp and wheeze like the warriors on the moon base. For the most part, the other Ice Warriors are little more than muscle, but during episodes five and six, the lone Ice Warrior sent to Earth does plenty to enhance the Ice Warriors’ reputation, proving as he does almost unstoppable; he literally shrugs aside bullets and dispatches numerous guards as he makes his way to the weather control centre and retains control of it. In short, the Ice Warriors make for truly impressive monsters and are very intimidating. 

The supporting cast is generally very good, with Terry Scully’s convincingly frightened Fewsham worthy of special mention. His eventual stand against Slaar, essential to the denouement and resulting, inevitably, in his death, is a touchingly noble moment, and works doubly well because of his fear-motivated acquiescence up to that point. Having almost been responsible for the success of the Martian invasion by T-matting the seedpods to Earth, he manages to redeem himself to a degree in his final scene. Ronald Leigh-Hunt and Philip Ray make for a likeable pair, both with different motivations and a bitter past history between them, who rekindle their old friendship and respect in the face of adversity. Louise Pajo is also memorable as Miss Kelly, who is highly efficient and a rare (during this era) strong female character, who is nowhere near as icy and impassive as some reviewers would have us believe. Christopher Coll’s Phipps, a man who has seen most of his friends die but who struggles on in the fight against the Ice Warriors is also well acted and contrasts nicely with Fewsham, whose response to the warriors is far less admirable. The one flaw in this otherwise excellent ensemble of supporting characters is the thoroughly irritating Sir James Gregson, who is a walking bureaucratic cliché. 

This is starting to sound repetitive, but the regulars are, of course, excellent. Troughton gets some great moments here (although his fluctuating sideburns are extremely distracting). The Doctor’s quick decision to offer to pilot Eldred’s rocket is typical of the character, whose first instinct is always to help those in need. In comparison with the terrorized moon base personnel, his casual confidence in his ability to handle the Ice Warriors is even more impressive than usual and indeed the Doctor is very much the hero here, more than he ever is; without the Doctor, Eldred’s rocket would probably have never reached the moon, and the Ice Warriors would probably have been successful in their invasion attempt. He also gets some typically marvellous moments, including his “I’m a genius” line and his amusing but never quite over the top buffoonery with the foam at the end of episode five. The ease with which Jamie takes space-travel in his stride is typical of the character’s usual capability and also his almost tangible faith in the Doctor. As with the Doctor, his bravery in tackling the Ice Warrior in the solar energy room contrasts brilliantly with the (entirely understandable) terror of the T-mat staff, reminding us once again just who the stars of the story are. Zoe too continues to impress, remaining relatively calm when problems arise on board the rocket, with which she demonstrates considerable expertise. Her insistence at going to change the temperature settings in the control room, which almost proves fatal, results in one of her rare losses of composure as an Ice Warrior trains its weapon on her, but she quickly recovers, once more demonstrating how much better suited to travelling with the Doctor she is than Victoria was. 

The direction is excellent, especially during the scenes of the rocket take off, as the countdown is superimposed on Miss Kelly’s face (a simple, but effective technique), and the model work is generally of a very high standard. There are some very impressive shots during episode three, as the Doctor finds himself reflected in bizarre ways in the walls of the moon base; corridors have never looked so interesting. In spite of all this praise however, there are problems with ‘The Seeds of Death’. Firstly, some of the costumes are awful; whilst the female characters’ costumes are all passable, the male T-mat staff members look ridiculous, due to the strange decision to make it look as though they are wearing underpants on the outside. The Perspex helmets worn by the security guards look ridiculous too, and rather impractical. Then there is the excessive use of labeling; everything is labeled in big letters, which say things like “Dry”. Firstly, surely weather control is more complicated than just being wet or dry, and secondly this just looks ridiculous. The worst example is the sign that says “rocket homing beacon operative” in big letters over the door. I can’t think of any specific logical objection to this, I just think it looks daft. 

The eponymous seeds never look like anything other than balloons, and the fungus is painfully obviously being sprayed out of a foam machine. I don’t normally criticize Doctor Who for its effects, but in a story this well directed I find this rather disappointing. A far worse problem is the fungus’ susceptibility to water. This is fairly implausible for several reasons; firstly, when attempts are made to destroy the fungus early on, T-mat personnel are clearly seen to be spraying it with pesticides. I’d be very surprised if these weren’t solutions in, well, water. Citric acid certainly is and the Doctor pours this over a pod in episode five. If absolutely pure water is necessary to kill the fungus, I hope they don’t have acid rain in the future… I also find it hard to believe that weather control is so efficient that a single warrior sent to London can stop it raining all across the Northern hemisphere by sabotaging a single control panel. And surely the Ice Warriors must have noticed that the majority of the Earth’s surface is covered in water? Surely they could have come up with something a bit less desperate. My other major criticism of the story is that although for the most part it doesn’t feel padded, it does rather drag during episode two, as the rocket makes its journey to the moon. Ironically, such a rapid journey is beyond the realms of current technology, but I still find the rocket subplot dull. I also can’t believe that everybody on Earth besides Eldred has totally lost interest in space travel thanks to the development of T-mat and that no provision has been made for unexpected emergencies on the moon. Finally, I can’t help but cringe every time I see the temperature gauge needle creep up past sixty degrees centigrade at the end of episode four and the start of episode five; raising the temperature is one thing, but this is totally implausible and is such a trivial mistake that there is no excuse for it. 

Overall, ‘The Seeds of Death’ is flawed but always entertaining. I wouldn’t call it a classic, but it has much to offer and its always fun in a sad fanboy sort of way to spot the TARDIS’ astral map from ‘The Web Planet’ in Eldred’s museum and the drill from ‘The Dominators’ in his lab. That’s quite an impressive collection he’s got…

Filters: Television Second Doctor Series 6