Thursday, 20 December 2012

Story 48 - The Seeds of Death

In which the TARDIS materialises in the private space museum of Professor Daniel Eldred. It is the late 21st Century, and mankind has turned its back on space exploration. The common mode of travel these days is the T-Mat - whereby people and goods are transported instantaneously from one location to another. The system operates via a relay station in a base on the Moon. At the London control centre, Controller Gia Kelly is increasingly frustrated by delays originating from the Moon. Society has become dependent on the travel system, and now countries are threatened with starvation. She sends a party to sort out the problems. When they arrive, the base is invaded by Ice Warriors, led by Slaar. With T-Mat down, head of the programme Commander Radnor goes to see his old friend - Prof. Eldred. Radnor knows that the old man has a functional space rocket, and he wants to use this to send a party to the Moon to fix T-Mat. There are no experienced astronauts anymore, so the Doctor volunteers to go, and Jamie and Zoe will accompany him.
At the Moonbase, a technician named Fewsham is helping the invaders - to save his life rather than through treachery. Apart from another crewman named Phipps, everyone else has been killed. Phipps is at large, hiding in the solar power room. He helps guide the rocket to land safely. When T-Mat suddenly becomes operational again, Kelly travels to the Moon - only to be captured, as Slaar needs a qualified scientist who can operate the system for him.

The Doctor has learned of the Ice Warriors' presence from Phipps. He needs to find out what they are planning. Slaar wants only certain of the T-Mat stations operational - those in the Northern Hemisphere. Martian seed pods are to be sent to each of these locations. When they germinate, they absorb oxygen and generate a foaming vegetable blight. The plan is to use these seeds to alter Earth's atmosphere to make it more amenable to the Ice Warriors. An Ice Warrior is despatched to the London control centre. Its mission is to locate the Weather Control Bureau and sabotage the equipment. Eldred spots the pattern of the active T-Mat stations - cities where it is currently winter. The Doctor and his friends manage to get back to Earth by T-Mat after Zoe turns up the base's heating. Fewsham refuses to join them. The Doctor discovers that the seeds can be destroyed by water. If it can be made to rain, the blight can be checked.

Jamie and Zoe go to the Weather Control Bureau and find that the Ice Warrior is still here. It has wrecked the controls so that rain cannot be generated. The Doctor arrives and uses a solar power weapon to destroy the Warrior, then he repairs the controls. Fewsham sacrifices himself to let Earth know of an Ice Warrior navigation beacon which will guide an approaching invasion force. Another rocket is sent up with a satellite that will emit a decoy signal, whilst the Doctor must return to the Moon to stop the real signal. Jamie follows. The signal is deactivated and the decoy one leads the Ice Warrior fleet to destruction near the Sun. Slaar and the Ice Warriors are destroyed. Rain wipes out the alien blight.

This six part adventure was written by Brian Hayles, and broadcast between 25th January and 1st March, 1969. Hayles may have gotten the credit, but there is very little of his writing here. It could be argued that this is Terrance Dicks' first Doctor Who story, as he rewrote the story almost from scratch.
Hayles' original submission - The Lords of the Red Planet - was eventually deemed unworkable, despite various rewrites. Part of the problem was Frazer Hines' decision to stay on until the end of the season, and the need to have the Doctor absent for Part 4, as Troughton was due a holiday week.
A second Ice Warrior story had been decided upon almost as soon as their previous appearance had been recorded - as the costumes had been very expensive and the production team felt they needed to get their money's worth. Fortunately, The Ice Warriors had also proven very popular with the viewers. Both the Daleks and the Cybermen had been given a new, differently designed, leader, and for The Seeds of Death, the Ice Warriors would be given a new commander caste. Slaar does not have the heavy armour of his underlings. He has his own boss - the Grand Marshal - who looks the same (from what we can see of him) but has a spangly helmet.

The Seeds of Death is a strong story, with a good supporting cast. We have quite a powerful female character - Gia Kelly, played by Louise Pajo - though it might be argued that she is a bit unemotional and work-fixated. The character could have equally been played by a male actor. Radnor is Ronald Leigh-Hunt, who will play another Commander in The Revenge of the Cybermen.
Professor Eldred is Philip Ray, who can sometimes play fast and loose with the script.
Slaar is played by Alan Bennion. He would return to the costume two more times (both of the Pertwee Peladon stories) but Ice Lords would be his only contribution to Doctor Who. Varga's costume is reused by Sonny Caldinez, who will also appear in the Peladon tales.
The stand-out performance is undoubtedly Terry Scully's Fewsham. He is a reluctant traitor - an ordinary man scared for his life who is prepared to collaborate to save it. However, when he gets the chance to escape back to Earth, he doesn't take it - and later redeems himself by sacrificing his life to warn the Earth authorities of the impending invasion - and provide them the means to counteract it.
The story has some nice model shots courtesy of Bill King's Trading Post company, which was being phased out at this time - with more and more special effects being handled by the BBC's own in-house team.
Episode endings are:

  1. Moonbase technician Locke is reporting back to Radnor when Slaar stops the video-link. He orders an Ice Warrior to kill the man. It fires its sonic weapon and Locke is killed. 
  2. The rocket homing beacon switches off. The Doctor and his companions may crash into the Moon, or float past into deep space.
  3. A Martian seed pod has materialised at the London T-Mat control centre. As technician Brent examines it, it suddenly begins to expand...
  4. Zoe has sneaked into the Moonbase control room and turned up the heating. She finds herself menaced by an Ice Warrior.
  5. The Doctor is trying to get into the Weather Control Bureau. He is about to be engulfed by the deadly Martian seed blight.
  6. Rain is destroying the seed blight, and the Doctor and his companions are soaked as they get back to Eldred's museum to depart in the TARDIS.

Overall, a pretty good story that rarely flags over its six episodes. Some good performances and effects. The seed blight is realised by a foam machine - which is actually quite effective.
Things you might like to know:

  • The costumes for the male characters are interesting to say the least - overalls with a strange pants design (that's English pants - not American). Everyone seems to get by with them - except Hugh Morton, as Sir John Gregson, who looks embarrassed throughout.
  • If you look at the opening story title, episode number and writer sequence for each episode you'll see that sometimes the Moon is in the foreground, and at other times its the Earth. It depends on where the opening scene of each episode is set.
  • We talk about Ice Lords or Ice Warlords - but there is never any such title used on screen - in any of their three appearances.
  • Slaar is only addressed as such once on screen - by the Grand Marshal - yet Zoe knows his name.
  • Professor Eldred points to the location of the Weather Control Bureau on a map - and we can clearly see that it is positioned somewhere else.
  • The overly complicated James Bond villain-type plan. Ice Warriors have built-in guns - so why does Slaar order the Doctor killed by T-Matting him into space - something which will take long enough for his companions to save him? Slaar - you've only yourself to blame...

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