Doctor Who (Classic): S06E05 “The Seeds of Death”

Season 6
Directed by Michael Ferguson
Written by Brian Hayles, Terrance Dicks (uncredited)

It’s been a long while since we last checked in, but I’ve been sitting on this half-finished review ever since. Since that time, the modern series has wrapped up its latest series and gone into hibernation until the next decade.  While that series (until the special) marked a departure in that it had moved away from returning villains into original, almost exclusively standalone (aside from the season’s finale) ones.  The Second Doctor’s run however has been the opposite, focused much more heavily on the recurring villains for better or worse.

The Ice Warriors had originally debuted in the Season 5 serial “The Ice Warriors” written by Brian Hayles.  Hayles returned to write this one, but when he was unable to finish it (a task he was hindered in by uncertainty over the departure of Frazer Hines and the removal of The Doctor from the fourth episode), Terrance Dicks wound up completing and rewriting much of the script (Episodes Three through Six).  The Ice Warrior is kept mostly in secret until the final seconds of the first episode though their distinctive style of speaking and shots of parts of them from behind kind of give the game away.  The camera takes the first-person point of view of the Ice Warrior in that first episode as it tries to force some humans to cooperate with it.  Before they are able to use the system, one of the humans is able to sabotages it and the episode sets off with parallel plots.

The TARDIS lands in a space museum (no, not that one) depicting a bunch of obsolete forms of flight and space flight.  The reliable T-Mat (Travel Mat) system has replaced all other means of transport on Earth and the moon, with rockets having become a thing of the past.  Of course, when the system malfunctions as a result of the Ice Warriors and the humans having to sabotage it, there’s no real way for the humans at the T-Mat Control Centre to fix it.  Well there would be no way if it wasn’t for the one person on Earth who has been building a rocket in secret and is still able to fly one.  This was back before the TARDIS could be controlled reliably and gotten everyone there in no time.

The show tries to fit in two messages here with its story.  The one it is most interested in is the least interesting, about not committing to all to the same means of transport in case one fails.  It’s the other point, made by The Doctor and not beaten into the ground that has proven more interesting.  It’s the idea that once Earth invented the T-Mat, they had no desire to explore further in the galaxy.  Considering not long after this episode was made, we also stopped at the moon, and in general have also moved our space industry to the private sector (though not quite this The Astronaut Farmer level of one man making a rocket in a museum) with the government being forced to use them to reach their own space stations.

With countless food and medical supplies being held up from being transported, the Doctor and his companions must make the risky flight to the moon to stop the Ice Warriors who are busy forcing one of the remaining incompetent crewman to try and fix the link under threat of his life.  The homemade rocket somehow gets them to the moon despite the communication going temporarily dead on liftoff and proving too badly damaged to make a return journey, leaving the T-Mat system (which The Doctor wants to destroy for what I’m guessing is not wholly tactical reasons) as the only point of return.

Not destroying it also poses a risk since the Ice Warriors are planning an invasion of Earth (one in which they expect no resistance) and the system is their method for carrying out the attack.  An attack which involves transporting snowball like objects that balloon up when touched and burst, sending seeds into the air and are able to kill by depriving humans of oxygen.  It’s hard to take the Ice Warriors too seriously as a threat.  They may capture The Doctor, but multiple Ice Warriors are defeated by an incredibly simple trap set using a solar power line as they are weak to heat.  In addition, the killer foam that spreads across and threatens land (what is it with the Second Doctor and foam?) is defeated by the rare Earth substance of water long before M. Night got it in his head.  The killer foam is inherently ridiculous, but Patrick Troughton does his best to sell the danger of what at moments resembles nothing more than bath time.

There was a lot of lecturing on the current season of NuWho about the Doctor’s stance of never killing, but we should always remember that is a more recent stance.  Here, The Doctor manages to destroy the entire Ice Warrior fleet by locking them on to a satellite launched into space which will cause them all to burn up and in an attempt to save Jamie, grabs the Ice Warrior’s gun thing and aims it at another of them.  It could absolutely be a reflection of how the character has matured over their long life from their brash youth, but it’s hard to deny that this makes for far more compelling television and is refreshing to see.

The serial as a whole comes together much better than any of the others this season.  It’s six episodes are paced better and even though it dabbles in some ridiculous special effects (even by Doctor Who standards) it is not nearly as reliant on the quality of this cast to carry it as the rest of Season 6 has been.

Grade: B

Stray Observations

– The Ice Warriors’ kills are depicted in a unique and disorienting (if rather silly looking) what appears to be rapidly speeding up and distorting the video
– It is delightful as always watching The Doctor nerd out with the engineer
– I want to know how long the writers think it takes to make a rocket.  The rocket is unfinished and even with the government’s help, it is finished in no time flat.  Then again, this is a future apparently advanced enough where building a rocket capable of reaching the moon is a one-man job.
– We see the introduction of the Grand Marshal Ice Warrior, who is differentiated by the fact that he wears a bunch of cheap glittery scales on his mask that looks like he let his daughter play with them
– This Week in Cliffhangers: The Doctor forces his companions to once again take off without saying goodbye to avoid having to answer any questions and presumably to avoid being dragged into a tedious debate over the allocation of resources for transportation

Next Up: The next episode of classic coverage picks up with “The Space Pirates” should theoretically be in three weeks (2/18) but you all know how well I keep to a schedule.  While five of the six episodes are missing, we still have reason to celebrate; these are the five last missing episodes of Doctor Who!