BBC Video // 1969 // 146 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // July 1st, 2012
"I find T-Mat travel rather disappointing. There's no sensation at all." -- The Doctor discussing a futuristic form of travel
"The Golden Age of Doctor Who is past. You are running out of ideas," one viewer told Junior Point of View, a BBC show, back in 1969, in a letter passed along in the info text. Of course, that viewer didn't have a TARDIS and couldn't know the show lasted another two decades before going into mothballs and making an even bigger comeback. Perhaps the BBC team took note of this opinion, because the Jon Pertwee stories that followed would ground the Doctor on Earth. However, in 1969, Patrick Troughton (Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger) was still the Doctor, traipsing through time and space in glorious black-and-white, each episode laden with monster-filled cliffhangers. Just like Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death.
The T-Mat, a teleportation device that looks like a phone booth (rather than, say, a vintage police box), is the new form of transport on Earth. Unfortunately, the lunar T-Mat base has a problem with some monsters the Doctor will soon recognize as Ice Warriors from Mars. In the meantime, he's ditching the TARDIS to take Zoe (Wendy Padbury, The Blood on Satan's Claw) and Jamie (Frazer Hines, Emmerdale) on a rocket ride to the Moon (or possibly into the sun). Eventually, the Doctor learns the three Ice Warriors who have taken over the moonbase are an advance force bringing Seeds of Death. Not quite Triffids, but with the right fertilizer, who knows?
Reviewing Doctor Who DVDs, I've heard cast and crew in commentaries talking about how scary the early shows were. I haven't experienced much of Patrick Troughton's Doctor -- too many of these episodes were lost -- but the couple I did see hinted that his run could have been the scariest of the original series. Director Michael Ferguson certainly was trying to create a creepy atmosphere. "The Seeds of Death" storyline lets up a little towards the end, but strikes a chilling note early, as the moonbase T-Mat crew faces an adversary unseen by viewers.
There's no arguing this is a low-budget production. Viewers might notice there only seems to be three T-Mat booths in each locale and grow scared at the mere thought of long T-Mat lines. The combination of balloons and fire extinguishing foam required to bring the Seeds of Death to life might also be less-than-thrilling. And the story's resolution seems a bit too easy, but that can (and does) happen in any incarnation of Doctor Who.
However, the Ice Warriors make credible monsters. Ferguson and story editor Terrence Dicks lament they didn't have them speechifying about motivations, but that actually works in the creatures' favor, coming off more ruthless and mysterious and leaving us a tad more paranoid. Since they're not Daleks -- which makes them less familiar -- "The Seeds of Death" might be scarier for a contemporary audience than for someone who ran into the Ice Warriors when they were new.
Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines are companions, although it's odd watching them fret about rescuing the Doctor, because he's since regenerated quite a few times and generally seems indestructible. Troughton's Doctor sounds afraid -- a trait noted in the features -- but that seems to be a ruse, especially in his final confrontation with the beasts. Interestingly, a scared moonbase crewman (Terry Scully) gives a performance that seems to take a page from Troughton's Doctor. Although there are a few disconnects in that regards. For example, no one seems too concerned about the spotting of an Ice Warrior near a key facility. And when the Doctor does get worried, he checks the situation out alone. Oh, and should you ever face Seeds of Death, I don't recommend the Doctor's scientific technique, which consists of throwing various acids and chemicals at them in the hopes that something works.
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame, the more than forty year old visuals exhibit a lot of grain, but the moody black-and-white production still looks reasonably good. The Dolby 2.0 Mono mix is adequate, showcasing a musical score that can be a little repetitive but suitably exciting.
The commentary is the highlight of this "Special Edition" release, even though it's a carryover from the original 2004 DVD release. Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines are the cast presence, with Padbury commenting on everything from easily torn paper miniskirts to the lack of Daleks during her series run. Ferguson and Dicks have a great droll rapport when chatting amongst themselves, with Ferguson noting he'd like to redo some vintage scripts for the new Doctor Who. Actually, that sounds like a good idea, if they could concentrate on stories which have been lost to time and BBC apathy.
Other bonus features include "Lords of the Red Planet," which takes a look at a script which looks nothing like what finally got on the screen; "Sssowing the Ssseedsss," which features interviews with actors who played Ice Warriors; "Monster Masterclass," which features Ferguson talking about how he created credible monsters; "Monsters Who Came Back for More," which has Dalek voice Nicholas Briggs talking about how "Patrick Troughton was very good at looking scared" as part of a discussion of favorite monsters (with Weeping Angels shaping up as the top contribution of the new Who); a photo gallery set to music; "Tardis Cam No. 6," apparently a brief CGI test; and info text tidbits, including Radio Times listings (and mention of the Radio Times' efforts to not spoil the story) and viewer figures (starting at 6.6 million for the first chapter). There's also an Easter Egg -- to the top left of the Disc Two menu -- which briefly shows the commentators at work on the commentary. If that's not enough, you can also find the Radio Times listings on PDF.
I keep hearing stories about Doctor Who forcing kids to watch while cowering from behind the couch. Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death seems to be one of the stories that sent them there. This is a good place to get acquainted with early series, as the show heads for its fiftieth anniversary. It starts out scary and keeps being fun until the end.
Not guilty, even if the T-Mat looks like an Edsel.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 146 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Features
* Official Site