Welcome to the Twenty-Third instalment of Who Review, my ongoing quest to review all available episodes of TV’s longest running SF series, Doctor Who. This week, The Doctor battles the Ice Warriors in The Seeds of Death.
There will be a slight change in format from this review onwards, as I’ll keep my comments separate from the plot synopsis in a section below titled “My Thoughts.”
The Seeds of Death (6 Episodes)
25 January – 1 March 1969
The story opens on The Moon Base, the operations centre for Earth’s T-Mat travel system, a form of teleportation that enables humans to travel instantly to any place Earth. The T-Mat system also enables food and medical supplies to be transported to all areas of the globe.
An undetected ship docks at the base, manned by a party of reptilian Martians known as Ice Warriors, led by the fearsome Slaar. The Ice Warriors enter the control room and attempt to seize control of the T-Mat system. Fortunately, the base’s commander, Osgood, sabotages the T-Mat to prevent the Warriors from teleporting to Earth. Slaar forces Osgood’s second-in-command, Fewsham, to repair the T-Mat.
The malfunctioning T-Met leads to loss of contact between the Moon Base and Earth Control in London. Commander Radnor, head of Earth Control and his assistant, Controller Gia Kelly, attempt to re-establish contact. Unfortunately, since the malfunction is occurring on the moon, the damage will need to be repaired there.
Meanwhile, the TARDIS lands inside a space museum dedicated to the rocket ships of the past, where the Doctor and his companions learn of the T-Mat System and meet the museum’s owner, Professor Eldred. Eldred is surprised that the Doctor has an interest in rocket travel, as the T-Mat has made such travel outdated and ensured that humanity is no longer interested in exploring the cosmos.
Commander Radnor and Miss Kelly arrive at the museum, hoping to convince Eldred to allow them to launch a rocket he has been working on, in the hope of transporting somebody to the Moon to repair the malfunctioning T-Mat. After some persuasion, Eldred agrees and the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe volunteer to serve as the rocket’s crew, as there are no trained astronauts available. Time is of the essence, as shipments of medical supplies aren’t getting where they’re needed and the Earth’s cities are beginning to suffer.
At the Moon Base, Fewsham gets the T-Mat operational. When the system reactivation is detected back at Earth Control, Miss Kelly beams up to the Base with technicians. She finds Fewsham alone, as the Ice Warriors are in hiding. He tells her that Osgood went crazy and destroyed the teleporter.
Elsewhere on the base, another officer, Phipps, manages to escape and radio for help.
The technicians get to work on completing the repairs to the T-Mat. When they have completed their work, the Ice Warriors emerge from hiding and take control of the T-Mat system.
After some complications, the rocket carrying the Doctor and his companions manages to land safely at the Moon Base, aided by communications from Phipps. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe head into the base to destroy the T-Mat and find Phipps, but they are separated and the Doctor is captured by the Ice Warriors. He learns from his captors that they plan to T-Mat seeds containing deadly fungus which multiplies and depletes the oxygen from the atmosphere, causing death, down to Earth. The Doctor tries to examine one of the seeds and it renders him unconscious.
Meanwhile, Jamie and Zoe discover that the rocket cannot take off, so they head to the command centre to try to stop the Doctor from destroying the T-Mat, which is now their only means of returning to Earth. They meet up with Phipps and Miss Kelly and devise a plan to dramatically increase the heat in the Base, deducing that the increased temperature will be harmful to the Ice Warriors.
Back in the command centre, Fewsham and the Ice Warriors T-Mat the first seeds down to Earth Control, killing the people there. Now in complete control of the T-Mat system, they begin transporting seeds to different cities across the globe. Fewsham is then ordered to T-Mat the Doctor into space, but he secretly transports him to another section of the base.
An Ice Warrior is beamed to London, where he seizes control of the London Weather Bureau, the building that controls the weather in the city. He alters the controls to make the planet as dry as possible to mimic conditions on Mars and facilitate the growth of the fungus.
Meanwhile, back on the Moon Base, Jamie, Zoe, Miss Kelly and Phipps battle the Ice Warriors with makeshift solar energy weapons. Phipps is killed, but Zoe manages to turn the heating system on. Zoe convinces Fewsham to aid them. The doctor reunites with his allies, and he, Jamie, Zoe and Miss Kelly transport back to London. Fewsham remains, fearing the consequences he must face for aiding the Ice Warriors should he return to Earth.
Once the others have gone, Slaar manages to reduce the heating in the Moon Base and regain control of Fewsham and the T-Mat system. He informs Fewsham that a Martian invasion fleet will soon arrive on the Moon and the human’s next task will be to connect a homing device for the incoming ships. In an act of redemption, Fewsham activates a video link to Earth Control so that the Ice Warrior’s homing signal can be overheard. Although he is successful, the Ice Warriors kill him when they find out what he has done.
Back on Earth, the Doctor examines a seed pod and discovers that the seeds can be destroyed with water. Jamie and Zoe head to the weather control bureau to tell them to make it rain, but they encounter the Ice Warrior. The Doctor rushes to the Bureau to aid them, but is overwhelmed by fungus before he can enter. Zoe and Jamie let him into the facility just in time, and the Doctor uses a solar weapon to kill the Ice Warrior there. He then alters the weather controls to cause heavy rainfall, killing the fungus and saving the planet. The Doctor then T-Mats up to the Moon Base, disabling Slaar’s homing device.
Meanwhile, at Earth Control, Commander Radnor, Miss Kelly, and Professor Eldred work on a satellite which duplicates the Ice Warriors homing signal. With the original signal taken out by the Doctor, they use the satellite to draw the Ice Warrior invasion fleet off-course, sending them spiraling into the sun.
With the invasion thwarted and the Ice Warriors defeated, the Doctor and his companions depart for their next adventure.
The Seeds of Death is an entertaining storyline with several strong SF elements. The Ice Warriors plan is ingenious, attacking the Earth inconspicuously by using our own technology against us. It’s certainly a more cunning plan than the one used by the Cybermen in The Invasion.
There’s an interesting undercurrent present as well in humanity’s reliance on technology, one that poses some philosophical questions. Humanity is so dependent on the T-Mat system that it takes very little to tip the scales in the Ice Warrior’s favour once the system malfunctions. A similar threat is posed by the weather control system. Our reliance on new technology is almost our undoing.
A side note to this, one which is unfortunately not fully explored in this episode, is how we have lost the desire to explore the cosmos due to the use of the T-Mat system. The technology has enabled instant access to all corners of the globe while seemingly robbing us of the mystery and joy of discovering something new. It’s a fascinating psychological and social concept that is even more relevant today than it was in 1969.
From a storytelling perspective, The Seeds of Death never falters or lags. The story is exciting and the threat posed by the Ice Warriors continually escalates at the story progresses. There’s a genuine sense of tension, especially when the spores are dispatched across the globe.
Unfortunately, there’s also one moment of absurdity, when the Doctor is fighting his way through the fungus to the weather station. The fungus is, essentially, bubbles, so the Doctor looks like his battling his way through a bubble bath or automated car wash. It’s one of the many examples of the story’s intent not being matched by the FX department’s execution.
The Doctor is given centre stage in The Seeds of Death, completely overshadowing his companions. He is witty, resourceful, and manages to thwart the Ice Warriors at every turn. He deduces their plans, counteracts the spread of the seeds, and deactivates the homing signal for the invasion fleet. While The Doctor is always prominent in combating whatever threat he and his companions face, he is rarely so completely dominant as he is in this storyline.
On a bizarre note, Patrick Troughton’s sideburns change length numerous times during this story, usually dependent upon whether the scenes are studio-shot or on location.
Originally, the script for The Seeds of Death introduced a new companion, Nik, as actor Frazer Hines was planning on departing the series, facilitating the need to write Jamie out. However, Hines postponed his departure, apparently at Patrick Troughton’s request. The script was then heavily rewritten by script editor Terrence Dicks. This may explain why Jamie isn’t as strong a presence in this storyline as he has been in the past.
Gia Kelly is presented as a strong, independent character, much like Zoe has been in the preceding episodes. We’re definitely seeing a shift in the perception of female characters as the 60’s progresses. The women are slowly becoming capable in their own right, and Gia Kelly could have made an excellent companion herself. While Zoe doesn’t have many moments to shine, Gia certainly makes the most of her time onscreen.
The Ice Warriors are villains with great potential, although I don’t think that potential is fully realised in this storyline. They have an interesting visual appeal and a very cunning plan, and some effort is taken by the writers to give Slaar a distinct personality. With a little more work, they could be truly great villains.
Fortunately, there are two more Ice Warrior appearances on the horizon, during Jon Pertwee’s run. I’m intrigued enough by what I’ve seen here that I’m eagerly anticipating their return.
While not one of the absolute classics, The Seeds of Death remains a highly entertaining, action-oriented storyline that does not fail to impress.
The storyline following The Seeds of Death is the last of the missing episodes, The Space Pirates. So once again we jump ahead and bring Patrick Troughton’s time as Doctor Who to a close with the mammoth 10-part The War Games.