Toward the end of the 21st century, the people of Earth have replaced standard modes of transportation with “T-Mat,” a system that can transport people instantly wherever there’s a T-Mat station. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe arrive in what appears to be a space museum owned by a Professor Eldred, whose work on space travel was rendered obsolete by T-Mat. Embittered by the government’s refusal to continue to fund his rocket projects, despite his insistence that T-Mat needs a back-up system, he continues to tinker in his own time. Now it seems his tinkering will pay off. T-Mat has developed a fault. Food supplies are not getting through, and the problem seems to stem from a failure at the vital T-Mat relay station on the moon. Someone must go up to investigate, and the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe volunteer to use one of Eldred’s rockets to get there. But they are about to encounter a deadly old foe that has taken control of the moon relay station, and plans to use T-Mat to bring death to mankind so they can take the planet for themselves…
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
First broadcast between January and March of 1969, “The Seeds of Death” brings back the Ice Warriors, first introduced in the previous season’s story, “The Ice Warriors.” This six-part story was written by Ice Warriors creator Brian Hayles, who wrote all the Ice Warrior encounters in the Classic Series.
The concept for the story is good: the Ice Warriors plan to invade Earth, but Earth’s climate is too warm for the Martians. To solve this problem, they have developed seed pods that explode, filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, spreading a foam-like fungus that will reproduce these pods. The carbon dioxide will kill all life on the planet, and make conditions more bearable for the alien invaders. A small band of Ice Warriors form the advance party bringing the seed pods. Once the seeds have done their work, an invasion fleet is ready to advance and take over.
However, I have some issues with the execution of the story. Some parts seem a bit contrived, and there are some fairly major plot holes (at least in my mind–and I can be quite forgiving of plot holes). To begin with, the Doctor insists they can’t use the TARDIS to take people to the moon because the TARDIS isn’t very good at short trips. This is a valid concern, however, there are other times in the Classic Series where the TARDIS makes targeted trips without difficulty (e.g., in “The Ark”, “Logopolis”, and “The Five Doctors”). It seems to me the excuse that the TARDIS doesn’t do short trips is a bit like the “fixed points in time” in the New Series. There’s no consistency, it’s all a bit arbitrary, and is ultimately a pretty obvious plot device to stop the TARDIS crew from using the easiest option.
The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe plan to fly the rocket to the moon, fix T-Mat, then return using the rocket. But, uh-oh, Zoe investigates the engines after landing and discovers they need repair, so they will have to use T-Mat to return. Which means they will have to stay on the moon until T-Mat’s working again. The problem with this is that there was no indication that they might have engine trouble. No-one said, “Watch out for the engines on landing, they’re a bit dodgy!” Indeed, since they wouldn’t be using the rocket again, couldn’t they have crash-landed (albeit “safely”), rendering the whole rocket inoperable? They had to improvise with the tracking signal leading them to the moon station, so it would have made better sense story-wise if their landing was rougher than anticipated.
Then there’s the issue of the seeds. When an Ice Warrior takes one out of the container and puts it on a stand in the T-Mat machine, it remains dormant and disappears. Yet, when the Doctor picks one up, it swells and explodes in his face. Why? Is there something about the Ice Warriors that makes them able to hold the seeds? Perhaps their body temperature? That could be a plausible answer, but it’s never addressed.
The Ice Warriors’ main Achilles heel, as our friends discover, is their intolerance to heat. Our heroes manage to destroy a couple of them using focused beams of solar energy, and they are able to neutralize some by cranking up the station’s temperature to 50 degrees centigrade. And yet one of the Ice Warriors goes wandering off around Hamstead Heath in the sun. Granted, it was supposed to be winter, but that glaring sun on the back of his head would surely have made him go a bit doolally? It seems not. And if a carbon dioxide atmosphere is more to their liking, how was the advance party able to get on so well in the oxygen rich environments of the T-Mat stations?
The last gripe I’ll mention is the way they kill the seeds and the fungus: water. Wouldn’t it have occurred to the brightest minds on Earth that the foam avoided oceans, lakes, rivers, and ponds? And given it’s winter in all the places the pods went, wouldn’t there have been rain or snow?
Despite all of this, the cast put on a great performance. Once again, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe work well together, and there’s some good dialog between them. The Ice Warrior costumes are among the best of Classic Who, in particular the face make-up with its reptilian texturing. And Brian Hayles takes this opportunity to give some depth to the Ice Warriors, presenting us with three different types of warrior: the heavily-armored grunt, the Ice Lord with lighter clothing and a helmet that leaves his lower face exposed, and the Grand Marshal with a sparkly helmet.
There have been two DVD releases of “The Seeds of Death,” one in 2003 and one in 2011. The original 2003 release was fairly basic with one or two extras. The 2011 “Special Edition” release has improved video and audio clean-up, along with commentaries, and more extra features. One is called “Lords of the Red Planet, ” that is billed as “history of the Ice Warriors,” but is really a “Making of” documentary about “The Seeds of Death.” Another, “Sssowing the Ssseedsss,” features some of the original Ice Warrior actors discussing what it was like to play these Martians.
Despite it’s shortcomings, “The Seeds of Death” is still good Who. Not the best, and certainly not the best of the Second Doctor era. But it’s also not the worst–not at all! I wouldn’t put it on the “must-see” list, but you wouldn’t be wasting your time watching it, especially given how little there is left of the Second Doctor in the archives to watch.