I am frequently surprised by just how much a good, clear, viewable copy of a story changes my opinion of it. “The Seeds of Death” is a prime example of that. For years, the only copy I had of this story was the original VHS release which was visually very washed-out and edited together into format length. I thought the story was long and rather dull. The high quality image on the DVD release has certainly changed my opinion of the story considerably, to the point that I now really enjoy it.
The premise of the story is sort of a “perils of technology” morality tale. The technology in question is “T-Mat”, which is a form of instantaneous travel resembling Star Trek’s transporters. People step into a booth and are transported to another booth elsewhere in the world. That’s fine, and travel of that sort is a staple of sci-fi. The weakness in the way that the concept is used in “Seeds of Death” is two-fold. First, the worldwide relay is controlled from the moon, making that location a chokepoint, so that a fault there shuts down everything. Second, there are apparently only two real experts on the system, Osgood and Ms. Kelly, and Osgood is killed off early in the first episode. That this miraculous travel system is dependent on one or at most two experts is hard to accept. At the very least, the people who set this up seem to have no concept of backup or redundancy. There should be hundreds of experts and engineers worldwide for maintenance if nothing else.
But then humanity’s carelessness extends beyond the T-Mat system. Unbelievably, there’s no backup if T-Mat fails. One of the subplots of the story concerns Professor Eldred and his love of rockets. According to him, once T-Mat was in place, conventional space travel and exploration were abandoned, because T-Mat made life far too easy. When the system is sabotaged, the main characters are completely at a loss until Commander Radnor remembers his old friend Eldred. And even then, only the presence of the Doctor and Zoe, who are of course qualified to fly the rocket when no one else is, allows the use of the rocket to go to the moon.
Now I have no problem with the idea of a human race grown comfortable and relaxed thanks to the ease afforded them by T-Mat. But the idea that the system is so precariously dependent on one vulnerable location and one expert with no fallback in case something goes wrong really stretches credibility. I just can’t quite buy it.
However, despite the fact that these logical flaws bother me, I find that I’m still able to enjoy the story on its own terms. “Seeds of Death” has a number of things going for it, not the least of which is a good cast, both regular and guest. Now I don’t know who decided to put all the male guest characters in suits that make them look like their underwear is on the outside, but I have to admit that does make them look silly. Even professor Eldred, who doesn’t work for the government, wears one. Ms. Kelly gets a black one-piece that’s a bit more flattering. At least the costuming has the virtue of making the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe look out of place, as they should. Despite the fact that they look a bit silly, Ronald Leigh-Hunt as Commander Radnor, Louise Pajo as Gia Kelly and Philip Ray as Professor Eldred all bring some weight and dignity to their characters. The characters on the moon aren’t quite as convincing, but they get the job done well enough, particularly Terry Scully as Fewsham, who is rather convincingly terrified throughout most of the story.
The Ice Warriors return for a second appearance in the series, led by the Ice Lord Slaar. These guys are great villains. They look good, for the time and budget anyway, and they benefit from having had a strong debut story the previous year. They also have a sound motive for invasion, since Mars is dying, and Earth is ‘in the neighborhood’, so to speak. They capture the moon base with ease, and the lone Warrior who goes to Earth to damage weather control is presented as a real threat, as he shrugs off bullets and easily holds his own against dozens of human attackers.
Last but certainly not least; so much of this story is made watchable by Patrick Troughton’s performance. This guy had the best facial expressions, and could play both comedy and drama equally as well. His frantic run through the moon base as he tries to escape the warriors is one of the funniest things seen on Doctor Who, as is the way he talks the warriors out of killing him on the spot. “I’m a genius!” He clowns around in the foam while at the weather control station, much to Wendy Padbury’s amusement. But at the end of the story when he foils the Ice Warrior’s plans with the fake signal and sends their fleet into the sun, he’s perfectly convincing as someone who’s calm and composed in the face of death.
Overall: the story has some logical flaws, mainly the bottleneck both in terms of technology and the experts needed to keep that tech running. But the story succeeds due to a reasonably strong cast and a good villain in the form of the Ice Warriors. And the basic setup and ideas are sound, even if the details are faulty. The story is better than I remembered it. Not the best Troughton, but still a very watchable Doctor Who serial.