Not really a review or a proper blog about this 1960s Doctor Who story – more a simple observation… but isn’t ‘Seeds of Death’ terrific?
Over twenty years ago I had the Betamax videotape, one of the earliest commercial releases from BBC Worldwide, and at that point they were editing out all the episode credits and titles, so what we had was a hugely overlong and slightly fuzzy movie that looked as if it had been filmed in someone’s dusty cupboard. I haven’t been able to play Betamax tapes – along with the rest of humanity – for quite some time, and so I was pleased to be able to sit down with this story again on DVD (thanks, Stu!)
In recent months I’ve been a bit cheesed off with Doctor Who. Or rather, the feeding frenzy hullaballoo all around Doctor Who. I’ve found the show itself a little overblown and portentous – and all the backslapping and brouhaha becoming just a bit much sometimes (‘I’m a genius! You’re a genius!’ ‘We’ve raised the bar!’) It all seemed to be more about the people making the show and their glittering careers rather than the actual story and characters themselves. And some of the story-telling wasn’t quite working for me, either.
I loved Peter Capaldi suddenly appearing onscreen in the Who equivalent of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ – emerging from the dry-ice and clutching his lapels. I loved that he talked as a Doctor Who fan – and about how ‘we all made Doctor Who. It belongs to everyone.’ I think he was talking about the show as a collective enterprise that involves not just the star actors or writers… but also the set-painters and rubber-suit-wearers, the viewers who wrote in to complain when it was taken off the air, and those who cheered when it came back – and even those who wrote the humble tie-in fiction that bridged the various gaps.
That little moment reminded me about Doctor Who as a fun thing that was all about imagination and daring and feeling like you were taking part, somehow. When the story and the effects needed you to suspend your imagination – when they weren’t spoon-feeding you, and your investment of creative energy in watching led to you feeling more involved.
‘Seeds of Death’ has some of that feeling about it. It’s from a more innocent time – when no one involved in front of or behind the cameras are expecting to springboard to a Hollywood career on the back of this serial. It’s hugely silly in places – but they really embrace all of that. They revel in the silliness at times – as per the celebrated scene with the Doctor drowning in extraterrestrial foam. But alongside the daftness there’s a deadly seriousness about the story and the predicaments involved. There are some shocking casualties amongst the guest cast (Mavis’ Victor from Corrie meets a sorry end…)
The whole thing is a delight – spiced up hugely by some startlingly stylized flourishes. I’d forgotten completely about Troughton being chased by Ice Warriors through the moonbase, and entering a kind of funhouse of mirrors. And so – for no other purpose than sheer, exciting entertainment – we get one of those priceless ‘wild zones’ that I’ve often noted in the really great Doctor Who stories. By ‘wild zones’ I don’t quite mean fantasy sequence or fighting scenes, dream scenes or crazy chase montage… but something like a cross between all of these things. Watch out for them – it’s the part where the story cuts loose for a moment and somewhat strange and brilliant things happen. (Many of the contemporary 42 minute stories – lacking a full third act - forget to include these sequences – and hence their feeling I get that they’re missing something.)
A favourite part of Seeds of Death is when the Ice Warriors catch up with him and he tells them ‘you can’t kill me! I’m a genius!’ And I love the way he has to admit to it at the point of a sonic weapon – only grudgingly does he bellow it, as if the words are being forced out of him.
The Doctor is only a reluctant boaster… and how I wish some of his latterday creators were…
So I’m back enjoying Doctor Who. Cautiously. Remembering why I loved this soppy old show.