Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Doctor Who - Seeds of Death

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.


  1. I still think Patrick Troughton's performance in "Doctor Who" is both magical and legendary. "Seeds" was the very first VHS I ever bought, back in the days before I even possessed a player, perhaps due to the frustrated archivist that I saw myself as being back in those days.

    I don't know what it was really (although I do think that his character was particularly well served by the Target Books range) because, prior to that, I'd only seen the "5 Faces" repeat of "The Krotons" and "The Three Doctors" back in the day, as well as the various "Blue Peter" clips, but there was something about this version of the character that was mesmerising, and I still enjoy watching a good old-fashioned Patrick Troughton story to this day.

    You make a lot of very valid points about the new version of the show, too, and I will confess to being one of those folks who's still more likely to put in a 1963-1989 DVD rather than a post-2005 one when given the choice.

  2. Boy, somebody sounds bitter they'll never get a chance to write for the show.

    1. I think you've rather missed the point here and quite honestly, the way the show is going at the moment, I don't think he'd want to write for the show.

    2. Don't be bitter, Gerald. Hang in there! If you just believe in yourself, you'll make it one day!

      The restoration on the DVD of 'Seeds' made a massive difference, didn't it? There's some lovely visual flourishes, the countdown projected on Gia Kelly's face being my favourite. The Ice Warrior wandering around (I think) Hampstead Heath and idly killing people is cool too.

    3. Yes, because obviously that's what all novelists secretly want -- not to be writing novels but to be writing TV.

  3. This is a great piece. I do likewise; every time the current show niggles and seems off target (ahem) from the programme that enthralled me as a kid (my entry point being Carnival of Monsters and the Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special - humongous thanks Dad) I pop on something from the vaults that I know will make me remarkably happy. Last up was the Green Death - crikey, what a story. And yeah, the Capaldi moment was a terrific thing; unexpectedly I hollered in my living room, in the manner I might if I ever watched sports in my living room. Surprised myself and my living room there, but loved that I still cared about this wonderful show.

    Jay Taylor

  4. Found this artwork, it's cool


  5. I couldn't agree more with pretty much all of this. I'd rather watch anything from Hartnell or Troughton than even the best post-Eccleston episode, because there isn't that smug, almost bullying, tone to it. They're just making an entertaining kids' show to watch once and throw away, and a lot of the time they ended up making something special.
    Whereas the post-2005 series seems to have mostly been concerned with how special it is, and I've rarely seen anything more disposable.

  6. Isn't it partly fans' fault paying too much attention to the making of the show rather than the result of that work? No one holds a gun to our head and forces us to read press releases, the website etc etc. Troughton was right when he said going behind the scenes ruins the illusion. It's done just that for the current show, but we blame the producers.

    Of course the production team are going to compliment each other: they're not going to slag each other off in public at least. Perhaps they even mean it. Bear in mind that producers by the nature of their job deal in hype and promotion. They'll say and do almost anything to get the show made and to make it a success. That includes criticism and shouting matches, but crucially these aren't generally conducted in public because....that would be unprofessional. I have issues with modern Who, especially at the moment, but let's aim at the right target.

  7. ...and actually I find Seeds of Death rather dull in places, and childish in a way the modern show almost never is. The Ice Warriors really came into their own with The Curse of Peladon, when they gained some depth as individuals in a culture, not just warriors. 'Cold War' added to that trend.