There are not many complete Patrick Troughton stories left in the world – infamously, a great many were junked when the BBC were clearing the archives to make way for some fresh video tape, which seems increasingly short sighted these days – but those that remain are held as glimmering icons of a bygone, genuinely classic era of Doctor Who.
If you’re cynical, you can sum up pretty much any Patrick Troughton story in the same few lines: an isolated bunch of people are being menaced by a shadowy group of unwieldy-shaped aliens lurking in dark corridors. Sure, ‘The Seeds Of Death’ is slow moving at times – glacial, if you will – but it’s a very tightly constructed series of six episodes, dealing with all the main preoccupations of the decade (this story was transmitted in 1969, and Armstrong would take his ‘giant leap’ on the moon later that same year).
There are some very sweet touches, some accidental, some not – the people arriving by transmat turn up in shiny space suits, but clutching suitcases, bizarrely bringing to mind The Jetsons – and there’s a very neat bit of exposition explaining the great MacGuffin of the piece (the T-Mat) where the gang have de-materialision explained to them with images of what looks like a telephone box.
On the feature commentary, actress Wendy Padbury (Zoe) makes a very salient point – that ‘The Seeds Of Death’ is a significantly better story than you might remember – and she’s absolutely right. The pacing is careful, but never dull or plodding – and this is largely down to director Michael Ferguson’s artful eye for a good shot: he’s clearly not satisfied with just plonking actors in front of a camera for a talking heads scene. ‘The Seeds Of Death’ has the ambition and scope (if not the achievable scale) of a very decent B-movie. Audiences in 1969 would have struggled to find anything that looked half as stunning.
Most importantly, however, the villains of the piece – The Ice Warriors, in their second appearance – are genuinely terrifying. Of course, they’re typical Troughton era men in rubber suits, but their hissing voices and mottled faces are genuinely unsettling. It helps that they don’t have an entirely uniform look: even men in rubber suits are allowed their own character.
This is a perfect little piece of Second Doctor shlock horror, from the interplay between the regulars (The Doctor slapping Zoe’s hands from the TARDIS console) to the threat of the titular seeds. If Matt Smith is ever able to look as terrified when acting alongside what is clearly a slowly inflating balloon covered in foam, then he will be truly everyone’s Doctor.
Released on DVD on Monday 28th March 2011 by 2entertain.