5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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THE SEEDS OF DEATH
"Well, you weren't very successful, were you?"
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US
It's not all bad. Not by a long shot. But the bad bits are seriously awful.
There's some really excellent stuff. It's an interesting vision of the near future, where we've got teleporting sussed and we don't bother with any other transport. There are evil monsters with a nice line in areoforming. There's derring-do galore.
One of Seeds Of Death's great strengths is its character work. The Doctor shows off pretty much the range of his character, from panic to authority to sneakiness, and while he sometimes feels a bit less essential to the action than he should be, when he's around he's very good indeed. We particularly like him ordering Fewsham to help him and the understated way he puts himself at risk to save the day. Miss Kelly's a highlight too: one of the best pseudo-companions ever, and a vanishingly rare example of female competence from that era.
It's also an excellent story for Zoe, who's not only allowed to act as intelligent as she actually is, but's also brave and cool-headed when lesser beings are losing it. It's obvious that Jamie's redundant, but he does manage to get in some good fisticuff-type bits.
There are some interesting things going on in the smaller roles, too. We like Osgood's casual heroism in defying the Ice Warriors and Phipps's panic attack when claustrophobia and the general horribleness of his situation get the better of him. While Fewsham spends too much time as an out-and-out snivelling coward, we like the way that his change of heart's more complex than an unlikely morph into superhero: instead, he knows he's stuck between two crap alternatives with no way out, and he chooses the one that at least partly redeems his earlier behaviour.
The trouble is, though, that all of this is plonked on top of a plot that's awesomely stupid. Take the whole T-Mat thing, for example. Yes, it's handy, but replacing all transport? Nuh-uh. For a start, it's described as a system still in its early stages, and the moon relay thing's an obvious weak link, yet there aren't any alternative transport systems at all. Smart. And as well, the whole thing seems to depend on Miss Kelly, who's apparently the only person who understands it. (What happened to the designers we don't like to ask.) Forget the Ice Warriors: a cliff edge and a moment's inattention, and the whole world'd be thrown into chaos.
Then there are the giant gaping holes in how the thing actually works. Suppose you want to go somewhere that doesn't have a T-Mat phone booth? They can't be everywhere, can they? And if they transport everything everywhere, how come the booths are so teensy? Good luck moving a grand piano, let alone the amount of food you'd need to keep everybody going. Also, the system seems to need tons o' staff n' stuff to move anything, so how do ordinary people get around? We didn't see anybody trooping into the London T-Mat centre with buckets and spades and hankies on their heads ready for a day at the beach.
And while the Ice Warriors' When Foam Attacks evil plan is a nice change from yer standard invasion, it's also pretty moronic. The Earth's more or less covered in water. Big blue chunks of it, slopping around all over the place. You can even see it from space, for God's sake. The Ice Warriors obviously know quite a bit about the Earth's biosphere, since they know they have to reduce the air's oxygen content so that it's nice and comfy for them to breathe. So why did they send down stuff that can be neutralised by water?
And let's not forget the rocket. Woe! T-Mat's down and there's no way we can get to the moon! No, wait! It's OK! Some old guy just happens to have built one. In his back garden. By himself. Without anybody noticing. How lucky! Hey, who are those three strangers? Well, it doesn't really matter, because they say they know all about rockets. We're trusting souls, so we'll take them at their word. Hey! We haven't trained any astronauts for ages, so we can send them instead! No, admittedly they're not astronauts either. But they're keen, that's the main thing. Ooh, look, T-Mat's working again. What rocket?
It's a shame, because all of this stupidity fatally torpedoes the good stuff. You can't admire the coolly efficient Miss Kelly without rolling your eyes at the dumbness of her being the only one who knows how to fix the T-Mat. And you can't thrill to the menace of the mutant killer foam without tutting at the Ice Warriors' lack of planning. As the Doctor says, "Questions, explanations - it's very difficult".
And the Ice Warriors themselves? Shrug. We can take 'em or leave 'em. They're pretty one-dimensional. We think they're far more interesting later on in The Monster of Peladon when they're not so boringly bent on evil.
Pity, really. Seeds Of Death's better than it could have been, but with that level of plot stupidity, it never really has a chance to get off the ground.
MORAL: If somebody tells you they're a genius, kill them immediately.
Patrick Troughton had a holiday in the middle of filming, and obviously thought the break was a great opportunity to get his hair cut. Watch the way his hair and sideburns lurch back and forth.
Slaar seems to find the whole thing rather, er, exciting, given the amount of heavy breathing he does.
SIR, YOU ARE UNDONE
When the Doctor rushes out of the TARDIS, his braces are unclipped on one side.
ARE WE IN THE GUINNESS BOOK OF RECORDS YET?
Another Eldred? Just how many are there in Doctor Who, anyway?
There are some very interesting bits of direction here. We particularly like the fast cuts away from the Ice Warriors when they first appear.
I REALLY SHOULDN'T
Since it's obviously Eldred's dream to get his rocket launched, as it were, why does he protest so hard when he gets the chance to get the thing off the ground?
Sure, the Ice Warriors have those gun thingys, but given how slowly they move and how bad they are at hide and seek, they never seem all that dangerous to us. Jamie seems to be the only one who realises this, though, since everybody else prefers to just stand and stare at them until they get shot.
THAT WAS MY FOOT
When they're in the museum discussing fuel for the rocket, you can hear something metallic dropping to the floor.
VISIBLE PANTY LINE
Those y-fronts-over-the-trousers costumes are just sad.
TO ETERNITY AND BEYOND IN AN OFFICE CHAIR
We love the minimalism of the rocket.
LIKE A ROCKET ON A STRING
The rocket that takes off's obviously the model that was in the museum. Check out the cheesy wobbles.
ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER
The Ice Warriors are supposed to be searching the moon installation for the humans, but each time they seem to have a little look round and then forget all about it. Slaar has to keep ordering them to have another go, although it never makes any difference.
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH
The Disco Guide comments that at a temperature of between 40 and 50 degrees centigrade that makes the Ice Warriors faint, the humans would be dead. Dead? We've gone shopping in that sort of temperature. Northern Hemisphere wimps.
DON'T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME
"I've no idea how long this solar transmitter can last!" Well, given that it's solar powered, we'd give it a few million years before we started to worry.
"But if we crash into a mountain range we'll be smashed to pieces!" Zoe's superior intelligence at work.
DO NOT EXCEED MAXIMUM CAPACITY
The TARDIS crew plan to bring Phipps back to the rocket - but it only takes three people!
WHO WOULD EVER GO IN THERE?
Doesn't anybody ever think of putting security systems in the maintenance tunnels?
PRETTY, SO PRETTY
The people at the T-Mat station just stand there like stunned mullets while the pod explodes. And given that the seeds get out all around the world, the same thing probably happened at every T-Mat station they arrived at. Didn't it occur to anyone to shut the door?
AND THEN I'M GOING TO HAVE YOU NIBBLED BY A THOUSAND GOLDFISH
Why, for God's sake, does Slaar insist on T-Matting the Doctor to death? All that faffing about having him dragged into the cubicle and having the T-Mat reprogrammed takes a huge amount of effort. Why doesn't he just shoot him?
GENUINE ANTIQUE MDF
In Jamie's fight with the Ice Warrior in the storage room, he hits the wall, which sways alarmingly.
There are some really tiresome examples of people refusing to believe what's right in front of their noses just to spin the plot out. Why do they dismiss out of hand the idea that the seedpods and fungus are connected? And why does Zoe protest "Oh, but surely, Doctor - water?" Grrr.
HE JUST LOOKED LIKE A SLAAR
Zoe refers to Slaar by his name, and the Doctor knows who she's talking about. Yet his name is never mentioned in front of them.
IS THAT THE AA?
They get a petrol car out of a museum and it works? And where'd they get the petrol?
THE ORDER OF THE SEQUIN
We love the Grand Marshal's glittery helmet. If only all armies were so fashion forward.
TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME
Why don't the invasion fleet smell a rat when they suddenly veer away from Earth?
ANYBODY GOT A BALLOON NEEDS BLOWING UP?
We love the way Slaar dies with a hiss like a Lilo deflating.
TIS A FAR FAR BETTER THING
After tricking Slaar about the signal, it seems the Doctor's just going to stand there and accept his fate. When Jamie arrives, the Doctor leaps into action to defend him, dragging at the Ice Warrior's arm to deflect the beam. But why didn't he have a go at this before Jamie arrived? He had nothing to lose. It's unusually defeatist for the Doctor.
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US