(& TERRANCE DICKS, UNCREDITED)
THE LORDS OF THE RED PLANET
'REVISITATIONS 2' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD2956) RELEASED IN MARCH 2011.
BY THE LATE 21ST CENTURY, MANKIND HAS BECOME TOTALLY DEPENDENT ON T-MAT TO TRANSPORT PEOPLE, FOOD AND MEDICINES AROUND THE WORLD, AND WHEN THE SYSTEM BREAKS DOWN, EARTH IS SOON CRIPPLED BY GLOBAL SHORTAGES.
TRAVELLING TO THE RELAY STATION ON THE MOON, THE DOCTOR AND HIS COMPANIONS DISCOVER THE HORRIFIC TRUTH: ICE WARRIORS HAVE HIJACKED T-MAT, AND INTEND TO CLAIM THE PLANET EARTH FOR THEMSELVES.
CAN THE DOCTOR DEFEAT THE MARTIANS BEFORE EARTH IS SMOTHERED IN DEADLY FUNGUS?
The Seeds of Death
25TH JANUARY 1969 - 1ST MARCH 1969
The Seeds of Death was an excellent choice for an early DVD release as it is so emblematic of Patrick Troughton’s era. When people think of late 1960s Who, their minds inevitably conjure images of hulking, greyscale monsters; the most energetic of Doctors; the most endearing of companions; and, I dare say, even the most enthralling stories. And, whilst it may not share the lofty repute of some of the era’s lost treasures, Seeds boasts all of these defining elements in spades.
The Ice Warriors are, for many fans, the definitive second Doctor foes, and here writer Brian Hayles successfully fleshes out their culture as well as their menace. The introduction of the ‘Ice Lord’ caste gives the audience the opportunity to engage with the Martian monsters on a new level - Alan Bennion’s make-up allows him to vest Slaar with an alarmingly articulate quality, whilst still retaining the leathery horror of his race - whereas the clever Martian plot to conquer Earth by sowing the story’s eponymous seeds sets the hissing horrors apart from most other contemporaneous monsters.
This serial also sees this particular TARDIS crew at its height. Troughton’s Time Lord runs through his whole repertoire in these six episodes, embodying every emotion and state that the character is capable of – unconsciousness included. His companions fare almost as well too, particularly Jamie, who was originally scheduled to depart at the serial’s conclusion, but thankfully had a change of heart.
“Your leader will be angry if you kill me… I’m a genius!”
For me though, what makes The Seeds of Death such a memorable serial are the elements that set it apart from its peers. Michael Ferguson’s direction is experimental and edgy - he plays with perspective in a way that the series never had before, and seldom has since. He also does an exceptional job of realising the script’s many ambitious set pieces, the 35mm monochrome forgiving a multitude of sins that the following season’s directors would have to see laid bare.
Perhaps most remarkably of all though, Seeds sees the regulars outshone by an especially impressive supporting artist. Terry Scully’s performance as Fewsham is so nauseatingly credible that it might well be one of the original series’ finest turns. There is something so chilling about a man who, through pure fear, sells out his whole species to try and save his own life. Scully’s portrayal is so sinuous that the viewer is never quite able to condemn his actions; there is a little trace of sympathy buried somewhere in Fewsham’s furrowed brow that one can never quite ignore.
However, as was the case with most early Doctor Who DVD releases, the bonus material on offer wasn’t up to the standard of that which we’ve become accustomed to today, hence the call for this reissue. At the time, however, I recall being fairly impressed with the original two-disc set. Its flagship Sssowing the Ssseedsss documentary was an interesting featurette that saw those who portrayed the Ice Warriors (Alan Bennion, Sonny Caldinez, and even the late, great Bernard Bresslaw) discussing their experiences on the show, but now, when looked at beside the brand new Lords of the Red Planet documentary, its cuts and dents really catch the light. The former is a montage of full frame actor interviews agreeably spliced together; the latter is a wide-ranging, widescreen banquet that examines not only how The Seeds of Death came about, but also sees television historian Richard Bignell take the audience through Hayles’ preliminary pitch for this six-parter – a Mars-grounded epic that would have explored the Martian sub-species and castes much more thoroughly than the more conventional tale that eventually made it to the screen.
The new release also offers a home to two further new features – Monsters Masterclass and Monsters Who Came Back for More. The former sees the serial’s director, Michael Ferguson, talk us through what makes certain monsters work, whereas the latter sees Big Finish’s Nicholas Briggs and Doctor Who Magazine’s Peter Ware tackle much the same subject, but in a demonstrably more dynamic way. In fact, Monsters Who Came Back for More is probably the special edition’s biggest boon as everything from Bandrils to Zygons (I don’t recall any monsters beginning with A being mentioned, though I did see a clip of an Axon…) are considered, critiqued, and complemented by clips, and the contributors are even asked to discuss which monsters should return to television, with surprising results.
Above: TV Historian Richard Bignell discusses the Lords of the Red Planet
However, unlike its two sister releases, The Seeds of Death’s revisitation does not feature a new commentary track to complement the old one, but only because there was no need. The extant track sees erstwhile script editor (and this story’s uncredited co-writer) Terrance Dicks share his unique insight into the ins and outs of production with his customary wit and charm, and former stars Frazer Hines (Jamie) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe) take equal delight in recalling the fun that they had bringing this script to life. The rump of the original release’s special features are all preserved too (TARDIS-Cams and all), save for The Last Dalek film, which, appropriately, has been shifted across onto Revisitation 2’s Dalek release.
Overall then, The Seeds of Death’s special edition does a terrific job of filling the holes left by the anniversary year’s more constrained release, even if they were holes that could only have been spotted once filled. As we have the likes of The Robots of Death, Spearhead from Space and Vengeance on Varos crying out for a little TLC, Seeds wouldn’t have been top of my reissue list, but the success of its revisitation has only further whet my appetite for such serials’ eventual arrival.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006, 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.