Future visions, rear views and The Seeds of Death (1969)

seeds of death

How are you enjoying the 21st century? Did you enjoy your last instantaneous T-Mat trip to the Moon? What about your three-month stint on an orbiting space station, complete with cute astrophysicist librarians? And don’t you just love this glorious weather we’re enjoying, thanks to our climate control system on that lunar base? If not, perhaps you’d prefer a holiday in the Central European Zone, only a two-hour rocket trip from Australia?

I know what you’re thinking. From where you sit it’s all wifi and reality TV and Taylor Swift and global warming. Where are all these wonders from the 21st century that Doctor Who ­(specifically it’s cosmically hoboish Troughton years) sold us? Wouldn’t you just trade in all the smart watches and streaming and geopolitical instability for a vinyl jumpsuit, a hovercraft and electronic doctor to monitor your condition if you’ve injured yourself during a walk on the Moon?

Turns out the Troughton era is quietly obsessed with the 21st Century. The Moonbase, The Enemy of the World, The Wheel in Space, The Space Pirates and our latest random, The Seeds of Death are all set there. The Power of the Daleks too, if you believe the voice over on its trailer. That’s six more visits to the 21st century than in the whole of the rest of classic era Who (Warriors of the Deep, just to save you rushing back to your copy of Lance Parkin’s A History of the Universe. No, I’m not counting The TV Movie. But not as much as I’m not counting Dimensions in Time.)

I’m not sure why this particular three-year period of the show was suddenly so interested in the near future. And I’m not sure why it was never quite as interested in it again. Perhaps subsequent producers realised it was a little too close for comfort, at least for correctly predicting what technology, fashion, culture etc would be doing.

If we judge the 21st century from the Troughton era, it presents a world coming closer together; where travel across the globe takes no time and where people working in multi-cultural teams is the norm. Where space travel has been mastered, where weather control is possible, where Earth has set up colonies and new cosmic frontiers are flush with space police, space pirates and space cowboys.

(Meanwhile, in actual 2019, I have about 27 login/password combos and can remember precisely none of them.)

Faced with this carefully conceived view of future history, The Seeds of Death then cheerfully throws it all out the window. An expansive human world of rockets and space stations? All obsolete, replaced by T-Mat! You’ve got to hand it to writer Brian Hayles. In the midst of moon shot obsessed 1969, he looks sardonically up from his typewriter and says, “well this space travel stuff is all well and good, but what happens when we’re sick of that?”

*****

But anyway, to the story itself. As in The Ice Warriors, Hayles presents us with a society which has become overly dependent on technology: then it was outsourcing our decision making to computers, here it’s adopting T-mat at the expense of all other transport. The result is a strategic weakness the Ice Warriors can exploit to invade the Earth, by use of seed pods which expand, explode and start transforming the Earth’s atmosphere. This echoes another of The Ice Warriors’ themes – that of catastrophic climate change. Plus it’s yet another excuse to wheel out the BBC foam machine and suds up the joint.

(The seed pods, by the way, are clearly just balloons, being inflated and burst on demand, suggesting there was no budget or inclination left to realise them more convincingly. There’s a similarly ramshackle feel to the rest of the production; not only are the Doctor (the Trought), Jamie (Hineszy) and Zoe (the Padberry) forced to travel to the Moon via rocket without any spacesuits, they’re also forced to simulate their own g-force effect by pulling their skin tight across their faces.)

Director Michael Ferguson compensates for this with some stylish film work on location, and even in studio he manages some nifty shots, like silhouetting characters against a wall of glowing lights. Although why a Moonbase needs a wall of glowing lights is about as clear as why its floors slope up and down randomly, why it contains a hall of mirrors specifically for wacky chases, or why it needs a thermostat capable of turning the temperature up to a deadly 70 degrees.

It’s a diverting enough runaround between the Moon and T-Mat control on Earth, as the Ice Warriors’ plan sedately reveals itself and the Doctor takes his time to foil it. Turns out the seed pods, the foam and the whole bubbly affair washes off with H2O. It was always going to be a risky plan, therefore, to invade a planet with so much of the stuff, but there you go. And to launch the invasion plan in England, a country famous for its rain. But that’s the daring Ice Warriors for you, they fear nothing! “Yesss, our plan can wasssh off with water, and yesss, 70% of the Earth is covered by it, but why do you think that would put usss off?! Of courssse it will work!”

Since they last turned up, the Ice Warriors have gained a new sub-breed. Hayles must have realised that impressive though they are, those big egg shaped masks come helmets reduced the chance of actors offering compelling performances. So he gives us a more streamlined officer class, represented here by Slaar (Alan Bennion).

Slaar is far more louche than his Warrior chums. Apart from his sibilant middle management accent, he also likes to stand around conspicuously making sure his tightly clad arse is kept in shot. (Actually, it’s a busy story for bums, what with so many of them being pointed at the camera and hugged by black trimmed space pants. Choose your favourite behind, but it really should be Miss Kelly’s.) They should have given him an elegant cigarette holder and a big armchair from which he could slouch, while sending deadly foam emitting balloons to exotic cities of the world like Oslo, Hamburg, Zurich and, um, Canberra.

Though he’s completely upstaged when the Ice Warrior Grand Marshall (Graham Leaman) turns up for a grump, flourishing his helmet which has been bedazzled with fetching gemstones! Slaar seethes in jealousy at the sight of such unabashed glamour. Well, he does in my head canon anyway. In the same head canon, my daily commute is by T-Mat, I can use rain control to break the drought and I holiday among the picturesque mercury swamps of Vulcan. You live in your 21st century, I’m quite happy in the Trought’s.

LINK TO The Daleks’ Master Plan: So here’s a thing: because Bret Vyon was “bred on Mars Colony 16”, both stories feature Martians.

NEXT TIME: We reach the end of our random journey, with our last story The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos.

4 thoughts on “Future visions, rear views and The Seeds of Death (1969)”

  1. I guess the fascination with the next century arose from the space race and advancing technology of the time. This, after all, was a period the child audience would be living through and raising their own children in. Fun to imagination how it might be.

    Something clearly shifts in the Earth’s prospects between the Doctor’s exile and the turn of the millennium, though. When he arrives Britain is sending men to Mars and, shortly before he leaves, to Jupiter. Yet by his fifth incarnation there’s no hint of space travel and international cooperation has collapsed into all-out war. Did the Doctor somehow mess up Earth’s future and that’s why dating that period of UNIT activity is now so tricky?

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