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6x05. The Seeds of Death
Writer: Brian Hayles
Director: Michael Ferguson
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Peter Bryant

Synopsis: The Ice Warriors preface an attack on 21st century Earth by taking over a lunar base which oversees the use of the T-Mat, a method of instant teleportation by which all major supply operations are now conducted. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe become involved after arriving on Earth to find the world on the brink of mass starvation due to the disruption of the T-Mat. After this crisis is averted, the Ice Warriors use the T-Mat to distribute lethal fungus spores around the world to pave the way for their takeover.

Review: If "The Seeds of Death" were a movie, I'd say it fell prey to sequel syndrome. It features the same villains and some of the same themes as "The Ice Warriors," but it has a somewhat routine, lackluster feel, not to mention a couple of plot points that require enormous suspension of disbelief.

Both serials seem to share a view of scientists as understandably chafing under excessive bureaucracy and regulation, but also possessed of a stubborn streak that sometimes verges on irresponsibility. This was true of Penley in"The Ice Warriors," and it's true of Daniel Eldred this time around. He laments that, since the invention of the T-Mat, there has been a loss of interest in real space exploration, and the government eventually stopped funding his research into rocketry. The Doctor, himself a scientist and an explorer, instinctively relates to Eldred, and their early interactions nicely emphasize their shared intellectual curiosity. When Commander Radnor wants to use the rocket which Eldred has been developing secretly to send a mission to the moon and repair the T-Mat, Eldred refuses: the rocket is not yet 100% ready, only he could handle all the contingencies of a flight, and at this age he's too old. Eldred's reaction, however, comes off as more irrational and foolish than Penley's similar refusal to work for Clent in "The Ice Warriors." Penley had at least tried to work within the confines set by Clent's rules and his reliance on the computer, and the team had proven at least somewhat able to carry on without him. Eldred, unless he is completely out of touch with human society, knows very well that mass starvation and social chaos will erupt if the T-Mat is not repaired, and while he does eventually relent, this knee-jerk reaction undercuts whatever likeability he earns from his preceding scenes with the Doctor.

It doesn't help, of course, that this situation relies on an incredibly dubious premise. Not only has the human race abandoned the use of spacecraft altogether, but evidently no one has even built a backup T-Mat system -- this despite the fact that the entire world's food supply is dependent upon the proper functioning of the T-Mat. I suppose one could argue that this is picking up on the theme of scientific arrogance and overreaching from "The Ice Warriors," but it seems more likely to me that it's just lazy writing and that this theme arises mostly by accident. Showing an equal lack of foresight are the Ice Warriors themselves, who apparently did absolutely nothing in the way of reconaissance or intelligence-gathering before launching this invasion. Because if they had, then presumably they would have discovered that (a) Earth is mostly composed of water and is inhabited by people who can control the weather, and therefore attacking with a bioweapon that can be destroyed by water is probably a bad idea; and (b) destroying the T-Mat would have seemingly starved out the population, and simply taking over the T-Mat station on the moon and disabling it would have been sufficient.

When the two groups in conflict are portrayed so illogically, it becomes difficult to take the story very seriously, especially since the script largely depends on one crisis situation after another. Which brings me to my final complaint about "The Seeds of Death": there just isn't enough plot for six episodes. The steady stream of twists and surprises (the rocket can't find the homing signal and might miss the landing, then they recover it and land and the Doctor sets out to destroy the T-Mat in order to stop the Ice Warriors, but then it turns out the rocket's out of fuel so they have to track him down before he destroys their only transport back to Earth, etc. etc.) keeps the story entertaining for a while, and at one point the script even seems like it might be sending itself up, as Radnor has to explain to his confused superior how the T-Mat has gone from malfunctioning to repaired to malfunctioning again. But none of this is very original or imaginative (a problem with some piece of fictional technology is perhaps the most infamously lazy type of plot device in science fiction), nor does it challenge many of the characters in a way we haven't seen before on Doctor Who. All they're doing is jumping through arbitrary hoops, and I found that I eventually just lost interest in what was happening.

That's not to say that "The Seeds of Death" is a total loss. The one character who manages to remain compelling throughout is Fewsham, the Assistant Commander of the T-Mat station whose cowardice leads him to cooperate with the Ice Warriors and eventually renders him complicit in a number of deaths. It would be easy to make him merely selfish and despicable, but instead he's portrayed as horribly frightened after seeing his superior murdered by the Ice Warriors, and I got the distinct sense that he was always hoping that if he just cooperated a little longer, perhaps someone or something else would manage to foil the Warriors' plans and he'd escape with his life and without anyone else getting hurt or killed. Rather than simply wanting him to go away, I found myself rooting for him to finally get up his courage to resist the Warriors (which he clearly wants to do), and when he finally does, it's one of the few moments in the last two episodes that really grabbed my attention. And I should give the writers credit for creating a female character of distinct intelligence and composure as the person most capable of repairing T-Mat, imagining a future of human gender equality in a way that some other  Doctor Who serials have failed to do.

Unfortunately, this is one case where I'm afraid the bad outweighs the good. The humans are mostly a pretty flat and uninspiring bunch, and the Ice Warriors, while perhaps a bit more nasty and threatening than your average Doctor Who villains, still don't do much for me. Add in the plot holes that can only be explained by spectacularly poor planning by both humans and Ice Warriors and the general overabundance of obvious contrivances and clichés, and you get a pretty mediocre outing.

Other notes:

- One contrivance they did manage to avoid is the one whereby the Doctor can get the TARDIS to work when it's important to the plot that he be able to do so; otherwise, they could have used it to get to the moon without having to worry about the rocket.

Rating: ** (out of four)

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