Doctor Who: Revisitations 2 - Part 1 (UK - DVD R2)
The green-fingered Wilson Bros open the packet & sow The Seeds of Doom...
Due to the increased traffic for us in terms of reviewing, these Revisitations reviews will be in a more compact form; Doctor Who fans will be more than familiar with the stories, but we have included some of the essential information to bring those outside of Who-fandom up to speed...
The Doctor/Companions: The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Fraser Hines), Zoe (Wendy Padbury)
The Adversaries: The Ice Warriors
The Plot: The Doctor and his companions find themselves on Earth in the future, only to discover that contact with the Moon has been lost and also that Mars' notorious sub-zero soldiers are planning to take over Earth by transporting themselves to our planet by using the revolutionary T-Mat instantaneous traveling device and changing the climate to suit their own needs, literally freezing out the competition presented by the human race in the process.
Observations: This is a fun story, bringing back the Ice Warriors during a season that seemed to mainly comprise of "monsters". The Ice Warriors are expanded (well, they are cold) in a nice way, showing different parts of the command structure, including Ice Lord Slaar (Alan Bennion) and the Grand Marshall (Graham Leaman).
Troughton, Hines and Padbury are all as wonderful as ever, despite the fact that their time on the show was fast coming to an end - it is arguable that out of all of the Doctor/Companion combinations in the whole history of Doctor Who, that there was never a grouping that had as much on-screen chemistry as the three in this story. You can clearly see that they are having a ball, but when the story calls for them to be deadly serious, they are all perfectly capable of delivering the goods.
Alan Bennion breathes (or should that be exhales sibilantly?) a new lease of life into the Ice Warriors (combined with Brian Hayles' and Terrance Dick's script), presenting Slaar as a cunning, ruthless individual, ready to lead his warriors into battle; the lumbering warriors themselves were desperately in need of a commander - they worked well in their first story, but they would have been a little tiresome if they had remained that way in The Seeds of Death.
The main bugbear that some fans have with this story is that it is yet another example of a six-parter that could easily have been told in four parts; it is true that the first episode or two feels like padding, but then again, even some of the best stories comprising of six or more episodes can feel padded or at least take an episode or two to kick into gear (the otherwise wonderful Inferno being a good example).
All three of the stories in this Revisitations set have had work to improve the AV quality. The Seeds of Death (if our collective memory serves) was the first Doctor Who title released on DVD to undergo the VIDFire process of giving the film-recordings an appearance truer to the original videotaped look.
We were in a position to have a side-by-side comparison of the original DVD release of The Seeds of Death up against this reissue - there isn't a great deal of difference between the two, especially on the videotaped studio material; this new version appears to be fractionally sharper than the older version.
The results on the original release were incredibly impressive, allowing those not old enough to watch the story when it originally went out to see it in a way that is remarkably close to how it would have seemed when seeing it back in 1969. The fact that the original DVD issue were so good leaves little room for improvement on this copy, so much so that we were unable to find much in the way of evidence of further restoration, but we have been assured that it’s there.
On it’s own terms, The Seeds of Death looks absolutely wonderful on DVD; this story, along with the single remaining episode of The Enemy of the World, are the best-looking of sixties Doctor Who on DVD; the prints are wonderfully clean and there is a surprising amount of fine detail on the studio material and it just has the feeling that this should be the story to play to somebody when demonstrating just how good monochromatic Doctor Who can look when a little love and attention has been lavished upon it.
Everything sounds fine to us - the Ice Warriors are a tad difficult to understand at times, but this is almost certainly because of their sibilant speech and the limitations of the audio technology of the time. Everything is all in order, with Dudley Simpson's innovative music as pleasant to the ears as can be expected from such an avant-garde score. The sound is as good as it can possibly be, with little in the way of crackle and hiss (well, the Ice Warriors always hiss), and it’s generally all good.
Audio Commentary: Ported over from the original release, this features actors Fraser Hines, Wendy Padbury, director Michael Ferguson and script editor Terrance Dicks. This is a fun listen, with Padbury and Hines being as good as they always are, still having the same sort of chemistry that they shared all those years ago, but Hines has a keen eye and makes observations that are wonderfully informative as well as being very funny (noting that even in the future, with all computerised technology at their disposal, the human race still has the need for clipboards). There is a lot of backslapping ( “such-and-such was marvellous“, etc) , but this is to be expected when such a concentration of old-school talent is put in a small recording booth; everyone sings the praises of Patrick Troughton, but most Doctor Who fans can easily overlook this, as he was such a talented actor - director Ferguson describes as being “like a cross between Laurence Olivier and Charlie Chaplin”, and who could possibly argue with that? Ferguson also mentions his experiences with William Hartnell, and as expected, he was very different from the easy-going Troughton. Terrance Dicks joins them at the start of episode three and gives things a boost when they were threatening to become a little stale - though there are quite a number of fans who aren’t particularly enamoured of this particular scribe, he’s always damn entertaining when talking about his experiences on Doctor Who, even if does mention that remark about Pertwee’s hair getting more and more bouffant during his time as The Doctor. The best part of the commentary comes when Padders apologises profusely about her on-screen corpsing when Pat slips and falls in the foam at the beginning of episode six, which has everyone in the recording booth laughing.
The Lords of the Red Planet: New - This 28 minute documentary takes an overview of the making of The Seeds of Death, from Brian Hayles' original conception of The Ice Warriors, through to Terrence Dicks' inadvertent rewrite, to location filming and finally to studio recording. Hosted by Doctor Who authority and Medway Townie Richard Bignell, this is an enjoyable romp through the making of this story, filled with numerous anecdotes from the people involved, including a Rashomon-like telling of the story of the rampaging Ice Warrior on Hampstead Heath that allegedly caused a female motorist to crash her car into the back of a police vehicle or into a tree, depending upon whoever was telling the story at the time.
The tale of Wendy Padbury laughing at Patrick Troughton's unplanned slip-up at the hands of the foam machine is also recounted, with Padders arguing in her own defence that her explosion of on-screen mirth was impossible to stifle, no matter what anyone else might say to the contrary; director Michael Ferguson tries to convince the audience that Zoe was simply laughing out of shock at The Doctor's horrifying predicament - it should be pointed out that there is a knowing glint in his eye when he says this.
Monster Masterclass: New - Director Michael Ferguson hosts this short piece (around four minutes) where he gives his own personal opinion on how monsters should be presented on Doctor Who, whilst clips from the stories he directed appear to underscore his words. There's no arguing that The Ice Warriors were very effective adversaries on Doctor Who, but clips of WOTAN declaring "Doc... tor... Who... is... re... quired!" do precious little to help bolster his argument, as WOTAN was pretty naff - an immovable tinpot dictator that constantly issued orders that were generally ignored, but the similarities between him and John Nathan-Turner end there.
The Monsters Who Came Back for More: New - This is an entertaining look at some of the cosmic adversaries of The Doctor who had the masochistic leaning of trying to act upon their desires to conquer the Earth (or even the universe) more than once. The contributors for this 16 minute piece are Big Finish Big Cheese Nick Briggs and Doctor Who Magazine assistant editor Peter Ware; Briggs is on sparkling form here, taking centre stage as he gives his thoughts on recurring monsters in Doctor Who and the reasons for bringing them back - Briggs he has the same cynical view as we have, in that some of them return not necessarily because they are popular, but for the simple practical and economical reasons of having the costumes available (there were endless debates as to why certain monsters would join the big band who wanted to imprison the Eleventh Doctor in the Pandorica during the two-part finale to series five of New-Who - the real answer is because the production team still had access to the outfits). Briggs also gleefully puts the boot into some of the attempts to replicate the popularity of the Daleks, including The War Machines, which he gives a pretty funny (yet also fairly accurate) physical impersonation of one. There is an amusing discussion as to the Doctor Who monster equivalent of a football league table, complete with on-screen graphics and a minor degree of controversy as to which monsters should be where on the league table; there’s no denying that the Daleks would be at the top of the table, with the Cybermen following a very close second - after that, there’s essentially a free-for-all, with Ice Warriors, Zygons and Sontarons all vying for the highest possible placement (A Troughton-obsessed friend of our will be pleased to see Nick Briggs include the Yeti in the table - this would be because he likes the Yeti, as they bear more than a passing physical resemblance to his wife…). One-shot monsters The Zygons and The Draconians have stuck in the memory of fans even though they only appeared once, which is a testament to the power they have to thrill and scare the living shit out of an audience, but the most memorable monsters of all were too good for producers on the show to pass up and the Troughton era of Doctor Who turned out to set the template for monsters who could negotiate terrain a bit more challenging than a smooth studio floor.
TARDIS Cam No6: This is another one of those oddities that were included as extras on some of the earliest Doctor Who DVD releases, which feature various images of the TARDIS in space or on some alien world or environment. These were originally prepared for the BBC website way back before Doctor Who returned to our screens - they were almost like a calling-card to show to people just what could be achieved with computer-generated imagery. Mike Tucker, who would go on to work on New-Who, oversaw these impressive little peeks into a possible future for the show. Clocking in at just under a minute, this TARDIS Cam features the iconic time and space machine on the surface of a snow-covered planet, with the door left tantalisingly open…
Audio Trailer: This is an off-air recording of the trailer that was used to promote The Seeds of Death, which was almost certainly recorded by a fan on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. It gives a nice little insight into how this story (and Doctor Who in general) was marketed to the public at that time, with a plumy RP voice referring to the main character as “Doctor Who”. This plays over the Episode Selection menu, which nicely breathes a little more life into what is a static screen.
Photo Gallery: This four-and-a-half minute collections of pictures is pretty interesting to watch, as they are comprised of a mixture of publicity stills, behind-the-scenes snaps and production design pictures. There are even glimpses of Ice Warriors in a state of undress, with the braces that hold up the waders clearly on display (who would have thought that Mars’ fearsome warriors wore suspenders…?), but the best picture has got to be one where Wendy Padbury and Sonny Caldinez share a cute moment together. The stills are accompanied by Dudley Simpson’s fairly avant-garde music score and Dick Mills’ special sounds.
Coming Soon Trailer: Good Grief! It's Planet of the Spiders next, it may be the Third Doctor’s swansong, but many will remember this one for episode two’s automotive pornography pandering to Pertwee’s particular passion for power.
Info Text: This is yet another fine job (as they always are), bringing you all manner of fascintating facts, titilating trivia and scintilating statistics regarding the pre-production, production, post-production and the critical reception of The Seeds of Death. One of the most bizarre moments in the info-text on this disc is when it points out that Zoe is using a Bic crystal biro pen and informs the viewer when they were first available.
PDF Material: If you were to insert this disc into your PC, you would be whisked back to the times when there was only really one weekly listings guide available for television and radio, as you are presented with the Radio Times listings for The Seeds of Death. The list for episode one includes a little picture of Troughton, and all of them have synopses and cast and crew listings. What is interesting is that Troughton is credited as “Dr Who”, but the character is referred to as “The Doctor” in all of the episode synopses - very strange.
Easter Egg: It’s not difficult to find and we won’t tell you exactly what it is, but let’s just say that you get to see what sort of reaction Wendy Padbury’s inadvertent mirth during episode six had on those around her…
Yes, we know that it’s essentially a four-parter padded out to six, but it’s still tremendous fun, with Troughton, Hines and Padbury giving it their all, despite the next story being their penultimate one. The Ice Warriors make for great adversaries and the cliffhanger of episode five is one of the best of the series.
The work that the Doctor Who Restoration Team have put into this release is fabulous and the new extras are wonderfully entertaining, especially The Monsters Who Came Back for More, and make this worth the upgrade. Recommended.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 28th March 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Aspect: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Lords of the Red Planet, Ssssowing the Ssseeds, Monster Masterclass, The Monsters Who Came Back For More, Audio Commentary, Info-Text,Audio Trailer, TARDIS-Cam No 6, Photo Gallery, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael Ferguson
Cast: Patrick Troughton, Fraser Hines, Wendy Padbury
Length: 150 minutes
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