Doctor Who #234: The Seeds of Death Part 1

"Travel Mat? It sounds like a flying carpet."TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD, and in a Special Edition DVD with more extras than the original release. First aired Jan.25 1969.

IN THIS ONE... Ice Warriors on the moon, first appearance of T Mat, and the Doctor visits a rocket museum.

REVIEW: This story, and this episode in particular, shows an big shift in the show's attitude towards space travel. Men are working on the moon, but instead of the dreary procedurals inspired by space race fever, they're just like us, toting briefcases and commenting on the daily grind. In the real world, it's been a month since Apollo 8 went round the moon without landing. In the future presented in the Whoniverse, we're past that. The space museum the Doctor lands in is part of that idea, where today's greatest technical advancements become yesterday's dusty relics. It's a rather prescient idea, as space travel would indeed fall out of the public eye and moon missions would be cancelled. Never mind building on the moon landings to go beyond it. In the story, Travel Mat, or T Mat, has made moving around on Earth and to the moon so easy, humanity has lost its sense of adventure and governments have found something more useful to fund. We must be a decade or two after Zoe's time because it's news to her.

In mentioning Zoe, I have to wonder aloud if the T Mat project director Gia Kelly might not be an adult version of her. Like Zoe, she has a "trained" mind and shows little emotion. She's a striking woman, and the highlight of the cast of characters we're introduced to. Radnor is a lot like other base bosses that have populated Troughton's stories, though there's something to the friendship he betrayed with Professor Eldred, the world's last rocketeer. Osgood smugly stands up to the alien invader and is gone too soon. Fewsham is a man terrorized, limited by the fear of losing his life, while the other technicians are braver ciphers. B-movie rules are definitely in effect, with Earth having no back-up in case T Mat fails, so it's lucky a single man can build a rocket in his back yard. Neither is convincing, but for the sake of this tale, we must suspend our disbelief.

Lots of nice little bits in this. The Doctor's joy at looking around a museum (I've said it before, Matt Smith's Doctor owes everything to Troughton's). Jamie's sarcastic remarks. The special title sequences are back with a wonderful move from behind the moon to Earth. Toronto gets a mention. And of course, writer Brian Hayles brings back his creations, the Ice Warriors, the leader of which (an Ice Lord, as it will turn out) is different from the big armored models seen in their first story. Thinner and creepier, with a completely different helmet. Director Michael Ferguson's one misstep is in his reveal of the aliens at the end of the episode. Fans will have immediately recognized the Ice Warriors' hissing, breathy voices when they first show up 5 minutes into the episode, but for those who didn't, and so long as you're hiding their identity, they deserved a more shocking camera shot. Instead, it's one head shot among many, incongruously placed among similar shots of the crew as if the Ice Lord was one of them. No biggie, but I would have liked more of a sting there.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Of some historical importance as it introduces the Doctor Who equivalent of Star Trek's transporters, something used again and again from this point on, and features the return of both the Ice Warriors AND of the Moonbase (although the latter is completely different in both form and function). It's nice to see the Troughton era catering to some of the monsters it has spawned. Plus, Hayles is, as usual, on strong thematic footing.


LiamKav said...

I always thought it was "Transmat beam" rather than "Travel beam", although that's probably because of the exremely smug Castellan from The Five Doctors.

Siskoid said...

Later writers had only a folk memory or perhaps a Target novelization to work from, so the name likely changed as it became the catch-all for transporter technology.


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