When it comes to Doctor Who in the 1960s, people don't usually think of it as having especially artsy direction. There were some cool scares, and a few really iconic scenes here and there — but for the most part, directors were working with cameras the size of woolly mammoths, on sets the size of matchboxes. But there's one director from the early years of Doctor Who who really stands out as making adventurous choices and using inventive camera angles: Michael Ferguson.
Ferguson only directed four stories: "The War Machines, "The Seeds of Death," "The Ambassadors of Death" and "The Claws of Axos." But those first three stories, in particular, really bear his unique visual stamp. In "War Machines" and "Ambassadors," in particular, he takes stories where there's a lot of slow build-up, and he manages to make it look really tense and thrilling — by shooting people from below so they're looking down at something, or by making the oh-so-slow advance of the war machines or the alien astronauts look more paranoia-inducing with tight angles and the occasional fish-eye lens.
Check out the awesome "mind control" sequence from "The War Machines," with the slow zoom in on the professor's face as he's resisting WOTAN's mind control.
The new reissue of "Seeds of Death," in a deluxe DVD package, really underlines how inventive Ferguson really was — the picture looks a bit crisper than I remember seeing it before, and that benefits some of the scenes where the Doctor is trapped in the Moonbase with the Ice Warriors. There are some chase scenes where the Doctor is running around pursued by Ice Warriors, and Ferguson uses mirrors and other weird tricks to make them look downright trippy. Plus, in the clip above, you can hear about how Ferguson made the actors working on "Seeds of Death" do a super-fast performance of each episode at the end of a day's rehearsal. Oh, and the production subtitles include weird little details, like some shots where Ferguson actually — gasp! — used a hand-held camera.
Rediscovering the occasional cool visual is one of the main thrills about the new "Seeds of Death" DVD — although, as with most of the Special Edition reissues, it's probably not worth buying if you already own the earlier version on DVD. There is a new featurette, about the history of the Ice Warriors, but given that the original release of "Seeds of Death" was the first ever two-DVD set for a single story, there's not that much room to beef up the extras.
But if you haven't seen "Seeds of Death" before, it's a pretty fun story, and worth checking out. The story takes place in the future, when humanity has given up on rockets and only uses a form of teleportation, called T-Mat, to get around or transport goods. Because T-Mat is controlled from one central hub on the Moon, it's an easy target for the Ice Warriors, who use it to launch a plan to change the atmosphere on Earth with seeds of... wait for it... death. As with a lot of the late Patrick Troughton stories, the whole thing is kept pretty light and frothy, and Patrick Troughton is in overt clown mode, but the aforementioned direction adds a nice layer of tension. And the Ice Warriors are a genuinely menacing foe.
The other recent DVD reissue, "Resurrection of the Daleks," is still just as nonsensical and fun as it ever was — and you can watch it in both the two-part version shown in the U.K., and the four-part version shown overseas. (Although this time, the four part version actually has all the music and sound effects, unlike when it was first shown in the U.S.) The new extras on the "Resurrection" set are a bit more impressive than the ones on "Seeds of Death" — including an hour-long documentary about the Peter Davison era, hosted by David Tennant, in which people go pretty deep into the minutiae of the behind-the-scenes changes during Davison's tenure. (Possibly deeper than some of us would care to go.)
All in all, these "Special Edition" DVDs remain a great way for fans of the new Doctor Who to dip into the classic series, with lots of bonus content to provide context. Pretty much none of them are essential if you already own those stories — but they're a fun way to kill an evening if you haven't thought about "Seeds of Death" or "Resurrection of the Daleks" since you last saw them on PBS or whatnot.