Botanicult Fiction: Doctor Who The Seeds of Death
By Alex Henderson, Curator of Living Collections, Royal Botanical Gardens.
H.G. Wells’ War of the World’s is the story that probably first springs to mind in popular culture when thinking about Mars attacking Earth. A slightly different take on this recurring sci-fi theme is Doctor Who and the Seeds of Death. Written by Brian Hayles and Terrance Dicks this serial was broadcast as part of the sixth season of the classic series from January to March 1969 and is an interesting early take on climate change and invasive species.
Arriving on Earth in the 21st century the second Doctor and his companions find Earth in crisis after a transmat network operating between Earth and the Moon and essential for the well being of humanity has gone disastrously wrong. Upon investigation the Doctor discovers the Moon’s transmat has been taken over by a group of Ice Warriors, a race of cold-blooded reptilian like humanoids, encased in biomechanical armour and the indigenous population of Mars. As Mars is desolate and dying the Ice Warriors intend to invade and conquer Earth to create a new home. To do this the Earth’s atmosphere and climate must be dramatically altered and so the seeds of death are unleashed.
The seed pods are a fungus native to Mars and able to break down Earth’s plants, other biological matter and demonstrate several lifecycle stages. The first stage is a white round pod that when exposed to Earth’s air releases clouds of spores. The spores when landing on plants start to grow removing oxygen from the atmosphere. The spores then transform into a thick foamy substance which is able to invade large areas of land quickly. New pods are released from the foam and the lifecycle repeats.
These pods are known as the seeds of death because as an invasive species they are able remove 20% of Earths oxygen, causing severe climate change, making the planet uninhabitable for humans but perfect for Ice Warrior colonization. The Doctor realizes the invasive species has no defense against water. Luckily, Earth’s Weather Control Station is in London and the Doctor sets the controls to rain, destroying the pods and so the Ice Warriors plan is defeated with the Earth invasion thwarted.
During 1969 climate change prediction was science becoming reality. The dawn of advanced computer modeling in the 1960s began to predict possible outcomes of the rise in CO2 levels. Scientists were becoming familiar with the notion that a greenhouse effect warming of the planet was under way with computer models consistently showing at this time that a doubling of CO2 could produce a warming of 2 degrees C within the next century.
This Doctor Who serial would have played on the known scientific facts of the day and played on those fears and shows how science fiction is a great genre through which art can imitate life. In complete contrast what is scientifically unknown in this story is why anyone in their right mind would locate Earths Weather Control Station in the UK? I grew up there and its grey, rains all the time and is cold and damp to the point of arthritic annoyance.
Whilst the TV show is cracking so is the Doctor Who The Seeds of Death Target novelization (Curator’s own copy pictured) written by Terrance Dicks. Its definitely worth a read and adds more depth to the television broadcast. Now where are my spores Mua, ha, ha, ha!
Botanicult Fiction is an affectionate review of plants in pop culture viewed through the lens of plant nerds and curated for your reading or viewing pleasure during this challenging time of self isolation