With ‘The Ambassadors Of Death’, ‘Doctor Who’ moved closer to Nigel Kneale territory. A returning spaceship from Mars without communication meets up with a rescue rocket. Unfortunately, when it docks and the single astronaut opens the communicating door, all contact there is also lost after a radio signal is given. The Doctor (actor Jon Pertwee) and Liz Shaw (actress Caroline John) arrive and with the Brigadier (actor Nicholas Courtney) already there, gets them into the action, much to the bafflement of its boss, Ralph Cornish (actor Ronald Allen). The Doctor wants to translate the signal but discovers there is a link into the middle of London, which the Brigadier and a UNIT team get caught into a gunfight before finally breaking in and seeing the equipment blow up. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Liz find themselves being held at gunpoint by Doctor Taltalian (actor Robert Cawdron) when they are delayed from using the space headquarters computer and wants the recorded tape. The Doctor does a sleigh of hand with the tape and the Taltalian flees.
Meanwhile, the rescue spaceship returns to Earth and although the Doctor thwarts its theft, the three astronauts are whisked away. It only comes to light later that they are radioactive and need radiation to survive but there are other players in the field and they steal the astronauts away again. They also play to trap the Doctor and get Liz instead.
Not that she’s an easy prisoner, convincing Doctor Lennox (actor Cyril Shaps) to let her get away but runs right into Taltalian and returned to their laboratory. Once the command device is working, the boss Reegan (actor William Dysart) there takes the alien astronauts out on a series of murder exercises. The Doctor meanwhile has sorted out the alien signal but failed to convince Taltalian, who has returned with a bomb, unaware that he is to die as well when he sets the timer.
Cornish has gotten a second rocket ready and the Doctor is its pilot and despite an attempt to sabotage the fuel supply gets into orbit and docks with the original Martian probe only to have the alien vessel approach. Talking to their leader, the Doctor learns the astronauts are ambassadors and promises to see to their return. A little matter of Earth’s annihilation if they don’t does help matters a little.
Back on Earth, the Doctor is gassed and kidnapped by Reegan and persuaded to make a two-way communication device to talk to the alien ambassadors. He also makes a Morse code signal device to alert the Brigadier but the real player behind it all makes himself known.
From the main extra, writer David Whitaker might have been given the credit but the rewrite was down to Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, oddly making this one of the best stories from the early run. This is an involving story giving action to everyone, including the Brigadier, showing he doesn’t just lead his men. It also introduces actor John Levene as Sergeant Benton. The mystery of who is running everything isn’t difficult to work out but the big reveal isn’t until episode five but I’ve been careful to avoid spoilers because it’s a good mystery, assuming you don’t pick things up from the start as there’s a lot of distraction.
A little heavier analysis and there is a major plot hole. How did the villainous humans know these ambassadors need radiation to survive on Earth, especially as they couldn’t speak to them. Likewise, how could they order them around with such a simple pressbutton device. If the aliens wanted to leave, as demonstrated, they only had to touch them rather than killing innocents.
The audio commentary is musical chairs led by Toby Hadoke with actors Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Peter Halliday and Geoffrey Beavers, director Michael Ferguson, script editor Terrance Dicks, stunt co-ordinator Derek Ware and stunt performers Roy Scammel and Derek Martin. With seven episodes, there was more than enough space to go around. Two episodes were devoted to the stunt team who were formerly Havoc which gave some insight into their own wind-ups and the level they were allowed to take stunts, especially when Derek Ware went along when they chose outside locations and allowed to suggest things that they could do. I didn’t realise that Caroline John was wearing a wig in this story or that her brother was production manager and her husband was in the last episode. Likewise the second heavy in the lab was once an Ice Warrior.
There is never a thought given as to how the Doctor got the TARDIS control unit outside of the TARDIS as it surely couldn’t have been gotten through its doorway. With what we know about computers today, I do wonder how the Doctor could use it to translate the signals without devising a software program but, back then, people weren’t that familiar with programming and software as we are today and just saw it as a magic box of answers.
The extras are on a second DVD covers the making of the story and the second with Peter Purves looking over newspaper reviews up to that point. One interesting thing about the photo gallery is one picture showing the size of the models used for the two space capsules and they were larger than I thought they were.
If you missed out on ‘The Ambassadors Of Death’ the first time around then this is a good introduction to the third Doctor’s banishment on Earth. More so, unlike ‘The Silurians’, he’s working more effectively with UNIT as they have the same objectives. Despite the aforementioned flaws, the overall story holds up well for its time period.
(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD3484. 2 DVDs 170 minutes 7 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: about £ 4.60 (UK) if you know where to look)
cast: Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Ronald Allen, Robert Cawdron, John Alineri, William Dysart, Cyril Shaps and Michael Wisher
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