‘The Ambassadors of Death’ is a very interesting, a very different story from anything that has come before it. Obviously keen to include something space related in the programme to mirror the first man on the moon and the excitement of the space race that was going on at the time of production, this story had been in the works for a long time. Terrence Dicks and Malcolm Hulke are largely behind the script which is credited to David Whitaker, and it is one with a focus on the visual and action.
|The console is back, episode One.|
Which is why it’s such a pity that the original colour prints no longer exist bar episode one. The DVD does present it in full colour, but the team found this clearly a very difficult story to work on and they weren’t able to achieve the level they did for ‘The Silurians’. The results also vary from episode to episode, with episode 7 being the best and episode five very good, yet four and six are not nearly as well done. Still, after so many years of it not being available in colour, the restoration job really must be highly commended.
Michael Ferguson’s direction is for the most part inventive, clever and ahead of its time. Really he has done so very well, and aided with a haunting soundtrack and a very solid script, ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ is a very successful experiment in the format of the programme that still holds up today. It is slow-moving watched in 2 or 3 sittings, but I think as it was originally intended, one episode a week, it would have been very gripping indeed. It has a real James Bond feel to it, which is intentional and very much suits Pertwee’s Doctor, growing and improving each story and being quite clearly defined by this point. A man of action? For sure, but also one with a very strong sense of moral justice, which happens to be a strong theme of this story.
|Carrington holds a gun to the Doctor's head.|
Although we have visitors from outer space in this adventures, they are not the true menace. They are being used by General Carrington, excellently portrayed by John Albineri in his second Doctor Who adventure (he was also in ‘Fury from the Deep’) to create havoc and panic so that the Earth will be forced to act on the aliens and blast them out of space. Carrington is mad, but this is not a character driven by any selfish reasons, he believes the aliens are a threat to the Earth. This is not the power-hungry megalomaniac, nor is it a story about alien invasion. It’s a very original take on a Doctor Who story.
The story is filled with chases and stunts, and apparently went well over budget but in fairness it was worth it. Some of the capsule work in space is very very good and holds up today, Ferguson has a beautiful homage to ‘2001’ in these shots using the carefully chosen music. The sets and the props are excellent too. The only let down really is the shots of the rocket flying through the atmosphere, and some of the overly-long sequences with Reegan (William Dysart) as he buries bodies in gravel, changes the fuel percentages in the Doctor’s rocket and when he connects gas to the decontamination unit.
|Crazy accents, Dr Taltalian|
Cyril Shapps returns to Doctor Who again playing a crazed and stressed out of his mind scientist, pretty much the same role he played in ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’. His death scene is chillingly shot and one of the most horrific deaths in Doctor Who in some ways, trapped with a radioactive isotope in a prison cell he can’t escape.
|Inside the alien space ship.|
It’s a wonderfully done example of the unknown enemy that knows everything you do and is always one step ahead. It has a rather odd ending when the Doctor says ‘I’m done here, see ya later’ when really he has not much place to go. That was very odd to me, and the finale could have done with a bit more action although episode seven does have a fair bit nonetheless. The ending just could have been a bit more dramatic.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but be impressed by this story, the ideas, the twisting of established norms, the intrigue and the element of the unknown. Michael Ferguson’s direction is very very clever and inventive as well.