More astronaut-cosplaying aliens, palpably inappropriate music, and foreign conspirators from foreign countries
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Three astronauts have been out of contact for 7 months, and the rescue astronaut sent after them also goes incommunicado. Bingo. In step U.N.I.T. and THE DOCTOR, who quickly dispatch the latter into space to rescue the chap who was sent to rescue the chaps.
Meanwhile, three astronauts do return to earth. But are they perhaps some dastardly, Martian invasion force? Or are they radioactive space ambassadors used for nefarious purposes by a renegade general, hell-bent on interstellar, thermonuclear war?
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This series is both fantastical and down to Earth, and the characters are so well-rounded and believable that one might think their watching a historical rather than a fictional drama.
The sets are fantastic with enough industrial locations to make one believe that they are in the heart of a space center and a radioactive lab respectively. The space ship models were handled with such care, and the alien ship was amazingly intimidating. I wish there were better images of it. The costuming is perfect as well, with the space suits looking both functional for the astronauts and menacing for the ambassadors. Let’s not forget the hauntingly brilliant music choice used for the aliens as well. It’s so incredibly different from that used for any previous baddie and it just works brilliantly.
On a production note, if we could go back in time and “retro re-shoot” one element, it would have be the only pantomime schlock in the story, that of the acting of the alien leader. He should instead have been as slow and menacing as the ambassadors.
The story itself is original and refreshing, with twists that keep you guessing about exactly who is involved and to what extent. The retro-rewrite of the week would involve less scenes of the radio isotopes (repetitive), and instead I would have preferred to have seen more “Stockholm Syndrome” scenes in the enemy bunker. Honestly though I found the rest of the script solid and true.
There were certainly pacing issues. The story was less than constant breakneck action, but it i didn’t need it to be. It was an interesting story that was portrayed realistically. The people involved should be proud of themselves. It’s a series that despite some flaws has great re-watchability, and that earns it a Liz Shaw stunt double in a wide-brimmed hat and heels of a 4.1
American President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned against the military industrial complex. Veteran astronaut General Carrington, who felt he must defend the Earth against aliens he discovered on Mars, led a British parallel. The Doctor was drawn into a chess match with Carrington in another seven-episode DOCTOR WHO epic upon hearing a familiar, deafening sound as Recovery 7 linked with Mars Probe 7 while the British public watched on television. Oblivious to the trap Carrington intended to expose the aliens, the Doctor arrived at the Space Center unapologetic and without credentials, explaining the sound was a coded message that would be repeated. Taltalian sabotaged a computer to prevent the transmissions’ decoding after UNIT tracked the responses’ source to nearby London. The Doctor foiled Carrington’s conspirators’ attempt to steal the recovered capsule once it landed. After the empty, radiation drenched capsule was opened, the Doctor; the Brigadier; and leggy Liz Shaw demanded answers from Sir James Quinlan. He introduced Carrington.
The Doctor’s demand to see the missing astronauts got Carrington’s allies scrambling to ruthlessly cover their tracks. Thugs shot the astronauts’ minders and were killed by radiation the alien astronauts needed to survive as the killers thought they were escaping. Naturally, the Doctor and Liz became targets. She was captured, escaped, and recaptured. The Doctor offered to protect Taltalian if he revealed what he knew, but the possible informant was killed with a time bomb he falsely believed would just blow up the Doctor. Sir James Quinlan was willing to talk, but the lethal touch of an alien astronaut sent to destroy evidence killed him. The Brigadier ordered former Corporal Benton, now a sergeant , to put protect Lennox, the alien astronauts’ new minder, whom Liz persuaded to tell UNIT what he knew. The conspirators though delivered a radioactive isotope to his cell to silence him.
The Doctor said the astronauts sent from Earth were still in space and volunteered to pilot a rocket to rescue them, thereby enabling the mission he proposed to go forward, despite Carrington’s objections and his allies’ efforts to slow preparations to a standstill. The Doctor survived a sabotage attempt and encountered the aliens who had sent ambassadors to Earth. When the Doctor returned, he explained Earth’s astronauts would be held until the ambassadors’ return. Then, he was kidnapped from decontamination and persuaded to build a device to enable humans and aliens to communicate. His device was an upgrade over the gadget Carrington’s thugs used to command the ambassadors and incorporated a telegraph the Doctor used to send an SOS UNIT traced. Carrington took over the Space Center, arrested the Brigadier, and prepared to both reveal an alien on a worldwide broadcast and advocating an all out attack. The Brigadier escaped and rescued the Doctor and Liz with a small UNIT force. They returned to the Space Center with the ambassadors and retook it. The Doctor left Lz to help the staff exchange the ambassadors for the astronauts.
The Doctor’s chess match with Carrington and his conspiracy is attributed to writer David Whitaker, but was largely written by Script Editor Terrance Dicks. Given the military antagonists’ irrational desire to attack the aliens, the story might easily have come from liberal leaning writer Malcolm Hulke. Regardless, marvelous model work and focus on space missions make this serial a product of its times, the early ‘70s. The Brigadier here, unlike in the Silurians, is the Doctor’s staunch ally, vouching for him without hesitation at the Space Center. Also, as the only person who realized what was happening, the Doctor took charge and thwarted every bureaucratic means of stymieing him until he arrived at a solution. Once, Carrington was defeated, he stepped away, leaving everything to Liz and UNIT.
Hello once more, Podcast Land! I’m back again to take a look at “The Ambassadors of Death”. I quite liked this one on first viewing, but we’ll get to the ratings later. For now, it’s review time!
This serial aired at a time when the Space Race was all over the news. What was in the news at the time specifically was the mission of the Apollo 13 mission, and if those men up there were gonna make it back. That is around the time viewers in the UK found out if the astronauts from Mars were still alive or not.
When I first watched this serial, it was up at my grandparent’s cabin. I usually had to watch the show when everyone else was in bed (not many in my family like to watch Classic Who with me, I’m afraid). As I sat there in the dark, I marvelled at this serial’s stunt work, which was good throughout (credit to those HAVOC guys) and the music helped set the serial up as well.
Numerous scripting revisions caused an uneven plot. David Whitaker has sole writing credit, despite penning no further than episode three. Assistant script editor Trevor Ray rewrote part one, while Malcolm Hulke developed the remainder. Their narrative feels extemporised, a bumpy, sometimes thrilling ride, but one with no clear end in sight. That’s not necessarily to AoD’s disadvantage, although it does leave the motivation of the villains Carrington, Taltalian and Reegan less than clear. Another hiccup comes when the alien captain abruptly broadcasts to Earth in English, undermining the six-week slog to develop a translation device.
Credit again to those clever chaps from the Restoration Team. This serial’s color restoration looked stunning, almost as if the episodes color tapes were never wiped. Episode One of this serial is the earliest surviving master tape of the show, retaining the original color from the serial.
The story ends on an anti-climax, albeit with admirable subtlety. The Doctor leaves Carrington under arrest but with his dignity intact, and entrusts the mopping up, and the return of the ambassadors, to Unit and the scientists. In a lovely wide shot – fringed by a model that suddenly makes the TC1 set look huge – the Pert strides out of the Space Centre as casually as he strode into it seven weeks earlier. Job done.
So, what do I give this serial? Well, it’s not perfect. It’s a bit choppy at times, and David Whitaker really didn’t have the majority of a hand in it (he basically came up with the idea, got paid, and went to Australia. He never wrote for the show again). But at the same time, this serial kept my attention throughout, similar to “The Silurians”. So, I will not give this serial a 4.0/5, but rather a 3.8/5 instead. I considered a 4.0 rating, but the following serial maybe stole the points from this serial away.
Next time, the Doctor and UNIT get involved in a project to dig through Earth’s molten core. But, while the Doctor experimented with the TARDIS Console, he slips sideways in time into a parallel universe. Soon, the Doctor finds that this dig could mean the destruction of the Earth itself in a raging inferno! Next time, we have “Inferno”. See you then!
Trying to keep it short, but we’ll see how this goes. The duplicated opening titles each episode were annoying. It was nice to see that Ronald Allen who played Cornish can actually act and that his role in The Dominators was bad for some other reason (writing/production). I like that DS discuss BAGLS action at the end of the last serial, but Doc doesn’t seem to hold enough of a grudge. Liz Shaw is also brilliant with her manipulation of Lennox. Carrington is also well acted. He plays like someone with PTSD really well.
I felt like this serial was 7 episodes of UNIT incompetence and the doctor fixing the mistakes: the space capsule and a radioactive isotope are stolen from under their noses; the rocket launch is sabotaged; a prisoner is broken out of his cell at UNIT HQ; a man in “protective custody” is murdered; Quinlan is killed in his own office; Taltalian, who held a gun to DS & BAGLS, is allowed to walk into Space Control with high explosives.
I got Vashta Nerada vibes from the quiet, but deadly astronauts walking around and killing Sir James with just a touch.
I liked this serial. It definitely didn’t need to be 7 episodes long, but it also didn’t feel as poorly paced as others of this length.
It gets a 3.2 from me.
Hey, another review here for The Ambassadors…. boing!… of Death!
A really great story with plenty of twists, action and excitement to keep things going. With the Doctor coming up against a walking accent with a beard and the bloke from the Ferrero Roche adverts (more of that in a second).
We get to the see the Third Doctor at his most dickish, with his behaviour towards Ralph Cornish at the start being appallingly bad and then obsequiously nice when he finds out who he is. Liz is brilliant and resourceful as ever, and BAGLS gets to twirl his mustache and shoot people!
The continuity at the start with the Doctor still not speaking to BAGLS after the Silurian incident is a nice touch, and their relationship is nicely frosty throughout.
John Abineri as General Carrington is most famous for playing a butler in the 1980’s Ferrero Roche adverts – he went from the Ambassadors of Death to the Ambassadors Reception!
This serial also features the return of Benton who’d go on to be a core part of the UNIT family over the next few years. Interestingly, the scene where the scientist is killed by
The TV presenter is played by the late, great Michael Wisher who’d turn up a few years down the road as Davros in Genesis of the Daleks.
The scenes of Liz Shaw running across a wet concrete bridge and dangling off railings over a river are a little hard to watch these days, as Caroline John subsequently revealed she was pregnant during filming but hadn’t told the production team at this point. In fact, her husband Geoffrey Beevers appears briefly on screen as the UNIT radio operator. He’d return in 1981 to play The Master in The Keeper of Traken.
Happy Times and Places,
Sorry I badly edited my review of Ambassadors. My point about Benton was that there is an implication in how the scene is shot that Benton is the one who murders Lennox.
There’s a closeup of Levene grinning maliciously when they lock Lennox away in the cell, and the trousers and boots of the person delivering the isotope dinner to him is a UNIT soldier… which UNIT soldier is in charge of the cells? Benton, of course! He’d be the one who could easily coverup how deadly radiation found its way into a prisoners supper. The novelisation though simply explains that General Carrington is the one who killed him, disgusing himself as a UNIT soldier. But that’s no fun
Also, Levene really is the man. I met him at a signing in 2006 and he was superb enough to sign my DVD copy of The Claws of Axos, impressing my then seventeen year old self. For an alternate, less impressed take on Levene, check out the excellent blog/book Adventures with the Wife in Space by Neil Perryman.
Finally, listening to your Inferno podcast now and thought I’d clear up – Nick Courtney wore a false mustache as BAGLS. He only grew his own when he returned in the later stories Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors and Battlefield.
Happy Times and Places,