Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death
So I found myself last night in need of a doctor…sorry, Doctor. So I selected the latest DVD release from the classic series, Ambassadors of Death, featuring my favourite Doctor, #3, Jon Pertwee. It had been a long time since I had seen this one, and I believe the only time I watched it, it was in black and white. Originally broadcast March 21st through May 2nd, 1970, Ambassadors of Death was filmed and broadcast in colour, but some of the episodes were only stored on black & white 16mm film. Using technology they have used on other series, the BBC is restoring the episodes, by “picking” the color out of the film copies that existed and adding it back to the 16mm black & white episodes to give a full colour DVD release. This technique worked well for the first episode of Invasion of the Dinosaurs that was also long lost in colour, and worked okay in Ambassadors, but there were times when the picture just looked blurry; such as when someone moved their arm too quickly, such as a punch. Still, bringing back to life a television show from 42 years ago to any passable state is a triumph.
Ambassadors of Death was a great episode I thought. Well written, and well acted, with some pretty good effects for the day. Yes, there was model work for the spaceships, and they looked pretty good, except for one part where you could clearly see the CSO (Colour Separation Overlay, or blue screen, now green screen) work. Yes there was some wonky scenery that shook when actors fell into “cement” posts, but times were different then, and retakes were not always possible when using actual film. As always with Doctor Who, the incidental music was fantastic. This serial was third broadcast in the seventh season, and consisted of seven episodes. I personally liked the longer stories, as they had more chance for character development, more action and more suspense. In the seventh season, the last three episodes were seven parts, Pertwee would go on to enjoy several more six episode serials in his tenure, but the show primarily focused on four episode serials beginning with the Tom Baker era.
Taking place on Earth, while the Doctor was working with U.N.I.T. after his exile by the Time Lords, this story had it all for me: a big outer space mystery, conspiracies around every bend, spies, double agents, a believably scary monster, science fiction gadgetry, and even a guest appearance by the TARDIS console. Mars Probe 7 has been missing in space for months, and has now been found by a recovery craft. When the recovery craft returns to Earth, where are the three astronauts? The Doctor claims that whatever did come back to Earth in their spacesuits was in no way human, and certainly not the missing astronauts. Part of what made this episode work so well in my opinion, was the suspense. You never really got a look at who was pulling the strings of the master plan until it all came to a crescendo. The brilliance of the “monster” this episode was that they were aliens, walking around in hijacked space suits (40 years before Moffat’s Vashta Narada I might point out); and you never really saw them! Brilliant for suspense, a bit of added fear, and brilliant for the budget, because no elaborate masks or effects were really used, save for one or two scenes where one of the “ambassadors” had his helmet removed.
Jon Pertwee was still fairly fresh into his role as the Doctor and was a joy to watch. His Doctor had great impatience, and at the same time great caring and compassion. His flair for the dramatic didn’t stop with his wardrobe, Pertwee’s stories always had fun chases and action sequences which helped to highlight his supporting cast, such as the Brigadier, and made the show much more of an ensemble piece. The only things this episode could have used was a little bit of Venusian Karate (but that would debut an episode later in Inferno I believe); and I couldn’t help but think that he could have used a sonic screwdriver once or twice as well…
Seeing this episode again brings us a little closer to the end. Now we just need Mind of Evil, Terror of the Zygons, and the incomplete Shada, to be released and the entire classic series will be on DVD at last. So, BBC, get on with it and give me these last three stories instead of re-releasing “Special Editions” of things I already have! I really don’t want to get the Claws of Axos Special Edition, but if the ploy is to get us to spend money on these repeats in order to finally get everything released, I’ll be shaking my fist at you Auntie Beeb!
There are times that I desperately want to share my love of Doctor Who with others. I would be overjoyed to watch the shows with someone, especially the new series; but I don’t know if I’d be a good person to watch them with. I would want the other person to enjoy the show naturally, without me spoiling anything or pointing anything out, or clarifying or referencing small bits; because I think that might turn a new viewer off, having a “know-it-all” watching with them, doting all the way. And I know I’d be disappointed and embarrassed if they didn’t like the show, but I suppose I should be used to getting my heart broken by now, but if anyone out there wants to watch, let me know.
Posted on 12-10-18, in 5 Star, Doctor Who and tagged Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Caroline John, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Jon Pertwee, Liz Shaw, Nicholas Courtney, UNIT. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.