‘THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Mars Probe 7
“Something has gone badly wrong, Mars Probe 7!”
‘The Ambassadors…OF DEATH!!!’ is a seven-part story of ‘Doctor Who’ in Season 7 from the Jon Pertwee era. It’s a gritty, earthbound adventure that has the exiled Doctor deal with a situation of aliens from Mars. But this time, the aliens aren’t enemies for the Doctor as it’s actually the humans!
I purchased the 2-disc DVD of ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ when it was released in October 2012. Disc 1 contains the story, whilst Disc 2 contains the special features. This was one of the earliest ‘Doctor Who’ stories made in colour in the 1970s and you can tell that the story has been colourised on DVD.
This story was originally by David Whitaker, who was the script-editor of ‘Doctor Who’ for its first season during William Hartnell’s era. But David Whitaker was working for the production team of Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant at the time when this story was commissioned during the late 1960s.
Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant weren’t happy with what David Whitaker was giving them in terms of the scripts and they kept making him rewrite them. David Whitaker re-wrote ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ four times, but still Sherwin and Bryant weren’t happy with what he’d given.
Eventually, script editor Terrance Dicks decided enough was enough and told Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant to pay David Whitaker off and have the scripts written by someone else. Eventually Terrance Dicks got Malcolm Hulke (who wrote ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’) to write the rest of it.
The story is about a lost Mars Probe 7 and a rescue mission is attempted to save some astronauts from that capsule. But something is brought down from Mars Probe 7 – something not human. The Doctor discovers this in the story, and is determined to find out what’s going on at dangerous costs.
But the Doctor soon discovers that human enemy agents are causing trouble to prevent the rescue of the three astronauts. Even these people manage to kidnap Liz Shaw and get her to work for them. As the Doctor finds out who the true enemy is, the Alien Ambassadors of Death may end everything.
From seeing ‘The Ambassadors of Death’, this story is very down-to-earth and grown-up compared to previous ‘Doctor Who’ stories. It’s certainly more serious and doesn’t have the light-hearted aspects of ‘Doctor Who’ that appeal to me. It deals with more social-political aspects of the world.
I can’t say that ‘Ambassadors’ is a favourite of mine from the classic series of ‘Doctor Who’. I found it rather long, which is something I don’t want to notice even with a seven-parter. Aspects of the story dragged for me, especially during the early episodes with the characters and situations being set up.
By the time I came to the sixth and seventh episodes, things became more interesting with the revelation of who the enemies were and what their motivations were. I was wondering throughout the story why the human enemies were doing these things and it got tense towards the conclusion.
The action sequences of this story are very well-handled by director Michael Ferguson and the stunt work was excellent by the team of Havoc. A lot of money and time was spent on the action sequences and they help to keep the story going, even when some of it dragged at the Space Control.
Some standout action sequences include the gunfight scenes between U.N.I.T. soldiers and army troops at a warehouse. Seeing the Brigadier and U.N.I.T. soldiers fighting against other human soldiers is pretty gritting and disturbing to watch. You wonder why some humans would turn enemy in this situation.
There’s also the scene where a group of armed men attempt to steal the recovery capsule from U.N.I.T. soldiers led by the Brigadier on a truck to Space Control. There’s a helicopter and men on motorcycles in this scene, which made it very expensive and it caused some accidents along the way.
Jon Pertwee delivers a superb performance as the Doctor in this adventure. You can see how the Doctor is disapproving of Earth authorities and with people he encounters at the Space Control who appear shifty. He’s trying to solve this mystery when others are seemingly to be against his efforts.
I liked it when the Doctor gets to go up into space in a rocket from Earth to Mars Probe 7. He’s without his TARDIS and has to use Earth standards to get somewhere. He’s also very resourceful when trying to find a way to communicate with the Alien Ambassadors and prevent this catastrophe.
Caroline John is lovely as Liz Shaw in this adventure. I felt sorry that Liz was being chased by men trying to capture her whilst she’s driving Bessie, the Doctor’s car. It was an exciting chase sequence, which leads to Liz falling over a bridge. By the way, Caroline was pregnant in the making of this story.
Liz is forced to work with another scientist called Lennox at the insistence of men who are the enemy in this story. Liz doesn’t like what’s doing in working for them and gets a shock when she realises the ‘astronauts’ in the radiation chamber are aliens. She soon reunites with the Doctor later.
Nicholas Courtney is great as the Brigadier in this story. I was pleased to see the Brigadier being the action man and getting into the heat of battle, as a military man usually does. But the Brigadier is not without morals, as he’s concerned for the Doctor and Liz, even when they’ve gone missing at times.
I liked it when the Brigadier manages to escape Carrington’s security guards and get back to U.N.I.T. HQ to sort out the S.O.S. signal sent by the Doctor. I liked it when he questions Carrington’s judgement and even manages to save the Doctor and Liz from custody by the end of this adventure.
The cast also features John Levene’s return as Sergeant Benton in ‘Doctor Who’. Benton made his first appearance in ‘The Invasion’ with Patrick Troughton. He would make his first regular appearance in ‘Doctor Who’ for the Pertwee era, even though he is only in ‘Episodes Five and Seven’ of this story.
There’s also John Abineri as General Carrington. John Abineri would later appear in ‘The Moon Stallion’ with Sarah Sutton. Carrington is an army officer who is on the bad side. He was once a Mars Probe astronaut until he becomes insane by having Alien Ambassadors in astronaut suits kill people.
Ronald Allen guest stars as Professor Ralph Cornish at Space Control. Ronald Allen was in ‘Crossroads’ and apparently was one of ‘The Dominators’ with Patrick Troughton. I thought I’d seen him somewhere before. 😀 Cornish is deeply concerned about the whereabouts of his astronauts in this.
The guest cast also includes Robert Cawdron as Bruno Taltalian; Dallas Cavells as Sir James Quinlan; Michael Wisher (who would later play Davros in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’) as John Wakefield; William Dysart as Reegan and Cyril Shaps (who I’ve seen from ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Them’) as Lennox.
Geoffrey Beevers makes an appearance as Private Johnson in this story. Geoffrey was married to Caroline John during the making of this story and would later play the Master in ‘The Keeper of Traken’. It was nice to see Geoffrey Beevers in this ‘Doctor Who’ story and looking so young as well.
The three Alien Ambassadors featured in this story are aliens in astronaut suits, once worn by the astronauts who went up into space in the first place. It was creepy seeing these Alien Ambassadors in spacesuits walking down the road, killing people off with one touch and with haunting music in the background.
The voices for these Alien Ambassadors were provided by Peter Halliday. Peter Halliday played Packer in ‘The Invasion’ and provided the voices for the Cybermen in that story and for the Silurians in ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’. It was good to hear him take on voice duties again for these aliens.
I must say that I really like the theme music for U.N.I.T. provided by Dudley Simpson. It’s very catchy and easy to listen to when hearing it. I wish that more of that music was used for later stories in ‘Doctor Who’ with Jon Pertwee. I’m pleased it was used for ‘The U.N.I.T. Family’ DVD documentaries.
The DVD special features are as follows. On Disc 1, there’s a commentary with Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Peter Halliday, Geoffrey Beevers, director Michael Ferguson, script editor Terrance Dicks, stunt co-ordinator Derek Ware and stunt performers Roy Scammell and Derek Martin, moderated by Toby Hadoke. There is also an info-text commentary option to enjoy on this.
On Disc 2, there’s the ‘Mars Probe 7: Making the Ambassadors of Death’ documentary and BBC trailer for this story. There’s ‘Tomorrow’s Times: The Third Doctor’, presented by Peter Purves, a photo gallery of this story and PDF materials including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story. There’s also a ‘coming soon’ trailer for the ‘The Claws of Axos’ Special Edition DVD with Jon Pertwee.
‘The Ambassadors of Death’ has been an enjoyable Jon Pertwee story of ‘Doctor Who’ for me. It’s not the best I’ve seen, as it feels too long and slow in places. But I enjoyed the action sequences, performances of the stars and how things got unravelled during the story about who the enemies were.
‘The Ambassadors of Death’ rating – 7/10
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