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Production Code: CCC
1 - 21/03/1970 17:15
2 - 28/03/1970 17:15
3 - 04/04/1970 17:20
4 - 11/04/1970 17:15
5 - 18/04/1970 17:15
6 - 25/04/1970 17:15
7 - 02/05/1970 17:15
The Doctor joins UNIT's investigation into the mystery surrounding Mars Probe 7. Space Control, headed by Professor Ralph Cornish, has had no contact with the astronauts on board since it started back from Mars seven months ago, and now the Recovery 7 rescue mission has run into similar difficulties.
This second ship does get back to Earth, but the astronauts are kidnapped after landing and Liz Shaw notices that the Geiger counter is at maximum. It transpires that the ship's occupants were not the human astronauts after all but a trio of radiation-dependent alien ambassadors who had swapped places with them.
The Doctor makes a solo flight in Recovery 7 and docks with Mars Probe 7, still orbiting in space. He is then intercepted by a huge alien spaceship and taken on board, where he finds the real astronauts unharmed. The aliens' Captain threatens to destroy the Earth unless their three ambassadors are released.
The Doctor is allowed to go and, after returning to Space Control, discovers that the kidnapping of the ambassadors is part of a scheme devised by xenophobic ex-astronaut General Carrington to discredit the aliens and convince the world's authorities to wage war against them. The Doctor and UNIT are able to thwart his plans and arrange the safe exchange of ambassadors for astronauts.
The Doctor and Liz go to see Bruno Taltalian, a scientist on Cornish's team, to request the use of his computer to analyse the alien messages that have been received. When they enter the computer room he pulls a gun on them.
The sealed Recovery 7 capsule has been taken to Space Control after its return to Earth. Astronaut Charles Van Lyden's voice can be heard over a radio link, but Cornish cannot get a reply when he tries to talk to the man. The Doctor asks some additional questions which are also ignored. He instructs a workman, standing by with a blowtorch, to cut the capsule open.
Liz Shaw receives a note, apparently from the Brigadier, asking her to meet him in Hertfordshire. She sets off but discovers that this is a trap. She is chased by two thugs and tries to escape across a bridge over a weir. Mid-way across she is caught. She manages to knock one of the men into the water, but is then herself flipped over the edge by the other.
One of the alien astronauts is taken by their kidnapper, Reegan, to kill Sir James Quinlan, the man in charge of the space programme. This done, the creature then destroys the contents of a safe. The Doctor arrives to see Quinlan and hurries to the dead man's side. Behind him, the astronaut approaches, hand outstretched to kill him too.
The Doctor makes a solo flight in Recovery 7 and docks with Mars Probe 7 to try to find out where the human astronauts might have gone to. Ground radar suddenly reports a massive alien craft heading straight for the Doctor.
The Doctor has been captured by Reegan and taken to his secret base. Reegan wants the Time Lord to build him a translation device so that he can communicate with the aliens. Suddenly, Carrington enters the room. He has been behind all the kidnappings and now wants the Doctor dead. He produces a gun with which to kill him, explaining that he sees it as his 'moral duty' to do so.
Carrington has been exposed and prevented from engineering a conflict with the aliens. The Doctor leaves to continue his attempts to repair the TARDIS while Liz remains to assist Cornish with the ambassadors.
2001: A Space Odyssey.
NASA space programme coverage and David Bowie.
The Avengers episode The Radioactive Man.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (non-hostile aliens misunderstood as invaders through paranoia).
Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('They're here! We're being invaded!').
Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles (the conditioning of astronauts to believe they are back on Earth).
The Outer Limits.
The Projected Man.
The Quatermass Experiment.
Ralph Cornish : "Something took off from Mars!"
The Doctor : "I don't know what came down in Recovery 7, but it certainly wasn't human!"
The Doctor : [Being rude to Ralph Cornish] "The man's a fool. How can I possibly tell who the message is from until I know what it says? Let me explain this to you in very simple terms!"
Carrington : [To Reegan (about the astronauts)] "Kindly ask one of them to come out."
The Ambassadors are not Martians. Carrington, a survivor of the Mars Six Probe, notes they come from another galaxy and 'were on Mars before we were', accidentally killing astronaut Jim Daniels by touching him (See The Ice Warriors). The aliens thrive on radioactivity, measured at over two million rads.
Carrington is planning to telecast across the globe on a 'worldwide hook up' [something that Our World and Live Aid failed to achieve]. The Brigadier is arrested by a superior for the second time in three stories. There is a different UNIT lab [indicating a different HQ].
There's a first look at UNIT's 'shoot to kill' policy (see The Three Doctors). The Brigadier can hold individuals 'on security charges for a very long time'.
Bessie is fitted with an 'anti-theft device' which sticks the villain to the car. The Doctor is fixing the TARDIS' time vector generator, which sends Liz 10 seconds into the future (see The Wheel in Space). Liz can speak French.
The opening title sequences of this story are unique for two reasons. First, they break off part-way through to make way for a short 'teaser' of the action before resuming to display the story title, writer and episode number captions. Secondly, the story title actually appears in two stages - 'The Ambassadors' first and then 'of Death' below it a few moments later - the latter punctuated by a gunshot noise added to the theme music.
Actor Michael Wisher appears in the role of John Wakefield, a television reporter. Wisher later became best known for playing Davros in the season twelve story Genesis of the Daleks and made numerous other appearances in the series.
There are excellent model sequences of Mars Probe 7, Recovery 7 and the alien spaceship, accompanied by some unusual and highly effective incidental music courtesy of Dudley Simpson.
In episode one, when the video screen retracts, the CSO image stays for several seconds.
When the spacecraft rotates, the image from the cockpit camera rotates with it (it should be fixed on one point).
The UNIT soldier who is killed by touching the same barrier as an alien in episode four, is alive and well and back at work in episode six.
From this story onwards no military personnel ever moves between 'attention' and 'at ease' properly.
'Variant' is spelt 'varient' on location props.
Taltalian's accent is French in the studio and English on location.
Recovery Seven's nose cone changes colour between prop and model shots.
Quinlan's office safe slips about as the alien tries to open the door.
And how does the Doctor manage to get the TARDIS console through the doors?
Liz Shaw wears a Brian Jones style fedora, knee length boots and the shortest skirt in the history of TV (and her tights change colour each week).
The Doctor dons a hideous stripey dressing gown.
Cast & Crew
The Doctor - Jon Pertwee
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - Nicholas Courtney
Liz Shaw - Caroline John
Alien Space Captain - Peter Noel Cook
Alien Voices - Peter Halliday
Astronaut - Steve Peters
Astronaut - Neville Simons
Astronaut - Ric Felgate
Astronaut - Derek Ware
Carrington 1-3 / General Carrington 4-7 - John Abineri
Collinson - Robert Robertson
Control Room Assistant - Bernard Martin
Control Room Assistant - Joanna Ross
Control Room Assistant - Carl Conway
Corporal Champion - James Haswell
Dobson - Juan Moreno
Flynn - Tony Harwood
Grey - Ray Armstrong
Heldorf - Gordon Sterne
John Wakefield - Michael Wisher
Lefee - Steve Peters
Lennox - Cyril Shaps
Masters - John Lord
Michaels - Neville Simons
Miss Rutherford - Cheryl Molineaux1
Private Johnson - Geoffrey Beevers
Private Parker - James Clayton
Quinlan - Dallas Cavell
Ralph Cornish - Ronald Allen
Reegan - William Dysart
Sergeant Benton - John Levene
Taltalian - Robert Cawdron
Technician - Roy Scammell
Unit Sergeant - Derek Ware
Unit Soldier - Max Faulkner
Van Lyden - Ric Felgate
Director - Michael Ferguson
Assistant Floor Manager - Margot Heyhoe
Costumes - Christine Rawlins
Designer - David Myerscough-Jones
Film Cameraman - A A Englander
Film Cameraman - Tony Leggo
Film Editor - Don Goddard
Film Editor - Chris Wimble
Make-Up - Marion Richards
Make-Up - Teresa Wright
Producer - Barry Letts
Production Assistant - Nicholas John
Script Editor - Terrance Dicks
Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson
Studio Lighting - Ralph Walton
Studio Lighting - Geoff Shaw
Studio Lighting - Dave Sydenham
Studio Sound - Gordon Mackie
Studio Sound - Brian Hiles
Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire
Visual Effects - Peter Day
Visual Effects - Ian Scoones
Writer - David Whitaker
Writer - Trevor Rayl
Writer - Malcolm Hulke
Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide
Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion
The Ambassadors of Death, like David Whitaker's previous story The Enemy of the World, is a curious mixture of James Bond-style action and hardware and science-fiction concepts. Its main point is often said to be to illustrate the lengths to which some people are capable of going in their irrational hatred of other races. Strangely, however, this emerges only in General Carrington's xenophobic attitude toward the apparently friendly aliens that he first encountered on Mars. Normally one might expect some additional sub-plots exploring the same theme, but these are absent here. This tends to suggest that Whitaker might actually have had a different message in mind, but if that is so then it is hard to discern what it might have been. Nick Cooper, writing in Star Begotten Issue Two, dated summer 1987, tried to rationalise this:
The unnamed alien race are, without doubt, the "monsters", yet they are certainly not the villains. Reegan is a villain in the literal sense, but he is not to blame for the situation, only for taking advantage of it once it had arrives. And Carrington? All I can say is that of all the Doctor Who "bad guys", none prompted my sympathy more so than he... He is insane and so he cannot really be blamed for his actions - no-one warrants that blame. How's that for a difference? A story in which no one person or group is to blame for all the "evilness"?
The Ambassadors of Death holds a deep message for all of us - we should not fear or hate those who are different from ourselves, because the threat is more likely to come from ourselves...'
There are a number of inconsistencies and plot problems apparent in the story, no doubt due in large part to its problematic development and the involvement of several different writers in its scripting. Such a combination of different styles and ideas generally does a story no good at all, and this is very apparent here. The eclectic nature of the story was highlighted by Lance Parkin in Matrix Issue 52, dated spring 1996: 'The Ambassadors of Death is a peculiar mix of archetypal action-by-HAVOC two-fisted UNIT romp and leisurely [ramble in the style of the] sixth [season] stories that almost appear to be made up as they go along. Most of Episode 5 is taken up with Reegan's attempt to sabotage the Doctor's rocket, an attempt eventually foiled by the Doctor in thirty seconds. That said, the action sequences are lavish and the cliffhangers are among the best in the show's history.'
There is nothing wrong as such with either the direction or the acting, but the aforementioned plot problems result in the story dragging somewhat over its seven episodes. The aliens are deliberately sidelined and, on the single occasion that the viewer does get to see one of their true faces, it is on screen for less than a second. Even the alien Captain is seen only through a louvre blind, making any detail impossible to discern. Quite why this was done is unclear. Perhaps the alien make-up was deemed unsatisfactory, or perhaps, as the story isn't really about the aliens at all, it was felt that there was simply no need to showcase them. Parkin put forward another theory: 'Keeping the aliens at a distance really makes them, well, alien. Glimpsed behind slats, or in a moment after Liz removes one of their helmets, [they remain largely a mystery]. Their voices are strange, disembodied, their vast spacecraft mixes the mundane (a recreated quarantine area to keep the astronauts in) [with] a surreal CSO landscape. We hear that they have "invaded our galaxy" and that "they were on Mars before us," but only from Carrington, and we don't know whether they are really Martians or not. We know they need radiation... to live, but not why (or how). Although some fans have expressed dissatisfaction with this obscurity, it's a deliberate device that only adds to the mystery, suspense and paranoia - it's a trick that The X-Files uses on a weekly basis nowadays, over twenty years later.'
This story shows what the remainder of the third Doctor's era could have held in store. Impressive military hardware, soldiers running about with guns, and barely glimpsed or present aliens to provide the science-fiction backdrop. It is perhaps just as well that this did not, in the event, become the norm. Some, however, have celebrated The Ambassadors of Death for its relatively adult content and realisation. 'From scene one we were plunged into a tale far deeper and more complex than perhaps any that had preceded it,' wrote Simon M Lydiard in Skaro Volume Three Number Three, dated February/March 1983. 'Doctor Who had at last reached full maturity, a quality which, along with Jon Pertwee's surprising acting talents, would take the series' ratings, popularity and reputation to new heights.