I have a confession. I have never seen this story, even when it was released on video. I’ve read the Target novelisation and read all about it in Doctor Who magazine but this is the only old story that is brand new to me. Now as part of the purge of the BBC archives, Ambassadors of Death was actually incomplete until a black and white version of a missing episode turned up from overseas. The guys at 2Entertain have wonderfully restored it in to a colourised version to fit in with the rest of the story.
Now this story is quite special on several levels. Fr one it includes the commentary by the late Caroline and Nicholas Courtney who played Liz Shaw and the Brigadier respectively. Caroline passed just a couple of months ago so to hear her pulls at your heart strings.
At this point in the progamme’s history, nothing was certain. The entire future lay on the shoulders of Jon Pertwee and Caroline John. The series was on the verge of cancellation so if this new team didn’t work then that was it, end of the show. The Unit setting along with the Doctor’s exile to Earth was done to be like the Avengers, Steed and Mrs Peel, not Iron Man and Hulk. And this is very much in evidence.
Caroline was famously let go because the character of Liz Shaw was a scientist, equal to the Doctor but here she is very much the Avengers girl laced with scientific properties. This is a much grittier story than usual for Who, falling more into the Avengers style. It’s action packed with battles involving helicopters and rockets and space modules on the back of a lorry.
As usual the Havoc stunt team pulls out all the stps to get the viewers hearts racing. A space mission is in trouble and the British Space Agency manages to get them home safely. However, there is a strange screech which alerts the Doctor to an alien presence and when the capsule is opened it s empty. The Doctor and co find themselves in a massive conspiracy where the bad guys have no problem shooting you dead and that’s what sets this apart from most other Whos. The thugs are human and there is a gangland feel to the story especially where Liz is almost murdered by drowning and the Doctor is almost blown up by a bomb in a suitcase.
Turns out the astronauts have been replaced by three alien ambassadors and the human conspirators who have members in the highest positions of government intend to use them to further their own gains. Long before the tenth Doctor and River faced skeletons in spacesuits in the Library, here the ambassadors who need radiation to survive spend most of the time in spacesuits with blacked out visors so you never see their faces until late into the story. This makes them very creepy especially in the shots where they walk towards the camera, silhouetted by the sun.
In fact there’s almost a Quatermass element to this story and it may be long but it flows well. This is a time where the future rested on the Doctor and Liz’s shoulders and by the end of this story and this season, both of them had more than assured it.
3 out of 5 nerds