The British space program (under
the leadership of Ralph Cornish) sends the Recovery Seven space capsule into space to retrieve the astronauts of Mars Probe
Seven (they haven’t had any contact with Mars Probe 7 for eight months).
The pilot of Recovery Seven, Van Lyden, docks with Mars Probe 7 moments before mission control and the Doctor (Jon
Pertwee) hear a strange alien signal, and contact is lost with Van Lyden. The
Doctor and Liz Shaw (Caroline John) are off to the thick of things because the Doctor is convinced he heard the signal somewhere. Brigadier UNIT tracks down the origin of the reply signal and they get in a gun fight
with soldiers lead by General Carrington at a warehouse. The race is on to recover
the astronauts, who came down in Recovery Seven, but the capsule is hijacked and the Doctor manages to get it back. When they open the capsule, they find the astronauts are gone and the inside of Recovery Seven is radioactive.
Soon the Doctor discovers aliens have been
brought down instead of the astronauts as he races to discover where the astronauts are and prevent a war between Earth and
the aliens. He has to contend with Carrington’s men who want to sabotage
the Doctor’s attempts to rescue the astronauts and they kidnap Liz Shaw too.
THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH is one of
my favorite stories of DOCTOR WHO and the third Doctor era (and it also comes from one of the solid seasons of DOCTOR WHO-
season seven of the original series in 1970). The story is primarily Malcolm
Hulke (with rewrites by Terrance Dicks) with the first two episodes written by David Whitaker (who got screen credit for all
seven episodes) who was rewritten by Trevor Ray after the quality of the episodes proved to be unsatisfactory. It is no wonder I love THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH so much- it shares so much with other stories
written by him like THE SILURIANS (which he finished early and Terrance Dicks hired him to write episodes three through seven
to save Ambassadors) and FRONTIER IN SPACE. You have the common Malcolm Hulke
elements of a high ranking military man wanting to destroy the aliens and the Doctor wanting to stop war between humans and
aliens (or another species as in the case of THE SILURIANS). Then you have
the military man having delusions of wanting to stop them for perceived wrongs (basically revenge).
The seven episodes serial has very high
production values for a DOCTOR WHO story of the time due to two factors of having so many episodes they could stretch the
budget to spend on the primary sets and director Michael Ferguson going all out on the main action sequences in the first
two episodes. Also THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH was very topical at the time
the series originally aired as the United States was sending men to the moon (and the story begins with a rescue mission of a manned mission returning from Mars) and the Apollo 13 crisis happening when the first
few episodes aired. The aliens in the spacesuits look very effective as you can’t
see their faces behind the face plates (due to the problem of the helmet visors fogging up for the actors as they breathed). It is a very effective story with excellent direction from Ferguson and a music
score by Dudley Moore who wrote some of the most iconic music for various DOCTOR WHO serials in the 1970s (during the Third
and Fourth Doctor ears).
I first saw it in the 1990s when it aired
on the PBS station from Spokane,
Washington and the series only existed in black and white even though the serial was filmed
in color. I even got hold of the color versions of the episodes which had a variety
of artifacts during various episodes except episode one (which still exists in its original color format) and episode five
(which was restored using a recolorisation technique of overlaying an off air color signal over the black and white versions
the BBC still had in their hands). The restoration of the series to full
color is a combination of various methods from using the original material still in existence, overlaying the color signal
from an off recording of the show back in the 1970s in the USA, and recovering the color signal from the black and white prints
using the revolutionary Color Recovery Process (which is possible due to the way the black and white prints were converted
from the original color tapes back in the 1970s).
Audio commentary with Caroline John, Nicholas
Courtney, Peter Halliday, and Geoffrey Beevers, director Michael Ferguson, script editor Terrance Dicks, stunt coordinator
Derek Ware and stunt performers Roy Scammell and Derek Martin, moderated by Toby Hadoke. This
audio commentary was recorded some time ago since it features Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney passed away. This track is one you want to listen to if you want t hear the thoughts of the actors on the story
(since the making-of doesn’t feature much interview material from the actors of the story).
Production Notes subtitle track provides
various details about the production, the development of the scripts, and other facts like the viewing figures and the credits
of the various cast and crew.
MARS PROBE 7: MAKING THE AMBASSADORS OF
DEATH- this making-of documentary focuses on the writing of the story and the stunts.
Sadly, it doesn’t cover anything about restoring it to full color and how the episodes existed in black and white
or partial color.
TOMORROW’S TIMES: THE THIRD DOCTOR-
Doctor Who in the news as articles and reviews talk about the Third Doctor era and stories during the first half of the 1970s.
Trailer for THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH
Photo gallery slide show features production
photos, publicity stills, and behind-the-scenes photos set to the music and sound effects from the story
PDF materials for Radio Times listings
(viewable via DVD-ROM)
Preview trailer for CLAWS OF AXOS: SPECIAL
FINAL ANALYSIS: THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH stands out as one of the best DOCTOR WHO stories ever and it holds up for a story
that was made 42 years ago. The extras are solid, but they aren’t
as plentiful as other DOCTOR WHO releases from the classic series range.
This DVD review is (c)10-19-2012 David Blackwell and cannot be reprinted without permission. Send all comments to email@example.com