Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death
(7 episodes, s07e12-e18, 1970)
I spent a good part of this serial trying to figure out if the aliens were the Ice Warriors again.
A recovery capsule attempts to rendezvous with a Mars capsule that has lost contact with Earth and the whole world knows because, a concept completely (and sadly) foreign to us today, the mission is being televised. Over that broadcast, the Doctor (who has somehow removed the TARDIS control console from the blue box and is playing some crazy plot-filler shenanigans with Liz Shaw and micro-trips to the future) hears a sound that he recognizes. He and Liz make haste to the mission control center to figure it out.
Mars: Check. Time Lord familiarity: Check. It could be the Ice Warriors…
The Doctor determines that this sound is an encrypted transmission, and the slightly different version that pings back is a reply message. It’s certainly not a deep conversation; if this were a texting relationship, it would be like “hey” followed by “what up (smiley emoticon)”. There are a couple of investigations around the source of the reply and the freshly landed recovery capsule and gun fights break out. Meanwhile, General Carrington, the head of the Space Security Department, pulls a Homeland Security Department move and extracts the astronauts before UNIT arrives. He has removed the astronauts because of radiation exposure, but the astronauts now feed on it. They also emit it like a virus, which could potentially spread like a plague. The astronauts are not the humans, but rather legitimate aliens, and a criminal named Reegan and a disgraced Cambridge professor named Lennox are tending to them. The aliens don’t have enough radiation to consume and are weakening.
So, not the Ice Warriors, but instead an attempt at domestic terrorism on a large scale by way of a government cover-up, right?
By way of a convenient communications device, the antagonists send the aliens on a raid of the space center. It fails, and the Doctor goes into space to investigate astronauts he believes are still in orbit. He dodges an assassination attempt, docks with the capsule, gets intercepted by an incoming alien saucer, and learns that the aliens on Earth are ambassadors to fulfill a peace treaty with humanity.
Not a domestic terror plot. I didn’t see that twist coming.
In a far too quick resolution for an already thinly stretched plot, it turns out that Carrington met the aliens when he piloted the previous Mars probe, and he signed the peace treaty to lure them to Earth and stop what he interpreted as an invasion. The Doctor takes the ambassadors to space center to stop the general’s plan and exchange the aliens for the missing astronauts. The day is saved. The end.
Can I have the Ice Warriors instead? Please?
No, really. I felt like this story was just all over the place and had no idea where it really wanted to go. Seven episodes is just far too long for that kind of song and dance. There were some fun moments with the Doctor being all scientific again, but there were also some real groaners in here. For one, the strange titles – Main titles, teaser footage, return to the titles for “The Ambassadors… OF DEATH!” with some really bad sound editing – were annoying. For two, the “transmigration” of an object? Ugh. Far too magical despite the Doctor’s magician outfit. For three, the convenience of magic side panels on the escape van. I love my Bond moments, and I get the license plates spinning to conceal the car, but the side panels should have been a more realistic change.
Speaking of Bond, what good is an “anti-thief” device on Bessie if it’s clearly labeled, required to be switched on to immobilize the thieves, and frees the perpetrators after a short time? A thief could just steal the car and not touch the switch. Achievement unlocked: Grand Theft Bessie – +30G.
Finally, the episodes shift in and out of black and white because of more missing master tapes. I don’t hold it against the episode since I survived the first six seasons of the show, but it seems that the BBC certainly has a hard time learning from their mistakes. Especially after what comes across as a significant investment in the show’s future with color, higher production values, and so on.
But, yeah, just like the plot, my attention for this one was touch and go. At the end, I was just happy to see it go.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Inferno
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.
4 thoughts on “Timestamp #53: The Ambassadors of Death”
Yeah, like you, I think that this is the weak point of season 7, although I also know people who think it’s wonderful. The idea is a good one, but I feel like its execution was poor.
As for the episode issue, the BBC didn’t actually wipe anything until the late 70’s, so at this point they hadn’t learned from their mistakes because they hadn’t made them yet. It was just that storage become a problem in the late 70’s and it was expensive to keep the masters in the environmentally controlled rooms that they kept them in and since they figured that after two years no one would care about old episodes anyway they decided to go through and junk selected stuff of non-historical importance from Hartnell to Pertwee. It’s actually interesting to note that since the 70’s is when Doctor Who started being shown in America, that the US is actually the reason why a lot of color Pertwee was saved.
If you follow the dialog exactly, they never say that the aliens originate on Mars, just that they were there and Carrington encountered them. I don’t know if they were actually paying attention to continuity there or if it’s just a happy accident, but that allows us to at least assume that the aliens were just visiting Mars for some other reason and that’s when they encountered the humans.
The next one ties as my favorite Pertwee story, so I’ll be interested to read your assessment.
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