Doctor Who: Story Number 053 – The Ambassadors of Death, Part One

Written by David Whitaker; Directed by Michael Ferguson

Source: Copyright 1970 by BBC.

From the Doctor Who Reference Guide: When all communication is lost from Mars Probe 7 shortly after it leaves Mars and begins its trip back to Earth, a second craft is launched to investigate. As Recovery 7 docks in space, it too loses all communication…

The Doctor and UNIT are given the task of investigating the mystery as Recovery 7 returns to Earth. It appears that no one can be trusted as the space capsule is hijacked from its UNIT convoy with military precision. What has happened to the missing astronauts? Could this be a secret invasion from Mars, or is the enemy much closer to home?

Another seven part story. Well, the last one cracked along well enough.

The first thing that stands out is that David Whitaker wrote this story. Well, sort of. It seems the story was heavily rewritten. So, despite Whitaker being one of my favorite Doctor Who writers, it seems I shouldn’t get my hopes up for this one. Even Whitaker is said to not have liked the end result.

The second thing that stands out is a certain unevenness in the first episode. We start with a slow, suspenseful build-up around the Mars Probe 7 and end with a shoot-out in a warehouse. I think part of my problem with this episode is the first half, which alternates between Probe 7 and mission control. I have found that I rarely enjoy stories that involve large amounts of mission control action. I think I was tainted by an X-Files episode in the first season. It was called Space, and it involved an ex-astronaut who was being haunted by some sort of ethereal alien which was causing said astronaut to sabotage a current mission. We had lots of footage of extras huddled around control panels and monitors as they listened to transmissions of the space shuttle. We had lots of footage of worried faces, but little action. Much like scientific experimentation, I’m not sure that mission control scenes lend themselves to compelling drama.

Or maybe The X-Files  just did a pathetic job with it. There was a bit of mission control stuff in The Tenth Planet, and I recall liking that well enough. However, that story had the Cybermen in it. Maybe that is what was missing here.

Six more episodes to go. I shall try to remain optimistic.

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