Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death Part 7, Wrap-Up

Source: Amazon.com. Copyright 1970 by BBC.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Having written about the six preceding episodes, I don’t feel I have much to add. The story was an interesting—and to me, uneven—mix of action, spy-fi, and intrigue. It didn’t feel as tight as The Silurians, despite sharing an author; to be fair, however, Malcolm Hulke was brought in partway through. I think the shift between three writers is probably the biggest problem with this story. As no one writer had complete control in shaping the vision of the story, it was a collision of styles and voices.

That said, the underlying story is good. I wouldn’t mind more stories in Doctor Who that attempt to do what this one and The Silurians did.

Highlights:

  • Malcolm Hulke proved with The Silurians he has a strong grasp of character, and that strength is still in play here. The leads interact well. Professor Cornish is a strong leader, concerned for his astronauts above all else; General Carrington is wonderfully portrayed as a man with strong beliefs acting out of a genuine, yet flawed, concern for the planet. Even Reegan is a fascinating, fully fleshed-out thug. He could have easily been a cliché, but he has his own motives for the aliens. The characters really help this story along when it loses its pace.
  • As mentioned before, the story itself is good. I look forward to seeing how it was novelized and whether it was tightened up any in book form.

Lowlights:

  • Once more, the pace was uneven. There were some good action scenes and side-by-side with some rather dull mission control sequences. Perhaps this story, if it had a little more lead time (something that I’m sure was virtually impossible) and could have gone through another draft, probably would have ironed out some of the kinks.

Final Verdict: While I would say that The Ambassadors of Death is, for me, the weakest of the season seven stories, I wish to emphasize that I feel, in no way, that this is a bad story. So far, with only one story left (which I shall be writing about as a whole rather than episodically), season seven has been a successful revitalization of Doctor Who.

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3 thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death Part 7, Wrap-Up

  1. Final verdict: You’ve missed the key point. This serial was one of the strongest ever broadcast in Dr Who, which gripped viewers in the spring of 1970. The so-called dull control room sequences were, for us, the most gripping parts of the serial.

    As this serial was being broadcast, British tv viewers were following an uncannily similar set of mission control sequences, as NASA controllers in America sought to save the lives of three Apollo astronaunts, trapped in the wrecked Apollo 13 in space. By an amazing co-incidence, the real life events of the Apollo mission took place right in the middle of this serial.

    You can imagine how strongly we, as children, related to events in Doctor Who, with a serial that was in many ways paralleling the Apollo mission, with space capsules, mission launches, and even a rescue launch in this serial.

    Perhaps we’d have looked on the serial differently, but for the real events surrounding it; but because of the way things worked out, it rather burnt ‘Ambassadors of Death’ into our memories.

    1. I didn’t even think about the Apollo 13 timing with the story. Truth be told, having not really lived through the space race, the impact that this story would have had is slightly lost on me. There are times when I wish I could have seen ‘Doctor Who’ in its historical context because I think certain stories–this one in particular–would have a greater impact on me. I’m hoping that “Ambassadors of Death” holds up better for me in the re-watch. I can’t wait for the DVD.

      1. Watching ‘Dr Who’ in 1970 was a somewhat mixed blessing. Although BBC tv had gone over to colour in December 1969, very few people were able to afford a colour television set as early as January 1970.

        So although ‘Dr Who’ was now being made in colour, most tv viewers were still seeing it in black and white, just as in the Hartnell and Troughton years.

        It was years before I saw any of those episodes again, by which time many only existed in the BBC’s Archives in b/w. Only quite recently did the BBC recover colour recordings of the serials from 1970-71.

        ‘Ambassadors of Death’ is still only partly in colour, on the latest BBC VHS video release. This is a bit schitzophrenic, but it gives some insight into the realities of 1970, as some fans of the show today have memories of ‘Ambassadors’ as a b/w serial while others remember it as a colour serial.

        As someone who saw it in b/w, I didn’t really miss the colour when I saw it again in later years.

        If you’d seen it in 1970, probably you’d have seen it in b/w. Most people didn’t have a colour tv at that stage. When you saw ‘The Silurians’ in colour, you were not seeing it as it actually was. When you’re seeing some episodes of ‘Ambassadors’ in b/w, you’re seeing what 90 per cent of viewers actually saw at the time.

        Watching any colour episodes from that period is a bonus, and an interesting experience; but do bear in mind that colour was an optional extra, not a part of the normal viewing experience.

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