Doctor Who
The Ambassadors of Death

Starring: Jon Pertwee
BBC Video
RRP 12.99
BBCV 7265
Certificate: U
Available now

Contact is lost with the British space capsule Mars Probe Seven and with the recovery capsule sent to rescue it. When three astronauts are finally brought down to Earth, their touch proves fatal, and they are swiftly kidnapped and put to deadly use. The Doctor suspects that the astronauts are not human at all...

This seven-part tale is a real mixed bag, in more ways than one.

Most obviously, due to the lack of available colour recordings of certain portions of this story, the video alternates between colour and black and white footage. Episode 1, the only instalment known to exist in its original 625-line format, is in vivid colour. Episodes 2, 3, 6 and 7 are a combination of monochrome telecine and colour-converted telecine material incorporating colour information from American off-air recordings. The fourth episode is entirely black and white, while the fifth is completely colour-converted.

The BBC's Restoration Team have done their best to give us the best quality viewing possible. They have also applied their VidFIRE process to restore smoother "video-like" motion to the telecine film prints. There's an impressive demonstration at the end of the tape of the efforts that have been made.

The Ambassadors of Death is also a bit of a patchwork quilt from a script-writing point of view. Although David Whitaker is credited on screen as the writer, it was Malcolm Hulke who put a final polish on the scripts and practically finished off the serial when Whitaker ran into difficulties. As a result, we end up with a few minor plot inconsistencies. Why, for instance, does General Carrington (John Abineri) need the Doctor to build him a two-way translator, when the General was provided with plans for such a device by the aliens in an earlier episode? He chose to issue his lackey Reegan (William Dysart) with only a one-way device. I suppose it's possible that Carrington's staff were unable to perfect a two-way translator by themselves, but this point could have been made clearer.

There's also a certain inconsistency of tone. In conflict with the trademark grittier edge of the seventh season, Whitaker gives the Doctor an inexplicable ability to make large tape spools vanish into thin air. Bessie's anti-theft device is only slightly less silly. Fortunately, such factors are more than balanced out by the tense atmosphere of the mission control room scenes, which are given an added sense of realism by the presence of TV reporter John Wakefield (Michael Wisher) who addresses the camera as though bringing us a genuine news report.

This serial may be over-long, but it's full of intriguing twists and turns. As in the preceding story, Doctor Who and the Silurians, Hulke ensures that the aliens do not fall into the typical definition of "monster", and he blurs the usually comfortable distinction between good and evil.

The gimmick (sadly only ever used during this adventure) of dramatically cueing in the story title, writer and episode number with the cliffhanger "sting" is also extremely cool.

At 12.99 for seven episodes, this tape is a bargain. Ambassadors, you are spoiling us!

Richard McGinlay


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