The Ambassadors of Death

Written by David Whitaker, Trevor Ray, Terrance Dicks, and Malcolm Hulke

Directed by Michael Ferguson

Yeah, so today it was announced that this man will be playing the 12th Doctor. I for one cannot fucking wait. Now all they have to do is cast Ian McShane as The Master and we can look forward to the all time greatest swear-off of all time.

Enough of the far future though, right now, as far as we’re concerned, it’s 1970 and the story Who is currently on is The Ambassadors of death. I will admit though that I’m a total sucker for space travel stuff, I nearly had a nerdgasm the other day when the ever excellent Chris Hadfield posted this graph, so maybe not everyone will be quite as excited as I am when it comes to discussions about fuel variants and G force, but for those that do, this story has that in abundance. Don’t worry though, Ambassadors has arguably the greatest action sequences of any classic Who story. From shootouts to helicopter madness, the rather lengthy seven episode length is constantly punctuated by high octane action awesomeness. I just feel sorry for producer Barry Letts, who probably was the one who had to justify the resulting colossal overspend to some dickhead executive in a suit who didn’t realize that people would still be watching the show over forty years later.

If I were to have any complaints about Ambassadors it would be that at some points it does seem to meander somewhat. Part of the rambling nature of Ambassadors is probably down to the huge number of writers on it. The story is credited to probably my favorite early Who writer, David Whitaker, but after struggling with a number of drafts Whitaker was eventually paid off in full by script editor Terrance Dicks who took over himself, along with his friend Mac Hulke and Trevor Ray.  This crowded writer’s room could well account for the lack of direction at some points. What’s more to blame, I suspect, though, is the seven episode running length. Thankfully though the combination of great writing, great acting, and some of the finest action sequences in the show’s history, along with some unusually sinister atmosphere, combine to make Ambassadors a rather good story.

Worth mentioning as well is the superb work done by the restoration team. When I first saw this story some years ago it had not been restored. Several of the episodes existed in balck and white, and a good number of the reels had been badly damaged, at times degenerating to the point that it was not possible to make anything out at all. Indeed, I was not at all surprised when 2 entertain announced that the DVD release was being delayed for the foreseeable future. But watching it now you’d never know that there had ever been a problem. The chances are, in fact, that it looks better now than it did when it was originally broadcast.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to talk about the music in Who. Throughout the ‘60s and early ‘70s the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop was a movement in electronic music all in its own right, every bit as important the one Stockhausen was heading up in Deutschland. As a bit of a fan of Elektronische Musik and other form of early signal noodling I have heaps of old Radiophonic Workshop anthologies kicking around at home (many of which were compiled by the wonderfully multi talented Mark Ayres). I never really made the point of mentioning it during my favorite period of the Workshop’s output, which was probably around ‘67-’68, but the excellent score By Dudley Simpson, maybe my favorite non-Workshop Who soundtrack, reminded me that I probably should mention them at some point.

As with many Whos, particularly the Mac Hulk ones, it turns out that the bad guys are not the creepy lookin’ aliens, but misguided humans. The Doctor seems to know this right from the start though, so it was never really in doubt. It all work out well in the end though.
So thus far the earthbound third Doctor has seen off a bunch of aliens and a few mad scientists to boot. What next then? How about a bunch of people trying to dig a big hole. And some parallel universe Nazis. And neandertals. Fuck yeah.

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