Monday, 24 March 2014

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Ambassadors of Death
An iconic cliffhanger. From Wikimedia
Doctor Who - Season 7, Story Three - The Ambassadors of Death
Written 1/9/13

Doctor Who is known to borrow entire plots and premises from other works, then executing them in such a way that despite the remnant elements of the original, it stands out firmly as its own piece of work. This is true in the later years of the Classic Series and it is clear in the earlier ones, even though to modern viewers the premise of this story may be unique in and of itself. Despite this, The Ambassadors of Death is similar in quality to its Season Seven bedfellows, mixing well-executed high-concept science fiction with Doctor Who's trademark messages, reflecting not only Humanity's avarice but also its capacity for compassion when all the facts are available.
     A space probe has launched off from Mars after having lost radio contact for some time. When the recovery capsule returns, a mysterious group of people go out of their way to hide the occupants, who are alien beings hidden in the astronauts' spacesuits and who are forced to kill and steal for their human masters. The Doctor, immediately suspicious, tries to help find them, fighting along the way the continued efforts of those who have kidnapped the aliens. Eventually he takes the recovery capsule up to the ship, and discovers that the three aliens are the races' ambassadors, and that they are willing to trade the original astronauts for their people. The Doctor gets back to Earth in time to help the Ambassadors free themselves and to save the astronauts and Earth.
     The serial takes its premise from The Quatermass Experiment, a popular British science-fiction serial from 1956 in which astronauts return from a mission only to have been possessed by alien spores. The antagonist of the story (spoiler alert, even if this story is from 1970), General Carrington, seems to be a representative of that story's themes, in which the aliens are hostile for the sole reason that they are different and the protagonist is forced to destroy them before they invade earth. Ambassadors displays this as a sort of mania, instead showing us that in this case, the aliens are perfectly peaceful and that it is man's manipulation of them that has led them to their actions. It's a statement against prejudice, a statement about what good mankind can do to each other.
The aliens' culture is not important here - it is their sheer
alienness which drives the story's themes. From Wikia
     Unlike the season's other seven parters, which wouldn't hurt to shed and episode or two, The Ambassadors of Death earns its runtime and uses it to build us a sense of mystery and intrigue. The continual and seemingly omnipresent machinations of the organisation working against The Doctor and UNIT provide some interesting scenes, as well as a series of well-done battle scenes throughout the story that really don't pull their punches. Like The Invasion last season, there's a sense of the epic and the idea that there are going to be world-wide consequences to what happens here, which is something that the similarly epic The Silurians and Inferno never quite manage to do.
    As is custom on this blog, I've gone about this season in entirely the wrong order, but I'm glad that for now I've been able to appreciate what an astounding season this really is. The other serials in Season Seven had a style that took a while for me to get used to, but The Ambassadors of Death is by far my favourite for the sole reason that it's compelling and comprehensive from the outset, with very little padding at all. It takes a well-loved sci-fi idea and then executes it in a way which spins the message 180 degrees, turning it into a message of peaceful resolution of conflict that sums up in everything it does the messages that Doctor Who is known for, and the spirit that it pioneered so brilliantly in this fantastic season.


NEXT WEEK: Having done all of the other stories in Season 7, I move onto the next season, with the rise of The Master in Terror of the Autons.

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