Review: Doctor Who - The Ambassadors of Death / Cert: PG / Director: Michael Ferguson / Screenplay: David Whitaker / Starring: Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney / Release Date: October 1st
Stranded on Earth by his fellow Time Lords, Jon Pertwee's Doctor spent a good chunk of his four-year stint working as a scientific advisor to UNIT (although what that organization really needed was a fitness trainer, to judge by the porky waistlines of the Brigadier and his men). In this seven part serial, a mission to recover a Mars probe results in three mislaid astronauts and some ear-splitting coded messages from outer space. Luckily, the Doctor and the Brigadier are on hand at the shiny Space Control HQ to puzzle over what it can all possibly mean.
The Doctor twiddles his lower lip in extreme perturbation as one riddle is swiftly followed by another. The recovery capsule finally touches down (somewhere in Wales, I think), but when it's opened up, there's no one inside. Where are the astronauts? Someone's taken them, but who? That's if it was the astronauts inside the capsule. What if it contained… aliens?
Eventually the Doctor swaps his velvet smoking jacket for a spacesuit and blasts off towards Mars (in a conventional rocket, not the TARDIS) to get some answers. First, though, there must perforce be a great deal of sober technical chat. (“We'll have to use a mixture of standard fuel and the new M3 variant.” “Has that ever been done before?”) Meanwhile, the Brigadier's men go into action, tumbling helplessly about the assorted factories, gravel pits, quarries, gasworks and aerodromes which make up the bulk of the locations.
It's all quite gritty, but then again it's not really. The story is actually rather good, a reasonably sophisticated mix of high echelon conspiracy, fraught first contact and creature shock. The trouble is, too many of the individual twists and turns depend upon UNIT's proven inability to protect installations from even the most half-arsed of attacks. And it's hard not to feel that, minus the TARDIS and stripped of his knowledge of time travel, the Doctor is little more than Quatermass in a frilly shirt.
On the plus side, the script has a nice vein of sardonic wit, and there's a toughness to some of the supporting performances, especially from William Dysart as the head goon and Cyril Shaps as Lennox, a disgraced scientist. And let's not forget Liz Shaw (Johns), one of the most accomplished of the Doctor's companions. A Cambridge boffin, she also looks hot in a mini-skirt, has a mean right hook and gets involved in an exciting car chase behind the wheel of the Doctor's vintage yellow roadster. When captured and forced to work with Lennox for the enemy, she's quick to come up with an escape plan: “Tell him the isotopes are running out and you have to go and get some more.” What a woman.
* Commentary with Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Peter Halliday and Geoffrey Beevers, director Michael Ferguson, script editor Terrance Dicks, stunt co-ordinator Derek Ware and stunt performers Roy Scammell and Derek Martin. Moderated by Toby Hadoke.
* Mars Probe 7: Making the Ambassadors of Death – With Michael Ferguson, Terrance Dicks, Derek Ware, Roy Scammell and assistant floor manager Margot Hayhoe. Narrated by Carl Kennedy.
* Tomorrow’s Times: The Third Doctor – ongoing series looking at the press coverage of Doctor Who reaches the Jon Pertwee era. Presented by Peter Purves.
* Photo gallery – production, design and publicity photos from the story.
* Radio Times listings.