Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors... OF DEATH!

Part One

"My dear fellow, I simply don't happen to have a pass."


"Because I don't believe in them, that's why."

Interesting device with the story titles, and as we'll see a very successful way of extracting maximum drama from the cliffhanger resolutions. An intriguing start, too- a British Houston during a British space mission. Possibly the most fantastical concept to appear in Doctor Who so far.

This is very promising- David Whitaker's back (yes, I'm aware of the behind-the-scenes script chaos, but still..)and Michael Wisher makes his first appearance. The first episode is very Apollo 13- how very 1970! The establishing scenes with the Doctor and Liz are nice, too, if a little out of keeping with the general serious tone. It's nice to see the TARDIS console again, though (in colour!) and also nice to have the ending of the previous story referenced- it's not overdone but, importantly, establishes the Doctor's lasting outrage.

The link-up of the capsules to music is very 1968- this story is very much of the Space Age. Great modelwork, incidentally.

Pertwee continues to be magnificent as the Doctor- there's some magnificent rudeness directed against Cornish. But, significantly, the Doctor is not (so far!) unlikeable, partly because he's right and partly because of his obvious frustration at his exile.

It's a bit of a coincidence that the warehouse from which the reply to the alien signal is being sent is only seven miles away. But we get the debut appearance for John Abineri, and a strangely gritty and realistic gunfight which is both very cool and seemingly from another genre entirely. This is something new for Doctor Who, with the sci-fi elements being left in the background and the human reaction being strongly foregrounded.

Part Two

"How many beans make five?"

I love the (clearly magical) sleight of hand by which the Doctor confounds Taltalian. There's an interesting technological footnote too- an "analogue-digital converter" sounds very modern for 1970! There's a bit of a throwback to Troughton, though: the Doctor says of computers that he "never did trust those stupid things"!

All this focus on the capsule returning is all a bit Quatermass Experiment. now, I've not read the rest of the thread so I'm going to guess- am I the, er, seventh person to mention this?

There's a very expensive-looking fight scene around the just-landed Recovery 7, no less impressive for the shift into monochrome. We get another shift in tone shortly though- Bessie's "anti-theft device" is very Batman!

Ah, computer paper. Brings back memories of my '80s primary school days, that does...

Some more top drawer Pertwee rudeness towards Sir James Quinlan towards the end. I'm loving this so far!

Part Three

"I don't know what came down in Recovery 7. But it certainly wasn't human."

More great stuff here. It's great to see Cyril Shaps again. And General Carrington is most interesting- Columbo-style we've known he's behind it all from the start but we don't know how or why. Plus Liz continues to be great, in her choice of hats as well as her general fabness. I love the car chase, and that's a very well edited cliffhanger.

Part Four

"If that rocket goes up, it means disaster for the entire world"

The bit where Liz flags down a car and it turns out to be Taltalian is an obvious example of whole sequences which are obviously just filler to pad out the time- a real criticism. But although it's often blatant it doesn't annoy me as much as it did in the previous story. I'm not sure why not.

So the Doctor's going to pilot the rocket- or "primitive contraption", as he call it with delightful rudeness. This harks back to The Seeds of Death, of course, and is one of the signs that this season is closer to its predecessor than often assumed. It'll take a while though, as the Brig has to get some parts in from Japan. That'll help to fill in a bit of screen time then.

Another great cliffhanger here, well edited again. Cliffhangers have never been better handled than in this story, and the title sequence has a lot to do with it.

Part Five

""Stop the countdown!"

Colour again! And also the return of Sergeant Benton for the first time since The Invasion. More good stuff here- Lennox's death scene is great, as is every scene with Liz, who gets the best line of the episode as she's being threatened: "It's all right, I won't hurt you."

Another scene in which a rocket leaving orbit too quickly will automatically plunge into the Sun. The tone may be very different, but this story has an alarming number of parallels with The Seeds of Death!

Part Six

"Your Doctor friend's as dead as a doornail."

I couldn't resist using that quote as I remember Terrance Dicks using it as a chapter title in his novelisation of this story. Anyway...

Finally the Doctor gets some answers from the aliens and we begin to understand what's going on- ie exactly what we suspected. Crikey, this story really is very slow indeed! Still, for some reason I don't seem to mind. Oh, and we also get a bit of bad CSO to simulate the weightlessness.

I love the way the Doctor maintains radio silence until he's landed out of pure ego. Oh, and of course to further stretch things out to seven episodes, of course.

We get our one and only glimpse of an alien face, in an oddly underplayed moment. The aliens are much more menacing under those blank visors, moving slowly, with that music heralding their zombie-like advance.

Strangely late on, Carrington says "It's our moral duty" for the first time. It's certainly not the first time a cliffhanger has revolved around someone pulling a gun, though!

Part Seven

"I had to do what I did. It was my moral duty."

Mere moments after he was about to shoot the Doctor, Carrington explains his plans to him. Interestingly, he genuinely craves the approval of this man he was just trying to kill. Realising he's insane, the Doctor "understands". This is very good writing, and foreshadows the end of the episode.

I appreciate the way the brigadier is shown as both capable and heroic here, arguably saving the day. It makes a nice and necessary contrast from his role in the previous story.

Overall, I loved this. I can't in good conscience give it a 5/5 after the way I criticised Doctor Who and the Silurians for being over-long, as there were some obvious and very cheeky bits of filler. But I loved this. It's not necessarily something I'd like to see repeated, but I appreciated the foregrounding of the non-sci-fi elements for once. A reluctant 4/5, with the feeling that perhaps I'm being a bit stingy.

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