Doctor Who: Ambassadors of Death
Directors - Michael Ferguson
Cast - Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney
Country of Origin - U.K.
Distributor - BBC Worldwide
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Serial (3.5/5)
And now for one of the ones we have been waiting for, the Jon Pertwee Series 7 serial The Ambassadors of Death. This is one of those Jon Pertwee serials that the BBC purged all color copies of during the BBC Purge of the early 70's, and colorization of the serial has been a high priority request of Who fans since the advent of home video in the 80's. Well, Ambassadors of Death has now made it's way to DVD, and it is in color due to the efforts of those wonderful folks at the Doctor Who Restoration Team, so how does the Serial itself fair?
Jon Pertwee's tenure at the Third Doctor had many characteristics, an Earthbound Doctor working alongside the military group UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), more frequent uses of the Master as a villain than any other era, and longer serials man totaling 6 or 7 parts. The Ambassadors of Death is a 7 part Serial in a Season primarily made up of 7 part serials (the only exception is the 4 part Spearhead from Space). Unfortunately, for Ambassadors of Death it does fall prey to it's running time, and feels quite a few episodes 2 long for the story it is trying to tell.
Ambassadors of Death opens on a bit of chaos in space lab that they have been assigned to provide security to. This is the night that a spaceship Recovery 7 will make contact with Mars Probe 7, a space vessel that 9 months prior lost contact with Earth. The first astronaut to make contact with Mars Probe 7 unveils a startling piercing noise, before Recovery 7 also loses contact with the Earth. The Doctor becomes concerned upon hearing that noise, and with companion Liz Shaw goes down to the base to investigate.
They arrive just in time to escort the Recovery probe back to base, however, while en route it gets stolen. Once recovered it is discovered the three astronauts thought to be inside are now missing. It turns out General Carrington, a military leader who has been a part of the operation has taken the trio of astronauts, still suited, to a lab to be fed massive amounts of radiation to be kept alive. It appears they were contaminated, and and need those massive doses to hang on to their very lives. The Doctor, of course, becomes involved after examination by Liz Shaw and himself discover that the sheer amount of radiation absorbed by their bodies would destroy a normal human form, and suspect that something else might be at play here. The Doctor hypothesizes that the astronauts are actually still at Mars Probe 7 volunteers to fly up himself to find the missing crew, and discovers much more than he expected in the process.
Ambassadors of Death is a serial that has a lot of great ideas, some very good writing, but unfortunately it goes for quite a bit too long. It was originally written as a vehicle for Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor, and was rewritten after the fact for Pertwee's Third Doctor. This places the original scripting around the time of the release of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (whose FX crew coincidentally approached Doctor Who's for advice early on), and it truly shows with the abundance of model work, and certain space-based scenes (such as the moment where the Doctor meets the astronauts) having an atmosphere reminiscent of that particular film.
The performances from the cast are across the board excellent with the UNIT family starting to really come together with the way they act off each other. The secondary cast is decent for the most part, and works well with the material. Now, while I say it does run a bad too long, there is some fantastic action set pieces strewn throughout Ambassadors of Death, car chases, military shoot outs, etc. Also, the long form format does occasionally help to create an atmosphere of suspense over the whole affair. Ambassadors of Death is an interesting conceptually, but occasionally flawed serial that in it's newly colorized form should now be a proud addition to any Who DVD collectors library.
Doctor Who: Ambassadors of Death is one of the Jon Pertwee titles that was subject to the unfortunate BBC purge of the 70's. Only one color episode of the serial was ever found with the others only ever existing in black and white for the last 30 years, with various less than successful homebrew colorization attempts made. The Doctor Who Restoration Team in conjunction with BBC WORLDWIDE has now attempted to correct that, and restore Ambassadors of Death to it's original color as much as it is possible.
I will start by saying episode 1, which was the original color serial looks fantastic, and it's restoration is on par with many of the best Pertwee episode restorations. The other episodes starting with episode 2 start out a bit off in the quality of their colorization with bits of pink and blue appearing throughout. It appears that each successive episode looks quite a bit better than the preceding one, although none of the 6 re-colored episodes looks anything like the first, it is still a fantastic effort and is truly the best looking this serial has ever looked on any home video or release since it's initial broadcast, and that is something that should be highly appreciated.
The audio is presented in the typical English Mono track. It works quite well dialogue comes through clear, crisp, and clean as does Dudley Simpson's excellent and quite interesting musical score, and the sound FX. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, hissing, or any other audio defects on the track. There are optional English subtitles included on the track (thank you BBC for continuing to provide this option).
BBC Worldwide and the Doctor Who Restoration Team have put together a nice package of extras for their DVD release of Ambassadors of Death. One of the most exciting additions to this release is a commentary track recorded many moons ago with the now deceased Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John. The track is moderated by the always dependable Toby Hadoke, and also employs the commentating talents of Peter Halliday, Geoffrey Beevers, Terrance Dicks, Michael Ferguson, Derek Ware, Roy Scammell, and Derek Martin. We also have a wonderful making of called Mars Probe 7: The Making of Ambassadors of Death that goes into great detail about the production of the serial. We also get the latest installment of the Tomorrow's Times series about the critical opinion of the Third Doctor's run on the show. The disc is rounded off by a trailer for the episode, a coming soon trailer, a photo gallery, and a production notes option.
Once again the Doctor Who Restoration Team has reached into the vault of classic Doctor Who episode and treated us long time fans to another outstanding release. It is truly wonderful to have a color copy of Ambassadors of Death with restored A/V and a nice slate of extras. The serial has it's flaws, but it is still a fun romp, and with the package what it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.