Sunday, 16 December 2012

Dr. Who: The Ambassadors Of Death

‘The Ambassadors Of Death’ is an unusual, long, complex and slightly rambling story from Jon Pertwee’s first season of ‘Dr. Who’ (1970). It’s very adult in tone (no, Liz doesn’t flash her knickers, although her skirt is phenomenally short) and contrasts sequences of violent action with a slow but fascinating internecine tale of government conspiracy and xenophobia in its most expansive form, i.e. fear of (literal) aliens.
Originally written for Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, ‘Ambassadors’ is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because it makes some structural changes to the way the story is presented – little, unique touches like the recap taking in place in the middle of the credits, or the title card that reads ‘The Ambassadors’ followed by the zappy twang of a ray gun and the legend ‘OF DEATH’. The feel is different, too, darker and more thoughtful. The aliens are used sparingly and only briefly seen in their full, blue faced glory as the real villains here are humans, either mad, prejudiced men like General Carrington operating out of a warped sense of 'moral duty', or ruthless hired guns like the despicable Reegan (one of the nastiest bastards to ever appear in the programme).
At seven episodes, it is probably at least one episode, maybe two, too long, but I rather like the leisurely approach. The central element of the story clearly references the first ‘Quatermass’ story (the spaceship that goes off the radar then returns to Earth carrying something different to what it set out with), and I like that too. I also like Ronald Allen as space controller Ralph Cornish. You may remember Ronald from his long running role as David Hunter in the infamous soap opera 'Crossroads'. I love watching him in anything because he keeps the straightest possible face under all circumstances, and his permanently pained expression, combined with his deep, sonorous voice is just really funny.  I believe he was rather a fun loving chap in real life, so I like to think he's very much in on the joke. Here's a trailer --

The first two seasons of Pertwee Who are particular favourites of mine. Confined to Earth, the serious tone and reliance on location shooting on wasteground and in semi-derelict factories seems to reflect the grim milieu of early 70’s Britain (although the stories are set a few years in the future), a place permanently under siege and, it seems, under attack, a place where you can trust no-one and, as we discover in ‘Terror Of The Autons’, even an armchair can kill you.

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