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02 May 2017 @ 08:16 pm
The Randomiser: The Ambassadors of Death  
"What is she wearing?" Tame Layman asked incredulously when Liz first appeared.

"I don't know," says I, "whatever Cambridge dons tended to wear in the 1970s".

"Oh, yes! I've seen the photos."

Not quite how I was expecting that exchange to end, though it's nice to know "she's a Cambridge don" absolves one of all bizarre fashion choices. Liz changes into something much more boring later on, but initially she is resplendent in a pink mini-dress, white boots and a sort of sleeveless brown jacket type thing. The Internet is failing miserably to serve me up an image of this in its full glory, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

I was pretty excited when The Ambassadors of Death popped out of the Randomiser. I've never seen it before and it is the first Liz Shaw story that the Randomiser has served up (in fact I think Liz was the only companion who had yet to have a Randomiser story). Mostly though I had a sense, via various fan channels, that The Ambassadors of Death was possibly the closest Doctor Who ever got to the more serious Earth-bound style of Science Fiction popular on television in the 1960s and 1970s and I was interested to see how it matched up to my vague memories of those sorts of tales.

I wasn't disappointed. I'm surprised how well Ambassadors managed to carry its story. Remarkably little actually happens over its seven episodes - there is an awful lot of standing around looking at clipboards and discussing the problems of fuel requisition. I suspect part of the novelty was watching something that didn't feel quite like Doctor Who (even though it isn't actually far removed from many UNIT stories) - in fact I got a similar vibe of "different yet the same" from The Claws of Axos's early scenes of troop deployment. Like The Invasion, which I also felt was far better than it had any right to be given its length, I think Ambassadors benefited from having multiple organisations and factions all working to their own agenda. In fact Ambassadors' set up is more complex at the individual level than The Invasion which was basically a three-way tussle between UNIT, International Electronics and the Cybermen. Here we have the interests and concerns of UNIT (together with Ralph Cornish and his team), Quinlan, General Carrington, Reegan and the Alien Ambassadors all variously at odds with each other at different times not to mention various secondary characters like Tatalion and Lennox who while mostly working for one group clearly have distinct ideas of their own about what they should be doing.

Liz is very good. She doesn't get a great deal to do (beyond looking earnestly at clipboards), but she is clearly independent and proactive and Caroline John makes much of the material she's given.

The Brigadier, on the other hand, while not quite the butt of the joke he could become in some later stories, isn't at his best. His lack of urgency when Lennox appears, choosing to stand around looking earnestly at Ralph Cornish instead of finding out what Lennox wants, seems particularly short-sighted. I recall, many years ago, reading an article by, I think, Tat Wood, which asserted that Benton was the only plausible murderer for poor old Lennox. While it's never revealed who killed him, I think it rather more plausible that General Carrington still had some troops under his command on the base, than that Benton was some kind of mole.

All in all I would say this is one of the better Pertwee stories I've seen, benefiting from a mostly intelligent script and decent performances. It's a brief view into a rather more serious style of Doctor Who, one which is distinctively earthbound with a focus on human nature and its rivalries and flaws. In fact it pulls off the trick of being adult without being grim and gritty. The Ambassadors of Death generally looks good as well, possibly because it isn't too ambitious in what it attempts. It was a wise choice to keep the aliens encased within their astronaut suits.

All that said we were repeatedly reduced to giggles by the title sequence which presented the story title in two parts. "Ambassadors" it would say before suddenly adding "of Death".

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/445151.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on May 2nd, 2017 07:59 pm (UTC)
Ambassadors is one of Doctor Who's hidden treasures, I think. Something often overlooked in polls and top tens, particularly when compared to its neighbours in season seven, but really good. I remember watching the video in one long evening to celebrate finishing my first year in Oxford; at the time I think it was one of the few, if not the only, story I had never seen or heard the audio or read the novelization of.

This is probably Liz's best story (this or Spearhead from Space); the other stories didn't really know what to do with her. I think she's a great companion and was saddened when Caroline John died a few years ago (around the time Mary Tamm, another under-rated companion actress, died).

I don't buy Wood's 'Benton is a murderer' theory. I think the article asserted that the voice of the murder sounds like John Levene and I simply disagree.

Season seven is one of my favourite seasons, coming just behind my all time fave, season sixteen. The whole season is surprisingly mature and I like to quip that it's the first real adult spin-off from Doctor Who. I'm looking forward to reaching it in my in order viewing in a few weeks' time.
daniel_saundersdaniel_saunders on May 2nd, 2017 08:04 pm (UTC)
Oh, the other thing that really interests me about Ambassadors is the room the Doctor has the TARDIS control room in at the start. It looks like the living room of a flat or house. Are we to assume he's renting something somewhere? It would make more sense than later stories that seem to assume he lives in the UNIT lab. I have a theory that the Doctor isn't part of UNIT in Ambassadors and Inferno, presumably having resigned in protest after the end of Silurians. Note that the Brigadier describes him as an "associate" not his scientific advisor and he doesn't have a pass. Likewise the Brig doesn't seem to be expecting to see the Doctor at the start of Inferno. I don't know if they intended this, but it's what it seems like to me. By season eight they seem to have forgotten/retconned this and the Doctor is back on UNIT staff.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 9th, 2017 05:25 pm (UTC)
I'll have to see how I feel when I've seen the rest of Season 7. I had Spearhead on DVD so I'm pretty familiar with that but I've never seen Inferno and am not certain I've ever seen The Silurians all the way through, but from everything I've heard it was taking Doctor Who in a rather different direction to where the UNIT years finally ended up.
philmophlegm: dalekphilmophlegm on May 2nd, 2017 08:16 pm (UTC)
It's basically a Quatermass story isn't it? I saw it at DocSoc, but I'd forgotten that it was seven episodes. I remember it being good and that Pertwee was rather sterner and less whimsical than in later series. (I think this is true throughout that series; Liz is also a more serious assistant than Jo or even Sarah Jane.)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 9th, 2017 05:23 pm (UTC)
Quatermass seems like the obvious point of comparison, but I don't feel like I've seen much Quatermass so I think the feeling of familiarity must hark back to other things. My Dad was quite into Sci Fi and I think we often watched 1960s SF movies and so on, so I suspect the feeling comes from those.