purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
[personal profile] purplecat
"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".
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