Friday 19 August 2011

270 The Ambassadors of Death: Episode Six

EPISODE: The Ambassadors of Death: Episode Six
TRANSMITTED: 25 April 1970
WRITER: David Whitaker (and Malcolm Hulke - Uncredited)
DIRECTOR: Michael Ferguson
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Barry Letts
FORMAT: VHS: Doctor Who-Ambassadors of Death
Episode Format: 16mm b&w film recording partially recoloured using 525 off air video

The Doctor is summoned into the alien ship where he meets the three Earth astronauts who have had their minds conditioned to believe they have returned to Earth. Their captor, hidden behind a screen, wishes to know what has happened to the Ambassadors he sent to Earth. The Doctor promises to return them in exchange for the Astronauts and returns to Earth where he is gassed in the decontamination chamber and kidnapped by Reegan. Put in the bunker with Liz they are shocked when the door opens and General Carrington walks in: He has come to kill the Doctor.

With this episode Doctor Who finally cracks open the CSO big time to provide the odd backdrop inside the alien ship and the effect of the Doctor sinking from the capsule to the floor. Finally the villain of the piece stands unmasked: It is Carrington after all. OK, it's been obvious for sometime. I asked Liz at the top of the episode who she thought the villain was, She said who? I told her and she replied "That's obvious - I thought for a minute there was someone above him!"

The Alien Voices are provided by Peter Halliday who we saw onscreen as Packer in The Invasion and heard as the Silurian voices in the previous story. He'll be back as Plectrac in Carnival of Monsters, a soldier in City of Death and the Vicar in Remembrance of the Daleks.

During the Doctor's stay on Earth we see several deviations from history as we know it and one of the more obvious ones involves the UK space program. In this story the UK is mounting a manned mission to Mars not that long after the Americans got to the Moon in real life. At the time the intention was to set these episodes in the near future and indeed the Doctor's third companion from this era, Sarah Jane Smith, will later claim to be from 1980. But even at that time the Americans were struggling to get their Space Shuttle launched and showed no sign of getting anywhere near Mars. So how did the UK, who don't have a great real world track record with space flight, manage such a feat, and then beat it by sending an astronaut to Jupiter in The Android Invasion? The obvious answer can be found in a previous Doctor Who story: the technology has been salvaged from the failed Cyberman Invasion and from the wreckage of craft destroyed in that story. Perhaps some were even captured whole on the ground at International Electromatics plants?

Which brings us onto the thorny issue of when this story is set. The intention is that this story should be set in the near future (present day plus 5 to 10 years). The evidence on screen, technological advances (attributable to the Cyberman Invasion) and Sarah's dating claim, do point very much to it being set in the early seventies when the episodes were shown. This is the view I take and will stick my fingers in my ears when we get to Sarah's line in Pyramids of Mars.

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