Doctor Who #269: The Ambassadors of Death Part 3

"What you're saying is contrary to everything that's understood about radioactivity."TECHNICAL SPECS: The DVD will come. Until then, the Internet provides. First aired Apr.4 1970.

IN THIS ONE... The astronauts are kidnapped and fed radiation by persons unknown, and Liz gets involved in a car chase.

REVIEW: Wow, this episode really keeps the revelations coming! The capsule is opened, but the astronauts aren't there. Then we find out they were taken out by persons unknown while it was unguarded. Then Sir James Quinlan and General Carrington (himself an astronaut who went to Mars) fess up to it, but another faction takes them before the Doctor can examine them. And the astronauts are emitting/absorbing radiation because... they're not human! And the real astronauts must still be in space! But Sir James is the wrong person to ask for a second recovery mission, not when there's yet more he's hiding about their fate. All this played against a massive conspiracy that goes so high, everything our heroes do is undermined ahead of time.

The third Doctor is often compared to an older James Bond, but this is the first story that really feels like a spy thriller with stunts. Everything is on a need-to-know basis, but the Doctor is quite good at making his need to know come across. Interestingly, things have been kept from the Brigadier because UNIT is an international organization and there are things the British government would rather not share. Once caught out, they do spill the beans, but that's nevertheless a realistic take on the politics at work, and a sign that UNIT isn't meant to be an all-access pass for the Doctor. Despite the mysterious spacesuits (visually referenced decades later in Silence in the Library), this is one of the most down-to-Earth stories yet, the details imbued with a certain realism - UNIT's political problems, Quinlan's PR trouble, the casual way Dr. Lennox's doctorate is undermined, and the simple idea of burying dead drivers in a gravel pit.

There's also a pretty sweet chase at the end of the episode as the Doctor lends Liz Bessie to drive to the Brigadier's location, which turns out to be a trap. The driving stuff is well executed, but the foot race is better, going through some interesting locations, especially Marlow Weir where Liz goes over the edge. Even if the HAVOC team hadn't sprung for that (literal!) cliffhanger, the dynamic and unusual location would have added an incredible amount of production value to the sequence. So much is happening, is it too much to hope that there won't be a padded episode in the near future?

REWATCHABILITY: High - A mystery that keeps on giving and actions scenes expertly carried off. Hey, it's great to see Liz used so well too... why is it they dismissed the character at the end of the season again?


Anonymous said...

Caroline John was a terrific actress, but Katy Manning was willing to get busy with the Daleks. What else could the producers do?

Siskoid said...

Of course, at the time, the Doctor Who production team didn't know they could use the Daleks, so... Was Jo a ploy to attract them back to the program?


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