Doctor Who #271: The Ambassadors of Death Part 5

"Since we don't know what's up there, wouldn't it be more intelligent to carry a man rather than a bomb?"TECHNICAL SPECS: Still using an Internet source to watch it, waiting for the DVD. First aired Apr.18 1970.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor flies into space, but not before the bad guys try to sabotage the launch.

REVIEW: Hey, Sgt. Benton's back! Nice to see him again after The Invasion, and it's about time the production built a little stability into its UNIT cast. Sure, the Brigadier's team has a lot of alien-caused roll-over, but it's hard to care for these sundry Captains and soldiers. Benton gets only a few short scenes, but there's an amusing politeness even to his throwing someone into a cell. Of course, he's jailing Lennox, a man who WANTS his door to be locked. After all, he's going against the conspirators. (New viewers might even think Benton is on the baddies' side, the way it's shot.) And Lennox is right to be afraid. When dinner is served, it's a radioactive isotope! It's not all that clear that the show's makers know just how terrible a fate this is - a prior scene has Lennox open one of these radioactive containers and open the door to the room, leisurely taking off his protective suit; scene needs an airlock and decontamination! - but WE do, and Lennox loses it too. A harrowing scene, especially for modern viewers.

Back at villain HQ, Liz continues to make me wonder how this companion was ever found wanting. She's active, she bends Lennox to her will, she foils the villains' plans, and when she gets swung around rather violently, she not only takes it in her stride, but lets out an emasculating barb too. She's really wonderful. On his end, the Doctor gets to play astronaut, even if Carrington would rather put a warhead on the rocket to blow Mars Probe 7 out of orbit. For mostly technical reasons, this thread is the weakest part of the episode. The fuel mixture is sabotaged seemingly leagues away from the rocket itself, and Whitaker invokes the old nugget about flying so fast you'll end up in the sun's orbit and burn, which is nonsense. The G forces acting on the Doctor distort his face in the most ridiculous ways, and the model rocket against a CSO sky is crap. Once we're in space though, the mystery of the capsule re-captures our attention and... is that another ship approaching?

I'm eager to find out what the antagonists' motivations are. Though Carrington and Quinlan hinted at something beneficial for humanity, Reegan's henchmen seem purely motivated by greed. Are the aliens simple weapons to break into banks? Or are those the limited dreams of small-minded men for hire? Is there something in sky that should not be discovered, or are they just hiding the alien astronauts from their mothership? Reegan certainly works very hard to stop the launch, running around a factory that is at times surprisingly good at evoking a launch platform, fighting UNIT soldiers, and fiddling with an almost absurd number of valves. It's the bit of action for this chapter and it works fine if you don't ask where the rocket actually is in relation to Reegan.

- Some technical flaws, but the mystery is still interesting, Liz is still awesome, and Benton returns to the fold.


CiB said...

Later on, Liz Shaw's replacement has the Doctor initially refuse to recruit her (because she's useless), the Doctor then gets guilt tripped into recruiting her anyway, and then she decides to run off, be stupid and almost blow up UNIT HQ. All in her first episode.

Thats why Liz Shaw was found wanting by the production crew- they wanted a companion who was useless, a companion whose role would be to scream and need to be rescued by the Doctor. That is, the reason why many Doctor Who fans think Liz Shaw is wonderful are the very reasons she was replaced so quickly.

Siskoid said...

Exactly. Looking at the Season 7 material as a whole, it may have been a way to dumb the show down, because it does come across as message-heavy and intellectual.

But since the ratings went right up from Season 6, I don't see why they felt the need to fiddle with it at all.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I've been reading and enjoying your Doctor Who summaries for a while. Thank you so much for doing this! I haven't seen a lot of the old episodes, but I'm a Liz fan also. On some of the recent BBC America specials they've talked about how in the original series the women were weak and "screamy" but now they're strong, etc. But Liz is so smart and confident and dignified... quite honestly, I think I'd rather have her back than Amy!

Could I ask your opinion on something? My mom's a Who fan too, but she's only seen the new series. I'd love to get her interested in some of the old episodes, but I'm not sure where the best starting place would be.

I'm thinking either Tom Baker or Peter Davison- Baker because she'd get to see a younger Sarah Jane (plus she's also laughed at a couple Fourth Doctor clips I've shown her), and Davison because David Tennant is by far her favorite Doctor, and I've learned that he was heavily influenced by him. She's also seen me watch a little of his run and expressed interest in what he was like.

But I think a couple of things that keep her for getting interested are a) the special effects and b) some of the more melodramatic acting (the Master springs to mind right off the bat).

So, since you've seen so much of the old series, could I get your opinion on where a good starting point would be? If I can talk her into it, that is!

Thanks for your time!

Siskoid said...

And I don't believe Liz was even the first "strong" companion. Ian, Steven, Ben and Jamie were all male action characters, and even if you look only at the girls, I think Barbara was quite strong, and Zoe quite clever and brave. And after Liz, how about Leela and Romana! And Ace! Frankly, it's a myth that they were all scream queens.

Sadly, Caroline John recently passed away, so no Liz in the new series, even as a guest. Very sad.

As for your big question, it's a difficult one to answer. So many variables! One place to start is in an old Understanding Doctor Who post of mine that recommends stories that are either good or important AND on DVD at the time (out of date, but still useful).

What I've done with friends who want to discover the classic series is to recommend one of EVERY Doctor, that way they can claim a favorite that becomes their gateway into the classics.

1st-The Aztecs or The Romans
2nd-The Invasion
3rd-The Sea Devils
4th-Pyramids of Mars
6th-Vengeance on Varos
7th-The Curse of Fenric
8th-The TV Movie

These are reasonably free of continuity issues and can be watched as one-offs. They also don't spoil the arrival or leaving of any Doctor or companion.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your help! I will look into those ASAP. :-) (Sorry for the late reply, things have been a tad stressful around here lately.)


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