5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH
A bit of a weird one, Ambassadors Of Death. It's got tons of deaths, car chases and fisticuffs, yet at the same time not a lot happens.
In some ways, it reminds of of 2001: A Space Odyssey. There's the music-with-shots-of-spacecraft, for a start, although the Thus Spake Zarathustra stand-in of cheesy Hammond organ music is a bit of a giggle. Then there's the Earth astronauts who are living in a place that looks like Earth. And above all, it's the way that nothing much happens, very, very slowly.
Now this isn't to say we don't like it. We do. It might get off to a leisurely start, but that only adds to the atmosphere of intrigue. Ronald "Dominators" Allen's got a lot to do with this - he gives such an intense performance as Cornish that you're sure something really big's just about to burst forth in the control room. Actually, he's only a functionary, but it's not the size of the part, it's what you do with it.
It's not all standing around, though. Even though they don't actually achieve much, there are a startling number of action sequences in this. In fact, it's quite amazingly violent, with corpses hitting the floor in every direction. It's certainly the Brigadier's shining hour, as he gets to be brave as and shoot untold people. Even Liz has her Bond Girl bit, getting to do cross-country races and gymnastics in a frighteningly short skirt. Surprisingly, the Doctor's the exception to the mayhem, restricting himself on the action front to the odd cutting remark.
Overall, it's quite a nice twist on the standard invasion story: the aliens are the goodies and it's the humans that are liable to get the Earth blown up. Praiseworthy as the Doctor's actions are, though, isn't he just the teensiest bit overtrusting? The "we come in peace" bit's all very well, but when aliens are this powerful, should he be quite so ready to take them at their word? Especially when they're messin' with the minds of their human hostages? We note, too, that while the ambassadors moan about being made to kill, they still do it.
It's hard to tell who's the sadder villain in this. Poor misguided Carrington might be a xenophobe, but on the other hand he did see his little friend offed by the aliens, and how was he to know they were friendly? The plan to start nuking a ship from a highly advanced technology, though, seriously sucks. And then there's Reegan, whose ambitions don't seem to stretch beyond knocking over a few banks. Excellent plan, guy. Yeah, the aliens can withstand bullets and pop open locks, but it's a big jump from there to assume they can handle anything at all that humans can throw at them. We're willing to bet that parking a tank, say, on top of them wouldn't be too good for their health. And anyway, isn't it an awfully small goal? You'd think he'd at least want to become world dictator or something.
Ambassadors of Death's story was extensively rewritten by Malcome Hulke, of course, and in the process some of the cause and effect parts seem to have got lost, which weakens the impact. What exactly was Taltalian up to, for instance? And more importantly, since they're ambassadors, why do the aliens shoot off home again without ever doing anything ambassadorial? There isn't a Ferrero Rocher in sight.
On the other hand, though, there are scenes of remarkable power, such as the inexorable advance of the alien under a hail of bullets and the spooky mind control scenes with the astronauts. The carnage in the UNIT scenes, and the deaths of the people touched by the aliens, also have quite an impact. And the Doctor's compassionate response to Carrington, too, shows a side of him we're not used to.
Ironically, human nature being what it is we're willing to bet that had Carrington just let the ambassors ambassadise, the humans would probably have been quick off the mark to nuke 'em anyway. A thought-provoking story with some very nice touches.
MORAL: When visiting Earth, speak softly and carry a large stick.
I HAVE A DREAM
What a sweet idea that there's a British space centre!
AS YOU KNOW
The device of using the TV broadcast to get over the important bits of background is a very neat one, especially as it's brought back into the story at the end. And the reporter's Michael Wisher.
THEY MIGHT GET COLD
Why does Cornish object to cutting open the capsule when it's outside, but let it go ahead perfectly happily inside the Space Centre?
Why is the convoy with the capsule travelling so sloooowly? Isn't it just asking for trouble? Incidentally, look at those helicopter scenes! Budget-a-go-go!
Liz stops Bessie at the side of the road and the villains screech to a halt in front of her and start getting out. Why on earth doesn't she just drive off instead of getting out herself and running away?
I KNOW NOTHING
Liz and Lennox have their conversation about how he should get out standing about two feet away from the guard.
TOO HOT TO HANDLE
Why doesn't Lennox throw the radioactive thing out the cell window?
NOW IS THE HOUR
Major panic on. Lennox gets away from villains and is chocka with vital information. And where's the Brig? Waving the Doctor off! Priorities, man, priorities.
"We're going to blow up your world. And also, we're going to keep these three men!" Ooh, that'll make a huge difference when the Earth's in ashes, won't it?
SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROLL
As the Brigadier tries to get out of the office the alien's trapped them in, the whole wall shakes as he rattles the door handle.
WITH THIS IRRADIATION YOU ARE REALLY SPOILING US
How come nobody seems worried about getting near the radioactivity of the aliens?
IT'S JUST A KNACK. YOU'VE EITHER GOT IT OR YOU HAVEN'T
How does Reegan know exactly how to sabotage the fuel pump?
I WOULDN'T DO THAT IF I WERE YOU. THAT'S GOVERNMENT PROPERTY
When the aliens open the door to the Space Centre, the UNIT lot leap into Bessie and drive in after them. The aliens might be impervious to bullets, but why aren't the guards shooting at Bessie?
THE UNIT FAMILY
Private Johnson is played by Geoffrey Beevers, Caroline John's real-life husband.