REVIEW: The Ambassadors of Death DVD


Starring Jon Pertwee and Caroline John

2 Disc DVD
Extras: See HERE

Oct 1 (UK)
Oct 3 (Aus & NZ)
Oct 9 (North America)

Review by Cameron K McEwan

There's a moment, and an incredibly tense and exciting one at that, right slap back at the end of Part Two of this 1970 Jon Pertwee seven~part adventure that, without resorting to my ebullient bumper book of handsome hyperbole, is utterly sensational and spine~tingling. And I say that as someone who is not a particular fan of the UNIT Earth era of Doctor Who.

I've seen The Ambassadors of Death three or four times now over the years (the first time on a shoddily~recorded "off air" tape when it aired on UK Gold back in the Nineties) but, at the denouement of the second installment, when The Third Doctor proclaims, "Right, cut it open!" - I still shiver in awe. This is superb television. If you've seen it, you know just how extraordinary and exciting this moment is as the Doctor Who sting stabs Pertwee's icy stare and we cut to credits. Easily in the Top 10 cliffhangers.

Speaking of which, Ambassadors is sublime when it comes to the cliffhanger and its use. Apart from the fact this tale boasts its fair share of stunning endings (all edited sharply with the credits almost busting the episode out of the way), the "recaps" in the following episodes are punctuated by another screaming sting of the famous theme. It's incredibly modern in style and, as the tale is longer than your norm, it invigorates the story every twenty minutes or so.

Likewise the set~pieces in the opening few episodes are exhilarating, with superb location shooting and terrific stunt~filled action. HAVOC, the team who take care of the stunts, do a cracking job in putting together some tight battles and an even more pleasing helicopter sequence. Full credit to director Michael Ferguson who manages these moments expertly but further plaudits are fired at him for breathing life into the entire story, which does tend to meander slightly.

Ferguson's shots are cut ever~so sharply and his excellent camerawork (numerous on some occasions), adds an urgency to the drama that's not normally felt in old~skool Who. In lesser hands, this seven~parter could have easily been a clunker. Similarly, composer Dudley Simpson puts in a stout shift with some incredible sounds, haunting and most definitely otherworldly. The music is uniformly fascinating; adding layer upon layer to the production.

Given the fraught nature of the genesis of the story (presented in the accompanying docco), it's a surprisingly solid affair, paying huge homage to the Quatermass tales (just for a change). The gritty style is firmly rooted in reality and the added touch of the television presenter detailing the ongoing events dispenses with tedious exposition (and performed by future Davros, Michael Wisher, fact fans). A trait that would be "borrowed" again for The Daemons.

Given its length, it's most pleasing that The Ambassadors of Death actually manages to hold up, though it could have made a perfect six~parter. There's enough action and intrigue spliced with twist after twist to keep even the most shallow of viewers entertained for a few hours. If you haven't seen this particular Third Doctor outing, then waste no time and get pre~ordering now - you will not regret it.

The story, as you may have guessed, is worth the ticket price alone, as they say. But we are treated to some wonderful special features. Heading these is the main documentary, Mars Probe 7: Making the Ambassadors of Death. Leading the way on the beginings of the story is Who ledge, Terrance Dicks; whilst director Michael Ferguson makes for a wonderful subject - both men utterly engaging. Likewise, stuntboys, if we can still call them that, Derek Ware and Roy Scammell reveal some fascinating behind~the~scenes facts and the odd eyebrow~raising story...

Best of all, in the docco, is its evocation of the time - and Ambassadors' contextualisation. The first episode aired on the same day as Apollo 13 launched (which would then go on to have some "problems" of its own) adding a certain frisson to the story's proceedings. Gold star for the inclusion of footage from NASA too in the swish and stylish start! A slight downside, for me, was the reliance on captions relaying the information, rather than coming from the subjects or narrator. Other than that, it's yet another fab Doctor Who DVD doc that could quite easily be broadcast on the telly.

Tomorrow’s Times, the series looking at the media's contemporaneous response to Doctor Who, tackles the Jon Pertwee era and is presented by the gigglesome Peter Purves. The former companion does a magnificent job, bringing much of himself into the feature (which, I suppose, you could argue he shouldn't be doing but, damn, he is funny!). As always, it's a great extra; full of facts and interesting "opinion" though, personally, I'd like to see longer versions.

The audio commentary, featuring (at various points throughout) Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Peter Halliday, Geoffrey Beevers, director Michael Ferguson, script editor Terrance Dicks, stunt co-ordinator Derek Ware and stunt performers Roy Scammell and Derek Martin and moderated by Toby Hadoke, is a pleasing affair. It's full of anecdotes (well told, I'm sure) and reminisces from a group of people who clearly loved what they did and have a great deal of affection for those they worked with. Courtney and John have sadly passed on since the recording of this commentary, tinging the laughs with a certain amount of sadness.

And if that ain't enough, you've got the highly informative and detailed Production Subtitles and super Photo Gallery that features a number of candid pictures, namely a few shots of the cast and crew in make~up. Cracking stuff.

Another must~buy from the "Classic" Doctor Who DVD gang, The Ambassadors of Death is gorgeously presented in colour and is a reminder how vital and present the show could be. And, with a collection of excellent extras, this is one set you'll be coming back to time and again.

Thanks to BBC Worldwide
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