Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

These days, it's very easy to forget just how good Doctor Who used to be.

Having never seen this seven-parter before, I must admit that I had quite high expectations of it. I mean it's surrounded in this season by the top-notch Spearhead From Space, Doctor Who And The Silurians and Inferno! My hopes might have been even higher, had I known that this story's authorship was a fusion of such Who luminaries as Malcolm Hulke, Terrance Dicks and the great David Whittaker. (and Trevor Ray!)

Right from the off this is captivating stuff. Drawing from the original moon landing programmes a year earlier, the opening episodes revolve around the live TV coverage of a Mars expedition, complete with smoked-glass helmets, slow-motion and accordingly low frame-rate. In one scene Jon Pertwee actually has to mouth a line quickly enough for the slowed-down version to match his dubbing of it!

There's also plenty of politics, genuinely formidable bad guys (Reegan knows everything), and stunning action sequences from HAVOC, who back in the day were Doctor Who's regular band of commercial stuntmen. Consequently, whenever there's a fight, the action really goes to town.

It's also the second story in a row in which the aliens are not really portrayed as evil, which again makes for an interesting dynamic.

At a cost-cutting seven episodes, some portions do drag, notably the theft and recapture of the Recovery Seven space capsule in the countryside, and most of the scenes at Reegan's hideout.

There are also not just one but two sets of mind-controlled zombies, which ties off some of the characters' motivations a bit too easily for my liking. For example, when the Doctor finds the three human astronauts still in space, but eerily believing themselves to have landed safely on Earth, I felt there was some obvious drama missed there. They're completely cut off in space, fer goodness sake!

The body fall in episode five is really quiet. Just felt I had to point that out.

Most of the cast does well, but particular praise must go to Ronald Allen for his intriguing portrayal of Professor Ralph Cornish. This must have been an interesting character on the page, but Allen plays it in such a curious and unexpected way that he doesn't seem like a guest actor at all.

We've been watching this off of the 2002 VHS release, which is a hotch-potch of colour and monochrome scenes, depending upon what the BBC still retained from 1970. This was also the release when BBC Video, ha ha, suddenly realised that, heh-heh-heh, y'know, they actually could fit a seven-parter onto just the one cassette for a tenner after all. Sorry everyone.

The Ambassadors Of Death is a complex, at times thinly explained, story which explores the UNIT concept even further, while also denting it with the high-profile live TV device.

Like UNIT itself, this classic takes its shortcomings and runs brilliantly with them.

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