Thursday, 27 September 2012

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death DVD Review

The Ambassadors of Death had a turbulent genesis. It was originally submitted by writer David Whitaker in 1968, titled 'Invaders From Mars' and written for Patrick Troughton's Doctor. In '69 the script was reworked for Jon Pertwee and renamed 'The Carriers Of Death.' The scripts were handed to Terrance Dick's assistant Trevor Ray who reworked episode one. After going through three different producers, Peter Bryant, Derrick Sherwin and finally Barry Letts, Whitaker's working and reworking on the scripts was deemed unsatisfactory; therefore episodes two and three were rewritten by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, and Four-Seven by Hulke alone. The Ambassadors of Death is a great story but this complicated process sadly reflects on the finish product.


The story centres around the Doctor and UNIT's investigation of the mystery surrounding Mars Probe 7. Space Control hasn't had any contact with the astronauts on board since it started back from Mars seven months ago and then the Recovery 7 rescue mission runs into similar difficulties. It transpires that the ship's occupants are not the human astronauts after all but a trio of radiation-dependent aliens. The earth is threatened once more by invasion but who is behind the plot? The Ambassadors of Death is arguably the closest Who gets to James Bond. It also goes without saying that the narrative owes a great deal to the 1953 tv-serial The Quatermass Experiment, where an astronaut returning to earth is replaced by an alien life form. The story boasts one of the first uses of CSO (Colour Separation Overlay) on Doctor Who and some of the programme's greatest ever stunt and action sequences.

The Quatermass Experiment (1953)
Extra Features/Value Added Material:

Much like the story itself the DVD release has had a somewhat troubled past and development. Originally planned for release in 2011 alongside The Sun Makers, Ambassadors was delayed due to ongoing restoration issues. These issues were finally resolved in November 2011 and it has taken until October 2012 for the DVD to finally see release. So, was it worth the wait? I'll say, it was! Like other early Who, The Ambassadors of Death benefits immensely from the Digitally Remastered Picture and Sound Quality. This is probably the best it has ever looked.

The difference from VHS to
DVD speaks for itself.
The main boast of the DVD's V.A.M. is the documentary Mars Probe 7: Making the Ambassadors of Death from BAFTA-nominated director Chris Chapman.  The doco chronicles the making of this story brilliantly; covering it's sticky inception, writing, rewriting, production, stunts and effects. There is some lovely old footage of the HAVOC stunt team, who share their anecdotal experiences with glee. We also get some interesting insights from the show's director Michael Ferguson. Just as the story was when it was original aired, the documentary is framed beautifully by the real life events of the Apollo 13 space mission.

Toby Hadoke ably moderates the Commentary with the massed collective of Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Peter Halliday (Alien Voices) and Geoffrey Beevers (Private Johnson), director Michael Ferguson, script editor Terrance Dicks, stunt co-ordinator Derek Ware and stunt performers Roy Scammell and Derek Martin. The assembled team give an enjoyable and amusing recanting of their experiences working on the story, with plenty of jolly anecdotes on hand. Hearing Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney's voices from beyond the grave is at times haunting and at others wonderfully comforting.

Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John.
The disc features the final installment of the Tomorrow’s Times series, this time for The Third Doctor. The extra looks at the press coverage of Doctor Who during the Pertwee era and is presented by Peter Purves, who gives the piece an experienced and grounded feel.

Also included are the original BBC Trailer for the story, the usual Photo Gallery, Coming Soon, and Radio Times Listings.

The Ambassadors of Death is a fairly long, seven-part story with a troubled background, but it's action packed and offers a rare cocktail of Doctor Who, James Bond, and Quatermass, shaken but not stirred. The extras are a little thin on the ground but it's quality over quantity.

Story: 7/10
Extra Features: 4/5

The Ambassadors of Death is released on DVD in the UK on 1st October, the US on 2nd October and in Australia on the 3rd October.