Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death (part seven)

Many Doctor Who episodes suffer from being a little padded, but the conclusion of this story is one of the worst examples of a serial running out of plot and running in place. It certainly isn’t rushed; with maybe ten minutes of story left – ten good minutes, mostly – we have to suffer through about three instances of people, including Michael Wisher, returning after a few weeks away as the TV journalist John Wakefield, asking the insane General Carrington whether he’s absolutely sure he wants to make a live TV broadcast unmasking an alien and showing the world what’s out there, risking worldwide panic.

Now one problem here is that sometime midway through episode six, John Abineri stopped playing Carrington as a controlled and subtle villain and made him unhinged, and the script repeatedly gives him a stupid catchphrase. “It’s my moral duty” might have been chilling if used once, and repeated when he has lost, but it makes the character look foolish when he can’t say anything else. Frankly, his hired goon, Reegan, is far more competent and threatening than Carrington, and all he wants to do with the aliens is have them rob banks.

Another problem is with this worldwide live telecast. There’s one school of thought that somebody must have yanked a plug and nobody at Space Centre knew the feed was cut, otherwise there could have been a mass panic; in any event, the audience in the Who universe saw at least the beginning of some program about an English general claiming the existence of aliens. Another theory, put forward by Tat Wood in a volume of the entertaining About Time criticism, is that anybody who did watch this quickly dismissed it and forgot about it like people in our world did when they saw Alternative 3 or an alien autopsy movie in the 90s, or Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County.

I honestly think it’s more likely that the network was just humoring Carrington and never broadcast anything. How in the world did this guy convince anybody at any television channel in any country to stop what they’re doing and let him have control of their airwaves for a live feed? I think the BBC sent Wakefield since he was familiar with Space Centre, and Wakefield had a quiet word with his boss, and they recorded all of this just in case there was something to it. But come on, nobody at the American networks, let alone any relay station in Jos, cut away from anything to hear somebody claim to be ready to unmask a space alien. My suspension of disbelief stopped right about there.

Well, nitpicking at length is the way of Doctor Who fans. I really think this story’s finale was a disappointment overall, but when it was good, it was really good. There’s a terrific bit, pictured above, when the Doctor shouts “What kept you?” at the Brigadier, because he wanted to be rescued earlier. Some of the stunt work is especially amazing, including one fellow who goes down a flight of stairs backward, and the direction of the on-location scenes is very good throughout the show and there are some really good moments in the last episode. I think the conclusion is disagreeably stagy, but that Space Centre control room set is an awfully theatrical set in the first place; it was probably unavoidable.

Our son, meanwhile, loved the story more and more with each installment. He was super-excited this evening, and responded to every new plot complication with “This is gonna be so cool!” When the Doctor and the UNIT gang bring the ambassadors to the Space Centre, he was just about ready to pop. While it was good, this was not one of my favorite adventures, but I think it’s definitely one of his.

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