3 out of 5
Directed by: Michael Ferguson
If you browse the reviews of Jon Pertwee’s third Doctor Who outing, The Ambassadors of Death, you’ll find consistent criticism: it’s too drawn out.
Keeping Spearhead from Space distilled down to a perfectly concise four episodes upset the DW production schedule, and the following two serials – including this one – went to seven parts as a result. While I think even six parts would’ve been a stretch for this story, seven is way too much. It’s to the credit of the writers (David Whitaker, Terrance Dicks, Malcolm Hulke, Trevor Ray) that they never sink into the more forced theatrics of the Hartnell and Troughton eras for running down the clock – Ambassadors of Death, intra-episode, is still well paced, benefitting from a fantastic villain – Reegan (William Dysart) – continued smart application of Liz, and Pertwee’s always-calculating Doctor – but there’s just so little to the core premise that it’s pretty plain that we’re just being entertained with some action / thriller sequences instead of actually having a plotty reason to hold out for this many episodes. This carries over into the story reveals: it’s generally not a good indication when you’re sort of waiving the story off as a viewer because you’d rather just get back to the distracting bits; whenever Ambassadors slows down to try to explain things, it’s all already painfully obvious.
AoD starts off intriguing enough, with some stranded astronauts having returned from their mission, mute and radiation soaked and then… missing, absconded by mysterious powers (Reegan!) for reasons unknown, and when the Doctor and the Brigadier get involved, it’s figured out that these weren’t astronauts after all, but instead: aliens. Reegan rather brilliantly goes about in a surprisingly calm (for a Who villain) manner of keeping everyone distracted from finding the kidnapped aliens, while the Doc and Liz work on figuring out what’s going on.
It’s definitely a runaround, as that’s essentially the majority of the story, but again, since we’re grounded with two intelligent leads who are allowed to be intelligent individually, it works, on the whole, to string us along. Some amusing fight choreography aside (you can apparently tap a trained soldier and they fall down), the actors give things their all, and maintain the general better sense of consistency and quality that season 7 had, even when it was churning through some filler episodes.