27 Stupid Things about
“The Ambassadors of Death”
(And 23 Cool Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Previously published in Celestial Toyroom issue 426/427
1. "The Ambassadors of Death" could be a reference to a line from the Elizabethan play King Edward III, an anonymous work traditionally attributed to Shakespeare and Kyd.
2. Which is just as well, because the previous title, "The Carriers of Death", is plainly ridiculous.
3. The viewing figure average for "The Ambassadors of Death" was 7.35 million, making it the second lowest rated story of the Jon Pertwee era, which still beats out the 5.50 million viewer average for "Silver Nemesis", the highest rated story of the Sylvester McCoy era.
4. According to the DVD info text, the Doctor's laboratory set includes a "fireplace lined with asbestos". Nineteen years later the appearance of asbestos in a BBC studio would lead to "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" being filmed in a car park.
5. The Doctor tells Liz Shaw that he only seemed to vanish when she became caught in the Tardis' time warp field, because she went into the future, and he hadn't arrived there yet. If this is true, how come the room with all its contents was still there?
6. All the women in this story appear to be wearing white, shiny, vinyl boots. Was there a sale on?
7. Liz's white, shiny, vinyl hat in episode three and four matches her white, shiny, vinyl boots.
8. Roy Scammell, the stuntman who doubles for Caroline John, has very beautiful legs.
9. John Abineri wore a hairpiece for this story, but grew his own moustache. Nicholas Courtney, on the other hand, wore a false moustache but grew his own hair. Michael Wisher grew his own beard, and for one episode wore a toupee, meanwhile, Robert Cawdron opted for a fake beard, while Caroline John, just to be different, wore a ginger wig over her natural red hair.
10.Nicholas Courtney is on record as saying that he did not like the early UNIT uniforms because they didn't look military enough. The impression one gets from his appearance this episode, however, is that he actually objected because the tight fit does not flatter the fuller figure.
11. The UNIT uniforms worn by other ranks change in this story, from a shirt and tie with tailored jacket, to a turtleneck pullover and a cheap and nasty jacket with a big zip up the front. This would suggest that the real reason Barry Letts changed the UNIT uniforms in "Terror of the Autons" to ones worn by the British military had more to do with cost.
12. This is Benton's second appearance as a UNIT operative. His first came in "The Invasion" where he dresses in civilian clothes and then later a canvas shirt with corporal stripes on the sleeve, which explains why he's dressed like a sack of spuds in this adventure.
13. Originally, Benton did not appear in this story, with his part being taken by a "Sergeant West". Clearly he, and his promotion, were written in as a setup for "Inferno", in which he featured quite extensively from the outset.
14. The info text says that the serial "draws on" The Quatermass Experiment. "Rips off so blatantly as to court a lawsuit, if the BBC hadn't snagged the rights from Nigel Kneale back in the 1950s" might actually be a better description.
15. One difference is that in the Quatermass serial, astronaut Victor Caroon is kidnapped by foreign agents, whereas here, the astronauts are kidnapped by the British Army, and the viewer is made to side with an international organisation that's trying to get them back.
16. Prior to the battle at the warehouse with UNIT forces, General Carrington tells Sergeant Collinson to hold them off as long as he can, but "don't kill anyone unless absolutely necessary." Why then does Carrington, after placing a time bomb on the radio transmitter, fire two shots to bring UNIT personnel into the room just before it explodes?
17. The fact that stuntman Derek Ware is seen to be shot, strangled with a rifle and beaten unconscious in the space of three minutes, gives the impression that UNIT is building an army of clones.
18. This idea is also supported when we see that the UNIT soldier on the gate at Space Centre, despite having been electrocuted in episode four, is back on duty in episode six.
19. The words "Anti Theft Device" are printed in gigantic letters next to a small switch on Bessie's dashboard. Presumably this is so the Doctor doesn't flick it by accident and find himself imprisoned in his own car.
20. This is the only story in which the Anti Theft Device appears. Presumably it was removed after the Doctor flicked it by accident and found himself imprisoned in his own car.
21. When the capsule is opened, the Doctor finds a recording of astronaut Charles Van Lyden asking to be cleared for reentry. We later discover that General Carrington placed it there to buy time. However, where does this recording of Van Lyden come from, as he is still on the alien spaceship?
22. The communications device built for General Carrington can tell the alien ambassadors to stand up, walk forwards, stop, go to the Space Centre, destroy a computer bank, kill any amount of technicians and UNIT personnel who aren't regular characters, murder Sir James Quinlan, break open a safe and incinerate its contents, loom menacingly over the Doctor without killing him, not kill the Brigadier, no matter how many bullets he fires at you, fuse a door handle, and finally climb into the back of a van. Not bad for a little metal box with a single unmarked dial.
23. The two names on Reegan's van were originally to have been Progressive Launderers Ltd and Masons Bakery, but these were later changed to Hayhoe Launderers Ltd, after assistant floor manager Margot Hayhoe, and Silcock Bakeries, after director's assistant Pauline Silcock.
24. Of course, if John Nathan-Turner had worked on this story instead of "The Space Pirates" as a floor assistant, the side of Reegan's van might have read John Turner Panto Productions Ltd.
25. In the space of seven episodes Liz Shaw, the Doctor and three alien astronauts are kidnapped; the Recovery 7 space capsule is hijacked; a rocket launch is sabotaged; a consignment of radioactive isotope is stolen; a prisoner is broken out of his cell at UNIT HQ, while later, another man in "protective custody" is murdered; Sir James Quinlan is killed in his own office, and Doctor Taltalian, after pulling a gun on the Brigadier, the Doctor and Liz Shaw, is later allowed to walk into Space Control and blow himself up with a suitcase packed with high explosive. UNIT make Group 4 look competent.
26. General Carrington states that he is the "head of the newly formed Space Security department," a military set-up with wide-ranging powers and access to all the latest equipment, answerable directly to the British government. So why is UNIT providing security for the British Space Programme?
27. According to the DVD info text, the person who visits Lennox in his cell and poisoned him with a radioactive isotope was General Carrington "impersonating other ranks." However, why did Carrington feel he had to tart himself up as a member of UNIT when just four episodes earlier he was able to covertly release Sergeant Collinson from the very same cell while dressed as himself?
28. Having said that, the best thing Carrington could have worn was a anti-radiation suit, as surely he was putting himself at serious risk walking around with a naked isotope under a dish-cover.
29. The Brigadier states that the isotope which killed Lennox "was part of a consignment sold some months ago" to "a bogus corporation with an address that doesn't even exist." So the British government is happy to allow the unregulated and unmonitored buying and selling of dangerous materials without so much as a background check.
30. Nice of the people at the, erm, "isotope factory" to label the crate "ISOTOPE RADIOACTIVE." And couldn't they think of a safer material than wood to house it in?
31. The Doctor's insistence on seeing the three returned astronauts himself forces Carrington to fake a second kidnapping that results in the death of four men. Clever move there, Doctor.
32. In the original script the two henchmen who perform the second kidnapping are then killed, and their bodies dumped in a gravel pit. The plot logic is clear as it removes two witnesses to the ongoing conspiracy.
33. Unfortunately, due to a casting screwup, the two henchmen on location are not the same two that turned up for the studio recording.
34. Carrington believes that the UK is facing "an alien invasion with the collaboration of a foreign power." It's a good thing he doesn't read the medical fitness report Cornish gives him on the Doctor, as, what with the two hearts, non-human blood and internal body temperature of 15–16 degrees Celsius, Carrington would probably have had the Doctor arrested on the spot.
35. "If you can't get Recovery 8 ready in time, you can use this capsule," says the Doctor. "Provided we can get the 3,000 tones of rocket to go underneath it," responds Cornish.
36. Ronald Allen: second most memorable line "Your Aunt Fanny is an unrelenting nymphomaniac – and I am a screaming homosexual" ("Five Go Mad in Dorset" ). Least memorable line "In seven months space time, they could have fixed a defective radio" ("The Ambassadors of Death" ).
37. After finishing work on "The Ambassadors of Death", Ronald Allen continued to hang around the filming of Doctor Who, until Pertwee told him to "be a good fellow and piss off."
38. This is the second story in the history of the programme to involve the Doctor piloting a rocket into outer space. The first, "The Seeds of Death", was also directed by Michael Ferguson.
39. When the Doctor is brought aboard the alien ship he finds the three missing astronauts in a replica of the waiting/quarantine room at Space Control on Earth. How do the aliens know what the place looks like?
40. Leefee tells Michaels to switch the football match off as "We were losing anyway," but the match is an illusion in the minds of the astronauts, meaning Michaels could well respond, "What are you talking about? We're winning five nil."
41. On the Doctor's return journey he tells Space Control “I'm not going to say any more at the moment, it's not safe.” Under the circumstances, actually, the best course would be to tell them everything he knows, in case he should, oh say, be kidnapped and whisked off to the enemy stronghold.
42. Carrington says he believes the aliens to be hostile as "Why else should they invade the galaxy? They were on Mars before we were." This implies that they don't come from Mars, and raises the genuine question of what it was they were actually doing there.
43. When asked if Quinlin was part of the conspiracy to discredit the aliens, Carrington states "No. He just wanted the political glory of being the first to arrange contact with an intelligent alien species." The first person with that honour is actually Tobias Vaughn; clearly history is written by the victors.
44. Private Johnson is played by Geoffrey Beevers. Does this mark the first appearance of the Master in Pertwee Doctor Who?
45. Nicholas Courtney can't throw a punch. The stuntman he fights in episode seven even has to lend a hand to stop him from falling over.
46. John Abineri decided to trim his moustache for the final instalment to make General Carrington look more like Hitler, but really, what do these two individuals have in common?
47. There are two Reegans in this story: half the time, he's an unsophisticated hired thug, and the other half, he's a criminal mastermind who knows his way around rocket installations and isotope factories.
48. Which can lead to an interesting metanarrative that Reegan is secretly an MI6 agent who is in fact manipulating the whole situation on behalf of the British government to provide a justification for defense against alien invasions, with Carrington as the fall-guy if everything goes wrong.
49. Although, considering that it is the only UNIT era story were Earth wasn't faced with a hostile alien force bent on conquest, you can see why the British government would be somewhat suspicious of the alien ambassadors.
50. In episode five, the Doctor suggests they add a higher proportion of M3 variant to the fuel mix, saying the extra G-force wouldn't worry him, but Cornish says this risks having the rocket blow up on lift-off. However, in episode seven, the Doctor states that they should return the Ambassadors in a rocket fueled by "pure M3 variant". Clearly he intends to have them all die on the launch pad, and cause an interplanetary war.