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Episode Guide
The Ambassadors of Death
Production Code: CCC
Season 7, Story Number 53
Directed by Michael Ferguson

Each episode is identified with date of transmission, duration, ratings in millions, and (for 1963-1974 only) archive status.

Episode 1
21 March 1970 | 24'33" | 7.1 | PAL 2" color videotape, 16mm B&W t/r
Episode 2
28 March 1970 | 24'39" | 7.6 | 16mm B&W t/r
Episode 3
04 April 1970 | 24'38" | 8.0 | 16mm B&W t/r
Episode 4
11 April 1970 | 24'37" | 9.3 | 16mm B&W t/r
Episode 5
18 April 1970 | 24'17" | 7.1 | PAL D3 color restoration, 16mm B&W t/r
Episode 6
25 April 1970 | 24'31" | 6.9 | PAL D3 color restoration, 16mm B&W t/r
Episode 7
02 May 1970 | 24'32" | 6.4 | 16mm B&W t/r
Archive Status: All seven episodes exist as 16mm black & white telerecordings, and episode one also exists on PAL 2" color videotape; the B&W film prints were recovered from BBC Enterprises in 1978. Color PAL copies of episodes 2-7 were wiped prior to 1977. However, syndicated NTSC versions were sent abroad prior to the wiping of the color videotapes. An early domestic video recording was later found to exist (in episodic form) and made available to the BBC in hopes of a recolorization. PAL D3 color restorations of episodes 5 and 6 were completed with the signal; however, faults in the color signal of this recording were deemed to great to allow recolorization of episodes 2-4 and 7, which currently exist for broadcast solely in B&W. Episode 6, although recolorized, still has many of these color faults and is not considered broadcastable. Manual computer-aided recolorization of these episodes is currently too cost-prohibitive for completion.
Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who), Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), Ronald Allen (Ralph Cornish), Robert Cawdron (Taltalian), John Abineri (General Carrington), Ric Felgate (Van Lyden), Michael Wisher (John Wakefield), Cheryl Molineaux (Miss Rutherford), Ray Armstrong (Grey), Robert Robertson (Collinson), Dallas Cavell (Quinlan), Bernard Martin (Control Room Assistant), Joanna Ross (Control Room Assistant), Carl Conway (Control Room Assistant), Juan Moreno (Dobson), James Haswell (Corporal Champion), Derek Ware (Unit Sergeant), William Dysart (Reegan), Cyril Shaps (Lennox), Gordon Sterne (Heldorf), Steve Peters (Astronauts), Neville Simons (Astronauts), Ric Felgate (Astronauts), Max Faulkner (Unit Soldier), John Lord (Masters), Tony Harwood (Flynn), James Clayton (Private Parker), Roy Scammell (Technician), Peter Noel Cook (Alien Space Captain), Peter Halliday (Alien Voices), Steve Peters (Lefee), Neville Simons (Michaels), Geoffrey Beevers (Private Johnson)
UNIT are present at the Space Centre, where Professor Ralph Cornish (Ronald Allen) is in charge, monitoring a recovery capsule that has been sent up to rendezvous with Mars Probe 7, with which radio contact has been lost. The Doctor and Liz watch a live television broadcast as Charlie Van Lyden (Ric Felgate) in Recovery 7 links up with the Mars Probe. There is suddenly a loud burst of noise which the Doctor recognises as being a message. He and Liz head for the Space Centre.

The message is repeated and then there is a further burst of noise. This is the reply and the Doctor gets UNIT to set up world wide triangulation to find the source should the reply be repeated. It is tracked to an abandoned warehouse about seven miles from the space centre. Transmitting the reply is Carrington (John Abineri) who escapes from the warehouse as UNIT arrive and fight with some hired thugs.

Back at the Space Centre, Doctor Bruno Taltalian (Robert Cawdron) pulls a gun on the Doctor and orders him to hand over a tape recording of the message and reply. The Doctor refuses - making the tape vanish for several seconds by 'transmigration of object' - and Taltalian escapes when the Brigadier enters. Meanwhile Recovery 7 separates from Mars Probe 7 and starts its return to Earth. The Doctor finds that he cannot decode the message as the computers have been sabotaged by Taltalian. The capsule comes down in Southern England and it is brought back to the Space Centre.

The Doctor and the Brigadier go to see Sir James Quinlan (Dallas Cavell) to complain that their investigations are being blocked at every turn, but Quinlan is in league with Taltalian. When the Recovery 7 capsule is finally opened, it is empty. The Doctor learns that there was a fake security alert when the capsule was unguarded by UNIT and that the astronauts have been removed. Liz notes that the interior of the capsule is highly radioactive.

The astronauts are currently being looked after by Professor Heldorf (Gordon Sterne) under instruction from Carrington. Quinlan introduces the Doctor and the Brigadier to General Carrington, a former astronaut on Mars Probe 6. Carrington explains that the astronauts are suffering from a new form of infectious radiation and are being held in secret to prevent panic by himself and Quinlan. A disbelieving Doctor demands to see the men. Meanwhile, a thug called Reegan (William Dysart) removes them from Heldorf's lab, leaving the scientists dead. When the Doctor arrives, he realises from the radiation readings that the astronauts who returned from space are alien and that the human pilots are therefore still in space.

The alien astronauts have now collapsed and are being looked after by Doctor Lennox (Cyril Shaps) who reluctantly 'feeds' them more radiation. They start to recover. Reegan is told to 'deal with' the Doctor and Liz and the latter is kidnapped by Reegan and taken to work with Lennox.

Back at the Space Centre, Professor Cornish intends to send up another capsule, but Quinlan and Carrington are against this idea. There is insufficient standard rocket fuel - 'K' - to make the trip. A more powerful variant - 'M3' - could be mixed with 'K' but this would create more G-force than a human astronaut could stand. The Doctor therefore offers to pilot the ship himself.

The Doctor realises that the message is a mathematical formula for building a machine. Taltalian has already constructed such a machine and he gives it to Reegan whom he is in leage with. The alien astronauts are to be used to carry out raids on selected targets. Reegan gives the unreliable Taltalian a time bomb with which to kill the Doctor, but Reegan sets the timer to nil and Taltalian is killed as he tries to plant it.

Quinlan asks the Doctor to come and see him, but an alien arrives and kills him. It also incinerates the contents of his safe. When the Doctor arrives, the alien is prevented from killing him by the Brigadier, and the alien leaves.

Lennox escapes from the laboratory and arrives at UNIT HQ wanting to see the Brigadier, so Sergeant Benton (John Levene) has him locked in a cell. Later, somebody places a radioactive isotope in Lennox's cell to kill him. Reegan sabotages the mix of rocket fuel for the Doctor's ship. The Doctor survives the increased G-force of lift off and heads for e a rendezvous with Mars Probe 7.

When he arrives, Recovery 7 is swallowed up by an enormous alien craft, half a mile across. The Doctor learns that the three human astronauts, Van Lyden, Frank Michaels (Neville Simons) and Joe Lefee (Steve Peters), are alive and well, although the ship's alien captain (Peter Noel Cook; voice: Peter Halliday) threatens to attack the Earth unless their three ambassadors are returned.

The Doctor returns to Earth, but Reegan sabotages the decontamination tank and the Doctor is gassed. He is taken to Reegan's laboratory. Reegan wants the Doctor to build a device which will translate the alien's speech - Taltalian's device allows the humans to communicate with the aliens only via a series of electronic pulses. Carrington arrives and is revealed to be Reegan's mysterious boss. He threatens to kill the Doctor but Reegan convinces Carrington that the Doctor is of use to them. While Reegan takes the aliens to steal more radioactive isotopes, Carrington plans a world-wide television broadcast from the Space Centre in which he will reveal the presence of the aliens to the world and appeal to all nations to unite in war against the invaders whom he blames for the death of Jim Daniels on his final Mars mission.

The Doctor constructs a Morse signaller with which to alert UNIT and also builds the translator device. Carrington has the Brigadier arrested, but he escapes and liberates the Doctor and Liz. They all return to the Space Centre with the aliens and Carrington is arrested before he can start his broadcast. The Doctor arranges with the alien captain to swap the alien ambassadors for the human pilots and then leaves the situation for the Brigadier and Liz to manage.

Synopsis from Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Handbook by David J. Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker, reprinted with permission; further reproduction is not permitted.

Production Team
Margot Heyhoe (Assistant Floor Manager), Christine Rawlins (Costumes), David Myerscough-Jones (Designer), A A Englander (Film Cameraman), Tony Leggo (Film Cameraman), Don Goddard (Film Editor), Chris Wimble (Film Editor), Marion Richards (Make-Up), Teresa Wright (Make-Up), Barry Letts (Producer), Nicholas John (Production Assistant), Terrance Dicks (Script Editor), Brian Hodgson (Special Sounds), Ralph Walton (Studio Lighting), Geoff Shaw (Studio Lighting), Dave Sydenham (Studio Lighting), Gordon Mackie (Studio Sound), Brian Hiles (Studio Sound), Delia Derbyshire (Theme Arrangement), Ron Grainer (Title Music), Peter Day (Visual Effects), Ian Scoones (Visual Effects)
Story Notes
An atmospheric but much maligned story where the aliens aren't the villains, "The Ambassadors of Death" is the earliest story originally made in color for which much of the color footage is lost; only episode 1 was retained in its original color format, with the remaining six currently existing only in poor quality color (see Archives). Though David Whitaker is credited as screenwriter, Trevor Ray penned the final version of episode 1 and Malcolm Hulke finalized the scripts for episodes 2-7; Whitaker himself only penned draft scripts through episode 3. This story features the first regular appearance of John Levene as Sergeant Benton, who had been briefly introduced in the Troughton era. The opening titles are broken into two pieces, the logo and then the title separated by some of the action (except for episode 1, this was the reprise from the previous week's chapter); during the title, "The Ambassadors" appeared first on screen followed by "of Death" zooming into view accompanied by a musical "sting". This was the first story to credit on-screen the Havoc stunt organization, though this group (managed by Derek Ware) had been employed on the series since "The Smugglers". The working titles of the story were both "The Invaders from Mars" and "The Carriers of Death". A trailer created specially for this serial exists on the master tape of episode 7 of "Doctor Who and the Silurians".
For more in-depth information about the contents of this story, a complete episode-by-episode detailed breakdown can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.
Additional, more detailed information about the production of this story can be found at Shannon Patrick Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel).
Video release
Released as "The Ambassadors of Death" in partially recoloured version in the UK [May 2002] and Australia/New Zealand [July 2002] (BBC catalog #7265), US/Canada [October 2003] (WHV catalog #E1856); episodic format, photomontage cover. Episodes 1 and 5 are in full color, with other episodes altering between color and black & white footage depending on availability of source material (nearly 90 total minutes in color.) US/Canada version sold individually as well as part of the "End of the Universe Collection" 13-tape set [October 2003] (WHV catalog #E1840).
In Print
Novelised as "Doctor Who -- The Ambassadors of Death" by Terrance Dicks (Target #121), hardcover and paperback, first released in 1987 with cover art by Tony Masero. Rereleased in 1991 with cover art by Alister Pearson.
For more details on the various novelizations of this story, with additional background material, artwork and details of both UK and foreign releases, visit On Target.
Links and Additional Info
Restoration Team:More detailed information on technical matters concerning color restoration difficulties with "The Ambassadors of Death" can be found at the Doctor Who Restoration Team website under the heading "Colour Restorations".
Screencap Descriptions
Descriptions of each story screen capture above right, top to bottom:
  • One of the ambassadors of death come to Earth
  • the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) in the capsule
  • the Probe 7 and Recovery 7 dock
  • the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney)
  • the misguided General Carrington (John Abineri)
  • Liz (Caroline John) at the business end of a gun
  • the UNIT crew fires upon the invaders
  • the Doctor and the Brigadier investigate the return capsule