I have some faint memories of Patrick Troughton's Doctor, including one recurring nightmare that originated from one long-lost serials that was explained many years later ("Power Of The Daleks" actually). However Jon Pertwee's cracking start to his tenure with shop display dummies breaking through windows in "Spearhed Ferom Space" left a deep impression and his fixing them meant I adopted him immediately to become "my" Doctor. I've long since believed that after going over to colour. the idea of three seven-parters after "Spearhead" in the 1970 series was meant to reduce the total number of sets required - a 25-week series could stretch to six different stories after all.
A bit of filler here and there is inevitable - as others note particular script difficulties with "Ambassadors" may have contributed to that - but to this fan of DW it isn't overly apparent. It's only much later I found out its turbulent history. David Whitaker first developed this story well into the future for the Second Doctor, plus of course his then-companions Jamie and Zoe, but when they all departed Whitaker re-wrote it for the new-start colour series. And again, then some more until, fed-up and unable to do it justice he was paid-off in full and effectively 'written-out' of DW in every sense of the term. Terrance Dicks, Malcolm Hulke and Trevor Ray contributed to the finished article, but whitaker's name was left as sole credit, considering his being mucked about as he was. It might have worked better with an episode or two less but as ever time was not on their side back then. Despite that, the result is a testament to his original idea and the persistence of the subsequent writers to realise it into a full adventure.
Knowing all this now, I wondered if this new DVD outing would retain much of an impact, especially having bought and played the VHS three times since purchase. Well, it does, and shows how David Whitaker's original idea was worked into a good story essentially by committee without us viewers noticing. I watched it all in one evening! It was helped no end by the picture quality being very good in the main, and being in colour all the way was an unparalleled joy. The first storyline twist is that it is non-volatile aliens who are taken prisoner by an ex-astronaut-mow-army-general, the genius move though is that they are used sparingly in this adventure and it's a real case of 'less is more'. The very brief unmasking of one when it comes was genuinely horrifying, and still could unnerve young children today who buy into watching it. Other tense scenes make up for any perceived languishing of the story here and there. A critical friend of mine and fellow DW enthusiast watchied this story for the first time thisn year and after prevous negative reports found it surprisingly enjoyable.
Caroline John is excellent as Liz Shaw and action stunt team Havoc bring some grit to fight sequences, especially in the opening episode once they have located where the signal transmissions to the aliens are coming from. UNIT are getting into their stride in this adventure. After two serials with different recruits in the UNIT ranks, recently-promoted Sergeant Benton's re-appearance heralds his becoming a core family team member that would characterise the Pertwee years which, in conjuction with more earth-based stories, greatly appealed to me. Nothing scares more than bringing danger and fear to your own doorstep, rather than alien worlds artificially-created on a budget - Nigel Kneale, the creator of Professor Quatermass to whom this period of Doctor Who owes a debt understood this very well. The resultant 1970 series of Doctor Who to my mind achieved an edge of realism that would be watered-down in later years and "The Ambassadors Of Death" bringing a slightly-futuristic Space Age in on the deal - if you suspend the disbelief - was ambitious and very credible to the young audience hooked on the "Apollo" missions at the time.
The viewing experience was slightly marred on the few softer, less detailed sections where recovered colour is of a poor-quality and has been cleaned up and amplified within an inch of its life by the Restoration Team. I put any disappointment I initially felt down to my incredibly high expectations bestowed upon it with such excellent restorations of "The Daemons" and "Terror Of The Autons" still fresh in my mind. And it's entirely forgiveable considering the RT's efforts in developing the Colour Recovery technique, an amazing achievement. By the way, the cost is probably one reason CR hasn't been used on much outside of "classic Doctor Who" (yet). Then again, the ITV engineers in the 1970's appear to have consistently used the chroma dot filter when telerecording colour series to achieve a leave a slightly cleaner picture. That the BBC's engineers didn't bother as much is all to our benefit forty years later! The audio deserves a mention too, taken from the domestic colour tape it is very clear, far superior to the telerecordings' optical tracks. Another RT result.
It was therefore a shame to find all seven episodes squeezed onto on disk - this wouldn't have helped the MPEG2 compression which is less tolerant of interlaced television pictures compared to the steady progressive frame-by-frame of film or filmised video. The second disk containng the extras was therefore rather underused - two episodes of the serial should have been put onto this second disk, the distribution of items would have made for a sharper picture overall. Only my opinion of course, but having fought MPEG2 myself in making my own DVD's it is rather obvious to me. Ah well.
If you haven't seen this story before, or have been put off by its seven parts, give it a go. And watch out for a copuple of history moments, such as the quirky, shortened, opening titles and theme, then the teaser from last week, then on the cliffhanger appears the remiaining opening titles sequence with an added sting on the serial name appearing - totally unique to this serial. episode 1 also features the first appearance of the electronic "scream" preceding the end title theme over the end credit sequence.