He Has a Moral Duty. Just Ask Him.
Here's a fun and obscure drinking game for all of you classic Doctor Who fans: Watch the last three episodes of The Ambassadors of Death, and every time General Carrington says the words "moral duty" take a drink. Not only will you get completely plastered, but it will probably dramatically improve the perceived quality of the story.
Let's talk about that.
The Ambassadors of Death - Episode 7
(TARDIS Data Core recap)
The bottom line of The Ambassadors of Death is that, when he was an astronaut on an earlier Mars mission, General Carrington met aliens. Because they were blue and lumpy and ate radiation, he decided that they were monsters that must be destroyed to save humanity. This, despite the fact that their first contact was an overture to send ambassadors and begin a peaceful collaboration with humanity. So Carrington came home to Earth, didn't tell anyone about the aliens, and instigated a conspiracy to trick the aliens into sending their ambassadors. His plan was to then control these radioactive astronaut zombies and make them murder a few people, so that the entire world would understand why it was necessary to attack a technologically superior space faring race. He fully expected this plan to end well. And of course, he felt it was his moral duty. I know this, because he says so about fifty times in the last few episodes. I think he was just a wee bit confused about the word "moral".
I feel very strongly that Inigo Montoya would agree with me.
Of course in the end the Doctor reveals the General's plot to the entire world, the General is arrested, and the three titular ambassadors are returned safely to their own people in exchange for the three human astronauts. Hooray!
As much as this story bored me in the second half, there actually are some pretty interesting and relevant things about it.
First off, it is worth noting that the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission happened at precisely the same time this story was being broadcast. The mission was launched on Saturday, April 11, 1970, the same day that episode four of The Ambassadors of Death aired. The capsule's oxygen tank exploded two days later, and the entire world was captivated by this disaster for most of the week before the crew was finally safely returned to Earth that Friday -- the day before episode five aired. Taken in that context, The Ambassadors of Death was truly a story rooted deeply in the zeitgeist of the time. The story was filmed not long after Apollo 11 made the very first moon landing, and the first pass of the script was written the year before when Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey had captivated the world.
The one huge thing that this story did, and which almost immediately became the norm for Doctor Who, was to add the distinctive cliffhanger sting sound at the end of each episode. It's not so much that the director added a new sound, but more than he took the existing opening falling digital effect from the closing credits music and boosted it up and tweaked the treble and resonance such that it jumped out much more. It added quite a bit of drama to the cliffhanger endings, and really punched up the suspense.
Another fun piece of trivia is that Liz Shaw actress Caroline John was actually pregnant during filming. If you go back and watch the sequence in the middle of the story where she is chased across a narrow and slippery Marlow Weir, with the rushing water all around, it is absolutely terrifying. True, it was a costumed stunt man who did the actual tumble over the rails and dangling over the water, but much of the chase was done by Caroline herself.
So anyway, that's it for this story. Tomorrow I begin Inferno, which is thankfully the last seven-episode story of the Third Doctor era. After that they are all four- or six-episode stories, with one random five-parter thrown in at the end of next season. The good news is, Inferno looks particularly good. I hope it holds up to its reputation.
Companion(s): Liz Shaw, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Episode(s): The Ambassadors of Death - Episode 7
Steps Walked: 6,950 today, 926,824 total
Distance Walked: 3.57 miles today, 451.28 miles total
Weight: 269.52 lbs (five day moving average), net change -37.78 lbs