Or as it’s emphasised in the funky new title sequence variant, The Ambassadors… OF DEATH! I quite like having the titles interrupted by the cliffhanger resolution – it seems quite forward-thinking, considering pre-title sequences are now the norm for pretty much every type of TV show. This is a mid-title sequence, though, so let’s call it a lukewarm open. Also used for the first time: the scream into the end credits! Lovely stuff – a lot of cliffhangers have fallen flat over the first few seasons due to a lack of punctuation going into the titles.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this one. It nips along at a fair old pace, and I always like a story where it’s not clear who the villain is until late doors, especially when the baddies are more misguided than evil. General Carrington is a xenophobe and a maniac, but he thought he was doing what was right. His complete iron grip on the situation was impressive, and it’s a great performance from Rimmer’s dad.
The rest of the guest cast was strong, particularly the ultra-suave and cool-tempered Cornish, played by one of the Dominators. I also liked Reegan, who made for quite a likeable cold-blooded murderer, and of course the sudden return of Benton! He just pops up out of nowhere in episode five, like the production had only just remembered that he exists.
The story is notable for its vast use of CSO – this show has only been in colour for a few weeks, and already it’s separating and overlaying it. It doesn’t always work, but you simply have to applaud the ambition in making such extensive use of a technology that’s completely in its infancy – again, they were way ahead of their time. The dodgy bits are made up for by some lovely model work and of course the numerous action sequences.
But best of all, the Third Doctor’s character has now very much been established. He’s a product of his environment – no longer free to roam through time and space as he likes, plus he’s got roots for the first time since leaving Gallifrey, so he’s not quite as flighty and impulsive as his predecessors. His natural curiosity is still there though, and he’s channeling that into investigation and research. He’s still a rebel underneath, but he’s prepared to collaborate with others and form part of a team, albeit only on his own terms.
He’s working extremely well in conjunction with the Brigadier, with their deep respect for one another smoothing over their numerous differences in style and philosophy. In many ways, their relationship is similar to that of Bond and M, but they share the roles between them. The Doc reports the results of his field work to the Brig, and tries to influence his approach wherever possible. But it’s the Brig that plunges head-first into conflict, with the Doc hanging back and being more tactical.
The relationship with Liz, however, isn’t quite there, and it’s a shame. I really like her – both character and actress – but she just doesn’t have the bond with the Doctor that previous companions have had. It’s probably because they’re rarely alone together – when you travel in the TARDIS, The Doctor is the only constant in your life, but Liz gets to go home whenever the danger subsides, and presumably gets on with some light admin until the next crisis. It’s also why I’m not keen on the dynamic between the Twelfth Doctor and Clara – life with The Doctor should be the only life that companions know.