THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH
Or, 'The Ambassadors...' whooosh - BOINGGG '...OF DEATH' as the opening credits would have it, in a unique version where the title sequence grinds to a halt each time to reshow the cliffhanger, before kicking back in for the story title, writer and episode number... of which there are a lot, but in fairness the leisurely pace of this story rarely equates to a drop in interest. There is a slightly surreal fading in and out of monochrome depending on whether the colour footage still exists for a given episode or scene, but this detracts surprisingly little from the presentation. That there are no clear-cut villains means there are an atypically high number of shades of grey (no pun intended) characterwise: the 'alien menace' are merely trying to retrieve their missing ambassadors, General Carrington is heroically misguided, Taltalion a pawn of Reegan, Quinlan an adjunct of those two, Reegan trying to exploit the existing situation for financial gain... Even the 'good guy' scientist Cornish seems as if he may suddenly turn on the Doctor and friends for substantial periods, without this ever actually happening - possibly from his early friction with the Doctor (although this is mostly the irascible Doctor's fault), and possibly this is just the aura that Ronald Allen gives off, considering his superb turn in 'The Dominators'. That the Doctor allows General Carrington to leave with dignity intact at the end, saying he "understands" his actions as they arose from his prior experiences on Mars, speaks volumes about the shading of motives and actions present here. Reegan fills the 'evil' role the most, manipulating his colleagues, the 'ambassadors' and the Doctor and Liz, and killing off opponents, but possesses an undeniable roguish charisma that makes him oddly likeable. When he is trying to thwart the Doctor's space mission and safe return, the sequence of him clambering on the huge industrial rigs of Space Centre is among the best location work yet seen in the series, with some superb camerawork in the 'puddle reflection' shot that enables us to follow his progress upwards without shifting the viewpoint. The spacecraft model shots are likewise the highest-quality seen to date, the alien mothership's surreal backdrops are used sparingly, which keeps their efficacy high, and the fact that the aliens themselves are never named, almost totally kept under wraps and largely sidelined means they are far more effective - the faceless, silent spacesuits are more spookily unnerving than any conventional 'monster' makeup and constume would have been. They are obviously incredibly powerful and can kill with a touch, but it is clear that they do so only because they are being controlled and not through their own volition.
One thing I also really liked was the weirdly wonderful incidental music, where violent action scenes with the aliens and gun battles are soundtracked by ethereal, atmospheric sweeps of melody in an inexplicably effective manner. Lastly, the use of the John Wakefield character to literally narrate the action onscreen is a brilliant device, as not only does he look and sound like a quintessential '70s TV presenter, but his 'telecast' pieces to camera are a very clever way of providing plot exposition bluntly but without seeming forced. That he is played by Michael Wisher means that, as Geoffrey Beevers crops up as a UNIT private, we have both a future Davros and future Master in this story!
Episodes watched: 163
Episodes still to watch: 559
Actually watched the first four episodes last night, but was so tired by that stage I couldn't be bothered to post an entry here then - hence this is one overarching view rather than two half ones!