The Ambassadors of Death

Doctor Who Big Finish Amassadors Death

I`m a big fan of Season Seven [and would have been quite happy for Season Eight to have carried on in the same vein] but The Ambassadors… OF DEATH! has to be its weakest script, which is a pity. First we had shop window dummies coming to life followed by lizard men and now we get blokes in space suits who zap people. Hmmm. Okay, you can possibly see the antecedents of the much more effective monsters of Silence In The Library here but plot-wise the whole thing staggers along for seven episodes, desperately trying to work out where the hell it’s meant to be going, confused as to what it’s actually about.

complete-history-24It’s a bit like The Enemy of The World, in that it’s not really a Doctor Who story so much as an espionage story with the Doctor in it. The monsters aren’t even really monsters as such, with monstrous motives, they’re portrayed as unwilling pawns of the humans, even though they still kill people. And it’s a shame that General Carrington is let off the hook by reason of insanity, he would have been a much better villain if his motives were xenophobic and that would certainly have given the Pertwee Doctor the opportunity for one of those nice chats about morality he’s so fond of. Except that the Doctor in this isn’t the Pertwee Doctor, at least not yet, he’ll arrive next year when Letts & Dicks aren’t trying to clear up the mess that Sherwin has left for them.

So the Fan Edit Challenge was to make the best of the muddle that ended up on screen and when I initially edited this story back in 2010 it ran an hour and six minutes. Looking at it a couple of years later it was clear to me that I had edited it far too severely. This was probably due to being more concerned about keeping the running time down at the expense of letting the story tell itself, something I learned to do as I gained more experience. So in 2012 I went back and redid the whole thing from scratch, using the 2010 Edit as a guide track. This time it came out at just over an hour and a half and was much better as a result.

I did episodes seven & six first, then went back and did episodes one & two before finishing off with three, four and five. The reason for doing it that way was that the beginning and the end are usually the bits of the story requiring less cuts, since they set everything up and then wrap everything up. The soggy, stodgy middle episodes, particularly in stories as long as this one, is usually where most of the padding is located so it makes sense to do the easiest bits first, hence the decision to do the episodes at either end and then work my way in!

The opening credits were a real pain in the arse to do, with the problem being not so much the timing but trying to replicate the font accurately. In the end, the answer was to do each word individually, resized to match and each on it’s own layer. When it came to all of the writers who worked on the story, I credited the lot of them, something that never happened in the TX version. To quote The Television Companion – 

“Trevor Ray wrote the final version of Episode 1 and Malcolm Hulke that of Episodes 2-5… David Whitaker himself wrote nothing beyond Episode 3 in script form.”

So Marxist Hulke gets the first credit since he wrote four eps out of the seven, the most out of them all, followed by Dicks who wrote the final two then Whitaker and Ray. The reason for that is that although Whitaker wrote three eps, all of them were re-written by others.


Seven episodes is really far too many for the amount of story they`ve got to tell but the production team did a good job of padding out the story to the number of episodes required. With the 2012 version I tried to let the story tell itself at its own pace while cutting out as much of the padding as possible, and there was a lot of it to cut. Give the writers their due, they certainly packed a heck of a lot of incident into the story. The problem with that from a Fan Edit point of view is that it means there`s lots of stuff that gets referenced in later episodes, making it almost impossible to get rid of. That was the problem with the original edit, too many things of those things happened off stage. Now normally that works out fine but in the first version you felt like you`d missed something.

The 2012 version was sourced from a superior quality copy of the VHS release, which was a combination of colour and black & white footage. No sooner had I completed work on the bloody thing than the BBC announced that they would be releasing the story on DVD with everything in colour, thanks to the Restoration Team boffins with their chromadot colour recovery witchcraft stuff. I was buggered if I was going to go back and redo the bloody thing all over again so soon after finally completing it, and it’s only now, three years down the line and with the end in sight that I felt like revisiting it. Which makes this 2015 edit the third time I’ve edited this story!

By and large I stuck to the 2012 version, which had entailed a lot of work in locating clean versions of the stings used in the story so I could add them in where I felt they should have been but weren’t. [The only new music cue is a Don Harper one from The Invasion which I used for the gun battle in the warehouse, which felt a bit empty without any music behind it.] Coming back to this story three years later, with all that additional experience inevitably resulting in different editing choices, didn’t result in any great difference in running time, with this final version running about one minute less than the earlier one.

On the technical side of things, once again, like The Mind Of Evil before it, the contrast on most of the colour recovery footage was pretty low, requiring me to boost it by about 20%, with episode four being particularly bad and “grey”. You can see the difference here:

ambassadors death before after color recovery

Different sections of different episodes required different settings to achieve something like a “normal” result and some worked better than others, but overall it was still an improvement on what we had to work with. So, in a way, fixing this fan edit wasn’t all that different from what it must have been like trying to write the bloody thing!




2 thoughts on “The Ambassadors of Death

  1. I remember being extremely excited when the DVD version was first announced, as all we had was the really bad 2002 VHS that kept alternating from colour to black and white. I think I probably expected too much from the DVD however as I thought it looked…well…a bit terrible.

    1. Aside from admiring the chroma dot wizardry, I found the contrast was extremely low on both this and The Mind of Evil, meaning I had to whack them both up to get a TX-like result. The Fan Edit looks much better…!

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