Monday, August 17, 2009
Season 7 is an odd bird, not only for what was seen onscreen, but because of the varying styles and philosophies. With new full-time producer Barry Letts only arriving on the scene almost halfway through production of the four stories that would make up Jon Pertwee's debut season on the programme, there was definitely a lack of cohesion on the way the show was produced. Spearhead From Space was made entirely on film (because of circumstances beyond the control of the makers of the programme, understandably) and looks nothing like any other Doctor Who story as a result. The Silurians went out, mistakenly, under the moniker Doctor Who and the Silurians, and the odd music score made for another jarring entry into the Doctor Who canon. The final story of the season, Inferno, had a special credit sequence made for it (the last time we would ever see such a thing in Doctor Who again), and director Douglas Camfield had to bow out midway through production due to health problems.
The Ambassadors of Death is no different in its desire of wanting a unique opening credit sequence. For the episodes in this story, the titles fade down before the credits appear, after which we see a small teaser of the episode to come (in episodes 2-7, the standard cliffhanger reprise would be seen here). Once the teaser happens, we hear, for the first time ever, "the scream", that sting of music that leads into the theme music that has become so familiar to us now, followed by the title, writer, and episode number. I love the way the titles comes on screen, with "THE AMBASSADORS" zooming up towards the camera, followed by (and punctuated with a bullet) "OF DEATH". So cool. I almost wish they would have added an exclamation point, along with an "IN COLOUR" beneath it.
Michael Ferguson's direction in this is assured and confident, brash and audacious, and brave and bold as a Kang should be. The constant zooms in and out (especially the transition between two consecutive zooms, at different angles, into Ralph Cornish, followed by a zoom out from The Doctor watching events on TV) is brilliant. The Doctor's entrance into mission control is priceless, and displays a Doctor of complete arrogance, yet in complete control.
The battle between UNIT and the thugs in the warehouse is the real birth of the classic Jon Pertwee era, and all thanks the action by HAVOC. HAVOC was a team of stuntmen who appeared in fewer stories than you'd think (by Season 9's The Curse of Peladon, the HAVOC era was already over, replaced by the one-off PROFILE stunt team era), but they left an indelible impression on the stories that they graced with their presence. The battle in the warehouse is remarkable, containing a level of action seldom seen since in the series. The Brigadier, fresh from his blowing up of the Silurian base (FTW), is large and in charge here. Is there any more heroic (and bloodthirsty) scene than of him shooting a man off a balcony, then dispensing with two other (unseen) assailants in the space of three seconds? The end of the battle is very spaghetti western, with director Ferguson milking all he can out of some breathtaking closeups.
But the bestest best part of this episode, and perhaps even this story as a whole (and we're only at episode one, here) is Dudley Simpson's score, the absolute pinnacle of his career. His UNIT theme is brilliant and has never been topped. My favourite piece of music (all of which was still pre-recorded in those days, and not written specifically for any scene in particular) is the loop containing just four notes played on three tympani, played over and over to great effect. Simpson lost his orchestra after this story, being forced to do all of scores on a synthesizer for Season 8. When he finally regained his orchestra, he seemed to lose his groove and most of his music started sounding similar. I'll enjoy these seven episodes if only for Dudley Simpson.
The 1970s arrive with not just a bang, but several bangs. This might not necessarily be the best episode of Doctor Who ever, but it is most certainly the coolest.
Posted by Steven at 11:09 AM