The Ambassadors of Death
The Ambassadors of Death was the third story of Season 7. It was the Third Doctor’s first adventure into space without the use of his TARDIS. It also featured the first instance the TARDIS console was shown in color format, and for that matter, removed from the TARDIS entirely. The Doctor had disconnected it and moved it to a study room inside UNIT headquarters now that his TARDIS was rendered inoperative, needing to utilize it in his experiments.
With the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce providing security, the British Space Program under Professor Ralph Cornish oversees the launch of the Recovery 7 probe. This has been sent to Mars to make contact with the missing Mars Probe 7 and its three astronauts, who lost contact with Earth eight months earlier.
The pilot of Recovery 7 , Charles Van Lyden, makes contact with the probe but is then silenced by a piercing unearthly sound. The noise troubles the Third Doctor, who travels with his assistant Liz Shaw to the Space Center to investigate the situation, offering insights into the origin and meaning of the sound, which he interprets as coded messages. When he says that the sound was going to be repeated, he is proven correct.
He also identifies a reply message sent from Earth and this is pinpointed to be coming from a warehouse seven miles away. Led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, UNIT troops attack the warehouse and engage in a gun battle with troops organised by General Carrington. Taltalian pulls a gun on Liz and the Doctor in the computer room.
Taltalian demands the tape from the Doctor, but the Doctor manages to keep the tape to himself using a “transmigration of object” trick which was experimented with earlier in the story. Taltalian escapes. The Doctor with the Brigadier to meet one of the prisoners, a corporal, who was captured at the warehouse. The Doctor initially follows the niceties of interrogation, but as he walks out the door, he turns around and asks the man if he’s had a cup of tea. When the man answers him, the Doctor catches him by surprise. He suddenly bellows in his face, “Stand to attention when you’re talking to me and call me sir!” The man goes staunch and replies with, “Sir!” It keys in the Doctor’s suspicion that this is man is conditioned to military protocol, and he deduces that he has been working over orders, but he cannot find out whose specifically.
The crew finds that Recovery 7 has separated early. Meanwhile, the corporal is freed by a rogue soldier. The computer that the Doctor is working with has been sabotaged by Taltalian (the computer stating that 2 and 2 make 5).
Recovery 7 lands, and they decide to take it back to space center. UNIT provides a truck for transport. A helicopter appears, and their men engage in a gunfight with UNIT men. The attackers succeed in taking the rocket, but the Doctor sees them. He tricks them with his Anti-thief device, and he retrieves the rocket.
The Doctor and the Brigadier confront the top man, Sir James Quinlan (who is in on the conspiracy). The astronauts have still refused to come out. The astronauts respond, but they repeat the same words over and over. The Doctor orders the capsule opened.
The craft is opened, and found to be empty, save for a recording of the astronaut’s voices and a high amount of radiation. Carrington has ensured the contents – three space suited astronauts – are detained elsewhere, feeding them radiation to keep them alive. Carrington is now introduced to the Doctor by Sir James Quinlan, the Minister for Technology, who explains that he is head of the newly formed Space Security Department, and that his actions were to protect the astronauts as they had been infected with contagious radiation. Quinlan states that they did not want the public to become panic-stricken so Carrington had been acting with authority in his actions. By the time Carrington takes the Doctor and his friends to meet the astronauts, the situation has changed again.
A criminal named Reegan has organised their abduction, killing the soldiers and scientists protecting them. Two of his henchmen are ordered to protect the astronauts, but the radiation they emit later kills them. Reegan, suited in protective clothes disposed of their irradiated bodies in a Hertfordshire gravel pit, burying them under the rocks. He then returns to his laundry van. Covering his tracks with camouflage tactics, he pushes a dashboard button that flips over the van’s number plate to another registration code. At the same time, the “Hayhoe Launderers Ltd” signage on the van changes to read “Silcock Bakeries”. Later on, the worker manning the industrial shovel uncovers the bodies when sifting the gravel.
When the Doctor and Liz examine the situation they work out that human tissue could not have withstood the degree of radiation emitted to the astronauts, who are still in orbit, meaning the three space suits contain alien beings instead. Reegan and his own scientist, Lennox, a disgraced Cambridge professor, are keeping the aliens alive, thinking the radiation needs to disperse, but they are weakening. Reegan enters their locked chamber to check up on one that collapses, but the alien recovers, thrusts him into a wall, and attempts to escape. Lennox flees, running up to find the laboratory exit locked, nearly getting him killed by the advancing alien. It runs out of strength again and falls down the stairs before laying a hand on him. Reegan recovers from the attack, disregarding Lennox’s anger about locking the door. They realize the aliens need radiation to survive and begin dosing them with isotopes.
In order to aid Lennox in maintaining the alien beings while they are incarcerated, Reegan lures Liz and the Doctor into the open by issuing a false announcement that the Brigadier wants them to examine the bodies of the radiation victims now uncovered in the gravel pit. The Doctor chooses not to go, wanting to ready Recovery 7 for another flight into space rather than wait for Recovery 8, as its radiation has dissipated. Soon after Liz departs, the Brigadier walks in unexpectedly and the Doctor learns he didn’t send for them. Lethbridge-Stewart immediately gets after Liz, who is now on her way to Hertfordshire in Bessie. Another car staked out on a side road waits for her to pass, then takes chase from behind and Liz fights to stay ahead of it. However, the horsepower of the modern vehicle quickly outpaces the vintage car and overtakes Bessie on a straight patch of road. Liz is forced to stop and bail out in a sprint, where Reegan’s henchmen attempt to capture her. The chase leads to a pier, where Liz fights off one man, but slips over a railing as another man grabs her by the legs, and she dangles helplessly above a death drop.
Liz is saved by the henchmen and brought to Reegan, who forces her to help Lennox. Meanwhile, the Doctor learns that Taltalian was ordered by Carrington to sabotage the equipment, and receives a telephone call from Reegan warning him to stop interfering, holding Liz’s life ransom.
Lennox lets Liz escape from the villain’s hideout, but she is captured by Taltalian on his way to the hideout, where he gives Reegan a device that will translate the aliens’ speech and give some control over them.
Reegan sends him back with a bomb to kill the Doctor, a suitcase packed full of explosives with a timer that can be set to go off at his leisure, but unknown to Taltalian it is meant to kill him as well. Reegan sets the dial to “0” behind Taltalian’s back. Once opened, the suitcase will explode. Meanwhile, the Space Center is met with hindrance after hindrance. The Doctor offers to go up in place of an astronaut. Taltalian arrives with the bomb. He opens the suitcase to set the dial, unaware it is already primed to detonate immediately. When the bomb detonates, it destroys the table beneath the suitcase, the Doctor is injured by blast debris, and Taltalian is killed, hit with the full explosive force of the bomb.
The Doctor discovers a device similar to the device he’s building, but in Taltalian’s position. The aliens are sent on a killer rampage at the Space Center, killing Quinlan and others. As the Doctor checks Quinlan’s prone body, he is approached from behind by one of the aliens.
The Brigadier shoots at the alien, drawing it away from the Doctor, but is unable to stop it from killing one of his men and escaping. Liz helps Lennox escape, and the scientist goes to UNIT, wanting protective custody against Reegan’s wrath. Despite the obstruction of the authorities, Ralph Cornish is determined to organize another space flight to Mars to investigate the situation. With Quinlan dead, motions are put in place to choose a successor. The Doctor now decides to pilot the Recovery 7 probe ship himself, the ship’s radiation levels having decreased considerably, but General Carrington puts up resistance toward the idea, suggesting it carry nuclear arms if it is to go into orbit. Regardless, the launch is carried out without further interruption from the general. Reegan, learning of Lennox’s betrayal, plants a radioactive isotope in his cell underneath a food dish, which quickly kills him. Lennox orders the cell locked without knowing that he’s sealed his fate. He uncovers the isotope and panics in his final moments. As the Doctor prepares to blast off, Reegan tries to sabotage the probe by increasing the feed of M3 variant, knocking out a UNIT guard, booting a maintenance worker over a railing, and striking down another worker near the main fuel supply. The overload of M3 threatens to launch Recovery 7 so far that it collides into the Sun. The Doctor survives the attempt on his life, telling the mission control to jettison the primary boosters early to reduce speed, with just enough power to reach orbit. The boosters are detached and he succeeds in piloting the probe so that it connects with Mars Probe 7. As Recovery 7 docks with the Mars probe, an unidentified object heads straight towards them at 7,000 miles per hour, on a collision course. The Doctor peers out the porthole of the shuttle, where he sees a large alien saucer approaching.
The object is revealed to be an alien spaceship, which brings the Doctor aboard. Once there, the Doctor discovers the three original astronauts are unharmed but mentally deluded into believing they are in quarantine. An alien being now reveals itself to the Doctor and explains the humans are being held aboard the craft pending the safe return of the alien ambassadors. They had been sent to Earth following a treaty between the race and mankind, but the terms of this agreement have now been broken because of the detention of the ambassadors. The Doctor offers his personal guarantee to help return the ambassadors to their mother ship and resolve the conflict before a state of war is declared, and is permitted to leave the alien craft and return to Earth. When the Doctor touches down he is gassed and kidnapped by Reegan, who takes him to Liz. Reegan’s real paymaster, the real organizer of the situation, is revealed to them: General Carrington. Declaring that he had intended Reegan to kill the Doctor, the General pulls a gun on him, declaring that killing him is his “moral duty”.
Reegan convinces Carrington to spare the Doctor and make use of his scientific ability. The General reveals his actions have been prompted by xenophobia driven by his own encounter with the alien beings when he piloted Mars Probe 6 some years earlier. His co-pilot, Jim Daniels, was killed on contact with the aliens and the General signed the treaty with the aliens to lure three of their number to Earth, where he hoped he could unveil their real agenda of alien invasion. The use of the ambassadors to kill people was similarly done to arouse public opinion against them. The next phase of his plan is to force the ambassadors to confess their plot on public television. Leaving the Doctor and Liz working on a new and improved communication device to translate the aliens, Carrington departs for the Space Centre, where he aims to unmask the alien ambassador before the eyes of the world – and then call on the powers of the Earth to blast the spaceship from the skies. Using his work on the translator as a cover, the Doctor transmits a morse code SOS to the Brigadier’s men. UNIT soldiers then raid the secret base and rescue the Doctor and Liz, apprehending Reegan and his thugs. The Doctor races to the Space Centre, and he and the Brigadier apprehend Carrington before he can make his broadcast. Carrington is taken away, protesting he was only following his moral duty. He asks the Doctor if he understands why he took such actions, and the Doctor sadly sympathizes with the general, regretting that it came to this. The Doctor arranges for Cornish and Liz to send the ambassadors back to their own people, after which the three human astronauts will be returned. He says his goodbyes to Liz and the Brigadier, departing back to his UNIT laboratory.