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"You'll die if you touch them!"
―The Doctor
The Ambassadors of Death
Series: Doctor Who - TV Stories
Season Number: Season 7
Story Number: 53
Doctor: Third Doctor
Companions: Liz Shaw
The Brigadier
Sergeant Benton
Enemy: General Carrington
James Quinlan
Dr. Bruno Taltalian
Setting: Earth & Earth Orbit, circa 1970s
Writer: David Whitaker
Trevor Ray (episode 1, uncredited)
Malcolm Hulke (episodes 2-7, uncredited)
Director: Michael Ferguson
Broadcast: 21st March - 2nd May 1970
Format: 7 25-minute Episodes
Previous Story: Doctor Who and the Silurians
Following Story: Inferno

The Ambassadors of Death was the third story of Season 7, and was first broadcast in seven weekly parts from 21st March to 2nd May, 1970.



The Doctor joins UNIT's investigation into the mystery surrounding Mars Probe 7. Space Control, headed by Professor Ralph Cornish, has had no contact with the astronauts on board since it started back from Mars seven months ago, and now the Recovery 7 rescue mission has run into similar difficulties.

This second ship does get back to Earth, but the astronauts are kidnapped after landing and Liz Shaw notices that the Geiger counter is at maximum. It transpires that the ship's occupants were not the human astronauts after all but a trio of radiation-dependent alien ambassadors who had swapped places with them.

The Doctor makes a solo flight in Recovery 7 and docks with Mars Probe 7, still orbiting in space. He is then intercepted by a huge alien spaceship and taken on board, where he finds the real astronauts unharmed. The aliens' Captain threatens to destroy the Earth unless their three ambassadors are released.

The Doctor is allowed to go and, after returning to Space Control, discovers that the kidnapping of the ambassadors is part of a scheme devised by xenophobic ex-astronaut General Carrington to discredit the aliens and convince the world's authorities to wage war against them. The Doctor and UNIT are able to thwart his plans and arrange the safe exchange of ambassadors for astronauts.


Episode 1

With the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce providing security, the British Space Programme under Professor Ralph Cornish oversees the launch of the Recovery Seven probe. This has been sent to Mars to make contact with the missing Mars Probe Seven and its three astronauts, who lost contact with Earth eight months earlier. The pilot of Recovery Seven, Charles Van Lyden, makes contact with the Probe but is then silenced by a piercing unearthly sound. The noise troubles the Doctor who travels with his assistant Liz Shaw to the Space Centre to investigate the situation, offering insights into the origin and meaning of the sound, which he interprets as coded messages. 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.

Episode 2

Taltalian escapes the room. Meanwhile Recovery Seven has returned to Earth and while UNIT is transporting it more of Carrington’s troops stage an ambush and steal the vessel. The Doctor relocates it, by which time it is empty. 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 and so Carrington had been acting with authority in his actions.

The UNIT team in Bessie

Episode 3

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. 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 now engineers the kidnapping of Liz Shaw to aid his own scientist, Lennox, a disgraced Cambridge professor, in maintaining the alien beings while they are incarcerated.

Episode 4

Together they build a device to communicate with and control the aliens, who are sent on a killer rampage at the Space Centre, killing Quinlan and others. Liz later helps Lennox escape, but his bid for freedom is cut short by Reegan’s merciless revenge. Despite the obstruction of the authorities, Ralph Cornish is determined to organise another space flight to Mars to investigate the situation. With Quinlan dead, the Doctor now decides to pilot the Recovery Seven probe ship himself. As he prepares to blast off Reegan tries to sabotage the probe by increasing the feed of M3 variant.

Episode 5

The Doctor survives the attempt on his life and succeeds in piloting the probe so that it connects with an enormous spacecraft orbiting Mars. Aboard the spaceship 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.

Episode 6

When the Doctor touches down he is gassed and kidnapped by Reegan, who takes him to Liz. Reegan’s real paymaster and the real organiser of the situation is revealed to them: General Carrington. The General reveals his actions have been prompted by xenophobia driven by his own encounter with the alien beings when he piloted Mars Probe Six 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.

Episode 7

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.

UNIT soldiers 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. Sadly, he is taken away, protesting he was only following his moral duty. 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.


Production crew


  • At the start of the adventure, the Doctor has not yet forgiven the Brigadier for his destruction of the Silurian base. He can make solid objects vanish and a few minutes later, re-appear.
  • This is the first story to feature Benton with the rank of Sergeant.
  • The Doctor is fixing the TARDIS' Time Vector Generator, which sends Liz 15 seconds into the future.
  • Liz can speak French.
  • The aliens are not native Martians.

Story Notes

  • Working titles for this story included The Invaders from Mars, Invaders from Mars and The Carriers of Death.
  • An unusual title sequence was used for this serial, with the sequence cutting off after the show's logo, repeating the previous week's cliffhanger, then returning to the titles for the serial's name, writer and episode number.
  • This was the last story written for Doctor Who by David Whitaker. He considered it his least favourite story.
  • The plot of this story resembles that of The Quatermass Experiment, where an astronaut who has apparently returned to Earth has in fact been replaced by an alien lifeform.
  • Apart from Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who retained his regular uniform, all UNIT ranks wore new futuristic-looking uniforms which only ever featured in this story. The usual velcro-fastened jacket, shirt and tie were replaced on this occasion with a zip-up jacket without lapels worn over a polo-neck sweater.
  • Although the entire story was made on colour videotape, only the first episode is retained in this format; in fact, it is the earliest episode that survives in the series' original videotaped format, either in colour or B&W. It is not, however, the first to exist in colour: Spearhead from Space, the first serial of that season, was (uniquely for the series) produced on 16mm colour film and survives in that format. The remaining six episodes survive only as black and white film recordings and poor-quality domestic colour recordings made from a US transmission in the 1970s. This recording is severely affected by a rainbow-coloured pattern of interference that at times overtakes the entire picture.
  • In 2002, a restoration project for the story's VHS release combined the usable colour information from the domestic recordings with the black and white picture from the film prints, creating a high-quality colour picture. In total, more than half of the serial's running time is presented in colour on the VHS release, including all of Episodes 1 and 5, and sections from 2, 3, 6 and 7. The remaining footage, including all of Episode 4, was not deemed suitable for colour restoration, and so remains in black and white. There have also been fan efforts to colourise the serial.


  • Episode 1 - 7.1 million viewers
  • Episode 2 - 7.6 million viewers
  • Episode 3 - 8.0 million viewers
  • Episode 4 - 9.3 million viewers
  • Episode 5 - 7.1 million viewers
  • Episode 6 - 6.9 million viewers
  • Episode 7 - 5.4 million viewers


to be added

Filming Locations

  • The exterior isotope factory scenes were filmed at Little Marlow Sewage Treatment Works.
  • Southall Gas Works in Middlesex and Blue Circle Cement Works in Buckinghamshire were used for the Space Headquarters.
  • Roads in Marlow and at the Marlow Weir were used for the chase sequences with Liz Shaw. Wycombe Air Park was used as Heldorf's lab, and Beacon Hill for Reegan's hideout.
  • Aldershot, Hampshire, warehouses on White Street, TCC Condensers in Ealing, and Folley's Gravel Pit at Spade Oak were also used.
  • All interior scenes were filmed at BBC Television Centre Studio 3.

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • Liz's tights change colour every week
  • Why would the aliens send information to Earth on how to construct a device that would enable them to take control of their ambassadors when they are supposed to be on a purely diplomatic mission? The device does not take control of them it just translates human speech. The enemies threaten to take away their radioactive material, which to them is vital, if they don't obey.
  • In Episode One, when the video screen retracts, the CSO image stays for several seconds.
  • When the spacecraft rotates, the image from the cockpit camera rotates with it (it should be fixed on one point).
  • The UNIT soldier who is killed by touching the same barrier as an alien in Episode Four, is alive and well and back at work in Episode Six. 'It might be a totally different solider, some people do look the same,like identical twins etc.
  • Also, radioactivity is depicted as being conductable like electricity. This is an alien form of radiation.
  • From this story onwards no military personnel ever moves between 'attention' and 'at ease' properly.
  • 'Variant' is spelt 'varient' on location props. People make spelling mistakes.
  • Taltalian's accent is French in the studio and English on location.He might be putting on an accent in certain part's of the story
  • Recovery Seven's nose cone changes colour between prop and model shots.
  • Quinlan's office safe slips about as the alien tries to open the door.
  • And how does the Doctor manage to get the TARDIS console through the doors? He dematerializes it, as demonstrated in Inferno, and mekes the short, purely spatial jump, to rematerializes it outside in the lab.
  • The screen that the Doctor and Brigadier use to triangulate the signal wobbles when it is touched.
  • When the capsule is landing, it is moving across the map of the Atlantic far faster than the announcements indicate.
  • The Ambassadors' touch is established as fatal, yet one assaults Reegan twice and he is unharmed. The Ambassadors' radiation would be low, so no harm done.
  • Why would the UNIT guard at the gate open fire on someone that he has no reason to believe hostile just because they didn't halt the first time he said to? As demonstrated in Spearhead from Space, UNIT soldiers are very non tolerant, one of them shot the doctor just because he didn't speak as he came from the bushes.
  • The Doctor tells Cornish that the extra G-force from a higher proportion of M3 Variant will not bother him and Cornish suggests that that would blow up the rocket. Then Reegan adds the extra M3. The extra G-force does seem to bother the Doctor but the rocket still does not blow up. The Doctor doesn't say it wouldn't bother him, but that it wouldn't harm him. Plus, we can infer from the dialogue that had Stage 1 not been jettisoned early it would have blown up, taking Recovery 7 and the Doctor with it.
  • When Reegan is sabotaging the rocket, M3 Variant is mis-spelled M3 Varient.
  • Lennox would not be killed so quickly by a radioactive isotope -- no matter how radioactive it was. And why didn't he scream for help or just chuck the thing out the window? And, who can the unseen person who gives it to him possibly be?
  • The Doctor suggests to Cornish that he can use pure M3 Variant to send the Ambassadors back to space since they will not be affected by the extra G-force. Neither he nor Cornish seem too concerned that this might blow these friendly aliens up or send them into orbit around the sun.



DVD, Video and Other Releases

2002 VHS release
  • Released on VHS in 2002 as a single selection, and in 2003 in the United States as part of the End of the Universe collection.
  • Editing for VHS release completed by Doctor Who Restoration Team.


Main article: The Ambassadors of Death (novelisation)

See also

External links

  • Official BBC Episode Guide for The Ambassadors of Death
  • Doctor Who Reference Guide: Detailed Synopsis - The Ambassadors of Death
  • A Brief History of Time (Travel) entry to The Ambassadors of Death
  • The Locations Guide to Doctor Who - The Ambassadors of Death
Season 7
Spearhead from Space  • Doctor Who and the Silurians  • The Ambassadors of Death  • Inferno
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at The_Ambassadors_of_Death. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the TARDIS Index File, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 3.0 (Unported) (CC-BY-SA).

This article uses material from the "The Ambassadors of Death" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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