Review: Doctor Who: Books: The Black Archive 3: The Ambassadors of Death

BA003_Ambass_PRINTBy L.M. Myles

Obverse Books, out 1 March

“I had to do what I did. It was my moral duty.”

The third book in what’s turning out to be a fascinating series of short books on different serials from Doctor Who’s long history is focussed on the third story of Jon Pertwee’s tenure, part of that rather unusual seventh season of the show where so much was different from what had come before or would follow. L.M. Myles combines the context-setting of Jon Arnold’s Rose essay with the analytical aspects of Jim Smith’s The Massacre to produce a thought-provoking look at a story that was late arriving both in the Target line and the BBC DVD releases, and therefore perhaps isn’t as well known as some of its contemporaries.

After the usual scene-setting preliminaries, Myles kicks off with what’s perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book, a look at the trio of the Doctor, the Brigadier and Liz Shaw as Freud’s id, ego and superego, making some sharp observations about the way the roles move – and making me join her in regretting the lack of more of this trio in the series. One of the best comparisons of the way in which the Brigadier’s character was written is provided (the other scene is in The Time Monster), and those writing Candy Jar’s “young Lethbridge Stewart” novels could do worse than read this analysis of what makes the UNIT leader tick.

The separate relationships between the Doctor and Liz/the Brigadier are then discussed, with analogies that sort of work but, at least in one case, feel a little forced. The other characters’ motivations are analysed in detail – Reegan comes out of this rather better than you might expect while Carrington’s contradictory facets are discussed in a way that will make me watch the story rather differently next time around!

Myles moves on to the gender imbalance (which might be something of an understatement), as well as the importance of class to the story. There are also some very short looks at other aspects of the story, which perhaps might have been better served as factual appendices to the analytical meat of the book, although not, a little surprisingly, anything about how the new show seems to have retconned Ambassadors out of history with The Christmas Invasion…

The author clearly loves the story (as she freely admits) and there might be a little bit of looking at it in the best possible light, but this is another thought-provoking work.

Verdict: A well-written analysis of one of Doctor Who’s less well-known tales. 8/10

Paul Simpson

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