Doctor Who: THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH Audiobook Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH Audiobook Review

Matthew Kresal reviews the recent audiobook release of a classic Third Doctor adventure...

The Ambassadors of Death, the third story for Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor in 1970, is one of those overlooked Doctor Who stories. Its novelization published seventeen years later is similarly neglected despite it rounding off that Doctor's adventures for that range. Which is a shame both on-screen and on the page for there's a compelling thriller to be found.

The TV version of the story had an especially rocky start, commissioned from writer David Whitaker by a production team who grew less and less happy with it. In the end, Whitaker was forced to abandon it. Instead, a combination of script editor Terrance Dicks, his assistant Trevor Ray, and Dicks' mentor Malcolm Hulke completed it. The result is an engaging earthbound thriller but one with perhaps a few cracks in its plot.

So who better than its script editor to novelize it?

One of the fascinating things in encountering the book now is how much Dicks works to smooth over those cracks. Some apparent plot holes get filled or, if nothing else, better explained here than they were on screen. Characters likewise get more depth to them, such as the scientists Heldorf and Lennox, or the roguish Reegan.

Some of the issues the TV version had remains, though. There were too many characters with not enough to do between them, for example. Elsewhere, Dicks passed up a golden opportunity to expand upon the characterization of the serial's eventual villain despite adding some nice touches along the way. Those are comparatively minor quibbles, though, especially given Dicks' efforts elsewhere with the source material.

Beyond that, Dicks' prose quite suits the thriller tone of the tale. Coming late in the Target range when he wasn't writing a book a month, Ambassadors of Death has a feeling more akin to the early days of the line. The pacing is solid, adding to the thriller aspects of the story, as well as giving the entire story a better flow than it enjoyed on screen. The little details Dicks adds here and there help as well, fleshing things out. Above all else, the action sequences come across splendidly, perhaps none more so than the attack on the UNIT convoy transporting the Recovery 7 capsule. In many ways, the book feels like a return to form for Dicks after years of what started to feel like copy and paste novelizations.

The 2018 audiobook edition of it adds a whole new life to it. Geoffrey Beevers, who briefly appeared in the story as a UNIT soldier before going on to play the Master a decade later, proves an adept reader of the tale. Though none of the characters he voices are impersonations of their TV performers, each is distinct and nicely drawn in Beevers' tones. The music and sound effects by Simon Power similarly doesn't necessarily evoke the TV story or Dudley Simpson's music for it but, at the same time, create an atmosphere all their own. The result is both a solid reading a slightly alternate take on the tale.

At the end of the day, the novelization of The Ambassadors of Death might not solve some of the issues the original TV version has, but it's an entertaining ride nonetheless. Indeed, the result might be more of an SF thriller than Who's typical alien invasion tale. This isn't a bad thing as Terrance Dicks produces a fine thriller from an overlooked serial.

And that is no mean feat.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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