This story follows a similar pattern to the previous one: an alien force is discovered, some people want to destroy it, the Doctor wants to help it, and the mystery behind it becomes clearer over the course of seven episodes. Unlike The Silurians, however, I found this story to be far more engaging, interesting and well-made.
I suppose part of that is down to the way the plot unravels, with more and more people revealed to be working for the enemy, and by the end of it, seemingly no-one can be trusted! But I think the main strength in this story is the portrayal of the aliens themselves. Having secretly replaced the astronauts on their Mars capsule, the ‘Ambassadors’ return to Earth and are only ever seen wearing spacesuits (aside from one briefly terrifying reveal later on). A combination of their slow calculated movements, their obscured features, and uncharacteristic deadliness (their touch can kill) make for an effectively scary presence. It reminded me of ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ (2011) – there’s just something about unseen foes inside spacesuits that works so well. It also avoids the “bloke in a suit” problem, because they’re supposed to look like blokes in suits.
There are some unbelievable elements, however. This is supposed to be set in the 1970s, right? The writers were perhaps a bit… optimistic of the near future of the space program. We apparently have not only sent manned probes to orbit Mars, but can get there and back in what seems like a matter of minutes or hours, rather than the months it would actually take us. It’s not even set in the US – this is all supposed to be happening in England! That said, I do like the design of the space centre set, and the space sequences aboard the capsule are quite dramatically and interestingly shot.
Having watched nearly seven years’ worth of Doctor Who episodes, I have now finally noticed an actor being reused in another role. The head of the space centre is the same man who played one of the Dominators from The Dominators! This was a little distracting, but he’s good in the role.
I would have to say I did like this story, with the caveat that it was still too long. I prefer tighter, leaner, stories. Unless it’s supposed to be an epic set across time and space, you end up with a lot of repetition – people being arbitrarily captured, escaping, recaptured, and so on. It loses its urgency, especially when the climax is squeezed into the final 15 minutes. Despite this, it was enjoyable.
One final observation: in part one of this story, we see the Tardis control room in colour for the first time! Except it looks like it’s either been moved into somebody’s house, or the Doctor has redecorated the walls with chintzy paper and framed pictures. Either way, I was pleased to see it and to get some mention of him trying to fix it – with an amusing bit of timey-wimey fun thrown in.