The final televised Third Doctor story to reach the printed page was something of a disappointment when I read it initially thirty plus years ago. However, thanks to the audiobook line from BBC Audio, I was given the opportunity to visit the story once again.
In the years since I first read the novel, “The Ambassadors of Death” has grown a bit in my estimation. Yes, it’s still the weakest story of season seven, but that’s damning a bit with faint praise.
Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the John Whitacker/Malcolm Hulke script does a serviceable job of trying to condense seven episodes into the mandated page count. Dicks is able to streamline some of the action sequences (Liz Shaw’s car chase, for example, takes about a paragraph or so) and give a bit more time and space to early developments. However, after listened to some of Dicks’ earlier works when he was given more time to develop the characters and add in some background details to the situation, I can’t help but wish he’d had don that here. Imagine the Dicks who wrote “Day of the Daleks” being allowed to fill in the history of the Mars Probe missions or even time to make General Carrington a bit more of a sympathetic villain (or at least give us a better understanding of his motives).
I can’t help walking away from this one feeling like it’s a missed opportunity more than anything.
And yet, for all of that, the audio version was still a pleasure to listen to. Part of that is narrator Geoffrey Beavers, who could probably read Malcolm Hulke’s grocery list and it would be utterly scintillating to the listening ear. Once again, Beavers shows he’s one of the jewels in the audio book line.