This is the sixth Doctor Who adventure, and features our time travellers in an historical setting, as opposed to the more popular science fiction elements that had been employed up until this point. I was concerned that featuring a 'straight' historical story would be less interesting than the aliens and other planets we had seen before, but I was proved wrong by this thrilling case of mistaken identity and danger.
The Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian arrive in Aztec times, inside one of the ancient tombs, only to be caught immediately by some guards. The priests mistake Barbara for the reincarnation of their god, Yetaxa, and worship her, giving the time travellers some freedom to search for a way to get back to the entombed TARDIS. However, Barbara soon denounces the Aztecs custom of human sacrifices, which prompts some of them to question whether she truly is the god, Yetaxa, reborn.
I found this four-part storyline to be well-paced and it contained some thrilling sequences with Barbara attempting to convince the Aztecs that she was their god, in order to protect her friends, but at the same time struggling with her own morals about condoning their use of sacrifices. It was interesting to see such a moral dilemma played out in the story, especially since this was designed to be a children's programme.
I really enjoyed the performances of Ixta and Tlotoxl. They are very well acted, almost to pantomime level but remain credible enough to be a real threat to the Doctor and his companions. Whenever Tlotoxl is on screen, he is very watchable with his sneering and hunched posture. He definitely put a lot of effort into his performance and chewed some of the scenery, as unconvincing as it was.
The Doctor seems to be hitting his stride after a few serials where he was barely characterised. He seems much kind-hearted and caring towards his friends and companions, but aware of the futile nature of time travel. 'Time cannot be rewritten. Not one line'. Hartnell, himself, seems to be more subtle and wise in his delivery as opposed to the bumbling, forgetful Doctor he portrayed earlier in the Season.
I found this serial very entertaining and at a quick four-parts, it seemed the ideal length and pace with some thrilling cliffhangers. I was very curious as to the outcome of the storyline, in regards to whether Barbara would be able to affect change to the Aztecs. Despite having no monsters or sci-fi elements, I found this very gripping and it made for an interesting watch. I would definitely recommend this serial to people unsure about Classic Who as an example of the low-budgetness used to its full potential.
This review as appears on Ciao under the same username.
Written by John Lucarotti
Broadcast 23/05/64 - 13/06/64
Back when Doctor Who was first being dreamt up, the original idea was to combine a mixture of educational historical-based serials and futuristic sci-fi-based serials.
The historical stories allowed for infinite scope into Earth's past, allowing children and adults entertaining ways to learn about the way things were.
By the time "The Aztecs" came along, the sixth serial of the first season, the Doctor and his companions had already met with a Stone Age tribe in "An Unearthly Child" and the famous merchant in China in the sadly now-lost story "Marco Polo".
I've never been a great fan of the historical Doctor Who episodes as they have always felt more like filler than anything else, even those from the most recent series, but the early historical serials like "The Aztecs" are especially unusual for the show as they have nothing to do with anachronistic technology or out-of-place aliens.
They are drama pieces through and through, allowing us to focus on the period's culture and ideas, rather than shoving an otherworldy creature into Victorian London, for example, and spending the remainder of the story running away from it.
"You failed to save a civilisation, but at least you helped one man."
After being blackmailed into finding the keys of Marinus in the previous serial, the Doctor (William Hartnell), his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and school teachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) materialise in the 15th Century inside an Aztec tomb.
Barbara is the first out of the TARDIS with Susan, and the history teacher immediately recognises where they are, seeing as Aztec history was her speciality, and in true Doctor Who companion fashion she goes off wandering and quickly finds herself in trouble: mistaken, in fact, for the Great Spirit of Yetaxa by the local High Priest of Knowledge Autloc (Keith Pyott).
As the rest of the time-travellers exit the tomb, however, the door behind them closes and they are unable to force their way back in, sealing themselves from the TARDIS.
To fit in (so they're not found out to be impostors and then sacrificed for desecrating the tomb), the Doctor, Ian and Susan must pose as Barbara's servants, but Tlotoxl (John Ringham), the butcher-like High Priest of Sacrifice, is dubious about the new arrivals and sets out to reveal that the strangers are nothing more than frauds.
In this time of sacrifice, nearing the end of the doomed Aztec way of life, can Barbara play the game of the Aztecs and stave off Tlotoxl's attempts to destroy them while the others find a way to get back into the tomb and escape in the TARDIS?
"You can't rewrite history! Not one line!"
From the very start, what I like about "The Aztecs" is in its original mission to go out an educate the television viewership about this period in history while entertaining them with a solid story.
A lot of time and effort is gone into exploring the way the people of the time thought and acted and how the will of their Gods had a great effect on their daily lives - why would a man happily go and be sacrificed?
After Patrick Troughton's second adventure "The Highlanders", there would never again be a purely historical drama story for Doctor Who - we would certainly travel back into Earth's past, but we'd always meet an alien race or a monster there that would take centre stage.
A long-standing misconception about the Aztecs themselves (and one I always made) is that they were an ancient people, and when we say ancient we usually mean from when records began to around the fall of the Western Roman Empire, but they were actually a society from the 14th to 16th centuries until they were conquered by the Spanish during their colonisation of the Americas.
But then, I've never been an Aztec history buff, so if you're like me and don't know your Aztecs then there's a helpful and interesting short documentary special feature on the disc, "Cortez and Montezuma", an old Blue Peter history lesson presented by Valerie Singleton that details the fall of the Aztecs.
"I made some cocoa and got engaged."
Character-wise, "The Aztecs" is very strong - it is a story led by its performances, and the key supporting players are very good as both protagonists and antagonists alongside the familiar crew.
The sinister and extraordinarily hammy executioner Tlotoxl, played by John Ringham, is an excellent machiavellian character working behind (and at times in front of) the scenes trying in earnest to bring the mistaken prophets down and have them killed.
With his crazy, straggling hair, huge feathered hat, and with a thick black striped painted across the lower half of his face, he doesn't look like someone who had a healthy family life.
As a villain he is perfectly nasty and brutal, gorging on the chaos and bloodlust of the Aztec mythology.
Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge played by Keith Pyott on the other hand, is Tlotoxl's antithesis and the voice of reason, an older man who would be just as happy to live in a society that *doesn't* sacrifice people, but he is very much a follower of Gods and has stopped using his own brain.
He becomes Barbara's trusted advisor and link to the good of the Aztecs, and he is very much an interesting character, although he is not as strong as an on-screen player as Ringham is.
This serial is really Jacqueline Hill's time to shine as Barbara, however, who must rise to the challenge of controlling a people so backward for the times that they could never have foreseen the attack and colonisation from Spain.
It brings about the first issues in Doctor Who with the possibilities of changing time, something the Doctor warns sternly about.
Hill's humanity as Barbara seeps through, however, and she tries earnestly to halt the human sacrifices in order for the Aztecs to see the error of their ways, but in the case of the butcher Tlotoxl it falls on deaf ears.
The rest of the regulars take pretty much a backseat to Barbara, especially Carole Ann Ford as Susan who took her scheduled holiday during episodes two and three, only turning up in footage that had been filmed previously.
That's not to say that William Hartnell as the Doctor and William Russell as Ian don't get into their fair share of scrapes.
Hartnell winds up falling for a lady and accidentally proposes to her over a cup of cocoa, while Ian struggles to become the ruler of the Aztec army by defeating the other likely contender: the head-strong Ixta played by Ian Cullen.
Cullen is quite young and amateurish in style, wooden in his delivery and showing very little emotion, so it's surprising that he gets as much screen time as he does.
There are a few fight scenes for both Cullen and Ian to get involved in, all three of which are poorly handled by today's standards, especially a very weak performance in the first episode where the army general Ixta must fight a lowly soldier.
However, their final battle atop one of the sacrificial temple pyramids in episode four is very well placed and is excellent for the cheap budget, even if the choreography isn't the best - it does make for a rip-roaring finale.
Overall, the four-episode production is a very solid piece of work with good sets and good characters, allowing it to be viewed these days in a much better light than some of the more futuristic serials of the time, some of which look really naff.
Enjoyable and never dull, "The Aztecs" is entertaining historical Doctor Who drama at its best.
The DVD contains a plethora of extras, including the short Blue Peter documentary already mentioned, as well as two interesting interview documentaries with original members of the cast and crew: "Remembering the Aztecs" and "Designing the Aztecs", which gives particular insight into the rehearsal process and what the main cast were like behind the scenes.
There's also a look into how the original prints of the story were restored for DVD release, a photo gallery of the production, and a silly little animation about "Making Cocoa" presented by Tlotoxl and Tonila who will show you how to make the special Aztec drink.
[The DVD can be purchased from play.com for £6.99 (at time of writing), including postage and packing]
I suddenly realised I'd had this DVD for AGES and still not got round to finishing my review of it. Before I tell you about this one I need to give you a little plot overview of this Historical adventure starring the first Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions Ian, Barbara and Susan. Join me in three paragraphs time if you don't want to know! The Doctor and his companions find themselves materialising in fifteenth century Mexico, the centre of the Aztec civilisation, in an Aztec tomb. Barbara is mistaken for the reincarnation of the High Priest Yetaxa (because she is found in his tomb) after she wanders out of the TARDIS and gets locked outside. The time travellers get into a dangerous situation when Barbara tries to use her knowledge of history (she was a history teacher back on earth) to change the whole basis of the Aztec civilisation ~ she wants to end the practice of human sacrifice! They end up in a fight for their lives when the High Priest of Sacrifice (Tlotoxl) aims to unmask Barbara and make sure that the others don't live to tell the tale. Ian must fight the Perfect Victim (a chosen man intended for sacrifice), Susan must try to avoid arranged marriage and the Doctor must find a way to get them all back into the TARDIS alive (as well as fending off his own impending wedding!). It all ends in the Doctor making a pulley system and reopening the tomb. The time travellers are able to get into the tomb, get into the TARDIS and get away. Barbara has learned a valuable lesson ~ you can't change history! It is a really unusual story that makes full use of the BBC costume department. It is more of a historical drama than a science fiction story ~ the black and white makes it atmospheric and it really is a bit chilling and mysterious. The Aztecs was originally broadcast on BBC1 between 23rd May - 13th June 1964 and is a great chance to see a remastered classic Dr Who historical adventure ~ something t
hey seemed to do so well at the BBC. So...a thumbs up for the story: what about the DVD? ~~~SPECIAL FEATURES. @@COMMENTARY@@ This time the commentary is by Verity Lambert, William Russell, Carole Ann Ford. Verity Lambert was the Producer on the series and William and Carole Ann play Ian Chesterton and Susan Foreman ~ two of the Doctor's companions during the story. I did find what they had to say quite interesting because I don't know as much about this era of the show as some of the more recent incarnations. I did, however, find I got bored after a while ~ mainly because Carole Ann Ford wasn't in most of the episodes (due to a holiday from the show) and her contribution was a bit limited. Verity and William are better, but because this was made so long ago, they have forgotten much of what has happened and make a few comment s here and there (often along the lines of "Oh, yes...I remember when we did that bit". Not the best commentary I'd heard! @@DOCUMENTARIES@@ **REMEMBERING THE AZTECS** This an interesting documentary featuring John Ringham, Walter Randall and Ian Cullen ~ The actors who play Tlotoxl, Tonila and Ixta respectively. I liked listening to their stories and about what they enjoyed about working on this programme ~ funny stories come out about slipping wigs, etc. This lasts for 28 minutes, so it's a good length documentary with quite a lot of info. It's also nice to see that some of the original cast are still with us ~ this was put together from recent interviews. **DESIGNING THE AZTECS** This really exactly what it sounds like ~ a documentary with the set designer, Barry Newbery. I actually found this extremely interesting because he talks about how difficult it was to produce a realistic picture of Aztec life. We learn about the restrictions in terms of budget, technology and time that were placed on him. To say when it was made it is
a great achievement ~ set painting and costumes are well worthy of a costume drama with a much larger expense account! This lasts for 25 minutes, so is also a lengthy piece ~ I would recommend that you watch these documentaries at a separate sitting to the actual main feature because otherwise you could start to get a bit of information overload! **THE STORY OF CORTEZ AND MONTEZUMA** This was a documentary that was originally produced for Blue Peter in September 1970. It was aimed at a younger audience than me, so a lot of it was information I already knew (I studied this period in my history course). For anyone who isn't familiar with Aztec history I would recommend that you watch this first. It gives you a good background to the story and will help you understand the significance of some of the dialogue. It's presented by good old Valerie Singleton too so it's got to be worth a look! **RESTORING THE AZTECS** Although this bit only lasts for around 8 minutes I found this to be the most interesting documentary of the lot. It tells how the original (slightly shabby and crackly) television programme has been transformed into a clean and crisp DVD. What we now have is four episodes that have been cleaned up and restored using a process called VidFIRE ~ a process developed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team's Peter Finklestone to restore the 'video look' to film recordings. It is a fascinating look at how long it takes to make the programme suitable for the DVD format, how the digitising process works and how difficult it is sometimes to produce the finished result. ***MAKING COCOA THE AZTEC WAY** I don't really want to give too much away for this one ~ suffice it to say that it is an animated look at how the Aztecs made cocoa. Watchable, but not something you would view more than once. @@PHOTO GALLERY@@ I found this more interesting than I often do, because some of the p
ictures were old ones that I hadn't seen before. There are some nice photos of the cast and a few behind the scenes views too. @@INFORMATION SUB-TITLES@@ I always love to learn more about the actors, the viewing figures and the actual production of the series, so this is always one of my favourite special features. I was not disappointed this time either! I always make sure we have these on-screen notes switched on so I can learn as I watch. I find the little snippets of information useful and informative ~ I know when, how and why things were filmed, what the actors have done before or since and other interesting insights into filming. Well done to Richard Molesworth of the Restoration Team for researching and writing this for us to enjoy! @@TARDIS-CAM NUMBER 3@@ This is a regular feature in the recent Dr Who DVDs and is produced in conjunction with the BBCi web-site. Each one shows the TARDIS in an unlikely location. I don't really look at this feature, but it does give the DVD an interactive link with the internet. @@ARABIC SOUNDTRACK@@ This gives you the chance to hear some alternative incidental music and the Arabic soundtrack on episode four of the story (called The Day of Darkness). I didn't find this really added anything to the story for me, but it was nice to see all the same. Another feature that you may view once, but then never look at (or listen too) again! @@RANDOMISED INTRODUCTION MESSAGES@@ This rather grand sounding feature actually just provides you with six different introduction voiceovers, provided by either Tlotoxl, Tonila or Ixta. A nice little touch! @@EASTER EGGS@@ There are three Easter Eggs (bonus extras) included on this disc as far as I know. I won't give them away, but they can be found by randomly pressing keys and highlighting things on the DVD menus. If you do need a hand let me know! I think that more or less cove
rs the extras (you do get the usual animated graphical menus of course). Once again the BBC (along with the excellent Dr Who Restoration Team) has produced an excellent and collectable DVD. It is worth any Dr Who fan buying this for the extras alone and then you get to watch a great piece of television too! If you forgive the sometimes wobbly and obviously painted backgrounds you will really enjoy the whole viewing experience ~ what do you expect for 1964? The Aztecs DVD is available through all usual stockists (Blackstar, Amazon, MVC, etc) and prices vary. Mine was £16.99 from Blackstar and it's currently retailing at the BBC on-line shop for £19.99. It also has the best cover so far out of all the releases ~ orangey red and reminiscent of the sacrifice theme in the story. Buy it and enjoy it! I did and I am sure it will be something that I bring out and look at for time to time. ~~~INTERSTING FACTS ABOUT THE AZTERCS DVD~~~ * It is the first DVD release to feature the first incarnation of the Doctor ~ this original Doctor was played by the wonderfully crotchety (sadly no longer with us) William Hartnell. * Most of this story was filmed out of sequence to allow for the absence of Carole Ann Ford ~ she was on holiday for some of the filming. * The Doctor gets engaged during this story because he "makes cocoa2 with a lady! Be careful what you do. ~~~TECHNICAL INFORMATION & CAST DETAILS~~ Price: £19.99 Catalogue no: BBCDVD1099 Running time: 100 mins approx Release date: 7 October 2002 Regions 2/4. Certification: U Aspect Ratio: 4:3 Dolby Digital Mono: English CAST The Doctor - William Hartnell Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill Ian Chesterton - William Russell Susan Foreman - Carol Ann Ford Autloc - Keith Pyott Tlotoxl - John Ringham Ixta - Ian Cullen Cameca -Margot van der Burgh Victim - Tom Booth Captain - David Anderson
Tonila - Walter Randall Perfect Victim - Andre Boulay ~~~Useful web-sites include: http:// www.restoration-team.co.uk/ http://www.gallifreyone.com/ http://www.islandnet.com/~dascott/intro.htm http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/doctorwho/