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Doctor Who: The Aztecs

01/11/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: The Aztecs in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: The Aztecs in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD 1099. 1 DVD 98 minutes 4 black and white episodes with extras. Price; GBP 5.75 (UK) if you know where to look) stars: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill and Carol Ann Ford.

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I have to confess to have weaker memories for the historical early ‘Doctor Who’ stories than the futuristic ones for obvious reasons. With only a few left of the Hartnell period available, I couldn’t put off watching these any more. ‘The Aztecs’ DVD came out originally in 2002.

Interestingly, if you forget that the Aztecs were an early human race and saw them as an alien species – with so many humanoids with a perchance for human sacrifice then in the Whoiverse that isn’t surprising – you don’t even have to worry about that. Oddly, when I started watching this story, I didn’t even consider that as you do get hooked into the drama.

The TARDIS arrives towards the end of the Aztec era in one of the tombs. Barbara Wright (actress Jacqueline Hill), wearing a bit of jewellery that she picked off a dead body and is proclaimed as the resurrected god Yetaxa with the Doctor (actor William Hartnell), Ian Chesterton (actor William Russell) and Susan (actress Carol Ann Ford) as her servants. They each encounter their own problems, more so as the access to the tomb can only seemingly be open from the inside which as its shut now, they are separated from the TARDIS. Added to this, they have a dislike for the ritual sacrifice even if they have to let it continue although Barbara is familiar with history, she believes she can make a difference and perhaps save their culture at the same time, despite the Doctor’s assurances that things can’t be changed. Added to this are the divisions within the Aztecs themselves as to how much this goddess should be trusted. A lot of ‘Ooh! ‘Eck!’ moments.

They integrate themselves into Aztec society to learn more about the tomb and find a way back into it to get back to the TARDIS. Of course, all their actions are dangerous and with Barbara’s divinity constantly brought into question even more so. Make a note that in those days, making and sharing a drink made from cocoa beans is a hint that you’re getting romantically involved with someone. The unravelling of getting into the tomb is nicely played and pulleyed if you excuse the pun.

This is also one of those rare stories where Jacqueline Hill takes centre stage and for her to deal with her character’s decisions. John Ringham as the high priest Thotoxl makes for a dangerous foe and it’s hard to place him as the same actor who played Penny’s father in the sit-com ‘Just Good Friends’ years later. A really superb performance even though the audio commentary and Ringham in the extras agree that he played it like Richard the Third. Theatre background will out, especially in those days.

Considering these four episodes were made on a small sound stage on a limited budget, it’s amazing how well it holds up today. The extras explores all of this information and how each episode was practically recorded straight through after extensive rehearsals. Listening to then producer Verity Lambert saying how much it cost to do any editing to the tape, it’s a demonstration of how good the cast was in getting it does so well the first time. The colour stills show how colourful the set was and without them you wouldn’t have fathomed how much attention to detail was given. Set designer Barry Newbery explains how much work was done to fill in the visual detail in John Lucarotti’s script to bring it to life on a budget of £250 per episode was on par with was BBC dramas were given to play with which isn’t even much by today’s budgets.

Be impressed and give it a look and hold onto your heart.

GF Willmetts

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