Published on March 9th, 2013 | by Elton Townend Jones
DVD Review: The Aztecs Special Edition
The Aztecs is one of Doctor Who’s finest stories and certainly one of the jewels at the heart of its very first season. When the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions become stranded in fifteenth century Mexico at the time of the sun-worshipping, blood-sacrificing Aztecs, Barbara (Jacqueline Hill, who steals the show) is mistaken for the reincarnation of High Priest Yetaxa.
In order to prevent her friends from becoming victims of a thoroughly dangerous, alien society, she finds herself playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the bloodthirsty Tlotoxl (a deliciously nasty turn from John Ringham). Inspired by her gentle ally, Autloc (Keith Pyott), Barbara finds herself also hoping to save the Aztecs from imminent conquest by the Spanish and this puts her at loggerheads with the Doctor who insists that she must not attempt to re-write history – not a single line…
John Lucarotti’s fabulous script has all the magical, astral charm of a story that has passed under the gaze of editor David Whitaker. The strong guest cast also includes Ian Cullen, Margot van der Burgh and Walter Randall. It has delicious sets by Barry Newbery, delightful music by Richard Rodney Bennett, and great action sequences by David Anderson and Derek Ware. It even gives us a Doctor that (inadvertently?) gets engaged. It’s wonderful stuff – some of the very best, in fact. But you might seem to recall having bought this DVD before…
This is, of course, yet another Special Edition of a DVD you’ve already got; something that happens with increased frequency these days, when all you really want is the Zygon one and not a lot of useless little odds and ends they forgot to give you when you bought your DVDs the first time around. Maybe it’s just me, but Doctor Who seems to be a pleasure I have, in recent years been priced out of. Since the recession began and finances got tighter, the amount of Doctor Who product, simply in terms of audios and books and such, seems to have quadrupled. I love The Aztecs, I really do – it’s a gem – but I wouldn’t buy it twice if it wasn’t for addition, this time around, of the Rills…
No, the Rills haven’t been added into the shadows of the temple of evil, but there can be few of you who aren’t aware that this 2-disc release features a ‘reconstruction’ of the mostly junked and missing 1965 story, Galaxy 4, whose third episode (‘Air Lock’) was the most recently recovered ‘lost’ episode. Here, Hartnell’s Doctor finds himself caught up in the struggle between two shipwrecked and ideologically different alien space crews – the Drahvins and the Rills – on a planet facing imminent disintegration.
The Rills are confined to a spaceship ‘compartment’ due to a biological aversion to the planet’s atmosphere. They cannot speak, communicating only by thought, and their translated communication via their robot avatars is inspired. The creatures themselves are part-walrus/part-Mr Potato Head and very big (but unwieldy and inanimate-looking). The all-female Drahvins are bouffant blondes, all Bingo hall chic with futuristic Bjork-style eyebrows. Not so much ‘beautiful’ (like the Thals if you squint) as ‘attractive’ – and terrified of Maaga, their commander. Believing themselves perfect, they view the world from a dogmatic humanoid paradigm, interpreting the Rills’ physical lumpiness as ‘evil’. Maaga (Stephanie Bidmead) is precise and clinical; crisply attractive, but fervent and fanatical; a vicious bureaucrat. After playing her opening moments with her back to us, she regularly displays her unabashed mania directly to camera, boldly staring directly into the viewers’ eyes in stark and seductive close-up. She is a wonderful, wonderful Doctor Who villain.
All in all, Galaxy 4 is better story than most would have you believe; all it really lacks is a few more natural, planetary expressions of impending oblivion to sell the stakes, which most of the time don’t seem that high.
The recon itself seems to have been taken from a fan version produced around a decade or so ago by someone like Loose Canon. It is largely composed of stills from this and other stories, with some nice model shots and early CGI sequences for the Rill robots. Into this is added the extant six minutes of ‘Four Hundred Dawns’ and all of ‘Air Lock’ and it’s rather nice given the somewhat dissatisfying results of recent animated episodes. What rankles, though, is that while we have a whole ‘new’ episode we seem to have a truncated recon. Why episodes one and two are elided without a cliff-hanger or credits or an opening titles sequence is hard to fathom; and the final episode is about half as long as it once was.
So even if you’re re-buying The Aztecs for Galaxy 4, you might still have cause for disappointment. Or perhaps you’re buying it for the Disc 2 extras? Because the ones on Disc 1 are ones you already have (actors remembering; Barry Newbery; Blue Peter; TARDIS Cam 3 – all of which are as adequate here as they always were).
The 1969 Chronicle documentary The Realms of Gold examines Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs in dry BBC colour. It’s charming but inessential. It has some music by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for you completists and John Julius Norwich wears some fabulous glasses.
Doctor Forever is the ‘new’ documentary on here, looking at Doctor Who toys. It has a sweet titles sequence and looks at some great memorabilia like the Weetabix cards, but it drags out all the usual tedious rent-a-heads with their largely orthodox sound-bites and has an astoundingly lacklustre presenter.
The clip from Michael Bentine’s It’s A Square World seems to offer promise with its claim of being the first ever Doctor Who skit. Well, OK, Clive Dunn turns up as a batty scientist dressed like Hartnell’s Doctor. But it’s nothing whatever to do with our favourite TV series. It’s inclusion on this DVD release seems, in fact, to be merely the consequence of a whim taken one morning in 1965 by some joker in the costume department; it really has nothing at all else to do with Doctor Who. Nice to see TV Centre being abused again, though, as it launches into space. Lovely little cameo from Wilfrid Brambell as Albert Steptoe, too.
A Whole Scene Going takes us (very briefly) behind the scenes of the second Aaru Dalek movie with a surprisingly young, chain-smoking and perhaps defensive Gordon Flemyng – who also wears great glasses.
So it looks like you’re getting a lot for your buck, and certainly, if you’ve never bought The Aztecs before, then you really are. But if you have, then Galaxy 4 is the thing you’ll buy this for. Other than that, this re-issue – which apparently has an even better restoration of The Aztecs’ print plus new Production Notes (how you’d know that without having this release and the original playing on two tellies at the same time, I have no idea…) – seems like a very strange and cynical release indeed.
Released on Monday, March 11th 2013, The Aztecs (Special Edition) can be pre-ordered from Amazon for just £14.00.