Reviews Doctor Who: The Aztecs Special Edition cover art

Published on March 9th, 2013 | by Elton Townend Jones

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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.

the-aztecs-doctor-who

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…

William Hartnell play's the Doctor's first romantic dalliance.

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.

Watch out for the domineering Drahvin in Doctor Who: Galaxy 4

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.

The Extras

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.

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About the Author

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Elton Townend-Jones is a journalist, playwright, actor, theatre producer and philosopher. He does ‘80s zeitgeist at www.25yearstoolate.blogspot.com.




16 Responses to DVD Review: The Aztecs Special Edition

  1. avatar Joe Siegler says:

    Is the newly recovered episode available totally on it’s own for viewing? In other words, they didn’t put the four episodes into one long format, did they?

    • avatar PAUL HASSALL says:

      NO,you have to sit through the mini recon but it`s around 28 mins in using the chapter points if you wish to skip!

  2. avatar JGHollander says:

    The original Aztecs disc is easily the worst looking of the original Doctor Who DVDs, especially episode episode 3 which suffers from a somewhat shaky image and poor contrast, and IMO was along with Vengeance On Varos (with it’s never corrected mastering fault) a Doctor Who story desperately crying out for a remastered DVD release.

    Without even seeing the new restoration I am 100% sure that anyone who’s recently watched the 2002 disc will notice a definite improvement, I mean just compare the 2007 Claws of Axos DVD to last years special edition if you want evidence of the leaps and bounds that have been made as far as picture restoration is concerned. And before anyone else asks Axos is only one of 2 SE I’ve bothered buying so far and I wasn’t going to bother purchasing it until I viewed a friends copy and was impressed with the vast improvement.

    So as far as Airlock is concerned I ask where exactly do people think the BBC should place it?

    The Tenth Planet? No, as they’ve already spent most of the budget animating episode 4 so why spend even more money restoring Airlock to include it on what’s going to (undeservingly IMO as, cybermen and regeneration aside, it really isn’t very good is it?) big selling story anyway?

    The Ice Warriors? No, Underwater Menace 2 would make more sense there but it won’t be for the same reasons as above. That said, unlike Tenth Planet, the Ice Warriors is a very good serial.

    The Visitation Special Edition? Well that truly would be “a very strange and cynical release” wouldn’t it?

    An as yet unannounced Lost In Time Special Edition? £20+ for a 3 or 4 disc special edition just to get 2 new episodes? No thanks.

    A standalone Galaxy 4 DVD featuring full length quality recons or flash animations of the missing episodes? Actually I like this idea but as a niche release I doubt it would be commercially viable.

    And basically that’s why I think the Aztecs special edition is a worthwhile release and I wish people would stop moaning about it as if they’re getting ripped-off. And if you still don’t want to buy the Aztecs I’m sure that come tomorrow there’ll be plenty of legal and illegal ways to stream or download Airlock alone.

  3. avatar Mugen Pharoah says:

    Yes, the Aztecs may benefit from being released as a special edition, but putting a lost episode on a previously released story is a cynical excuse to milk fans.

    Where else can they put Airlock? On any hitherto UNRELEASED story that’s where.

    I even resent Terror of the Autons being put in a box set with a story I already have.

    They must have elected Sil as marketing manager of 2entertain.

    • avatar JGHollander says:

      “Where else can they put Airlock? On any hitherto UNRELEASED story that’s where”

      Well considering the bonus material budget for the Tenth Planet and Ice Warriors was long since committed to animating their missing episodes (probably before Airlock even turned up) that would mean putting it on Mind of Evil where it’s inclusion would make no sense (Zygons is going to be a single disc meaning it wouldn’t fit without compromising picture quality)

      “I even resent Terror of the Autons being put in a box set with a story I already have.”

      So did I and many other people that is why we waited until it went down in price before purchasing the boxed set. However what makes it even annoying is that the 1080 HD master for the forthcoming blu-ray was probably made at the same time as the improved DVD transfer.

      That said there is no denying that if the technology is up to it certain stories, Aztecs, Axos and no doubt the forthcoming Inferno special edition really do or will benefit from the improved picture quality.

      Oh, and the BBC ended it’s 8 year business relationship with 2 Entertain last year and integrated it’s home video releases into it’s commercial division BBC Worldwide. So frankly it makes no difference to the Doctor Who range whether 2 Entertain is managed by a Sil, a Slitheen, a Draconian or even that cactus thing from Meglos.

  4. avatar castellanspandrel says:

    They could put Air Lock + recovered Underwater Menace episode out as a shorter, cheaper DVD, as they did years ago with Sontaran Experiment.

    Or put out both those stories separately with accompanying animations for missing episodes.

    But I understand JGHollander’s point about commercial viability, which might explain why no 2-part stories have been released alone since Sontaran Experiment. And I’ve cut down on buying certain stories because I know I’ll find them on Youtube or Daily Motion, albeit without the same quality as a DVD release, remastered or not, simply because I can’t afford to buy all of them.

  5. avatar Derek Watson says:

    You had me with ‘fabulous glasses’! Great review. I totally agree with your suggestion that the BBC are milking Who fans of every last cent they possess. The amount of merchandise alone this year would be enough to fill a TARDIS (or two)! But it’s the forcing of people to buy what they already own in order to get a little something ‘new’ that really does rankle. These are the things that encourage people to illegally download content and for that alone they should be ashamed.

  6. avatar Peter says:

    Just finished watching this DVD SE and really enjoyed it. The restoration is superb, and yes I did buy it just for Galaxy 4. Not sure what I’ll do with my old Aztec DVD maybe give it to my brother. But before I do that I might run them side-by-side to see if the text commentry is the same or not. Overall I would say if you own the original DVD release this is only for the complete-ist but then if your one of those you’ll buy it just for the third episode of Galaxy 4 and the reconstruction; which IMHO was better than I expected.

  7. avatar Gavin Noble says:

    I can’t believe they haven’t included an option to just watch Airlock on its own. Not everyone likes the recons – I thought the Planet of Giants one was terrible. Still at least it’s DVD which means it can be skipped forward to. Doing the same thing on VHS would be a nightmare!

    I don’t mind the special editions coming out really but wish they’d got the other unreleased stuff out first. I mean they’ve only had around 13 years to do the job…

    • avatar JGHollander says:

      @ Gavin. You moan about there not being an option to watch Airlock as a standalone episode and then point out there’s a chapter point at the beginning of the episode, so as you all but contradict yourself I don’t think your complaint is a valid one.

      Have you watched any fan made recons? Some of the Loose Canon ones are pretty good (The Wheel In Space, Web of Fear and Marco Polo are great) Admittedly they can take some getting used to but in the majority of cases are better than the BBC narrated soundtrack CDs.

      • avatar Gavin Noble says:

        I don’t know if there is a chapter point or not – I haven’t bought the DVD yet. I was hoping there was an option just to watch the recovered episode on its own without having to sit through the rest of the recon and without having to fast forward/skip to have to see it.

        I have watched, or rather tried to watch, some recons – some by Loose Cannon, some by others and I am simply not impressed by them. I detested the Planet of Giants recon on the recent DVD release. I’ve watched it once and I won’t watch it ever again. I appreciate that fans have taken time and invested money into them and for that I commend them, but they are simply not to my taste.

        I wanted to able to view the episode on its own by simply just accessing it via the menu screen on the DVD and not having to dick about having to press extra buttons to get to viewing it. Would it have been too much to ask to have had that as an option for those of us who don’t like recons?

        • avatar PAUL HASSALL says:

          28 MINS IN if you wish to avoid the recon stuff, but there`s some really good LC model work which is excellent IMO.

          • avatar Gavin Noble says:

            Air Lock good, rest of recon bad. Shame.

  8. avatar Mugen Pharaoh says:

    None of which means it isn’t a cynical marketing strategy to milk a loyal fanbase

    • avatar JGHollander says:

      “None of which means it isn’t a cynical marketing strategy to milk a loyal fanbase”

      No it isn’t, it is simply a commercial company (BBC Worldwide) exploiting their assets to make a profit.

      Can I ask you what commercially viable release would you have given Airlock if you where head of the Doctor Who DVD range?

      The fact is that people were going to complain whatever they did with this episode meaning that BBC Worldwide were in something of a loose/loose situation no matter what they did.

      People ask why couldn’t it have been included on a previously unavailable story? Well, for reasons stated above Airlock was never going to be on the Tenth Planet or Ice Warriors DVDs, plus without seriously compromising A/V quality it would not fit on Terror of the Zygons.

      This leaves Mind of Evil, but what sense would there be in pairing an orphan black and white Hartnell episode with a colour mediocre Pertwee story? A story that only took so long to come out on DVD because the surviving elements were in such bad condition.

  9. avatar PAUL HASSALL says:

    fantastic restoration on this release, most of the grainy look has gone and the quality is better than it would have looked originally IMO, remembering the old line system of TVs back then.

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