Doctor Who: The Aztecs
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Doctor Who: Aztecs, The - Special Edition (DVD)
The TARDIS arrives in fifteenth century Mexico inside the tomb of one-time Aztec High Priest Yetaxa. The travellers become cut off from the ship when they explore the temple outside and the tomb door closes behind them. Barbara is proclaimed by the High Priest of Knowledge, Autloc, as Yetaxa's divine reincarnation. However, she incurs the enmity of the High Priest of Sacrifice, Tlotoxl, when - against the Doctor's advice - she attempts to use her new-found authority to put an end to the Aztec practice of human sacrifice.]]>
Doctor Who: The Aztecs--Special Edition is one of the famed history-based episodes from the early '60s (this one's from 1964) during the tenure of William Hartnell as the Doctor. The crew of the TARDIS finds itself transported back to 15th-century Mexico during the reign of the Aztecs. Not only that, the TARDIS plops down inside a sealed Aztec tomb. The crew members are safe and eventually escape the tomb--but because they escaped, the Aztecs believe that Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) is a powerful goddess. Barbara takes preeningly to her new role and hopes to change history by preventing a human sacrifice. But can history be changed--even by the Doctor? This packed disc contains terrific extras pertaining to this episode, including a rollicking commentary and great features on creating the Aztec kingdom on a budget. But what most Doctor Who fans will love is the inclusion of one of the episodes previously thought to be lost, Galaxy 4. It's impressive how the producers were able to reconstruct Galaxy 4 since a complete episode hasn't been found. So the editors and producers stitched together stills, pieces of the episode, and very satisfying animation to tell the story, which is a more traditional futuristic interplanetary adventure. The extras also include some random treasure troves, like a peek at the empire of Doctor Who toys, many of which are extremely collectible by now. Doctor Who: The Aztecs--Special Edition is a must for any fan of Doctor Who. --A.T. Hurley
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Susan finds a hidden door into another room, and goes back to the TARDIS to get Ian and the Doctor. Barbara, in the meanwhile goes through the door, which closes behind her, and is accosted by an angry Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge: "Woman! ... You trespass and must be punished!"
Fortunately for Barbara, she had tried on a magnificent snake bracelet in the tomb, and is still wearing it when she's taken away. What do you know? Believing the tomb to be permanently sealed, the only way she could have gotten the bracelet is if she is the god Yetaxa, returned to her people.
Barbara really takes to the part, too, and when the others join her, they are amused to find that they are to play her servants. But then it turns serious. Yetaxa is to preside over a human sacrifice, and Barbara is determined to use her position to halt this Aztec practice. The Doctor is angry, but cannot convince her to leave history as it is. Barbara, you see, sees it as saving the Aztecs. If they don't practice human sacrifice, the Spanish will not kill Montezuma and raze the city.
Personally, given how Europeans treated conquests all over the world, I think it was wishful thinking. In any case, nothing works out the way Barbara expects. Even the man who was to be sacrificed is not grateful. "You have denied me honor," he tells her, before flinging himself off the top of the temple to his death. (It is a step pyramid, so the flinging couldn't have been too far.) So if the first theme of the serial is SHOULD we change history?, the second theme is CAN we change history?
After she stops his sacrifice, Tlotoxl, the High Priest of Sacrifice, is after Barbara's head, and out to convince Autloc that she is a false god. Tlotoxl knows that the easiest way to get to Yetaxa is through her servants, and the conniving begins. Ian must battle Ixta to the death for control of the army. Susan must be rescued from execution after she defiles a ceremony. And the Doctor? The whole reason our foursome has to go through this is because they can't find a way back into the inner tomb where the TARDIS awaits. The Doctor must do some conniving of his own, including fibbing to his accidental fiancee.
I'm not the biggest fan of Hartnell's historical, versus science fiction, serials. But the "Aztecs" does have more going for it, so I rate it 4 1/2 stars, rounded up to 5. For one thing, John Ringham, as Tlotoxl, eats the scenery. He's over-the-top, practically Shakespearean and a joy to watch. And I think this is the first time we see the Doctor deny himself love, though he takes it pretty easily. In spite of budget constraints, there are some great shots. Such as when Ixta mounts the temple stairs wearing his jaguar head and robe. You're looking down at him, and it's as if a jaguar is approaching. Though this episode doesn't have lots of science-fictiony stuff, it does have loads of psychology.
This is a review of the Special Edition DVD of "The Aztecs", to be released March 2013 on two discs. It will be four episodes totaling 99 minutes, in full frame video, mono audio, with English subtitles available.
"The Aztecs" was previously released on DVD in 2003, on a single disc.
There are new extras as well as extras carried over from the 2003 release.
DISC 1 EXTRAS:
1. Audio Commentary (also on the 2003 release, in stereo) The commentary was recorded in 2002. Participants are Verity Lambert (producer), Caroline Ford (Susan) and William Russell (Ian). On the appearance of Tlotoxl, Lambert says how he looks like Richard III. This is a relatively spare commentary. Often the three are just enjoying the show instead of talking. But it is still fun to listen to. Lambert, for example, mentions that, as producer, BBC allowed her only 4 edits per show. Fortunately for the show, she was able to exceed that at times.
Ian mentions how great this episode was for Jacqueline Hill, who plays Barbara. She has a more central and complex role than usual.
2. "Remembering The Aztecs" (2003, 25 minutes) This is casual interviews with Ian Cullen (played Ixta), John Ringham (Tlotoxl) and Walter Randall (Tonila, the Aztec instructor at the school where Susan is sent to learn how to be a good wife). Most of the interviews are spent talking about "The Aztecs" and its actors, but there's also interesting stuff about the early days of TV. Cullen starts off saying, "It's very hard to explain to anyone now what it was like in those days. Television was itself new and strange."
Ringham, who's gleeful performance I like so much, is disparaging of his acting in "The Aztecs", which he just viewed again after many years, in preparation for the interview: "It's such a patent Laurence Olivier performance... I know I didn't intend it to be! [I] even did Richard III, the shoulder up here!" But he did achieve what director John Crockett told him to do: "Make all the children in the country hate you".
3. "Designing The Aztecs" (2003, 25 minutes) This is an interview with Barry Newbery, designer. He designed everything you see on screen except the costumes. And I think he did a heck of a job, too. The interview is a little dry, but the details are interesting. It includes production drawings and photographs from his personal collection.
4. "Cortez and Montezuma" (2003, 15 minutes) This was part of a Blue Peter TV show episode, "Expedition to Mexico", first broadcast in September 1970. Valerie Singleton tells the story of how Montezuma and Cortes met in November, 1519, and the consequences. It includes Valerie speaking on location from Tenochtitlan, the great city built on a lake.
5. "Restoring The Aztecs" (2003, 14 minutes) This short gives details on how the serial was restored for the 2003 DVD release. They show comparisons of old and new footage, and captions explain the changes. Footage is shown from "The Aztecs", a Jon Pertwee episode, and Patrick Troughton's "The Krotons". Maybe this will be updated for the Special Edition.
6. "Making Cocoa" (2003, 4 minutes) An animation of Tlotoxl and Tonila telling how and why the Aztecs made cocoa. John Ringham and Walter Randall do the voices.
7. TARDIS-Cam no.3 (2003, 1 minute)
8. Photo Gallery (2003) Some photos are in color, and the costumes are colorful.
9. Easter Egg. It's an animated BBC Enterprises log recovered from the end of one of the prints sold overseas.
10. Intro sequences. (2003) If you select "play all" on the main menu, you'll get a short introductory message before the Dr. Who theme starts. There are six intro sequences, spoken by different actors. Which one is shown is randomly selected.
11. PDF materials: Radio Times Listings (new)
12. Production Note Subtitles. A fresh set of production information text has been written for the episodes by Matthew Kilburn.
DISC 2 EXTRAS:
1. "Doctor Who - Story #018: Galaxy 4" (new)
"Galaxy 4" was the first show of William Hartnell's third season as the Doctor. It originally aired in four episodes starting September, 1965. It was one of the shows that BBC junked several decades ago. In 1998, all existing audio-visual material for "Galaxy 4" was released on VHS as part of the documentary "The Missing Years". The same material was released on DVD in 2004 as part of the "Lost in Time" box set.
In 2011, however, former TV engineer Terry Burnett bought a 16mm reel of the 3rd episode, "Airlock". This has been restored.
The other three "Galaxy 4" episodes (in order), "Four Hundred Dawns", "Trap of Steel" and "The Exploding Planet", are reconstructed using narration, a few surviving film clips and photographs. The whole "Galaxy 4" serial is included as an extra on "The Aztecs Special Edition".
Episodes 1 & 2 total 28 minutes in length. The video of episode 3 is 24 minutes. And the 4th episode is 12 minutes.
2. "Chronicle - The Realms of Gold" (new, 50 minutes) "Chronicle" was an archaeology TV series. "Realms of Gold" is a 1969 episode covering the Spanish invasion of what is now Mexico, hosted by John Julius Norwich.
3. "Doctor Forever! - Celestial Toyroom" (new, 22 minutes) This is the first of a "Doctor Forever!" five-part documentary. Ayesha Antoine presents Doctor Who toys over time. Commentators (over the full 5 parts) include Verity Lambert (very 1st Dr. Who producer), Russell T. Davies (new series creator), Mark Gatiss, Rob Shearman, Paul Cornell and Joseph Lidster (writers), Richard Hollis (BBC Worldwide product licensing executive, Dave Turbitt (product approval executive), Steve Cole (), Michael Stevens (AudioGO commissioning editor), Alasdair Dewar (from Character Options), Jim Sangster (Dr. Who Magazine's toy reviewer and Ian McNiece (actor, plays Winston Churchill in Dr. Who).
[In a comment to this review, I've listed which DVD's have the other parts of "Doctor Forever!".]
4. "It's a Square World" (new, 7 minutes) A Doctor Who skit. Clive Dunn dresses up as the Doctor (a la' William Hartnell) and demonstrates his new space rocket to Michael Bentine. They manage to launch Television Centre into space. Cameos by Patrick Moore and Albert Steptoe.
5. "A Whole Scene Going" (new, 4 minutes) This is an excerpt from a 1960's TV show featuring arts & crafts. It is an interview with Gordon Flemyng, who was directing the movie "Dalek's Invasion Earth: 2150 AD". Features some behind-the-scenes shots.
6. Coming Soon. A trailer for an upcoming DVD release
The Doctor, his grand-daughter, and their two school-teacher friends arrive in Latin America during the early period of the Aztec "empire." Barbara is mistaken for the reincarnation of a god; Ian is forced into a series of challenges against an Aztec warrior to see who will lead their army; the Doctor takes a wife (??? Yes, really!!!); and the group is faced with a hard truth: there are some parts of history that you just cannot change even though they are horribly barbaric. The high priest of knowledge and the high priest of sacrifice argue over whether Barbara really is their god, and Barbara tries to stop their practice of making human sacrifices even though the Doctor sternly advises her against meddling with history. If you look closely (or not so closely) you'll notice a lot of mistakes that they made in the construction and lighting of this one; you can plainly tell that the backgrounds are painted onto bedsheets. The villains are corny, but effectively frightening--to young kids. And Hartnell shows some of what I think is his best acting in this one (as well as some of his worst). He finally gets to let off some steam and really scold somebody! Some of the themes they introduce here such as there being a specific order in the universe and the futility of changing the past will be revisited and expanded in later installments. Even the current series in production is toying with some of those ideas.
This story is 4 episodes long, all of which are on the DVD. There are a few special features on the first disk regarding the production of this series; there are several interviews (many years later) with surviving cast and crew. The second disk has more special features, including a short documentary about the Aztec culture and their encounter with the Spanish Conquistadors and a reconstruction of a "lost" installment of the Doctor Who chronicles, plus a bunch of other stuff.