A History Worth Preserving

Review of The Aztecs: SE (#6)

DVD Release Date: 12 Mar 13
Original Air Date: 23 May - 13 Jun 1964
Doctor/Companion: One, Susan, Ian, Barbara
Stars: William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill
Preceding Story: The Keys of Marinus (One, Susan, Ian, Barbara)
Succeeding Story: The Sensorites (One, Susan, Ian, Barbara)

I've mentioned several times before how fond I am of this story, and I don't mind saying it again. I have to admit, though, that when I got the Special Edition DVD and looked at all the extras two things went through my mind. The first was, "Wow - this disk is all about the extras!" The second was, "When am I ever going to find time to watch all these extras?"

The story itself is a lovely little four-parter that follows the TARDIS crew to 15th C. Mexico, taking up about 100 minutes of viewing time. By contrast, even ignoring the minor entries like the ubiquitous Photo Gallery, the extras comprise more than twice that much material. That certainly presents a challenge for the reviewer, but it's a challenge I'm willing to undertake for your sake, gentle readers.

I can hardly praise The Aztecs highly enough. So early in the history of Our Show, it introduces - or at least hammers home - the idea that history is not to be trifled with lightly. It's also one of the earliest remaining stories that can really show us how much the Doctor has mellowed to these humans who - let's call a spade a spade - he kidnapped in order to keep them from exposing him and his granddaughter as the aliens they were. Not only that, it shows a more tender side of him, as he quite frankly falls in love with a human for the first time we see (yes, Rose, we all know you thought you were special).

But the action is good, too. Ian gets to be the hero again, fighting against local warrior Ixta, first defeating him with only his thumb and later being threatened by the Doctor's own cleverness and the usual plot twists centered on deception and misunderstanding. Barbara tries to change the course of history, Susan tries to defy cultural norms, and everyone is trying to get back to where the TARDIS is trapped behind locked doors. It all hangs together remarkably well, despite a few obvious narrative conceits.

If you want to get to know the First Doctor, I can hardly recommend a better story.

DVD Extras (highlights)
Galaxy 4
Until about a year and a half ago, Season Three's opening story Galaxy 4 was completely missing from the archives. Episode three, "Air Lock," was recovered in July 2011 and led to the entire serial being reconstructed for inclusion here. I was fortunate enough to be among those at the opening ceremonies at Gallifrey One this year who saw the North American premiere of the restored version of the episode, so I knew what was coming in that part of the story. The rest has been reduced from its original length (due, one assumes, to long patches of visual-only segments that don't translate well to a reconstruction) into a semblance of a whole using telesnaps, surviving clips, the soundtrack, and a small amount of animation for the three missing episodes. The entire serial now runs 64 minutes, and is definitely worth the time. It's a bit of an odd little story, but I can tell you the entire Gally audience let out a huge "awww!" of protest when the credits rolled on "Air Lock"; it was a satisfying cliffhanger, and is an excellent piece of Who history.

Remembering the Aztecs
Although this feature (unlike the others listed here) was included on the original DVD release, it's worth mentioning as a nice retrospective on what it was like to film this serial. Interviewees include Ian Cullen (Ixta, Ian's rival for command of the army), John Ringham (Tlotoxl, the High Priest of Sacrifice) and Walter Randall (Tonila, flunky to Tlotoxl). They cover their own impressions of working on the show; what it was like to work with William Hartnell (like that he was both "strict" and "conscientious"), Verity Lambert, and director John Crockett; and the challenges of continuous shooting which only allowed retakes for technical errors.

Designing the Aztecs
The new take on a "making of" for this release is this piece, which allows designer Barry Newbery to talk about how he went about creating the look and feel of this, his third Who story (the others were the three parts of the serial that followed An Unearthly Child and Marco Polo). He did some serious research, including viewing someone else's film, which had been researched by Mexican anthropologist but was not supposed to be broadcast until after The Aztecs. It's hard not to respect someone who puts that much effort into getting it right. As always, he has tales of woe about how things went wrong due to time, budget and/or just the way the BBC worked in those days, and I found it all just as interesting as a standard making-of documentary.

Doctor Forever! - Celestial Toyroom
These days we take the existence of tie-in merchandise for granted, but back when Who started, it wasn't really done. Here the origin and evolution of Doctor Who toys and merchandise (yes, including the infamous underpants with Tom Baker's face on them) is discussed, with the input of a number of present day content providers (e.g., RTD himself) who talk about their own childhood experiences with some of the toys. It wraps up with a bit of a look at how action figures are made today, and how it's become such a huge industry.

Even if you already own a copy of The Aztecs, the Special Edition is worth making a little financial sacrifice. If nothing else, you get Galaxy 4 (which is, at least for the time being, unavailable anywhere else). The additional extras are also engaging, but the real gem is the story itself. After all, I wouldn't change a thing - not one line.

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