The Aztecs - DVD Special
But let's get this clear: while The Aztecs might be overrated due to it being arguably the most-seen historical (of the dozen historicals only five exist in their entireity, and that's if you include An Unearthly Child and The Time Meddler) but it is still a peak of minor excellence. The second best story of the first season, and easily amongst the fifty or so best stories the series ever did. It just ain't The Massacre and it certainly ain't Marco Polo.
We open with a cruel reminder of the horror that was The Keys of My Anus, but it's not long before we get to see an Aztec mask with a camera shadow on it. This is alarmingly primitive technically, and the Vidfire only highlights the somewhat settish nature of events. While it's a technological marvel by the Restoration Team, it was easier to overlook such limitations in the murky sludge that was VHS. A disjointed accompaniment to the studio-bound shenanigans is twittering incidental music by Richard Rodney Bennett.
But it's the script and ideas that are worth more than the cameramen having the DTs. Okay, Autloc might be a bit camp and Tlotoxyl might resemble John Sessions parodying Richard the Third, but this has fine integrity at its core.
You know what gets this episode four-and-a-half stars? The confrontation scene between Barbara and the Doctor. But then confrontation scenes between Barbara and the Doctor always elevate an episode to greatness. Know what almost makes it lose those stars? Half a minute of painful stunt slow fighting, straight out of a Pertwee six-parter. And the stock footage of a storm of course. But in the end it deserves 'em. Lucarotti's script may sound more cod-Shakespearean than his usual fare, but there's much to commend here.
Anyway, another great Doctor/Barbara clash at the start of this one, Billy burning with indignation. Jacqueline Hill is a top actress and she's the centre of the entire story here. When did such a thing happen again in the series? With Ace? Let's not go there…
Shall I be an absolute philistine and say that as good as this story is, I sometimes find it a little… boring? Sorry and all that, but there you go. I think it's the lack of dramatic conflict. Okay, there's Ixta, but he's really just following his own beliefs and is not actually evil. The same goes with the situation: while the Tardis crew face minor perils, there's really not a great deal to stop them buggering off in the Tardis at anytime, more or less.
Maybe it's also John Crockett's direction, which seems to lack any kind of urgency - just look at how flat Ian's fight to the death is. Another theory could be the linear storytelling. While Marco takes place over months, and The Massacre has a day per episode, The Aztecs is rather more straightforward. This is not to even mention the added layers of innovation the other two stories hold. Still, not bad.
Susan actually gets bugger all to do in this story, her holiday meaning she's only in filmed inserts for the middle episodes. And the whimsical, jaunty theme (heard at 9'26m, 13'36m and 19'30m - and even more often in the final episode) does get repetitive. Still, more good stuff, and the knowing look between the Doctor and Ixta is wonderful.
The Doctor's relationship with Cameca also ends here. It's touching and amusing, and far more likeable than the only other attempt to give the Doctor romantic involvement. And there we have it - it's good, but not great.
A top twenty story of the black and white era, The Aztecs is excellent but falls somewhat short of classic status.
* * * *
The Commentary/Info Text: The info text has occasional interest, such as pointing out when Bill misses his mark, but is very sparse compared to what's come since. Yet even more sparse is the commentary, often fooling the listener into thinking they've switched it off by mistake. Lambert, Ford and Russell sit through all four episodes, occasionally offering opinion on the costumes, but precious little else. Some of the commentaries are less essential than others (such as Katy's twittering on Carnival of Monsters) but this is the first one where you might as well not even bother to play it.
Remembering The Aztecs (28'19m): An immensely enjoyable documentary featuring Ian Cullen (Ixta) talking off camera and John Ringham (Tlotoxl) and Walter Randall (Tonila) talking to each other. Well, I say talking to each other - Randall largely just sits on the couch with his gut hanging out (no joke) and waits to get a word in with the amazingly opinionated Ringham. Still, this does at least make it a candid and revealing view, with Cullen coming across as by far the most likeable. It gives a greater sense of the production of the serial, Hartnell's attitude and the theatrical background involved. Best of all, you get to see colour shots from the production, showing how beautiful the costumes and sets really were.
Cortez & Montezuma (5'55m): Presented by Valerie Singleton for Blue Peter (magazine series for kids called Jeremy) it's not strictly related to Doctor Who but gives a potted Aztec cultural history. Tenuous but okay.
Restoring The Aztecs (8'07m): An interesting showpiece of the work the Restoration Team did, though the text is often difficult to read.
Tardis Cam No.3 (1'05m): One of the better ones, but why bother?
Designing The Aztecs (24'31m): Some old fart waffles on for twenty-four minutes like he's suffering random flashbacks. Occasionally interesting, but more often like your mum telling you an anecdote about buying plasters from the chemist's. "And I was of course terribly, terribly drunk…"
Making Cocoa (2'29m): John Ringham and Walter Randall recreate their roles to South Park/Captain Pugwash style animation in what is supposed to be a humorous extra. Sadly, this seems lost on Randall, who delivers his lines with all the knowing wit and sparkle of a fetid turd. Humour is a very subjective thing (as the responses to my reviews attest) and I do wish the team behind the DVDs would steer away from putting these "funnies" on the discs.
Photo Gallery (3'50m): 45 images. Lovely photos, seriously bloody annoying sound effects.
Also look out for an easter egg (0'13m) which is harmless but useless, and six random introductions to the serial by Cullen, Ringham and Randall when you press "play all".