Review for Doctor Who: The Aztecs Special Edition (2 Discs)
Oh dear. This is uncharted territory for me. Yes, I’m a Doctor Who fan but one of those boorishly selfish ones for whom any incarnation beyond Pertwee is of little or no interest. So not really a proper fan at all then. But I do recall, with some fondness, sitting behind the sofa or behind a cushion watching Hartnell and team take on the Daleks or Troughton tackle the Cybermen. Things settled down a bit for me in the Pertwee years where the combination of colour and age (mine) meant that I could begin to enjoy the stories without being terrified out my wits.
It dawned on me watching ‘The Aztecs’, and the wealth of extra material bequeathed upon this special edition, that real fans like ALL the various Doctors and indeed, ALL the extra features no matter how bizarrely detailed they may be for such a slight contribution to British popular culture. Whilst there were all the usual pressures on the Production team to turn in the story on budget and in time imagine how they would have felt if they’d known that 50 years on people would be poring over every last detail as if it were ‘Citizen Kane’ itself. And how lovely for the much abused lowly techs and bit part actors who here are elevated to the status of heroes, albeit for a brief few minutes. Curious times indeed but all part of the glorious and anoraky pleasures of being a retro TV nut.
I should start by saying that BBC DVD, with the help of fans and archivists, are really pulling the stops out to make such TV heaven available to the real Who fans. Oh – and people like me too. If you are one of those fans who has already paid out for DVD of ‘The Aztecs’ then I should say that – yes – the upgraded picture quality and wealth of extras will almost certainly be worth the double-dip. Which is probably all you’ll need to know and actually about as much as I can meaningfully tell you because you’ll undoubtedly know the rest already. For that I salute you – and now I’ll move politely on to pen a few words for the second tier audience; people like myself who can just about remember this first time around and who might well enjoy a re-run, though perhaps with less of a fan’s eye.
So first up, ‘The Aztecs’ itself in all its re-mastered magnificence, a historic tale spread across a mere four episodes. Apparently with a Blue-Peterish nod towards the historic accuracy (the BBC constantly tried to educate whilst entertaining it seemed) the crew arrive in ancient Mexico and when the Doctor’s companion, Barbara emerges from a tonm she is mistaken for the reincarnation of a high priest, a dramatic device used in hundreds of TV shows and movies before it!
However, when she realises that a human sacrifice is on the cards she sets about changing things despite the Doctor’s protestations that you can’t go around travelling through time altering history.
The conniving, power hungry high priest (John Ringham as Tlotoxl) suspects her from the outset and turns in the hammiest performance since Hancock took off Olivier’s Richard III, perfect for kids entertainment of course.
Meanwhile Ian sets about trying to find a way back to the Tardis and the Doctor falls in love – or at least a lady falls in love with him. In fact, by making her a cup of Cocoa to share, he inadvertently ends up virtually marrying the poor lady – a rare moment of humour for Hartnell.
There are a couple of clunky fight scenes and a lot of verbose dialogue by over-made up actors in what looks like the set for an amateur theatre production of ‘Cleopatra’ but it’s still all great fun.
Maybe its brevity is what saves it and, curiously, it remains a fan favourite to this day, despite the absence of any creepy monsters.
The breadth and depth of the extras on this set really does raise the bar and will be a major reason for many to pick up this set. In fact, by the time you’ve got through all the extras you may need reminding that it also contains ‘The Aztecs’ in full!
There are several video interviews with cast members (sloppily done with undignified shots of ex-cast members slouching on a setee with shirts rising to display the weight piled on over the years) as well as set designers and so on which are fairly interesting if a bit over-played for so slight a series.
However, by the time you get to Disc two, the extras get pretty exciting. You get a complete recently recovered episode of ‘Galaxy 4’ (episode 3) put into context with a 2007 reconstruction r using found-footage, existing audio, surviving stills and extra animations (by fan group ‘Loose Cannon Productions who do an amazing job).
This is, in my view, even more fun than ‘The Aztecs’ and worth the price of entry alone. The ‘all-female’ gun-toting Drahvins look like they stepped straight from ‘The Girl from Rio’ Jess Franco movie which, coincidentally, was also release a couple of weeks ago.
Also included are some rare archival clips related to Hartnell era Who. First up, a scene from Michael Bentine’s ‘It’s a Square World’ featuring Clive Dunn (yes – Grandad himself) as Hartnell’s Who. The sketch ends with TV Centre being blasted into space.
There’s also footage from a TV show from the 60’s which shows some of the filming of the 1966 feature film( Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150AD) which replaced Hartnell with Peter Cushing. There is an interview with chain-smoking movie Director Gordon Flemying – not something you’d see on kid’s TV today.
A special feature, “Doctor Who Forever: Celestial Toyroom” (23 minutes) takes a look at Who merchandise from the Dalekmania of the 1960’ to the current day pre-occupation with action-figures. For me, the late 60’s / early 70’s focus was too short as the latter stuff had little or no interest to me but doesn’t everyone in the UK define their youth by their ‘Doctor’? Mark Gattis appears – never one to miss out on a nostalgic blast through his childhood.
Finally, a fantastic and unexpected bonus for me, is ‘The Realms Of Gold’ (50 minutes) from 1969. This is not Who related in the slightest but actually a BBC2 documentary about the 1519-1521 campaign of Conquistador Hernán Cortés which ended the Aztec empire. It’s a lovely reflection of the slow pace and style of documentaries from that time, often happy to linger on a photo for 30 seconds, or show the presenter standing in an empty field talking drily to camera for two minutes. For archive TV fans a gold-nugget indeed! It also features a score by Radiophonic Workshop’s hard working Delia Derbyshire who, coincidentally, also created the original Dr. Who theme.
For completeness you also get all the extras contained on the 2002 Aztecs release including commentary by producer Verity Lambert and companions William Russell and Carole Ann Ford, a Making Of Featurette (30 minutes), and a Blue Peter segment about the fall of the Aztecs. There are even one or two isolated BBC Radio Times extracts provided as PDF's.
A really top-notch package which somewhat raises the bar in terms of extra materials.
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