The Aztecs

New Special Edition re-release, 2013 March:
Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 6, starring William Hartnell)
  • written by John Lucarotti
  • directed by John Crockett
  • produced by Verity Lambert
  • music by Richard Rodney Bennett
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each:
    1. The Temple of Evil
    2. The Warriors of Death
    3. The Bride of Sacrifice
    4. The Day of Darkness
Story: Barbara is mistaken for the reincarnation of the Aztec goddess Yetaxa, and puts the TARDIS crew in extra jeopardy when, despite the Doctor's warnings, she decides to use her position to remove the violent aspects of Aztec culture and create a new version of history.

An extremely well written and executed drama, possibly the very best of the William Hartnell era.

Original DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Carole Ann Ford (Susan), and producer Verity Lambert.
  • "Remembering The Aztecs" featurette (28 min.) with interviews of John Ringham (Tlotoxl), Walter Randall (Tonila), and Ian Cullen (Ixta).
  • "Designing The Aztecs" featurette (24 min.) with designer Barry Newbery and his photos.
  • "Cortez and Montezuma" history featurette (6 min. colour film 1970)
  • "Making Cocoa" cartoon (2.5 min.) with Tlotoxl and Tonila in the style of "South Park".
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery sound effects montage (colour and BW, 4 min.)
  • Arabic language track for episode 4, featuring alternate music.
  • TARDIS Cam no. 3 - Gorn Peaks (1 min.)
  • Six randomly selected voiceover intros by Tlotoxl, Tonila, and Ixta.
  • "Restoring The Aztecs" before-and-after clips from "The Aztecs", "Terror of the Autons", and "The Krotons" (8 min.)
  • Easter Egg
  • "Who's Who" actor biographies (text only, may feature on Region 1 original release only)

Special Edition DVD Extras add:

  • "Chronicle - The Realms of Gold" 50 minute colour film documentary about the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
  • "A Whole Scene Going" (4 min. BW) interview of director Gordon Flemyng on making "Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D."
  • "It's a Square World" early comedy spoof of Doctor Who (7 min. BW)
  • "Toyroom" featurette on Doctor Who toy merchandise (22 min.)

    ...and then the mouth-watering release we've all been waiting for:

  • "Galaxy Four" part three "Air Lock" (24 min.) - newly recovered original episode!
  • "Galaxy Four" part one & two partial reconstruction (28 min.)
  • "Galaxy Four" part four partial reconstruction (12 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

This story is most definitely a real gem: possibly the very best of all the William Hartnell stories. For the first time in the series, all the episodes of a story fit together to form a complete whole with no padding, boring bits, embarrassing effects, or unnecessary tangents, gaining the feel of the best of Doctor Who's 70's stories. The high quality of the writing and the production is consistent throughout all four episodes.

If there is one detraction in this four part adventure, it is the poor appearance that the TARDIS makes at the beginning of the story. Ideally, one would want a shot of the TARDIS materializing in the Aztec tomb, but someone decided to do this episode on the cheap where the TARDIS was concerned. There's also nothing to establish our four main characters as time travellers, or to establish the vast interior of the TARDIS. It is assumed that the audience already knows all about these things. With the concept of time travel playing such a big role in this adventure, it's a great pity more attention wasn't paid to making sure these four classic episodes could stand on their own, if someone were to use this story to acquaint a new audience to the series. The classic stories should be understandable to those who don't watch the show regularly. But I have to say, this one minor point is about the only thing I can complain about in the entire story.

The characters become involved in this adventure in a way which is typical for the first season.... their curiosity leads them to venture too far, and early on their escape in the TARDIS is prevented until the end of the story, in this case by an ingenious Aztec one-way door in the tomb. Ooh, but this time it gets far more interesting..... There are times when the Doctor encounters renegade members of his own race, and of other races, who "try to change history", and he usually jumps in heroically throwing everything he has into the fight to try and stop them. This first time the perceived threat to history is from Barbara, whom he has brought with him, and with whom he would like to continue to get along with afterwards. And so he must meet the challenge with words, philosophy, compassion, and understanding. And he is the better for it in the end.

The time travellers and the Aztecs all have their human flaws, and this story is an excellent interactive character study. Barbara's actions cause the Doctor to confront his strict policy of non-intervention at all costs, and his belief that "not one line" of history can be re-written. This belief is causing him to ignore all the help and good he can provide to others throughout his journeys, causing him to want to run back into the TARDIS throughout every adventure. Barbara is (W)right to let her involvement run true to her principles and her heart, but she is mistaken in believing that one figure in authority can forcibly alter the entire views, philosophies, and traditions of an entire culture of people. The Doctor is right to caution her bloated ego, knowing how much extra danger she is placing all four travellers in unnecessarily if she isn't more careful. Whose position is more right? This is the kind of question that makes classic drama, and "The Aztecs" has loads of it.

Unfortunately, both Barbara and the Doctor resort to deception in their methods, despite the Doctor's reassurance to Tlotoxl in episode three that he "serves only the truth". Barbara is mistaken for the reincarnation of the god Yetaxa, a powerful position which she soon relishes and plans to use to serve her own noble ends. For his own part, the Doctor allows himself to get romantically involved with an Aztec woman, whom he seems to be purposefully deceiving, although he unknowingly ends up much more involved than he had expected. This is yet another aspect of "The Aztecs" that sets it apart from any other Doctor Who story - it is the ONLY on-screen romantic interest that the Doctor has throughout the original television show's 26 year history!

The plot is full of twists and turns, as nearly every character gets a scene in which to interact with every other character, and one interesting possibility after another is explored. The acting is the best that the series has turned out so far. John Ringham as Tlotoxl is probably the finest guest villain of the entire first season, creepy, powerful, devious, and perfectly justified in his own mind (not to mention within the rules of his own society) to hold the values and use the methods that he does.

It is Carole Ann Ford's turn to take two weeks holiday during episodes two and three of this story, yet she still makes a strong appearance with one pre-filmed scene of good length in each of those episodes - probably the best holiday disappearance of any main Doctor Who character because the absence is virtually non-existent. Her desperate plea for help from her grandfather holds the greatest danger of being hammed up in her performance, yet she carries the moment off beautifully.

Ian is also required to stand still and react emotionally for the cliffhanger of part three, which is his most dangerous task in acting, yet this too is surprisingly well done. John Crockett must know some secret to getting actors to give their best! William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill are usually in top form for most stories, and they certainly turn out some of their best and most riveting work in this one.

The cliffhangers are mostly well done.... but to avoid spoilers, I'll save the discussion of them for the in-depth analysis version of this review.

Most of the music is quite dark and atmospheric, yet also in tune with the ancient culture which our time travellers find themselves in. It is largely a very excellent score. The only danger is that perhaps the strangely light-sounding woodwind herald is used too often, and it isn't too appropriate for announcing villains or danger.

Ian gets his own minor villain to tangle with in Ixta, and their conflict is built to a dramatically satisfying climax in the end. The climax highlights the beautiful and ingenious set-design and John Crockett's mastery of how to make certain illusions work, without sacrificing any tension in the action-filled scene. I wish this director had returned to Doctor Who on other occasions!

The Doctor and Barbara take plenty of time to philosophize about the events that have unfolded. Many fans see this tale as a vindication of the Doctor's position; I prefer to notice that he virtually admits to Barbara that he was half-wrong, while she does the same. (Read more about that here.) An emotionally and philosophically satisfying ending.

Although we are once more denied exterior visuals of the TARDIS going and coming, we do get two scenes in the interior and at last the sound effect returns to accompany the Doctor as he operates the controls and dematerializes. A final cliffhanger leaves us exactly where a good cliffhanger should - curious about the answers to a few simple questions, about where the travellers will be in the next episode, and about what they will encounter there.....

"The Aztecs" is a grand, riveting drama, playing on all the strengths that Doctor Who's production format was limited to in those days, and using them all to their absolute best. Each scene expertly pulls the viewer in tighter and creates suspenseful anticipation for the scenes that follow, building a magnetic sense of momentum through to the final moments. No proper appreciation of William Hartnell's original era of Doctor Who can go without a viewing of this outstanding classic.

"The Aztecs" is a complete original story available on DVD and VHS video.
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Original release:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A for North America
NTSC B for North America
PAL for the U.K.

New Special Edition re-release, 2013 March:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
Does a round Chumbley from Galaxy Four fit in a square Aztec hole? YES!

This is the most essential "Special Edition" produced yet, with a new rare episode from "Galaxy Four" that most fans had not previously seen surrounded by an abbreviated but substantial reconstruction of the rest of the story.... Both "The Aztecs" and "Galaxy Four" are amongst the very best of the Hartnell era, making this the most exciting package yet from the original Doctor's reign.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Sensorites"

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