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Doctor Who: The Aztecs
cast: William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell, and Jacqueline Hill

director: John Crockett

98 minutes (U) 1964
BBC DVD Regions 2 + 4 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Donald Morefield
In this early four-part story by John Lucarotti, the Doctor (William Hartnell) journeys down to Mexico and arrives in the era of the bloodthirsty Aztec empire, where the Tardis complement are (handily) mistaken for servants of local deity Yetaxa, and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) is thought to be a reincarnated priestess. Although it seems there's an almost constant danger of another human sacrifice, the Doctor insists that his meddling granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and curious but luckless schoolteacher Ian (William Russell) must not interfere with the Aztecs' barbaric cultural practices, as this would risk re-writing history. Ian is made a warrior and has to fight a duel, the Doctor unwittingly becomes engaged to a temple maiden, and there are numerous plots and countermoves by sly Aztec priests and whatnot. But the real trouble starts at the ceremony to mark a Solar eclipse...
   Mid-1960s' TV-budgets were inadequate to the task of building enough quality scenery to convincingly depict the ancient empire; so much of the dialogue-heavy action takes place on just a few simple studio sets. However, painted backdrops, careful lighting and a theatrically styled narrative, needing few elaborate props, combine with fault-concealing black and white visuals to help create a passable impression of the Aztec age. The main problem with this time travel adventure is not the cheap backgrounds or the variable acting, but the programme's concept. Because this made at a time when Doctor Who was still a show that striving for factual accuracy regarding history, in order to ensure this telefantasy drama for children maintained some of education value. Eventually, the BBC would realise it was a mistake to persist in lecturing kids (who were more interested in those homicidal 'pepperpot nazis' the daleks, than history or science lessons!), as they got enough of that at school, and the dreary instructive emphasis of Doctor Who was quietly abandoned, along with the teacher and schoolgirl companions. Here, though, it's still much in evidence, and is brashly worked into the dialogue from both the Hartnell's Doctor, and Hill's character, Barbara, who perplexingly has extensive knowledge of the Aztecs.
   Overall, then, this is watchable, and certainly well restored for this DVD. Just take my advice and don't drink the cocoa! DVD extras: commentary by producer Verity Lambert OBE with cast members William Russell and Carole Ann Ford. There' also a newly made documentary, Remembering The Aztecs, featuring guest stars John Ringham, Walter Rabndall, and Ian Cullen, exclusive interview with set designer Barry Newbery, Blue Peter footage (with Valerie Singleton) on the story of Cortez and Montezuma, a look at the digital re-mastering process, an option to see the final episode with an Arabic soundtrack, an animated guide to making cocoa the Aztec way, photo gallery, production subtitles, Tardis-cam #3.