The Aztecs part 1

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    Craig @craig

    As the first entry in our Female Time Lord retrospective, and because I just didn’t get time to post it during our First Doctor retrospective, we’re going to be discussing “The Aztecs”. The story starts with the ominously titled episode “The Temple of Evil”. That adds more fuel to my supposition that George Lucas is a fan.

    I don’t think Susan can really be considered a Time Lord but, as the Doctor’s granddaughter, she’s more than likely a female Gallifreyan. We never did learn much about her and, of course, while she was on the show the whole concept of Time Lords and Gallifrey had yet to be fleshed out.

    I think this is the first of the ‘historical’ Doctor Who stories we’ve watched together, and as such it’s slightly different from what we’re used to these days. Here Doctor Who is fulfilling its educational mandate and is teaching the viewers something about the past rather than featuring scary sci-fi monsters. There is, however, still plenty of drama.

    In this first episode the TARDIS has landed in an Aztec tomb. Barbara is quickly captured but is mistaken by the High Priest of the Temple for the reincarnation of the god Yetaxa. Barbara has expert knowledge of the Aztecs and intends to use her new status to end the practice of human sacrifice. The Doctor is adamant that she should not rewrite history, “not one line”.

    For the best viewing experience this story is available to buy. You can get it from Amazon for less than 7 of our British pounds – other retailers are also available (except the BBC, which has sadly closed its online store). It may also be on your Netflix, Prime or Hulu, or whatever else you subscribe to.

    Remember, we’re discussing this story one episode per week, as it was originally broadcast. If you’ve seen it before, for the convenience of anyone approaching this for the first time, NO SPOILERS for subsequent episodes please.

    Craig @craig

    And did I mention Barbara is a total badass?

    blenkinsopthebrave @blenkinsopthebrave

    Ahh, “The Aztecs”. This was why I fell in love with show at the age of 13. The whole idea of engaging with different cultural assumptions in a historical context was a revelation to me at that age. I am certain it was one of the reasons I would end up pursuing academic life.

    Watching it again, I am still impressed by how it made thoughtful points about history and culture in a way that was relatable to children, like me, who would have been watching it back in the mid-60s. Also, watching it now, I realise that what it did in this story, although gradually (and alas) forgotten by “Who”, would be made again by some of the better ST:Next Generation stories (which probably explains my fond memories of that show).

    And, if I am not mistaken, is there the possibility of a December romantic fling for the Doctor being set up? I suspect that went over my head at age 13. Can’t wait for the next instalment!

    @winston This is a perfect entree into BG Who. I hope you enjoy it.


    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    My first comment would be that the Special Edition of the DVD is amazing value – for seven of our British Pounds, you get The Aztecs AND a reconstructed version of Galaxy 4. You also get two child orientated introductions to the Aztec people, various making of/commentaries/documentaries about Who. Plus How the Aztecs Made Cocoa. 🙂

    Okay. Title: The Temple of Evil. A hint that this is not going to be a revisionist history of the Aztecs. Basically the scriptwriter has seemed to take the attitude that, civilised as the Aztecs were in many ways, human sacrifice is a no-no. We’re not talking one or two people a year, here – estimates vary, but a minimum is 20,000 people per year, a maximum is 250,000. Per year. This split is emphasised by the two priests we see – Autloc is willing to recognise Barbara’s ‘servants’, greets them politely and means them no harm. Tlotoxl, on the other hand, wants blood, and lots of it. 🙂

    John Ringham, who plays Tlotoxl, has clearly decided he’s not going to be asked to play Richard III at this stage in his career, so is going to go for a ‘Richard III’ Tlotoxl for all he’s worth. Complete with crooked back and Laurence Oliver style enunciation. 😀 Plot no. 1: get the young, possible warrior killed off quickly using promotion-by-combat. Plot no. 2: get the young handmaiden killed off for interrupting the sacrifice. We’re not even past the first episode…

    Notably, the Doctor seems to have more than a working knowledge of the Aztecs himself. And doesn’t like being called an ‘old man’, or handed over to the retirement home. No wonder he was annoyed when he found his regeneration wasn’t ‘younger’. And yes, @blenkinsopthebrave, the Doctor clearly fancies Cameca.

    Ixta even looks thick. And that’s a very slow stage fight, though possibly they were going for ‘practice fight with menace’.

    And here we have the main intra-Team TARDIS conflict. Barbara and Ian would cheerfully alter history in favour of banning human sacrifice early; the Doctor knows they mustn’t do that. Though he’s still trying to protect Susan from this sort of nastiness, as is Barbara.

    Aaand we see the first set of problems with trying to change the world (never mind trying to change Whovian fixed points). The First Victim wanted to be sacrificed and is horrified that it’s stopped, and Tlotoxl reckons that any goddess who comes down and explains that God doesn’t actually want human sacrifice is a false god. Somebody’s done their research, and they are trying to accurately convey the real history in a child-friendly way – the primary accounts of the Spanish Conquest agree that this is pretty much what happened. Rescued sacrifices were horrified that they’d been ‘rescued’; the new Christian religion’s idea that God didn’t want this was indignantly rejected by the Aztec priests.

    And yes, Barbara is indeed a badass.

    winston @winston

    @craig  This looks great and I look forward to watching it later today! @blenkinsopthebrave  I just finished the 4th Doctor stories called E-Space and The Ark in Space and the 3nd Doctor in Death to the Daleks and the 2nd Doctor in Power to the Daleks and I am fast becoming a fan of BG Who. This will be another story to check off. My lovely son and my library keep me supplied in BG Who for this fantastic journey. There is enough to keep me going for awhile.

    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord

    Well, not that bad actually. And the first thing that you’re struck with is just how different the TARDIS dynamic is, how low in the mix the Doctor is, as it were. In the context of templates for a female Doctor, this (and the other Hartnell we’ve watched) suggests to me that Barbara is a much better fit than Susan. Jacqueline Hill is once again great here — although Babs is perhaps a bit too light-fingered for her own good. Going a bit Lara Croft on us and no mistake.

    In general, I’m afraid I don’t really love the historicals and it’s for a couple of reasons which @bluesqueakpip touches upon above. Part is the sheer theatricality of them (which seems to get dialled down a bit in the SF ones so not sure it can be chalked up to the standards of the time). And it’s not so much Old Vic as bog-standard provincial rep. The sheer amount of ham being served up always ends up putting me off.

    The second is that I feel there’s always something vaguely colonial about the historicals — and some of the SF stories of the Hartnell era. That there’s a vibe of nice middle-class white people being injected into other cultures to comment on how odd (and often how wrong) they are. It might just be the authoritarian nature of the set-up in the Hartnell era, that got swept away by the time you get to Troughton, or I might just be overstating it, but there always seems to be something a bit post-imperial about stories like this to me.

    On a story note, I notice that Babs and Susan once again quickly make sure they’re not saddled with the Doc. Not fast enough, Chesterton. Not fast enough.

    Whisht @whisht

    Just wanted to say I enjoyed this (not seen it before).

    Agree with pretty much everything above (“Richard III” made me laugh @blue!).
    Interesting insight that this hammy-ness might be more prevalent in historicals @jimthefish – I don’t know the historical stuff well enough but something I’ll watch out for (maybe its a reflex when actors where togas etc).

    And agree with you about the Doctor being “low in the mix”.
    I’ve only seen a couple of Hartnell era stories (here to be honest), and if the show wasn’t called “Doctor Who” I wonder if anyone watching would think it should be called “The Time Travellers”, “Journeys Through Time” or similar, as the Doctor seems to be just another of the travellers in the Tardis (albeit one with most of the ‘knowledge’ like the ‘scientist’ is in stuff like the film Journey To the Centre of The Earth).

    Anyway, what do I know – I’m off to be silly on the Music thread.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    So, the audio commentary: the late Verity Lambert is running the interview, with William Russell and Carole Anne Ford.

    Verity comments that the historicals had to be completely accurate – right dates, right costumes, authentic designs. Several decades later, they’re pretty impressed by the set and costumes (quite rightly, I’d say). Though the authenticity caused a couple of problems – apparently the feather headdresses were prone to tickle, and the actor bowing could easily ‘get’ the actor being bowed to. There’s also a problem with camera focus – choice of focusing on face, or face with headdress. But the sets are much admired, especially the garden set.

    And we’re not the only ones to think John Ringham is doing Richard III – it’s the first thing Verity Lambert says, and the other two promptly agree. Later on they reckon he’s copying Laurence Olivier. 🙂 But Verity also notes how truthful the acting is (even Richard III); also that given the time to prepare and rehearse, everyone has tried to create something as accurate as possible. No cutting corners, or relaxing because ‘it’s just for kiddies’. Quite a lot of favourable comment about the way Jacqueline Hill varies her performance to play Yetaxa.

    The director chosen, John Crockett, was from BBC Schools, was ‘academic’, and was grabbed because he knew the Aztec period well. He took the ‘educational’ remit very serious and checked sets, costumes etc. for accuracy. Verity thinks he was the one who got them the composer Richard Rodney Bennett to do the incidental music – John Crockett knew him.

    A few jokes about Ian’s ‘hidden talents’ as a fighter and the way he reacts incredibly calmly to the news that he’s going to be an Aztec warrior; William Russell remarks that he had about five minutes to practice the new moves.

    Some discussion of which studio it was – D or G? And how the heck did they manage to fit all these sets in? Verity notes that she developed quite a reputation in the BBC for fitting more sets in a small space than anyone believed possible. Even for the 1960’s, however, the Studio D and G facilities were old fashioned – ‘out of the ark’, is one comment, and the cables were a health and safety nightmare. The actors couldn’t really run anywhere – they’d have gone flying. At one point you can see the camera jerk violently as it runs into something.

    I note that Carole Ann Ford is obviously a fashionista – she didn’t like Susan’s costumes generally (Susan’s top is ‘shapeless’), but would have grabbed Jacqueline Hill’s Aztec costume in an instant. That fits with Mark Gattis’s An Adventure In Space And Time, where a row develops between her and William Hartnell after she buys one of the Marco Polo costumes. Whether or not that scene actually happened, it’s clearly true to both her and Hartnell.

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