My Quest to Watch ALL Available Doctor Who Episodes: Serial 6 – The Aztecs

This post may contain spoilers about classic and current episodes of Doctor Who.

Spoiler Alert:  This series of posts will contain spoilers about classic and possibly current episodes of Doctor Who.

The Aztecs is the 6th Doctor Who story. It consisted of 4 episodes, airing weekly, starting on May 23rd, 1964.

When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say “YES”!

The Doctor and his companions (Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan) land in Mexico in the 15th century inside the inner sanctum of an Aztec tomb. They exit a one way secret door, making it impossible to return to the TARDIS. Barbara is able to exploit her expert knowledge of this time period to impersonate the long dead high priest Yetaxa, and so is treated as a messenger from the gods.

Barbara becomes obsessed with trying to end the Aztecs practice of human sacrifices. The Doctor warns her, “You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!” She ignores him.

Her attempts to forbid human sacrifice puts her at odds with the High Priest of Sacrifice, Tlotoxl, the serial’s primary villain, a man who looks eerily like Snidely Whiplash.

They sure look like their from the same family.

One of these is infringing on a copyright, just not sure which one.

Snidely…uh…I mean Tlotoxl spends much of the story either trying to prove Barbara is not a goddess, or trying to kill her or her “servants.”

After many subplots and plot twists, Barbara realizes her attempt to change the Aztec’s fate is doomed. Ian and the Doctor find a way back into the tomb, allowing our heroes to escape into the TARDIS as Tlotoxl performs the sacrifice Barbara fought to prevent.

What’s Important

This is a truly great episode in multiple ways.

The sets and costumes are lavish by 1960’s standards. The story itself is interesting and well written, and all the actors deliver solid, even exceptional, performances.

Jacqueline Hill, in particular, is superlative as Barbara. Her moral compulsion to end human sacrifices and save the Aztec civilization drive the main plot. Her sinking realization that her attempts are placing her friends in ever greater danger shine through her carefully underplayed performance. This is easily the actress’ finest hour in the series.

William Hartnell delivers his strongest performance so far in the series. His exchanges with Barbara are riveting, especially when he’s barking dialogue with crackling outrage. Later, when he is subtly questioning various Aztecs, he conveys a sense of a sharp mind rapidly piecing together the clues needed to save his companion’s lives.

This story is unusual in the series’ history in that, except for time travelers landing in the past, there are no science fiction/fantasy elements to what happens. No aliens are present, no potential invasions or other fantastical threats to foil, or any of the other traditional hallmarks of Doctor Who. This is a story of modern people trying to alter the morality of an ancient civilization, and discovering the inevitable resistance from those whose power and prestige is grounded in that society never changing.

Sometimes the Villain Wins

The Aztecs is unique in Doctor Who‘s 50 year history in that the villain achieves complete victory at the end of the story.

While Tlotoxl does not manage to kill Barbara, the Doctor, or the others, they are forced to flee or face certain death. At the very end, Tlotoxl is in command of the city, completely free to commit human sacrifices whenever he wants. Anyone who might challenge or abate his bloodlust has been swept aside.

In no other Doctor Who story does the antagonist have so sweeping a victory. The only consolation for the viewer is the certain knowledge that Tlotoxl’s triumph leads inevitably to the destruction of the culture he fought so hard to maintain.

Accept What Cannot be Changed, The Courage to Change What Can, And the Wisdom to Know the Difference

This Aztecs establishes for the first time a central tenet of Doctor Who. Specifically it asserts there are aspects of history which either cannot or should not be changed, even if they are loathsome. At the same time, it makes clear the moral imperative of trying to save as many individuals possible.

Specifically, Barbara’s quest in this story is to fundamentally alter Aztec culture and save their society from extinction. This global rewriting of history is doomed to failure. But her attempts alters the moral compass of Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge. He abandons the practice of human sacrifice and his position of power so that he can seek a better course for himself. In a real sense, Autloc is saved and sets an example which we can presume others will one day follow.

This dichotomy, the inability to change major events while simultaneously helping individuals caught up in those events, occurs in many Doctor Who stories right up to the present day.

DVD Extra’s

One especially strange special feature is Making Cocoa.  In this animated video two characters from The Aztecs explain the process for turning cocoa beans into a hot, spicy drink.  Mildly interesting at best.

Then there is Designing the Aztecs, an interview with Barry Newbery, the production designer for the serial. While not exceptional, this interview — along with the original pictures, drawings, and shots from the scripts — do put Mr. Newman’s gorgeous sets and costumes into the perspective of the time when he made them. Anyone interested in the details of how shows are created would be well advised to check out this feature.

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Another feature is called Cortez and Montezuma. This is an excerpt from a 1970 Blue Peter Expedition where they discuss the historical Aztecs at the time when Cortez invaded.

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The feature Remembering the Aztecs provides recollections from the actors Ian Cullen (Ixta), John Ringham, (the villainous Tlotoxl), and Walter Randall (Tonila).  Over about 30 minutes they cover all aspects of the show; the other actors, the producer Verity Lambert, the sets, costumes, scripts, fight scenes, the limited availability for retakes, how similar working in early television was to working on plays, the difficulties older stage actors faced when working at the pace required for television programs, and so forth. The conversational nature of the feature and warm personalities of the actors enhance the stories and make this feature quite entertaining and interesting.

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There are two other features which aren’t very interesting. Restoring the Aztecs show comparisons between the original damage footage and the final restored footage. And finally there is a photo gallery.

Next Time

The next storyline is the 7th serial, The Sensorites.

Review of Battlestar Gallactic:Blood and Chrome

The new web series, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, is fracking awesome.

Debuting on Friday, November 10th  on YouTube’s Machinima channel, the prequel’s first two ten-minute episodes dives immediately into the life of young pilot William Adama, who later becomes Admiral Bill Adama as fans of the excellent Battlestar Galacticaknow him.

The series opens at the height of the Cylon’s first War with the colonies where we meet Adama as he completes his Viper training and ships out to join the fight. His first assignment is on the Battlestar Galactica when it part of a relatively new fleet of warships.

A 1 minute trailer for those too busy for a 10 minute episode.

Throwing Adama directly into the war provides the show with an amazingly fast pace that keeps the action moving without sacrificing character development. Adama’s first mission in the war is supposed to be a milk run, a safe and routine cargo transport with orders to avoid enemy contact. This goes quickly wrong and lands Adama, his reluctant copilot, and a woman with secret orders from the Admiralty in the middle of a very important and dangerous secret mission.

The show is smartly written with a production quality rivaling those of major movies. The Galactica feels like an enormous ship in a major war filled with soldiers tired of fighting. The young Adama’s gung-ho ready-for-war enthusiasm is well-balanced by combat veterans that do their jobs with weary resignation and appropriate caution.

The web series is designed so that, should it prove popular, it can be re-edited into a movie that would be shown on SyFy in early 2013. No announcements have been made of turning Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome into a cable t.v. series like the original BattleStar Galactica. However it is clear this new show has a real possibility of developing into a long running, high-quality series. If you like epic science fiction, I heartily recommend Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome.

Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome episode 1. Nothing phantom about this menace.
Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome episode 2.

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty Three

Boy, am I far behind on my writing. I am still sitting at arount 26,000 words, and the last few days have been enough trouble to keep me from writing. I really, really want to, but there are so many other things that need to be done this time of year that take precedence. Like excersizing a little more room into my tummy for the holidays.

Today’s inspirational song is an old favorite of mine, beloved since grade school (I think I just dated myself). It is from the movie Labyrinth, and it is called As the World Falls Down. I love to just listen to this song, and its sadness. The words themselves are quite motivational to me too. Dripping with romance. Makes me think I should actually try writing a romance next time around…

Keep your NaNoWriMo going, and write on!

NaNoWriMo Days 20-22

First, a little shout out to Brant. He is just a few words away from the 50,000 month quota. Hooray for Brant!

Sorry about this weekend, it completely slipped away from me. I wrote very little, because of an injury, but don’t worry. I feel better now. I did however work on my story. I dug around and learned a little strategy so the battle scenes will read a little more realistic. I just haven’t written them in yet. So here are the weekend songs I had chosen and didn’t release.

Day 20: One of my favorite movies that involves one of my hobbies is Gettysburg, a great movie about the Northern armies hard won victory that turned the tide of the Civil War. The military theme song therein is called Men of Honor. It is a great song when gearing up for a battle, even if it is a little slow.

Day 21: A nice, angst filled song today, which I found while perusing YouTube for Torchwood stuff. I think this song, titled He Lives in You, is a good song to put you in a somber mood. I have a death scene coming up again in my story, and I loved the feeling I got listening to this song. Probably not the right terms to use for a death scene, but it’s true.

Day 22: Enough with the downers, I know. Today’s song is in my terms, simply beautiful. It is called Vocalise, written by Rachmaninov and arranged by Karl Jenkins to be done by Adiemus. Whew, what a mouthful. This song adds color to what I am writing. When I need better descriptions, a bigger amount of detail, or just a sense of purpose in what I am writing, I go to this song.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

NaNoWriMo Day Sixteen

A lot of drama in Brant and my lives yesterday. My old truck (which I named Dr. Pepper Truck, because of its color) needed a lot of work again, and we finally decided it wasn’t worth it. So we spent most of our free time yesterday picking out a ‘new’ used car. In spite of all that, I still managed to write over 3k words yesterday! I am almost caught up to where I should be in my novel, according to the average set forth by Brant to reach the 50k words. I am around 18,600 words. I might not make 50k, but I will have a lot more invested in this novel than I thought I would.

Today’s inspiration is a song I have loved since I learned it on the piano more than a decade ago. It is a piece of classical music with a dramatically sinister turn, called Danse Macabre. It is written by the gifted French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, and I found a delightful vingnette of pictures made by someone on YouTube to watch as you listen the first time. I use this when I need to write with a little more frenetic energy. Sometimes what I write is ‘evil,’ (ie. the characters are in trouble), but more often or not I am just reminded to put a little more motion and vitality into my stuff. Otherwise, as I have told the group members several times, my characters pop into a void, speak their peace, and pop out again. This song helps me add color.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!