The Aztecs (1964)

EPISODE 1- THE TEMPLE OF EVIL

Originally Broadcast on BBC – Saturday 23 May 1964

The Aztecs: The Temple of Evil is another historical story and its another written by John Lucarotti. I remember the first time that I ever saw this story and was extremely impressed with it and continue to be so. The TARDIS has gone from the futuristic Marinus to 15th Century Earth. The first shot is of a skeleton which suggests the tone of the next four episodes. The TARDIS has landed in the tomb of Yetaxa. There is a nice scene with Barbara and Susan where Barbara shows that she has an interest in the Aztecs. During the examination of the tomb, Barbara puts on a bracelet which doesn’t seem to be of any importance and its only when Barbara leaves the tomb that its importance becomes evident. Barbara is discovered by Autloc and we learn that only Yetaxa can wear the bracelet and so Autloc assumes that Barbara is the reincarnation of Yetaxa. Autloc is the high priest and is low on intelligence. When he first appears he doesn’t come across as a particular impressive and he doesn’t ooze warmth.

Another character that we are introduced to is Tlotoxl. He is introduced brilliantly with him swinging his head towards the camera. Ian wonderfully describes him as ‘the local butcher’. Tlotoxl is brilliantly played by John Ringham who is clearly going to be this stories version of Tegana. He is clearly the stories strong (and amusing villain).

The Doctor is very amusing when he’s trying to pretend that Barbara is Yetaxa. The Doctor has a relatively light episode as he is farmed out to the garden. The Doctor has to spend time in a retirement garden where we are introduced to Cameca who is the love interest for the Doctor. She isn’t just there to make up the numbers and she’s well played by Margot Van der Burgh.

There’s an odd moment where the Doctor wanders to far into the scene where he is blocked by Barbara’s gigantic headgear. Apart from that this opening episode is well directed by John Crockett who returns after directing episode 4 of John Lucarotti’s ‘Marco Polo’ (The Wall of Lies).

Ian is draughted into to being a fighter which is suitable to his action man image. Ixta is the main fighter and his involvement will grow in future episodes but even here he is someone that shouldn’t be trusted. The fight scenes are quite good even though there isn’t much too much that they would be allowed to do. Ian has to hold down the person who is about to be sacrificed. Here there is a nice bit of anguish for Ian who clearly doesn’t want to do it but has to.

Barbara wants to stop sacrifices. Barbara thinks that the people who are sacrificed do not want to but when she stops the sacrifice, the man is miffed that she has denied him honour and he kills himself. Moments later there is rain and the conflict between Yetaxa and Tlotoxl begins. He sees Barbara as a false goddess and when she stops the sacrifice this only intensifies this doubt.

This story sees one of the greatest lines in the shows history. “You cant rewrite history, not one line!” It forms the basic theme of the story and the Doctor spends most of the story trying to tell her of this fact yet she wont listen.

We never see the crowd but just here them. The fact we only hear them cheer is a slight disappointment as it would have been nice to have heard rumblings.

The cliffhanger was a good one as Tlotoxl looks towards the camera and says he will destroy her. Ok so its not the most exciting cliffhanger in the history of the show its still a good way to end the show. This is a good opening episode where we have a wonderful idea of what the story will be and we also have several strong characters.

EPISODE 2 – THE WARRIORS OF DEATH

Originally Broadcast on BBC – Saturday 30 May 1964

The episode starts off with the wonderful reprise of Tlotoxl looking directly at the screen. The reprise leads directly into a wonderful scene between the Doctor and Barbara where the Doctor berates Barbara for interfering in the sacrifice. The Doctor keeps chipping away at Barbara and its not long before Barbara breaks down and its at that point that the Doctor relents. They soon seem to make up quite quickly and by the end they are back to being friends again however the feud between Tlotoxl and Barbara continues. John Ringham is superb as Tlotoxl and every time he’s on screen I love the story that bit more.

I liked the scene between Autloc, Ian and Ixta with Ian winning a quick battle against Ixta by using his thumb. Ixta is going to use the fact that the Doctor doesn’t know that Ian will have to fight Ixta and the Doctor unknowingly helps him to defeat Ian. This nice bit of deception is what I like about Ixta because it shows that he is a cunning character and that he is smart. The budding romance between the Doctor and Cameca is quite fun to witness. Cameca believes there is true love but the Doctor is naïve to it and is only interested in gaining access to the tomb. I do feel sorry for Cameca because she is lovingly played by Margot Van der Burgh that it makes the Doctor seem slightly cruel with what he’s doing. Barbara is showing signs of disliking her current promotion. She feels the weight of pressure from Tlotoxl and trying to keep Autloc on his side.

Susan only appears in a pre-filmed sequence as she becomes the second of the regulars to go on holiday during the story. In the brief scene she turns down the idea of an arranged marriage. Despite only being in this short scene it somehow helps add to the troubles of Barbara.

The latter half of the story is the build up to the fight between Ixta and Ian and it’s a good moment because we know what’s going to happen things are going well for Ian until the Doctor distracts him by telling him to not let Ixta scratch him which of course is what happens. The next few minutes are a well cheorographed fight when Ian is slowly getting weaker. William Russell is very good in this episode because he’s having to do something that he doesn’t really want to do but we all know he can do.

There is a lot of looking directly at the camera. Starting with Tlotoxl at the beginning there are a few moments where someone spends time looking if not directly then roughly in its direction. It’s a well directed episode with some good camera shots though there are moments where its clear that the background is a cloth.

The cliffhanger is a good one as it involves Tlotoxl. He is demanding that Barbara saves Ian and this leads to a wonderful thing about how Barbara will get round this. It was a good ending to a good episode. The whole build up to the fight was well done and everyone was on good form and this story is slowly taking shape. I’ve always liked this story and these past two episodes have done nothing to make me change my mind.

EPISODE 3 – THE BRIDE OF SACRIFICE

Originally Broadcast on BBC – Saturday 6 June 1964

The penultimate episode sees things start to step up a gear. At the end of the previous episode we saw Tlotoxl gaud Barbara into trying to save Ian. The way that Barbara gets over Tlotoxl demand is quite clever. She puts a knife against his throat to stop Ixta. I thought that this was a great moment for Barbara and its quite a surprising moment where a regular is doing such as an aggressive act. There is a nice scene between Barbara and Autloc where she is trying to convince him that sacrifices aren’t needed. You can tell that Autloc is conflicted because he knows there is something not quite right but he cant quite face to go against Yetaxa.

The Doctor and Tlotoxl have a good scene where the Doctor basically tells Tlotoxl that if he wants proof that Barbara is a false goddess then they need to open up the tomb. It’s the first proper scene that the two have had together and it’s a good scene. John Ringham continues to put in a great performance as Tlotoxl and he takes the next step into madness when Tlotoxl plans to poison Barbara to prove she is a false goddess. Tlotoxl is like a dog with a bone as he is obsessed with proving the Barbara isn’t Yetaxa. Barbara admits that to Ytoxl that she isn’t the real Yetaxa. It was good that she finally admitted it. I think that this moment took place at the right time. The scene where Barbara is to drink the poison is good because had it not been for Ian then Barbara would have died and she subtlety manages to call Tlotoxl’s bluff by getting him to drink it and when he shows sign of reluctant then Barbara knows that its true.

The Doctor is very funny in this episode and it centres around his budding romance with Cameca. Unaware that cocoa has such meanings he offers to make her a drink. This leads to us learning that the Doctor has gotten engaged. The reaction when the Doctor is told by Cameca the look on his face is priceless. When Ian finds out it’s the first time that he has smiled since this story began. It’s a bit of humour in an otherwise sombre setting. The only time that the Doctor becomes serious is towards the end but its nice to see Hartnell showing his (dare I say it) human side and being quite normal.

There is another pre-filmed scene with Susan as Carole Ann Ford was still on holiday. She is still against the idea of being married to someone she doesn’t know. It’s a shame that Carole Ann Ford was on holiday as this is basically all she does in this story and it would have been nice had she had something more substantial. Though she did have a wonderful moment where she is looking to the side of the camera and is calling out for her grandfather. It’s well played by Ford.

They finally gain access to the tunnel that leads from the garden however it isn’t long before Ixta puts the stone back. There is a nice moment where Ixta is looking at the Doctor with a ‘we both know Ian is dead’. It’s a well directed scene as it means that they have to turn down the lights and that twinned with it being in black and white means that its very atmospheric. This leads to Ian being trapped as the waters are rising leading to the very real possibility of him drowning and it’s a great cliffhanger.

It was another very strong episode with some good performances from the regulars and the supporting actors. The action moves along at a nice pace and the story is interesting enough so that we forget about the slightly dodgy background cloths which really let the side down a bit. The final episode is going to compliment this story. Lucarotti has written a story which I think is stronger than ‘Marco Polo’.

EPISODE 4 – THE DAY OF DARKNESS

Originally Broadcast on BBC – Saturday 13 June 1964

The final episode starts with us being reminded that Ian is facing almost certain death from drowning. There is a nice montage of Ian climbing through the tunnels and what I found funny was when he exited the tunnel it was right under the tomb of Yetaxa that we saw way back in the first episode. Tlotoxl does quite have the same fire about him than he did in previous episodes. He gets better as the episode progresses but in the early part he is a bit less menacing than he had been.

William Hartnell is very good in this episode as we get to see a side to him that we haven’t seen before and its not just once that this happens but several times. We get one final scene between the Doctor and Cameca. It’s lovingly played by Margot Van der Burgh and William Hartnell. Then there is the moment where Cameca talks about staying by the Doctor’s side and the Doctor knows it cant happen. Then there is a lovely moment when the Doctor runs in to tell Barbara that Ian is dead and he pops out and the relive in the Doctor’s voice is very moving.

The main thing about this episode is that they have to try and get back into the TARDIS and now they know how to get back there is just the small matter of trying to get everyone in the same place without getting caught by Tlotoxl or Tonila. I really like the moment when Ian pops up behind Ixta and deals him a humiliating blow. It’s good because you feel like Ixta was just Tlotoxl’s whipping boy and his demise was more satisfying. John Ringham and Ian Cullen have been a good double act. Ringham in particular has been the star of the story with the maddest face paint that I’ve ever seen.

It’s so good that Susan is back and the Carole Ann Ford has returned from holiday. It means that she gets involved in the story. It’s the most active that she has been and the bonus has been over the four episodes is that Susan has been more mature than she otherwise has been. Barbara seems to have lost some of the fight of recent episodes. Jacqueline Hill still gives a dignified performance and you could believe that she could be a goddess.

Autloc is willing to help Cameca break Ian and Susan out of ‘prison’. I have always like Autloc in these four episodes and Barbara’s sadness about how his fortunes have ended up is the one that the viewer should have. Keith Pyott has given a wonderful performance. Margot Van der Burgh was someone else that gave a loving performance and worked very well with William Hartnell.

There is a really good fight that takes place in this episode between Ian and Ixta. It feels like they are going at it and that they aren’t being restricted. It was a well cherographed scene and the ending was probably not the ending I was expecting with Ixta falling to his death. The moment when Ian takes off his helmet and looks out at presumably the dead Ixta there looked like there was a small chance that Ian was going to say something flippant but thankfully he doesn’t as it would have demeaned what had just happened and not something that Ian would have done.

There is a great scene between Barbara and the Doctor about what the point of going into history if they cant change anything. It’s the main problem with travelling in history on the show is that you cant really do anything to what happens and its addressed well in this story.

The Doctor puts something that Cameca gave him next to Yetaxa and then starts to walk away towards the TARDIS before changing his mind and picking it up almost annoyed with himself for being a sentimental fool. The end of the episode is a bit of a mystery because the TARDIS instruments say that the TARDIS has landed but other instruments say that it is still travelling. The tease for the viewer would be to find out exactly what was going on. It’s a good cliffhanger. What it lacked in drama it made up for mystery and I liked it. As an episode I think that it was the weakest of the four, it felt rather like they were going through the motions and just passing time until they could all go back into the TARDIS set. Had it not been for the Doctor/Cameca storyline being as sad as it was then I would have felt that this was a total let down. Over the four part adventure the story was as good as I remember the first time I ever saw it. I thought that the characters were all well written with Tlotoxl being the best character in the story. This was definitely Barbara’s story and Jacqueline Hill did well with it and it’s a pure historical story that I rank as one of the best.

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