Doctor Who: The Aztecs: Special Edition

The Aztecs, a four-part story written by John Lucarotti and initially broadcast in May-June 1964 as the sixth story of Doctor Who's first season, was first released on DVD in 2002. That edition was reviewed for this site by Mark Campbell, and as usual with special edition releases,. I'll link to that original review and come back here to discuss the new edition and its extras. So, over to Mark...

DVD review by Mark Campbell

The DVDs

The Special Edition of The Aztecs comprises two dual-layered discs, the first encoded for Regions 2 and 4, the second for Region 2 only. Both discs have optional audio-descriptive menus.

In 1964, each serial did not have an overall story title on screen, only individual episode titles (here, “The Temple of Evil”, “The Warriors of Death”, “The Bride of Sacrifice” and “The Day of Darkness”). On the 2002 release, if you watched the story via the Play All option, it began with a colour title card – see above – with one of six randomly selected introductory messages, voiced by Tlotoxl (John Ringham), Tonila (Walter Randall) or Ixta (Ian Cullen). This feature wasn't repeated by 2 Entertain on future DVDs, but it has been retained on this Special Edition.

The DVD transfer is in the original ratio of 1.33:1. Apart from some pre-filmed scenes in Ealing Studios (which constitute Carole Ann Ford's appearances in the second and third episodes, as she was on holiday during the two weeks during which they were rehearsed and recorded), The Aztecs was shot in the studio in black and white on 405-line video and was broadcast from two-inch quad tapes. These tapes were wiped in August 1967, but the serial survived on 16mm telerecordings made for overseas sales, held by BBC Enterprises and fortunately never junked. The 2002 release was the first DVD to use VidFIRE, which restored a video look to the film telerecordings, and the results look as good as they are ever likely to, given that they are based on second-generation materials, the originals no longer existing.

The soundtrack is in mono, as it was on broadcast, cleaned up and restored. The fourth episode is also available in an Arabic dub, which begins with a voice announcing the on-screen written credits at the beginning and end and also features some different music and effects. Hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the episodes and all the extras except the commentary. The information subtitles are the work of Matthew Kilburn this time, and are up to the usual standard, telling you all you might need to know and more besides.

The audio commentary is reused from the 2002 release, and features Verity Lambert, William Russell and Carole Ann Ford. It's a rather directionless chat, hampered by gaps in memory from nearly forty years after the event. Soon after this, many commentaries used a moderator, more often than not Toby Hadoke, and the benefit was obvious, especially with the very oldest stories such as this one.

“Remembering the Aztecs” (28:21) is a making-of documentary, featuring three of the guest cast, John Ringham Walter Randall and Ian Cullen, the former two interviewed together. (John Ringham passed away in 2008.) There's a BBFC-mandated edit in this featurette, bleeping out the precise word that Cullen says actors had to use if they wanted to do a retake. “Designing the Aztecs” (24:34) features the work of designer Barry Newbery, one of the show's longest-serving crewmembers, who split much of the first season with the recently-departed Raymond Cusick. Newbery specialised in the historicals and Cusick the futuristic stories. There are colour stills from the story, and also from Marco Polo, which no longer exists. Production design is often overlooked, but in many ways the designer is one of the most important members of the crew, and Newbery looks back with fondness on his role in the show.

“Cortez and Montezuma” (5:56) is an extract from a Blue Peter from 1970, featuring Valerie Singleton flown out to Central America to bring you this location report. It's an informative little piece for its intended audience, and managing not to be too gruesome for teatime given that its subject matter involves human sacrifice.

“Restoring the Aztecs” (8:09) is a featurette which describes the process as mentioned in its title, allowing you to compare, grainy, fuzzy film telerecording with restored VidFIRE DVD transfer, with examples not only from the present serial but also from Terror of the Autons and The Dominators.

The remaining extras on the first disc are slight. “Making Cocoa” (2:30) is an amusing item featuring John Ringham and Walter Randall as their characters, animated South Park style. Next we have number 3 of the TARDIS-Cam computer animations (1:06, and the only item on this disc in 16:9 with stereo sound) and a self-advancing stills gallery (3:51). Click left from the stills gallery to reveal an Easter Egg, a BBC Enterprises ident (0:13). I'm sure you've always wanted one.

On to Disc Two. In December 2011, I was at the BFI Southbank at Missing Believed Wiped when Mark Gatiss introduced not one but two newly-discovered lost episodes of Doctor Who. Fifteen minutes of the 16mm telerecording were shown then, with the whole episode (in its restored and VidFIRED form) at the following year's event. Now the first of those two episodes appears on DVD, “Air Lock”, the third episode of Galaxy 4. But you don't just get that episode. You get a reconstruction of the whole serial, made up of the off-air soundtrack, telesnaps with captions and occasional animation where appropriate, some 8mm footage shot at the time of broadcast by a fan pointing his camera at his TV set, the five-minute chunk of the first episode we already had (and which appears on the Lost in Time DVD set) and of course the whole of the third episode, running 64:45 in total. Obviously the materials don't exist to make this sort of thing viable for all missing or partly-missing stories, but unless a miracle happens and more missing episodes turn up, this is the best alternative. At the time of writing, I don't know what the plans are for the other found episode, the second of The Underwater Menace (the third can be seen on Lost in Time as well). Maybe another reconstruction, given that that story is now fifty percent complete?

Chronicle was a long-running BBC history series. This instalment from February 1969, “The Realms of Gold” (49:52) deals with the Aztecs. Like the Blue Peter clip described above, this harks back to a time when the BBC would fly their presenter (here, John Julius Norwich) off to foreign parts with a film crew – and it is 16mm colour film, not video, let alone the HD that it would be nowadays – to make this documentary, which is in the great tradition of BBC public service and doesn't talk down to the audience. It was made in colour and broadcast that way on BBC2, at the time the only UK colour channel, but undoubtedly most viewers would have been watching in black and white. There's an extra fillip for Who fans in that the music score is the work of Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Doctor Forever! - The Celestial Toyroom (22:36) is a companion piece to “Love and War” which appeared on the Special Edition of The Ark in Space. Hosted again by Ayesha Antoine (in the same dress and large earrings), this deals with a second area of Who spinoffery, namely toys and merchandise and what were alarmingly described as “pleasure products”. Interviewees include Paul Cornell, Robert Shearman and Russell T. Davies. I'm someone whose Who fandom didn't ever extend to this kind of ephemera, so there's my geek card handed in right there, but this is a well-put-together piece that avoids being too much ado about nothing.

It's a Square World was a semi-surreal TV comedy series starring former Goon Michael Bentine. This extract (7:23) features Clive Dunn in Hartnell-Who garb and some quite impressive special effects as the BBC TV Centre gets launched into space. It's certainly funny.

A Whole Scene Going was a magazine show aimed at young people, and presented by two of them, Barry Fantoni and Wendy Varnals. An edition from 1966 was recently found and shown in full at the 2012 Missing Believed Wiped, featuring such things as a guide to Manchester clubs and a roundtable discussion on the film industry. In this extract (4:33), Fantoni introduces an interview with a chain-smoking Gordon Flemyng, with a backstage glimpse of the film he was then directing, Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D..

Next up are the Radio Times listings for The Aztecs in PDF format, which include a brief article on the first episode which includes interview comments from Jacqueline Hill, who reveals that she uses friends' children to judge her performance. The Coming Soon trailer is for The Ice Warriors (0:55). That's not actually due until August; as of this writing the next DVD release will be a Special Edition of the Peter Davison story The Visitation, out in May.



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