Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Twenty-Seven: The Temple of Evil (The Aztecs, Episode One)
Back in 2004, The Aztecs was the very first William Hartnell story I ever saw. I picked it up from what was then the BBC Shop in Norwich, along with a couple of other titles, excited to be delving right back to the very start of the series. At the time, this was the earliest Doctor Who story available on DVD. Shamefully (Fair warning, I'm about to make myself sound stupid), I completely mis-read the back cover of the DVD case, and mistakenly believed that the character mistaken for a God was an Aztec called 'Bar-Bara'. No, I don't really know how I managed it, either.
Now, I've not seen The Aztecs since that first occasion (all previous attempts at a marathon had fizzled out by around now), so I've been greatly looking forward to getting round to it this time. Especially now that I can watch it in context, knowing that the last John Lucarotti story was something of a gem. After a couple of off-putting episodes of The Keys of Marinus, it's nice to be back in history again.
The one downside is that, as I write this, we're about six weeks away from a shiny new 'Revisitation' of the story on DVD. Much as I'd have loved to wait and see it cleaned up to the standards seen on some recent DVDs, I'll be making do with my original copy. It's so old, there's not even artwork on the disc. Just a logo. Crikey, it seems like a lifetime back!
Right then! Where to start? You can tell instantly that we're back to the series trying to be educational again; we're treated to a couple of history lessons fresh out of the TARDIS, about the Aztecs and their way of life. Susan even not-so-subtly brings up the dates that the Spanish first came into contact with them, while taking an extremely one-sided view of the situation. I'm not going to go massively into the history of the period here (Aztecs for me are, like Barbara, an area of interest!), but I'll likely return to it before the story is over.
There's some great design work on display, here. The Aztec temple and the garden are both very well realised, and only serve to make me wonder what it would have been like had we seen the episodes of Marco Polo moving. I've seen people complain about the studio backdrops in some of the Hartnell stories, but actually, I think that they work quite well here. Certainly, it helps that the story isn't as polished as some of the ones I've seen lately (for the time being, at least).
You can't discuss this episode without bringing up another one of those lines that's become famous from the series' past - arguably one of the most famous from this early period; 'You can't rewrite history! Not one line!'. I think it's fair to say that this has become such a famous line because of how wonderful it is, and the way Hartnell performs it. The show has changed its stance on this matter over the years - especially since the Eleventh Doctor has been in the TARDIS! - but it's a great way of looking at the series here.
It also helps to highlight the difference between this story and Marco Polo. There, our heroes were caught up in events, with little opportunity to change things around them. Here, thanks to Barbara's position as a 'reincarnated God', they've got a chance to tell a very different story, and it's one that's caught my attention right from the word 'go'.
Next Episode: The Warriors of Death
(Incidentally, I understand that The Aztecs is being repeated today on BBC America. Do check it out if you've not seen it before - based on this first episode alone, it's a corker!)