on 18 October 2012
The triumphant fanfare that heralds the start of an epic adventure is an effective clarion rallying call for fans - young and old(er) - to boil the kettle, steep the tea, snap the Digestive biscuit ready for the indulgent two-second dunk (any longer and you invariably know what will disastrously happen) and sink into the sofa accompanied, again, by the reassuring tones of the DOCTOR WHO `elder statesman' actor, William Russell.
With no disrespect to the readers of the AUDIOGO's NEW SERIES tie-in audiobooks, where at times the reading is as radiant as celestial black hole, but William Russell's presentations, both current and previous, are far superior, being delivered with panache, diligence and depth, that begs the question why are readers who are devoid of talent are employed.
In DOCTOR WHO - THE AZTECS, Russell (if you didn't know already, in 1963, he played secondary school science teacher, Ian Chesterton, one the First Doctor's travelling companions) provides a master class that marks a waterline for other audiobook readers to aim for.
John Lucarotti's 1964 script has been faithfully transferred to his 1984 TARGET novelisation, and whilst a number of readers have commented that the novel was seemingly heavy going (very plot wieldy) I can reassure you that this unabridged reading is far more accessible, approachable and intriguing, realising those magical moments that the author planted throughout it.
"The TARDIS has materialised", the Doctor announced.
It's Mexico 1507, and the TARDIS has landed with the tomb of Aztec deity, Yetaxa. With her curiosity getting the best of her cautiousness, Barbara leads the time travellers out from the tomb only to discover that they cannot regain access to the TARDIS that lie beyond an impossible gateway. With Barbara hailed as the new embodiment of Yetaxa (courtesy of a bracelet that she purloined from the tomb), the secondary school history teacher attempts to change history by persuading the Aztecs to abandon their barbaric practice of human sacrifice. Unfortunately, all does not develop in the way that she had hoped and wanted.
Of course, with William Russell's first-hand knowledge his interpretation of William Hartnell's First Doctor is given an extra-dimensional proportion of verve and surliness that will transport long-time viewers of the CLASSIC SERIES back to the moment that they squinted at a postage stamp sized monotone television screen during the original 1964 broadcast.
Whilst the Doctor is veraciously adroit, the `junior time lord', his Granddaughter, Susan, is realised in an honest, subservient, waif-like manner that endeared her (and actress, Carole Ann Ford) to fans nearly 50 years on. However, Russell delves deep with Susan's psyche to deliver an indignant rant as the character confronts the fact that, without consultation, she will be forced in to an arranged marriage with the Perfect Victim.
Not only does William Russell embrace the time travellers' characterisation but he manifests the Aztecan stereotypes with accuracy. Tlotoxl is appropriately grievous, cunning and malevolent whilst Cameca, the Doctor's `love interest' in a manipulative type of way, is supinely delicate and besotted by the Time Lord's attention.
However, it is with episode four's (titled THE DAY OF DARKNESS) stunning account of Ian Chesterton's seemingly impossible and death defying assent through the tunnel (leading from the Garden to the Yetaxa's tomb) does William Russell tempts you to the edge of the sofa, and there teetering as your heart wields uncontrollably as the school teacher defies the sheer vertical 170 feet drop to certain death. Russell (coerced by Kate Thomas' superb and deft direction) paces Lucarotti's text with such precision that only a surgeon skilfully handling a scalpel during heart surgery could match, and emphasises the thrilling scenario not only with tone & weight of text but with silence.
Co-starring alongside William Russell, MEON POWER's special sound effect treatment is beguiling at times, whether the subtle echo-laden Aztec tomb or the ever-present cicada chirping or the irritating drive-bombing of corrigible wasps. Historically atmospheric, Simon Power's contribution continues to enhance the enjoyment of AUDIOGO's CLASSIC SERIES releases.
Once again, AUDIOGO has released yet another - and I am beginning to sound like a fawning `groupie' - remarkable unabridged novelisation from the TARGET archive, with William Russell rapidly becoming the archetypal reader for any CLASSIC SERIES production.
It can only be hoped that his previously recordings published as a 2005 limited-edition boxset, DOCTOR WHO - TRAVELS IN TIME & SPACE, is re-released (as single items) for those who missed them can enjoy the three stories (THE DALEKS, THE CRUSADES and THE ZARBI) for the first time.