The TARDIS lands in 15th Century Mexico, and the time-travellers find themselves drawn into the world of the Aztecs. With the TARDIS locked inside a tomb, the Doctor must find a way to get inside - no easy task when they were designed to keep grave-robbers out.
The Doctor's companions all have their own problems. Barbara is mistaken for the God Yetaxa, and must face the suspicion of the High Priest of Sacrifice - Tlotoxl, who is convinced she is a false goddess. Ian finds himself drafted into the Army, fighting for survival against the jealous Ixta. And Susan faces being married off to the Perfect Victim, soon to be sacrificed with all honour. And then the Doctor finds he has accidentally become engaged ....
The Aztecs by John Lucarotti was published by Target Books in 1984 and was based on his four-part story transmitted in 1964. It's a good adaptation of a well regarded story, sticking closely to the source material. It's interesting to see how Lucarotti deftly draws his characters, and there are no heroes and villains, with each protagonist having their own point of view and motivations.
Indeed, when the TARDIS crew leave, Barbara reflects that they have destroyed the faith of the reasonable Autloc, who believed in Barbara as Yetaxa. When he finds he has been deceived, he leaves the city to wander the wilderness outside.
William Russell, who played Ian Chesterton in the original story, is the reader. Now in his late eighties, it's wonderful to hear him re-tell these stories from nearly fifty years ago. The sound effects and music, which on some of these releases can be overwhelming at times, are quite restrained.
The Aztecs is a very strong entry in the ever growing series of Doctor Who Classic Novels audiobooks and the quality of the original story, as well as the reading by William Russell, make this well worth picking up.
The audio readings of the novelisations of the classic Doctor Who stories are absolutely and utterly brilliant, and this is no exception. William Russell (Ian in the original series) reads John Lucarotti's novelisation of his own story first broadcast in 1964, only the sixth story of the first season of Doctor Who.
Ian and Barbara are still newbies in the time travel world, and Barbara, finding herself mistaken for the returned spirit of the great god Yetaxa, sees this as a chance to persuade the Aztecs to stop their blood sacrifices, and hopefully avert the awful fate she knows is theirs in just fifty years time with the arrival of the Conquistadores. The Doctor, sadly, knows there is nothing she can do to change history, but Barbara has to learn this lesson herself.
Meanwhile, Ian is taken to become an Aztec warrior and incurs the envy of Ixta who wants to be the chief warrior himself; Susan, Yetaxa's handmaiden, rebels against the rules of the Aztecs and is used as a pawn by the High Priest of Sacrifice, the ghastly Tlotoxl, in his schemes to remove all the time travellers from his path. It's up to the Doctor to try and find a way where they can all safely get back to the Tardis and leave; but circumstances don't make this easy.
This is a fantastic story; it's long enough that we get to really know the main characters; not only the Doctor and the Tardis crew, but the priests, the warriors and the lady Cameca, and those who give themselves in sacrifice to their gods. The twists and turns of the story, the wonderfully rounded characters and the Tardis crew are all in fine form in this story, and the reading by William Russell is, as always, absolutely spot on. This is 4 hours and 55 minutes of unalloyed joy to listen to, and is one that will be treasured and listened to often.
"You can't rewrite history - not one line!" - unless you wrote it to begin with! John Lucarotti made many subtle (and two more significant) changes in the novelisation of his 1964 classic `The Aztecs'; some are quite small alterations in dialogue, perhaps following the original script more closely? Even the Doctor's famous words to Barbara are modified to "You can't change history ... not one line of it." That printed version is often the one that's quoted, but it's not what William Hartnell said!
Some welcome changes make use of the freedom of print, removed from the tiny studios and limited budget (that still managed to produce such fine results). Here, the smallish garden of respected elders becomes almost a park, with a lake; crowds of tens of thousands line the streets and stand before the pyramid awaiting Yetaxa; a hundred warriors are in training as Ian first meets Ixta, and Ian's climb through the aqueduct to re-enter the tomb becomes a far more impressive, nail-biting ascent up a lofty stone shaft. All these changes add to the atmosphere of what on screen is a true classic.
Tlotoxl is even more savage and cruel than in the televised version and is now dressed for his vocation as High Priest of Sacrifice; no more fine robes and white plumes as on screen, here he wears a robe caked in dried blood, never bathes and has long, matted hair - it's obvious why they couldn't depict him in that way at Saturday teatime in 1964!
Part of the remit of this story was originally to be `educational'. The business with the cord and the pulley to open the tomb is clearly explained here, with lots of engineering knowledge about force, inertia, cantilevers and so on, but the astronomy is way off! There's a full moon three days before the eclipse of the sun, when obviously half a month must elapse between them, and the eclipse goes from just started to total darkness in a few lines of continuous dialogue - I saw a total eclipse on television once and it took over an hour!
The first half of the book seemed relatively lacking in comparison with the screen version, probably because the plot is building up slowly and we don't have the attractive visuals or the splendid performances to entertain us. However, the second half of the book (it's only 120 pages in all) is much better, capturing and expanding on the complex plot in many small ways and making two significant changes.
On screen, Ian fights Ixta for the last time as the eclipse shadow engulfs the temple, and throws him over the parapet. Here his solution is more technological and for me less effective; as the darkness descends, Ian astonishes the Aztecs with a `magic' electric pocket torch and Ixta flinches and falls to his doom, dazzled by the glare. The filmed action sequence was a far more effective way to end the long series of duels Ian and Ixta had fought through the entire story.
The second change is to expand on Autloc's ultimate decision; I thought this was much more successful. On screen, the kindly priest goes quietly into the wilderness to seek truth, after a final word with Cameca. This is handled far more powerfully in the novel. There's a very strong final scene in which he realises Barbara is not Yetaxa or any goddess he knows, but is a visitor of some kind and the secret of her magical appearance must be hidden in the tomb (where the TARDIS landed). Clever deduction - but he is the High Priest of Knowledge after all.
Here, Autloc explicitly turns away from sacrifice back to the worship of the old, benign god Quetzalcoatl and tells the Doctor this before he departs as a hermit. Astonishingly, he even reveals to Barbara that he once heard of Christ and the crucifixion from some wandering (presumably Spanish) traveller and seems to make a connection with his newly restored, gentle faith. Perhaps such a definite (and positively presented) religious conversion was too sensitive to include in the final television version, even in 1964.
on 28 February 2014
If William Russell read the phone book on this disc he could make it enjoyable. The fact that its a pretty good book helps and the narration is superb. I gave it 4 due to the sound production which once again on the mid to later releases on these books is so in your face (or ears?) that it becomes noticeable and takes me out of the story
on 9 October 2013
The original TARDIS crew find themselves in 15th century Mexico, and Barbara immediately finds herself mistaken for the god Yetaxa - subsequently (and rather rashly) assuming the deity's persona and seizing the opportunity to intervene in the Aztec's culture, aiming to put an end to their bloody culture of ritual human sacrifice. As a History teacher of course, Barbara knows that this is part of established history and that events must run their course, however her innate humanity will not allow her to pass-up the chance to save life, and despite The Doctor's warnings she persists in her course, inadvertently incurring the enmity of the local High Priest of sacrifice and all-round villain Tlotoxl. Naturally, things go from bad to worse, with Ian Chesterton forced to fight a hardened warrior, and Susan refusing to marry the next sacrificial victim, known as `The Perfect sacrifice', thereby offending their hosts and giving the bloodthirsty Tlotoxl the opportunity to decry them as imposters - gleefully ordering the deaths of the four travellers. Meanwhile, The Doctor has stumbled into an unwitting engagement with a lady named Cameca, after innocently sharing a cup of cocoa with her, and this is just one of the tangles that must be undone before the travellers can take their leave of the fascinating but deadly culture they have become embroiled in.
William Russell is as ever an accomplished reader of this unabridged TARGET novelisation, and despite its relative slowness (after all it was made in 1964), the story is a satisfyingly multi-layered, and one of the best historical adventures that was produced by the early makers of Doctor Who.
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.
on 9 December 2012
Read by William Russell, you don't have to say much more. Outstanding story telling by one of the original actors of the Doctor Who show.
Not quite as good as "The Daleks", that's more to do with the author than the reading, but still worth every penny.