After Newman was head-hunted by Howard Thomas at Associated British Corporation, the ITV franchise for the Midlands and the North of England between 1965 and 1968, Lucarotti also moved back to Britain. He retained his association with Newman and contributed to a number of shows such as The Avengers (ABC, 1961-69) and City Beneath the Sea and its sequel Secret Beneath the Sea (ABC, 1962-63) as well as Ghost Squad (ATV/ITC, 1961-64). By 12 December 1962, Newman was Head of Drama Series and Serials at the BBC and, required to devise a programme for a family audience to bridge the gap between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury on Saturday evenings, he co-created Doctor Who and recommended Lucarotti to story editor David Whitaker.
The seven-part Marco Polo, originally titled A Journey to Cathay, was commissioned from Lucarotti in June 1963 and eventually formed the first seven episodes in a second batch of thirteen for Doctor Who authorised by BBC Chief of Programmes Donald Baverstock in November 1963. In writing his Marco Polo scripts, Lucarotti returned to his original radio scripts and the research undertaken for the serial he'd written in Canada and included material from The Description Of The World, Polo's memoirs published in the fourteenth century. It was during the production of Marco Polo, in mid February 1964 when Baverstock confirmed Doctor Who would extend to a full 52 weeks on air, that Whitaker approached Lucarotti and commissioned another historical tale from him after he proposed ideas featuring the Aztec civilisation.
"the four characters cannot make history"What eventually became Dr Who and the Aztecs continued to fulfill the original brief for the series collectively created by Bunny Webber, Donald Wilson and Newman: to mix futuristic science fiction stories with adventures set in the historical past, adhering to the Reithian diktat of entertaining, informing and educating its audience. As outlined in the format document of May 1963: "each story will have a strong informational core based on fact. Our central characters... may find themselves on the shores of Britain when Caesar and his legionnaires landed in 44BC; may find themselves in their own school laboratories but reduced to the size of a pinhead; or on Mars; or Venus..." (1)
Whitaker had also added his own revisions to this format document by July 1963 and, in retrospect, this has some bearing on how history would be treated as a genre within the first two years of the series: "the four characters cannot make history. Advice must not be proffered to Nelson on his battle tactics when approaching the Nile, nor must bon mots be put into the mouth of Oscar Wilde." (2) This revised format would be reflected in the balance of stories across the initial 52 week run.
Lucarotti had spent some time living in Mexico and, steeped in the culture of the Aztecs, was particularly fascinated by the dichotomy that existed between their advanced medicine, agriculture, astronomy, architecture and the savagery and barbarity of their belief system and its demand for living human sacrifices. He proposed using this background to explore the nature of good and evil within a culture so divergent from our own, in a story that "explores ideas of social determinism and the different ways in which one life can affect another." (3) Commissioned on 24 February 1964, Lucarotti worked on the scripts on his boat in Majorca, investing Dr Who and the Aztecs with his considerable knowledge and research. By 16 March, he had written most of the scripts and he spent the following day in London at the production office completing The Aztecs, as it was then retitled, to Whitaker's deadline. (4)
Barry Newbery, joining the BBC as an assistant designer in 1959, was assigned as designer on the serial after working on An Unearthly Child and Marco Polo. He, costume designer Daphne Dare and make-up designer Jill Summers spent a great deal of time researching the period, attempting to inject as much authenticity into their work as they could. Newbery found this rather a difficult task as material on the period was quite scarce and he not only sourced several books but also consulted a recent ITV documentary for background detail.
Dare had to exercise artistic license with the costume designs, to preserve the cast's modesty above all else, as her research indicated that the Aztecs wore little more than loincloths and cloaks and women were often topless. The feathered head-dresses worn by Ian and Barbara, Ixta's jaguar head-dress and the various items of costume jewellery all aimed for authentic representation.
Newbery also oversaw the manufacture, from fibreglass and wood, of various clubs and shields used by the Aztec warriors, their designs based on his research into the pictographic and ideographic writing systems of the period. This also extended to other props such as vases and plates and, to produce and paint those, he was assisted by a small team of art students.
As he explains on the DVD interview, one of his problems was building the heavy door to the tomb where the TARDIS arrives. The illusion of a heavy structure was created with a system of scenery rollers and counterbalancing weights. As the production geared up towards recording in April, Newbery then became concerned as to how he was going to show the open vistas of the Aztec cities in the cramped and poorly serviced studios at Lime Grove.
There were certain issues with the 30 foot painted cyclorama depicting the views from the temple roof and the garden sets at Lime Grove D, with insufficient room behind the sets to disguise the backdrop, and as he also explained: "I wasn't particularly happy with the backdrop because if you're going to have painted cloth, it's got to be far enough away from the camera for the brushmarks not to be seen." (5) He put a request in via the serial's director John Crockett to move the production to BBC Television Centre but this was refused.
Ironically, a month later, his schedule on the production of episodes two and three 'The Warriors of Death' and 'The Bride of Sacrifice' was shifted to TC3 at Television Centre. The first time Doctor Who was made at the Centre, Newbery discovered to his horror that part of his set for the Garden of Peace had been broken up by mistake and the painted cyclorama presented further problems: "Because of planning, awkwardness and changes in schedule, the following week they put us into TC3, where I had all the space in the world! And of course my cloth wasn't big enough." (6)
To create a new section of the Garden of Peace set, he and Crockett extemporised by arranging hired in greenery with re-used sections of a set built for the Ealing filming completed on 13 and 14 April when Carole Ann Ford had pre-filmed her sequences for episodes two and three. She would be away on holiday for the scheduled studio recordings in May and these scenes with Keith Pyott, as the High Priest of Knowledge Autloc, and Walter Randall as his acolyte Tonila, would be inserted into the episodes later. The fight between Ian and warrior Ixta and the sacrificial victim's jump from the temple roof were also pre-filmed at Ealing using stunt men choreographed by Derek Ware. (7)
"I can't bear to see this potentially marvellous programme go down the drain"John Crockett, the director of The Aztecs, was a BBC staff director with a significant background in theatre, acting, painting and dancing. He had established the Compass Players in the mid 1940s and produced a number of plays for both the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Dundee Repertory Theatre. At the BBC he had recently directed episodes of Suspense (1962-63) and then stepped in to direct 'The Wall of Lies', the fourth episode of Marco Polo. After making the episode, he also sent a memo to David Whitaker enthusiastically suggesting a number of other historical events and figures that the series could (and eventually would) present, including the Viking raids, Drake and the Armada, smuggling on the Cornish coast, Jacobite pretender to the throne Bonnie Prince Charlie and Richard I and the Crusades.
After rehearsals at the Drill Hall, Uxbridge the cast entered Lime Grove D to record episode one 'The Temple of Evil' on 1 May with the following two episodes rehearsed and then recorded at TC3 over the next fortnight and with a return to Lime Grove to record the final instalment 'The Day of Darkness' on 23 May. As the episodes were being recorded, the debate about studio availability and resources for Doctor Who was continuing between producer Verity Lambert, Newman and Baverstock. Newman was particularly forthright about the problems with Lime Grove that Lambert had flagged up.
He informed Baverstock on 20 May, "Studio D has worked against the best interests of Dr. Who, has tired the cast, has not allowed for sufficient camera rehearsal, the heat is unbearable, it has no technical gimmicks, and so on." He rejected Lime Grove in favour of Riverside or Television Centre and, calling Baverstock's bluff it seems, he then threatened: "Unless the proper studio can be allocated for Dr.Who... I think it would be better that I recommend its cancellation. I can't bear to see this potentially marvellous programme go down the drain through inadequate support." (8)
Inadequate support may well colour our view of The Aztecs, especially when the constraints of budget and space can be seen to undermine certain aspects of the production. Newbery's design is exemplary but his worries about the painted backdrops being too close to the camera are warranted and the cycloramas used in the studio are evidently plagued by bad lighting and visible folds in the cloths. However, it's a minor quibble because, despite this and the cramped studio facilities, his production design does achieve a sense of scale with views from the tops of pyramids, the gardens and some beautifully and richly detailed tomb interiors. The costumes and make up are excellent too and the attention to such detail and research adds to a credible realisation of an Aztec society peopled by recognisable characters.
Lucarotti brings the TARDIS to fifteenth century Mexico and frames a basic plot, where the crew have to recover the ship when it is trapped inside the tomb of former Aztec High Priest Yetaxa, with a philosophical argument between Barbara and the Doctor about the nature of history and destiny. As David Rafer acknowledges, this "presents a fascinating example of a Doctor Who story that confronts the TARDIS travellers with an historically documented civilisation and what was once a believed mythical wordview." (9) Barbara, now claimed to be the reincarnation of Yetaxa by the High Priest of Knowledge, Autloc, then uses her influence to forbid the Aztec's practice of human sacrifice, much to the Doctor's chagrin. The High Priest of Sacrifice, Tlotoxl schemes to expose her for the fraud she is.
At the centre of Lucarotti's ornate, Shakespearean script is an attempt, converging with Whitaker's script-editing one presumes, to engage with the issues triggered by the format document's attitudes towards historical genre. Lucarotti remains on Reithian message with the story's examination of Aztec culture but he also just manages to push the story and the characters beyond a simple regurgitation of the kind of history expected to be taught in schools. His attempt to tell a form of 'living history', populated by rounded, if somewhat stereotypical characters and altering the restricted observational role of the Doctor and his companions which dominated Marco Polo, also reflects elements of Whitaker's rather Hegelian view of history.
This is one that holds history at arm's length and where interaction with past civilisations, on even the smallest scale, does not posit a diversion from established events. This is prior to the 'genre-creep' of the 'historicals' overseen by Dennis Spooner, for example, where the Doctor and his companions become implicated within major historical events in such serials as The Reign of Terror (French Revolution as James Bond conspiracy) or The Romans (Nero as farce) and the sophisticated view of historical and temporal paradoxes we are more familiar with today.
Whitaker had a particular notion of how history as genre or the historical biography would be treated in the series. During the recording of the serial, he replied to a viewer's letter about the relationship the Doctor and his companions had with time travel and history. "One must look at time as a roadway going up hill and down the other side. Doctor Who is in the position of being placed on top of the hill. He can look backward and he can look forward, in fact the whole pattern of the road is laid out for him. But you will appreciate of course that he cannot interfere with that road in any way whatsoever. He cannot divert it, improve it or destroy it." (10)
He suggested the TARDIS crew were simply observers who witnessed unalterable, predestined events and who could only "interfere in the personal histories of certain people from the past... provided they are not formally established as historical characters." (11) Hegel views the course of history as a fixed, immutable fact and Whitaker seems to agree. This changes later with stories like The Time Meddler where the TARDIS crew 'protect' history rather than 'observe' it and where there is also a shift from an obsession with Earth’s history to the much wider span of cosmic history in the series along with alternate time-lines, dimensions and multiple universes.
"what you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know. Believe me. I know!"(12) Further to this, while it concentrates on the Doctor's angry denouncement of Barbara's mission to civilise what she sees as the barbaric aspects of Aztec culture, it also suggests he can calmly ignore his own advice or turn a blind eye to Ian and Susan’s own blunderings into Aztec culture.
Hartnell is superb at evoking the Doctor's craftiness here. The Doctor rather sets Barbara up for a fall, quite happily using her impersonation and influence as Yetaxa as a way of getting back into the tomb and escaping in the TARDIS. The implication is that he realises from the outset that encouraging her and Ian to become deeply involved in the culture they find themselves in will be a hiding to nothing. Despite his warning of "what you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know. Believe me. I know!", all of which suggests he's been in this pickle before, Barbara continues in her attempt to stop human sacrifices.
This is the rational and normal reaction of a middle class liberal to ‘barbaric’ rituals outside of her own culture and like most of us in that situation, as dyed in the wool civilising imperialists given the power of a God, we’d want to change it too. The sparring between Hartnell and Hill about her intervention in the sacrifice of the Perfect Victim in episode two is gripping and yet sympathetic. The Doctor realises he's being harsh and attempts to reconcile them both to what has happened and the limits of their authority.
Yet the Doctor takes her to task over it rather hypocritically, a position especially notable when he nips off to the garden and woos Cameca over a mug of cocoa in order to uncover a secret entrance to the tomb. This whiff of hypocrisy does continue to taint the story: don’t meddle with history unless it helps recover the TARDIS, allows the Doctor to inadvertently fall in love, sees Susan being forced into marriage or shows Ian embarrassing the local warriors with his powerful Judo thumb. All interventions in history in one way or another and, even though Lucarotti's imperative is to show how the Aztec civilisation doomed itself to extinction, one final iteration is the Doctor's apparent lack of objection to how Barbara alters Autloc’s point of view about his society and the unexplored consequences if Autloc himself then goes and changes history.
Despite the simplistic notion of the cause and effects of history and destiny espoused here there is a rather good story to be had. Jacqueline Hill is quite splendid as the liberal Barbara. She might abhor the practice of human sacrifice but she also sees the positive aspects of Aztec society and culture. As Yetaxa, she’s rather regal and noble in trying to save them from themselves and sees Tlotoxl as a symbol of all that’s wrong with the culture. By working on him she thinks she can get the Aztec people on her side. It is Ian who clearly understands and powerfully explains the mind-set of the priests and recognises it is Autloc she should be influencing as "the extraordinary man here" in a society dominated by Tlotoxl's beliefs and sacrifices.
The story is therefore driven by Ian, Barbara and the Doctor being outmanoeuvred by Autloc and Tlotoxl (both representative of the fall and rise of belief in particular Aztec deities) and, by the climax of the story, the unbearable tension generated both by Tlotoxl revealing Barbara as a fake goddess and the desperate attempt to get back to the TARDIS. Autloc is delightfully underplayed by Keith Pyott who brings a subtle sensitivity and melancholy to a very sympathetic character while, in total contrast, John Ringham just about gets away with his Aztec rendition of Richard III. Complete with hump and limp and Olivier delivery, he homes in on and exaggerates the Shakespearean aspect to the script and is wonderfully cruel and evil as the Machiavellian Tlotoxl. Hill, Pyott and Ringham are excellent in their scenes together, their performances capturing the moral complexities of their entwined relationships.
Hartnell's whimsicality and penchant for light comedy is also highlighted in the scenes with Cameca (Margot Van der Burgh) in the Garden of Peace. Both actors seem to emphasise these characters are, in effect, kindred spirits with their ‘engagement’ over a cup of cocoa full of wit and warmth. It’s good to see how the character of the Doctor has mellowed here and it is interesting to see him, in gentler mode, making a friend of Cameca at this stage of the series. His playing against Van der Burgh is effective and sensitive and the comedic aspects of the Doctor's sheer unpreparedness in his betrothal to Cameca are underlined by the gentle mocking from Ian later in episode three.
Hartnell and Hill's fiercely performed arguments about the changing of history are placed in counterpoint to the wistful coda in the fourth episode where they acknowledge the inevitable failure of Barbara’s ideals. The final message “you failed to save a civilisation, but at least you helped one man” is bittersweet as is the Doctor’s last minute change of mind when he leaves behind Cameca’s brooch and then impulsively rushes back for it. That coda offers an emotional depth to the main characters, making them feel real and convincing.
Unfortunately, despite a strong impression in the scenes with Barbara in the tomb, by episode two Carole Ann Ford is rather sidelined as Susan. However, she’s rather good when Susan remains steadfast in her refusal to marry the Perfect Victim. She's given a more mature outlook in this story that is sadly underdeveloped during the rest of the series. There’s good support from William Russell, evoking his days as Sir Lancelot in the adventure series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (ITC, 1956), when he gets into macho warrior mode and uses martial arts in his fight against Ixta (Ian Cullen).
The situation does somewhat beggar belief that a history/science teacher would quite so easily step up to the mark in these activities. The wrestling match in episode two and the Ealing filmed face off between Ian and Ixta at the end of episode four fare the best out of these sequences but the fight in episode one now looks rather stagey and hesitant, the combatants lack of natural flow indicating a reluctance to go hell for leather lest the two actors involved break either the prop weapons or their own bones.
The direction by John Crockett differs from that seen in Waris Hussein’s work on An Unearthly Child or the Christopher Barry/Richard Martin double act on The Daleks. The Aztecs is, unsurprisingly given Crockett's background, more akin to a theatrical production with most of the actors facing the cameras or tracking in to big close ups for many key lines by dint of no zoom lenses on television cameras they were using at the time. However, when production moves to Television Centre and there is an opportunity to use more modern cameras, Crockett is less restricted and includes some lovely high shots in episode two, tracking shots that flow better and uses the camera to frame faces rather well. He also encourages John Ringham to stare down the lens to deliver his asides to the viewer, pre-dating much of the breaking of the fourth wall of television in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Aztecs is an intriguing articulation of the format's views about history and destiny and it works extremely well as a tale examining the cultural values of two different times. It also offers an inspiring view of the sheer hard work that went into the production. Not only are there a number of great performances but they are also supported by wonderful design from Barry Newbery and Daphne Dare and a simple, effective score from Richard Rodney Bennett. It manages to give good sub-plots to most of the main characters, particularly Barbara and the Doctor, and continues to develop the relationships between the members of the TARDIS crew. A real highlight of the first year of the series.
(1) Howe, Stammers, Walker Doctor Who: The Handbook - The First Doctor
(3) Philip MacDonald, 'Shapes of Things' in Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition - The First Doctor
(4) Andrew Pixley, DWM Archive: The Aztecs, Doctor Who Magazine 266
(5) Mark Campbell, Interview with Barry Newbery, Skonnos webzine
(7) Andrew Pixley, DWM Archive: The Aztecs, Doctor Who Magazine 266
(8) Howe, Stammers, Walker Doctor Who: The Handbook - The First Doctor
(9) David Rafer 'Mythic identity in Doctor Who' in Time and Relative Dissertations in Space, ed. David Butler
(10) Howe, Stammers, Walker Doctor Who: The Handbook - The First Doctor
(12) Daniel O'Mahony 'History, pseudo-history and genre in Doctor Who' in Time and Relative Dissertations in Space, ed. David Butler
A pleasant enough track featuring actors William Russell and Carole Ann Ford, producer Verity Lambert OBE and they all comment on the authenticity of the costumes and sets and the commitment from the actors. They also recall the rigors of 'as live' television production and working at Lime Grove. An early commentary, not moderated, this tends to slip into passages of silence between observations about other actors, costumes, sets, the effect of the cliffhanger and the impact of the series on children but it is well worth a listen.
This optional soundtrack for episode four only is a fascinating example of how episodes were dubbed for overseas television stations.
Remembering The Aztecs (28:20)
Actors John Ringham (Tlotoxl), Ian Cullen (Ixta) and Walter Randall (Tonila) recall the production of The Aztecs within the context of television production in the sixties in general. Cullen recalls his first television experiences via Kidnapped and Doctor Who, Ringham espouses the team effort needed in television and he, Cullen and Randall explain the pressures of rehearse and 'as live' continuous recording of episodes. They also share their memories of working with Billy Hartnell and the regular cast. Ringham also discusses director John Crockett, working with him at the Compass Players and his own 'patent Laurence Olivier' performance in the story.
Designing The Aztecs (24:34)
Designer Barry Newbery talks about his work on the story, illustrated with many never-before-seen production drawings and photographs from his personal collection. He discusses the difficulties of working at Lime Grove and the processes used to design and build the sets.
Cortez and Montezuma (5:56)
An extract from a 1970 Blue Peter, introduced by Valerie Singleton on location in Mexico, giving historical background to the Aztec belief in human sacrifice.
Restoring The Aztecs (8:09)
First of all, turn the info text on before you start watching this. Otherwise, you'll be slightly nonplussed. The text provides a very informative compare and contrast of the restoration process on The Aztecs and a description of the various techniques involved: remastering from the negative, cleaning and repair and then the VidFIRE application to restore the video look to the telecine recordings.
Making Cocoa (2:30)
An animated guide to making cocoa the Aztec way, voiced in character by John Ringham as Tlotoxl and Walter Randall as Tonila, with both characters animated and presented in South Park style.
TARDIS-Cam no.3 (1:06)
Another of BBCi’s specially commissioned visual effects tableaux.
A gallery including many images of Barry Newberry's excellent set designs, behind the scenes production stills, rehearsal images, and colour and black and white publicity material.
An animated BBC Enterprises logo recovered from the end of one of the prints sold overseas.
The umbrella story title The Aztecs does not appear on any of the episodes, so for the original DVD BBFC compliance a caption card with the title was provided when choosing the 'play all' option on the menu. To add interest, six versions were provided to play randomly, each with a different voiceover, in character, from three of the actors involved in the production.
Programme information text
Not only do Matthew Kilburn's superb notes brim with detail about the production, the script, the series' format and some comparisons to Lucarotti's 1984 novelisation but they also provide massive amounts of information about Aztec culture and society, their beliefs and rituals and there's even a brief guide on how to pronounce the Aztec names in the story.
Galaxy 4 (64:45) – a shortened reconstruction of the missing story Galaxy 4, using off-screen stills, audio recordings and animation plus the recently recovered complete episode three 'Airlock' to tell the story. William Emms' third season story from 1965 is something of a throwback to the early science fiction serials produced during Doctor Who's first year. What stands out here is Brian Hodgson's unique sound design, from the whistling Chumblies to the planet's atmospheres, and the central performance from Stephanie Bidmead as Maaga, the human leader of the female clone Drahvins. The recently recovered episode 'Airlock' certainly highlights her work during a fantastic direct to camera monologue as she contemplates the death of the doomed planet she and her enemies, the Rills, are marooned on. It's a simple moral tale - don't judge others on appearances alone - but provides a neat twist to the traditional use of the monster in science fiction and the politics of cloning in Huxley's Brave New World.
Chronicle – The Realms of Gold (49:52)
A very welcome and engaging extra and not as dull as it sounds, John Julius Norwich’s superlative 1969 retelling of the story of the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the Aztecs also features music by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. A very informative watch.
Dr. Forever! – The Celestial Toyroom (22:36)
Another installment of this five-part series introduced by Ayesha Antoine, this time looking at Doctor Who toys. With original series producer Verity Lambert, new series creator Russell T Davies, writers Mark Gatiss, Rob Shearman, Paul Cornell and Joseph Lidster, BBC Worldwide product licensing executive Richard Hollis, product approval executive Dave Turbitt and ex- range editor Steve Cole, AudioGO commissioning editor Michael Stevens, Character Options’ Alasdair Dewar, DWM’s toy reviewer Jim Sangster and last, but by no means least, Doctor Who’s very own Winston Churchill, actor Ian McNiece.
It’s a Square World (7:23)
From 1963, the very first Doctor Who skit (as far as can be ascertained), with Clive Dunn in full First Doctor costume as a scientist demonstrating his new space rocket to Michael Bentine, resulting in Television Centre being launched into space! Features cameo appearances by Patrick Moore and Albert Steptoe.
A Whole Scene Going (4:33)
An excerpt from a recently recovered edition of the sixties music and arts programme, featuring a rare interview with director Gordon Flemyng and a behind the scenes look at filming of his movie Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 AD at Shepperton in 1966.
Ssssssssss! The Ice Warriors are on the march.
Radio Times listings in Adobe PDF format for viewing on PC or Mac
Doctor Who: The Aztecs (Special Edition)
BBC Worldwide / Released 11 March 2013 / BBCDVD3689 / Cert: PG
4 episodes / Broadcast: 23 May to 13 June 1964 / Black and White / Running time: 98:57