Tuesday, May 23, 2017
"Not One Line!": Doctor Who: The Temple of Evil, The Warriors of Death, The Bride of Sacrifice, The Day of Darkness
I know, I know, the multiple titles are a bit much, especially when the whole story arc is perfectly well known and even celebrated as The Aztecs. And yeah, I could do that. But the thing is, it's not true to how these stories were experienced. Each episode went out under a separate title, so you didn't know the length of one story-arc until the TARDIS left the scene of it. I think that's worth keeping to the forefront.
The love for this story is pretty easy to get: it's a four-parter, not six or seven, and so it's much less padded than were The Daleks or The Keys to Marinus. It's got the first TARDIS team at their best--the cast is working well together, the travelers all care for each other's well being, there's none of the dislike and rivalry that marred their earlier appearances.
The guest actors range from serviceable to excellent, with John Ringham's Tlotoxl either a height or a nadir depending on taste. Tlotoxl is an over the top, scenery chewing villain who breaks the fourth wall to provide the cliffhanger for "The Warriors of Death." Ringham just goes for broke here, and he is compulsively watchable, if way over the top.
The Doctor gets his first (onscreen) romantic interest in Margot van der Burgh's excellent Cameca, an Aztec widow he courts for information, but who genuinely touches him. (Note that the Doctor, on their departure, keeps Cameca's parting gift after preparing to abandon it.) She deftly underplays her scenes with Hartnell, who is (at first) fairly obviously scamming her, but who comes to respond to her with genuine tenderness. It's really quite lovely, and a reminder that, despite the line fluffs (no second takes in early Doctor Who--Hartnell makes the most of them, but they happen to everyone, regular and guest.), Hartnell was a damn fine actor. The comedic courtship by cocoa (the Doctor doesn't know that it's used for betrothal, and he's too self-confident to wonder at Cameca's rapturous response) is as funny as David Tennant in his (*ahem*) Elizabethan phase.
The story is a classic British imperialist trope, but subverted here: the TARDIS crew arrive in Mexico of the 15th Century, and, as so often happens in such tales, one of their number is mistaken for a goddess--Barbara finds herself enthroned, and in complete control. Until, that is, she tries to improve Aztec culture, disregarding the Doctor's famous warning that "you can't rewrite history! Not one line!" At this point, Barbara intercedes to prevent a human sacrifice, with disastrous results--the victim kills himself, and Tlotoxl is determined to prove that she is a fraud. (Ironically, he's right here, and so,awful as he is, he has an element of truth on his side.). The would-be savior of the Aztecs is lucky to escape with her life, and those of her "servants."
But it isn't all waste; Autloc (Keith Pyott, in a thoughtful, sincere performance) is convinced by Barbara's idealism. He leaves, to find peace in the wilderness, to wrestle with the import of the new concepts Barbara has given him. When Clarence Darrow looked for hope, he would say, "there is always one man to state the case for freedom." Thanks to Barbara, the Aztecs may yet have one, if he returns.
It's dated in places, but The Aztecs is a genuine classic; Doctor Who firing on all cylinders.