Friday, June 26, 2009

"The Sensorites" delayed

Due to various circumstances, the TARDIS Project will be taking a break for a couple of weeks. We will return with "Strangers in Space" on July 10th. We hope you'll join us again then!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"The Aztecs" wrapup

You can't rewrite history! Not one line!

So spoke William Hartnell's Doctor, echoing a dictum that the First Doctor would return to again and again. "The Aztecs" is an important story not simply because it established that "rule," which would hold true for some time, but because this is the earliest Historical story that fully survives (indeed, only three "true Historicals" are currently complete in the BBC archives) and, as such, serves as our best example of Doctor Who's original approach to historical drama. In the "true Historicals," the Doctor and his companions are kept from the TARDIS somehow and (most importantly) there are no science fiction or fantastical elements present. The TARDIS crew must survive in the historical period by their wits and/or their strength. "The Aztecs" is a picture perfect template for this basic plot with a lot of wonderful details thrown on top. As I mentioned above, this was my introduction to the Historical story and it's a pretty good way to start.

A smaller scale (and budget, clearly) than Lucarotti's previous "Marco Polo," to be sure (though the closest I'd come to experiencing the earlier story was its Target Books novelisation), "The Aztecs" is in some ways a more complex story, specifically Barbara's quandry when she is mistaken for a goddess and tries to use her power to alter history (in her opinion--as Ian finally makes her realize) for the better. Her failure is preordained; the Doctor, implying he possesses hard-won knowledge, tells her as much early in the story. It's Barbara's struggle to understand that her sensibilities and those of the Aztec people are ultimately incompatible (a problem many historians occasionally fall into) that makes this serial really shine. Add to this the Doctor's "romance" with the Aztec woman Cameca and a fantastic villain in Tlotoxl (a villain who actually wins, having "defeated" Barbara's hopes!) and you get a story that feels just as vibrant to us today as it must have when it was first shown.

All right, enough of this late-night rambling. Everything specific we discussed (such as the brilliant scripting and excellent acting) in our episode posts:

"The Temple of Evil"
"The Warriors of Death"
"The Bride of Sacrifice"
"The Day of Darkness"

As always, here's a discussion of the writing and production of this story from the "Brief History of Time (Travel)" site and here is a link to the official BBC episode guide for the story. Check them out for facts, historical critiques, etc.!

And, in a few days, we'll return to science fiction as we get closer and closer to the end of the first season....Until then, I remain


Friday, June 19, 2009

"The Day of Darkness"

Hello to you few, you silent readers. The Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm, bringing you this final episode in John Lucarotti's "The Aztecs." Let's get to the summary.

Episode Summary: First aired 13 June, 1964. Water is beginning to reach Ian's feet, so he has no choice but to continue exploring the tunnel into the temple. Back at the Garden, the Doctor demands Ixta remove the block of stone, but Ixta revels in his final triumph over his rival. Ian meanwhile has found several secret entrances and tunnels which let him out in the tomb! Grabbing a length of cord, he ties it above the door with the idea that they will be able to pull the door open from the other side, and then he leaves the tomb and enters the temple where Barbara is surprised to see him. But not as surprised and delighted as the Doctor, who has come to tell his friend the bad news. But now, they should be able to escape, once Susan has been freed. Ian goes off to do this. Meanwhile, Ixta tells Tlotoxl of his triumph and the priest tells the warrior he must guard Susan until her punishment. Most importantly, he must not release her to Autloc's care. After the priest and his guards leave, Ian enters and overpowers Ixta and he and Susan flee to the temple. The Doctor is examining the rope and realizing it will be very difficult to pull open the door without a pulley system--but Barbara reminds him the Aztecs did not have the wheel. She admits that she has realized she cannot change history, she now merely wishes them all to get away. Susan and Ian arrive, but the rope breaks as they pull it! Tlotoxl, meanwhile, is furious with Ixta and realizes that if it becomes known that Ian has come back from the "dead," it will cement Yetaxa's divinity. The two concoct a plan to frame Ian in an attack on Autloc using his club as the old priest walks in the Garden. Ian and Susan, having gone there in order to return through the tunnel, walk right into Tlotoxl's trap. Autloc now does not know what to believe! Tlotoxl tells Tonilla that he will destroy Yetaxa during the dark of the coming eclipse. The Doctor goes to the Garden the next day, idly whittling what appears to be some kind of wheel. Cameca approaches him and he convinces her to ask Autloc to go to talk with Yetaxa. Barbara attempts to convince Autloc that Ian did not attack him, but the priest does not know who to believe. He tells her he will help protect Susan, but cannot do anything for Ian. The Doctor has almost finished his pulley and Cameca realizes that he will be leaving her. Still, even in her sorrow, she and Autloc conspire to help them. Autloc has determined to go "into the wilderness" to find his faith, but gives Cameca the sign of his house and wealth to trade with a guard for Susan's life. Barbara is escorted to the place of sacrifice by Tlotoxl as Cameca goes to free Susan and Ian. Ian knocks the hesitating guard out and they flee. Tlotoxl discovers this and orders Ixta to kill the guard, then goes to confront the TARDIS crew. Ian overpowers the priest, who calls for Ixta and then escapes. As the other three run into the temple, Ian and Ixta fight their final battle which ends when Ian throws the other over the temple edge! The four then use the pulley and the rope to open the door and escape through just as Tlotoxl and the guards arrive--too late! But the sacrifice will go on...Inside the tomb, the Doctor and Barbara share a moment where he comforts her that she may not have been able to save a civilization, but she could save one good man--Autloc. The TARDIS takes off. Some time later, Ian and Barbara join Susan and a puzzled Doctor who tells them that one set of instruments on the console say they've landed, but another says their still moving. Have they landed on something? Or, perhaps, in something....?

Whew! These summaries are getting longer and longer, aren't they? Well, quite a lot happened in this episode, and in this story as a whole. We had a similar problem this week as last: it was just a really good episode, without a lot of nits to pick. We all enjoyed the writing and acting. I think Cameca, especially, came off well in this episode and last; a few weeks back I complained that we were being told more than shown how wonderful she was, but she's really managed to shine here. Her scenes with the Doctor were touching and her sorrow at his going felt real, and yet she loved him enough to help him to go where he needed to and to understand when he wouldn't let her accompany him. And Hartnell's moments with her shine as well...and that last moment where he starts to leave the medallion she gave him and then, as a second thought, pockets it instead is wonderful. We know that leaving her hurt him in a way and that he was not lying when he said he would never forget her.

Ian, too, shines here. In fact, Schmallturm was happy that this story gave him something to really do (in Schmallturm's opinion, anyway) for the first time since "100,000 BC." Ian comes across as very competent and smart in a physical way. Barbara continues to be wonderful; her sorrow at their predicament and her "What's the use of travelling in time when you can't help anyone?" is poignant, as is the Doctor's reply that she helped one man. The idea that you can help in the little ways, if not the big ones, is something that the show will continue to exploit over the years, and here is its origin. (And Ian's remembering to take the wheel pulley with him underlines the "not changing history" message in a nice, subtle way!)

Tlotoxl winds up being wonderfully evil and, uniquely at this point, is a villain who absolutely triumphs. No two ways about it--he wins! He gets rid of the false goddess, consolidates his power and gets rid of his only rival, replacing him with a man who will do his bidding in all things. The only thing Tlotoxl has lost is the might of Ixta, but there seems little sorrow for that in him. Ixta himself develops into a good antagonist for Ian. He's not a villain per se, but he is dangerous and I really enjoyed his story arc.

Basically, this was a strong end to a very strong story, a worthy successor to Lucarotti's "Marco Polo." The general consensus is that the historicals have been very strong scripts and productions to this point. Next time we return to science fiction. Hopefully, we'll enjoy it more than we did "Marinus!" Until then, I remain



Ketina here,

Well, that was a fun ending to an overall pretty fun story. I liked the resolution of The Doctor and Cameca, although her feeling that he would leave once he'd finished his project seemed a bit out of the blue. Again, the acting continued to feel Shakespearian to me, especially the scenes in the garden, but this wasn't a bad thing.

The final showdown with Ian and Ixta was cool, although the fight scene itself could have been better. There were either close ups of struggling combatants or wide shots where the two of them move in and out of the frame of an unmoving camera. The obvious mat paintings in the background didn't help with that scene either.

Silly moments that stuck out for me included the overlong stock footage shot of the eclipse, and Toltoxl's grimace in his final scene just before he sacrifices the "Perfect Victim". Boy, I really wanted Mr. Victim to somehow survive. Such as waste. ;)

In summary I found "The Aztecs" to be a lot better than I remembered from seeing it years ago. This format, of watching just one episode per week, may have contributed. Quite the reverse of how it made "Keys of Marinus" actually worse by stretching it out.



Friday, June 12, 2009

"The Bride of Sacrifice"

Here we are again, we being the Historian, Ketina and Ronelyn--a reduced crew this evening! As always, the review will follow the episode summary!

Episode summary: First aired 6 June, 1964. Ixta is about to put a drugged Ian to death, when Barbara enters the barracks and forbids it. Tlotoxl demands she use her powers to end the combat if that's what she wishes. Quickly thinking, Barbara grabs a guard's knife and holds it to Tlotoxl's throat, demanding none of her servants be harmed if they value their priest's life! After the others leave, Ixta tells Tlotoxl of how he gained the Doctor's help. The priest realizes it was botany, not magic that nearly gained Ixta the victory. Barbara and Autloc converse and he warns her that she has humiliated Tlotoxl and he will never again support her. He tells her that an eclipse is coming and there will be a sacrifice. Barbara gets Autloc to admit that he knows the sun will shine again, sacrifice or no, and asks him to support her. He agrees, but realizes that it could mean his end if things do not go as "Yetaxa" foresees. In the Garden, Tlotoxl tries to engage the Doctor to give him proof that Barbara is not who she says she is. The Doctor replies that if he can get into the tomb (where the TARDIS is, remember), Tlotoxl will have his proof. When the priest says it is impossible, the Doctor reveals that Ixta has drawings of the temple plan. Ian wakens and Ixta tells him of his cunning--which Ian had previously suggested a good leader needs. The warrior declares himself to be Ian's friend, until the next contest. As they are about to leave, Ian overhears Tlotoxl talking with Tonila, a scholar, about testing the divinity of Yetaxa, but is unable to hear any more. In the Garden, meanwhile, the Doctor meets Cameca, who is carrying cocoa beans. The Aztecs use them for currency, but (unknown to the Doctor) they have another significance. When a person offers a cup of cocoa to a prospective mate, it is seen as a proposal! Unknowing, the Doctor offers to brew a delighted Cameca a cup. Ian goes to Barbara to warn her of the plot against her. She maintains that Tlotoxl is "evil," and is dismayed that he can sway others to his way of thinking. Ian finally convinces her that Tlotoxl's way of thinking is the normal Aztec way, and she is doomed to failure. Autloc, says Ian, is an extraordinary man...and it will take more than one man to change a culture. Ian hides as Tlotoxl and Tonila enter, offering Barbara a cup of peace between herself and the high priest of sacrifice. She demands he drink first and when he refuses, she smashes the cup and sends them away. Before he leaves, though, Barbara reveals to Tlotoxl the fact that she is not divine, but threatens that if he tries to move against her, she will destroy him. She now realizes that the only way for she and her friends to survive is to get into the tomb and back to the TARDIS! Meanwhile, the Doctor and Cameca drink their cocoa and the Doctor is astounded to learn its true meaning. Tlotoxl, hearing of Susan's willfulness (she will only marry a man of her choosing), conceives a plan. He has Tonila take the Perfect Vicitm, who will be sacrificed the night of the eclipse, into the seminary to meet Susan and, sure enough, he chooses her to be his bride. Susan angrily refuses, even though she is told he must be obeyed in all things--she has committed a serious offense. Cameca gives the Doctor a medallion and draws his attention to a stone in the wall covered with Yetaxa's symbol, which gives him an idea...Barbara, meanwhile, is attended by guards and the priests. Tlotoxl asks whether, during the eclipse ceremony, it is proper to punish someone who has trangressed the law--by scourging and other means. Barbara, being in public, is forced to agree, only finding out later that it is Susan he was speaking of! That night, Ian sneaks out of the warriors' house to meet the Doctor, not realizing that Ixta has followed him. Ian and the Doctor manage to move the stone and discover a passage behind it! Ian goes to explore it, leaving the Doctor behind to guard the entrance. Ixta surprises the Doctor and tells him that the passage must be sealed; it is a waterway, filled from the lake, and if the stone is not put back into place, the Garden will be flooded. Despite the Doctor's protests, Ixta replaces the stone. In the passage, Ian feels water starting to flow over his feet....

Whew! As is usual for these early Hartnell episodes, a lot happened in this one! Once again, the general consensus was that the whole thing was pretty marvelous. Impressive writing and very impressive acting. John Ringham's Tlotoxl, which started out perhaps a bit over the top, has turned into a really menacing villain. One with more than one dimension, of course; he likes his power, but, as Ian explains so well, he represents the Aztec culture (or one aspect of it) that Barbara is trying to change. In opposing her, he is fighting for that culture. (Though this is slightly diluted by having Autloc believe that sacrifice might not be necessary.) In fact, everyone is wonderful this week, even Susan in the pre-filmed inserts. The interesting thing is although some plots points are fairly easy to predict (Susan being betrothed to the PV was pretty heavily foreshadowed last week, for example), others still surprise. Ronelyn was shocked by Barbara's admission to Tlotoxl, for example. To me, it made sense; essentially, she's realized that she's painted herself into a corner and, instead of trying to continue an obviously unworkable bluff (unworkable with Tlotoxl, at any rate), she simply confronts him with it and essentially says, "What are you going to do about it? Nothing, that's what!" Very gutsy, makes perfect sense in context, and makes us love the character even more.

And, once again, we get to see the Doctor being outmaneuvered, this time by Cameca and her proposal. Hartnell's reaction shot is absolutely priceless. "Oh yes, that's very nice and--WHAAA?" And Ian and the Doctor's little conversation where the latter drops the fact he got the medallion from his fiancé was lovely too. These are characters who can joke together, who are comfortable with each other and who have grown in an organic way--a far cry from the strangers who mistrust each other in "An Unearthly Child!"

And then there's the scene where Ian finally makes Barbara see where she's gone wrong. The Doctor tried to shock some sense into her last week, but it's Ian who makes her realize that she's not simply dealing with one man (Tlotoxl), but with everything he represents--the entire Aztec culture. This moment might very well be the true climax of the story, where Barbara realizes that they must escape, that the Doctor is right and (at least in this case) history really cannot be changed. Unfortunately, she's committed herself and the rest of them to this course of action and it might be Susan who pays the price....

Really, all I can do is sum up by saying, Wonderful! More of this, please!

Until next week, I remain



Ketina here,

Fun episode. I too am enjoying this story. While it's not 100% perfect, it's overall good. Barbara's continued struggle with the Aztec culture, the Doctor's blooming relationship, and Ian's manly man-ness are all extremely enjoyable. And Susan was there too. :P

But, to be critical, I will say that the plot is a bit predictable, and more so than some of the previous stories. And I still feel that the dialogue pacing is very Shakespearian, although less so than last week. The Aztecs speak so very precisely that it seems unrealistic to me.

Also, of the silly moments, there were only two that stood out for me: One, the Doctor's reaction to his sudden marriage proposal, was completely over the top. Funny, but thankfully funny in a good way. Then two, there was moving the obviously styrofoam rock from in front of the tunnel. Ixta does a convincing job putting the stone back, but Ian's removal of the stone is completely goofy. Hundred pound stone blocks should not bounce! :D

Again, no screams this week. Let's keep this up. The best episodes definitely lack in the scream department, which is fine by me. :D

Also, I must say, having seen this story a couple of times before (although not for years, and I can't remember the details of the story) seeing it one episode a week does indeed improve the viewing.



Friday, June 5, 2009

"The Warriors of Death"

The Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm. This week we delve into the second episode of our Aztec historical. Let's get to the summary!

Episode summary: First aired 30 May, 1964. Tlotoxl, the Aztec Priest of Sacrifice, has decided that Yetaxa (Barbara) is a false goddess and vows to destroy her! The Doctor confronts Barbara about her attempt to halt sacrifices and change history. Barbara admits that things have turned out badly (Ian stuck with the warriors, Susan "locked up" in the Aztec seminary for education in their culture and--especially--Tlotoxl's new emnity) and she apologizes. The Doctor never-minds her and reveals that he hopes to soon get more knowledge of how to reenter the tomb so they may return to the TARDIS. He suggests that Barbara play Tlotoxl against Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge who still believes in Barbara's divinity. The Doctor leaves as Tlotoxl enters, challenging Barbara by asking her theological questions, which she partially answers, then refuses to continue. She demands, and he agrees, that it is Autloc who may question her, not he. Meanwhile, Autloc is witnessing a test of skill by Ixta in the warriors quarters. Ian, less impressed, offers to fight Ixta with only his thumb, and disables the warrior with a nerve pressure. Tlotoxl enters and finds Ixta worried over defeating Ian's magic, but the priest manipulates a visiting "Perfect Victim" into commanding that the two warriors meet for another contest at sunset. Tlotoxl tells Ixta the fight, against custom, must be to the death. The Doctor, meanwhile, has met with Cameca again in the Garden. She shows him an herb whose sap will induce unconsciousness and the Doctor reveals his interest in the sciences. He again get her to promise to introduce him to the son of the builder of the Temple/Tomb. She then goes to the warriors quarters where she meets Ixta, who is the man she spoke of, and tells him of the Doctor's wish to meet him. Initially reluctant, Ixta realizes he can use the older servant's magic against the younger one...Susan, meanwhile, is learning about Aztec culture, having mastered the maxims for a young wife. She declares, however, that no one will ever tell her who she must marry, she will decide for herself! A masked Ixta meets the Doctor in the Garden and reveals that his father left drawings of the plan of the temple. But that night he must fight a warrior and, if he loses, he might not be able to bring the drawings to the Doctor. The Doctor agrees to help him, giving Ixta a cactus needle coated with sap of the sleeping herb. He tells the warrior to scratch his opponent on the wrist and the other will lose his strength. Barbara, talking with Autloc, "prophesies" the destruction of the Aztec culture if sacrifice is continued. One will become thousands, leading to famine, death and destruction. Autloc, who believes she speaks the truth--he, too, does not see the point of human sacrifice--agrees to think on what she has said. Wearied by the intellectual challenges, Barbara droops. Later, the Doctor comes to her to tell her he has a lead on the temple's entrance, but she realizes he has transgressed the law by coming to see her and sends him away--though not before they both realize that the Doctor has helped Ixta in his quest to defeat Ian! The Doctor goes off to warn Chesterton, but is stopped and arrested by Tlotoxl and his guards. Meanwhile, the fight has started and Ian, using wrestling and judo moves, has the upper hand. The Doctor, accompanied by the priests and several guards, bursts in to warn Ian just as Ixta scratches him. Ian slowly starts to falter and Tlotoxl declares that this test must be to the death, but Barbara enters and declares the contest must be ended. Tlotoxl insolently tells her to use her divine powers to stop it and Barbara looks on helplessly....

This is another one of those hard episodes to review, because there isn't anything bad to say about it! (Well, not for most of us, anyway.) The writing and acting are top-notch and the plot hums on happily. There are some very nice touches, some definite plot seeds (the pre-filmed insert with Susan is pretty heavy foreshadowing) and a really well-choreographed fight scene, which lends evidence to Schmallturm's assertion last week that the fight that episode was deliberately stylized. A few things stood out, of course. The first scene with the Doctor confronting Barbara was a wonderful piece of acting and writing. She begins defiant and then, as the Doctor's argument (quite angry argument too) begins to sink in, she realizes what she has done and breaks down--at which point, the Doctor consoles her, as a friend should. It's a very skillful scene with very well defined characters. Ian, too, comes across as very intelligent and resourceful, as well as being full of surprises. It's obvious he's had some decent wrestling/martial arts training at some point. (I made the point that he was of an age to have done National Service, but that might not explain it. And yes, I have looked it up and there's no pressure point that induces unconsciousness where Ian put his thumb. Still, it looked impressive!)

I think one of the most fun things in this episode, for me at any rate, was seeing the Doctor out-manipulated at every turn. Even by this point, we've become used to the Doctor being able to be a step ahead of his opponents, but Ixta's simple con (with a little assist from Tlotoxl, who delays his warning Ian) catches him completely unaware. It works the way all good cons work: Ixta uses the Doctor's blind spot (he never even thinks anyone might be able to trick him) and dangles something he wants in front of him (the temple plans). It's really fun to see William Hartnell play up his just pure amazement that he's been caught out. Barbara's own con, of course, is helped by the fact that she both really knows her stuff and that she's lucky enough to have a sympathetic ally in Autloc. That priest, though, is still obviously overshadowed by his counterpart, Tlotoxl, and it seems to me that it is who will win that battle of wills that may determine how this story closes.

There were no new sets or costumes this week, but the familiarity probably helped. It makes a contrast with "Marinus," where we had new locations almost every week, so none of them really felt explored. Everything here looks good, though; it's very impressive what they can manage to do with a small studio interior. The music, which I don't think we've mentioned until now, is also very nice. Not overpowering, used mainly as "stings" or scene transitions, it's subtle and works very well to convey the mood of the story. (And this episode isn't unique in that!)

All in all, this was a lot of fun, as the TARDIS crew's predicament continues to grow. They're potentially in a bit over their heads and cut off from their ship, and they might just be digging themselves in deeper...Can't wait to see what happens next week! Until then, I remain



Ketina here,

This was a very good episode of Doctor Who. I know I say that a lot, makes me sound like the big fan girl that I am, but this week in particular I couldn't find much to criticize. Just a few nitpicks, that don't take anything from the overall plot. So, the bad:
Ian's little Vulcan neck pinch maneuver. What the heck was that? Also, the fact that Ian could pretty much handily beat the Aztec warrior in a wrestling match seems a bit surprising to me.
I also felt that the introduction of the "Perfect Victim" character was missing something. I like the idea, I just would have liked maybe an extra line of dialog to explain exactly what a Perfect Victim was, and more importantly, why everyone has to obey him.
And finally I had a random observation during the same scene with Tlotoxl, Ixta, and said Perfect Victim. I was struck by how the scene reminded me of Shakespeare. I felt it was like watching a bunch of Shakespearian actors playing out a, admittedly very well acted and directed, stage play of Doctor Who. The delivery of the lines, character blocking, and volume of speech all made me imagine I was seeing a live performance on stage instead of a TV show. This wasn't a bad thing, I just thought it was a bit odd after the last few stories we've seen.

As for the good, well as I was implying before, it was all quite good. I especially enjoyed the fight scene between Ian and Ixta. Quite the opposite in quality of last week's fight scene with Ixta and random guy.

Oh, and completely aside, but I thought "Perfect Victim" was very hot. I'm sure he's supposed to be attractive, as the perfect sacrifice to the gods, but he was taller, handsomer, and more muscular than "Mr. Captain of the Army" Ixta. :)

Oh, and my foreshadowing guess last week, that Ixta was the son of the architect who made the tomb, was right on the money. I have another prediction for next week, but this time I'll keep it to myself. :)

That's all from me this week.