Doctor Who - The Aztecs by John Lucarotti

Published: September 1984

Edition read: Target first, 1984

Coolest Cover: I’ll go for Nick Spender here- style over accuracy

The BBC Budget Wouldn’t Run To: Big Aztec cities populated by thousands of people.

Purple Prose: "’I won’t let him harm her, I won’t!’ Barbara’s voice was final.

The High Priest looked at her. ‘Will you, then, sacrifice all you believe in, all you have given me to believe, to save your handmaiden pain?’

Barbara had no answer." (p.83)

Childhood Recollections: I don’t have any as such, but my copy of the book shows signs of having been read at the time.

Ramblings: From 2006, it’s probably difficult to appreciate just what a coup it must have been for Target not only to delve right back into Doctor Who’s past to adapt ‘The Aztecs’, but to get John Lucarotti to do it. To put things into perspective, the last Hartnell serial adapted was ‘An Unearthly Child’ in 1981, and prior to that the Dalek and Cyberman serials in the 1970s. Adapting a historical serial was a major step, which had only been attempted once or twice before, and something of a break in a range previously focused strongly on the current Doctor’s adventures.

When we think of ‘The Aztecs’ now, we tend to coo over how well-written it is, the lovely dialogue and performances and so on. That’s all still here, but what Lucarotti’s adaptation emphasises is that this is still a dangerous adventure from which our heroes barely escape with their lives. Similarly, while there’s a justified emphasis on Barbara’s misguided attempts to reform the Aztec civilisation and ensure its survival, each of the regulars has an effect on the individuals in the society- the Doctor breaks Cameca’s heart but retains her loyalty, while Ian’s repeated defeats of Ixta (which incidentally reveal an exhaustive knowledge of wrestling holds on Lucarotti’s part) turn into a grudge which nearly costs Ian his life. Much of the power and poignancy of the book come from moments where the "reasonable" Aztec characters Autloc and Cameca question their society in the light of the newcomers and their views; Autloc is driven to doubt his calling and seek a less bloodthirsty form of the Aztec religion, while Cameca’s gentle affection for the Doctor is ultimately disappointed. By the same token, while Tlotoxl isn’t quite the charismatic schemer of John Ringham’s television performance, the reader is left in no doubt that he enjoys the bloodthirsty aspects of his work and he ends up just as repulsive in prose as on screen.

There’s a slightly different feel to Lucarotti’s prose compared to Terrance Dicks; in the early stages, it’s as if he allows the flowing and densely allusive dialogue to carry things, while in the later stages he has to let narrative description do the work. The final confrontation is rather different from the television script, with a lot of business involving a pencil torch which wasn’t thought of in 1964, probably looked cool in 1984 and just seems awkward now. One nice touch is the running joke about the Doctor having trouble with all the steps on the Aztec pyramids, which leaves one reflecting on how fortunate it probably was for William Hartnell that the serial was shot on a couple of sets, but the mounting tension leading to the final climax is as well depicted as anybody could hope for and possibly even more dramatic than on screen. For something of a gamble, ‘Doctor Who and the Aztecs’ turns out to be generally a success, even though some of the author’s improvements, well-intentioned though they may be, do weaken the book from time to time.