read by William Russell
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The TARDIS materialises in 1507 within the temple of an Aztec god – and Barbara learns the hard way that history cannot be changed.
In an era where the Doctor casually wanders around marrying important historical figures, accidentally inventing the banana daiquiri and creating other delights, it’s quite instructive to return to this story from the early days of the show when it was clear to the Doctor – and to the audience – that the role of the time travellers was that of observers, not participants. Any attempt to interfere with the course of history was doomed to failure. Now, of course, we have the idea of the Web of Time or History as a concept which can adjust to minor differences, but to that first audience, this story answered one of the questions that must have been uppermost in their minds.
It’s wrapped up inside one of the more theatrical and stagey of the show’s scripts, even in this rewritten form by its original author John Lucarotti. The episodes are available to watch on DVD, but the novel version, here read – at times almost irritatingly slowly – by William Russell, expands in places and really brings the period to life. The soundscape by Simon Power adds immeasurably to this, with birdsong, crowds and appropriate fanfares.
Although the energy level seems quite low at times, there are moments when Russell seizes the script and imbues it with a fiery passion – particularly when the Doctor chastises Barbara for wanting to divert the Aztecs from their bloodthirsty ways.
Verdict: If you’re not in a hurry, then there is much to enjoy here. 7/10