Acorn Media // 1976 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // April 20th, 2011
"I'm a creature without a soul, something less than a man but something much more."
In the '60s, Patrick Troughton played one of television's most famous good guys in Doctor Who. It would figure that there'd be an evil side to Troughton, at least enough so that he'd relish taking on the role of Nasca, an Aztec priest who wants to sacrifice people to the god Teshcata, drive people mad, and generally lurk around in secret passages. In the '70s, The Feathered Serpent let Troughton show that evil side.
Before you read on, it's best to warn you that there's a disclaimer in the historical background, describing The Feathered Serpent as "not true to history." I'll also warn you that the disclaimer is completely irrelevant.
The Feathered Serpent is actually two six-part serials, each on its own disc:
* Series One
Nasca (Patrick Troughton, Doctor Who) wants to build a pyramid to Teshcata, a god who wants blood. The Emperor wants to marry his daughter Chimalma (Diane Keen, who has logged more than a thousand episodes of a current British show called Doctors) to Heumac (Brian Deacon, Bleak House), the prince of the peaceful Toltecs, and return the Aztecs to the worship of the peaceful Quala. With poisons and passageways at his disposal, Nasca wants to cement Teshcata's power -- and his own. Also wandering through the passageways is Tozo (Richard Willis, Rebecca), Heumac's young servant, who might just stop him.
* Series Two
Just when things are looking peaceful, Nasca secretly returns to stop the marriage of Chimalma and Heumac. Aided by the already mad crone Keelag (Sheila Burrell, Cold Comfort Farm), Nasca plots to drive the Aztec people mad with a potent poison. Meanwhile, Chimalma clashes with Xipec (Granville Saxton, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1), a noble who worships Teshcata.
It's entertaining to watch Patrick Troughton as a villain, and it appears that he's enjoying the chance to distance himself from a certain Gallifreyan do-gooder. Troughton overacts, in keeping with the general tone of The Feathered Serpent, but he also brings a hint of madness to the role of Nasca, especially in the second serial. His actions are predictable; you'll know immediately that the architect who designed the secret passageways will die soon after he shares those secrets with Nasca. He's also fascinating as he plays the various factions of the Aztec court against each other. If you've seen The Pillars of the Earth, you might be reminded of Ian McShane's devious cleric, although McShane had a more substantial serial surrounding his strong performance.
What surrounds Troughton in The Feathered Serpent? A bald, mute henchman; Aztecs and Toltecs in flesh-baring outfits, most notably the good-looking couple, Chimalma and Heumac; stilted dialogue, delivered woodenly; bizarre eye markings and fake tattoos; and cheesy special effects, including bats that aren't really in the same scene with Chimalma and several hallucinogenic sequences to indicate godly doings.
Actually, it starts out deadly dull as all the characters and angles are introduced, but gets better as it goes along. Every once in a while, there's a really good scene, as when Heumac tries to question Tozo, who's been paralyzed by Nasca's poison, or Nasca's many encounters with Keelag, who has most of her conversations with a decaying corpse -- even when there are other, more lively people to talk to.
There are a few hints of time's effects on the transfer, particularly in the opening titles. Mostly though, it just started out looking cheap. Any time there's fire on the screen, you'll see videotape flaring, the sets are visibly sets, and those bats filmed separately are just ridiculous. It's augmented by an irritating musical score.
Did I mention the "not true to history" part? Anyone looking for anything remotely like real Aztec history should steer clear of The Feathered Serpent, which bears more resemblance to the outer-space cultures that Doctor Who visited than to the actual Aztecs and Toltecs. At least there's a historical background text piece to kind of sort things out.
Although there's nothing graphic about this serial, Nasca does talk a lot about walling people up alive, ripping hearts out, and other gruesomeness. This isn't one for youngsters.
While I'd hardly call The Feathered Serpent a lost treasure, fans of Patrick Troughton's Doctor Who tenure may enjoy seeing him wandering through the passageways of evil and madness. His mad priest's plotting also could appeal to fans of movie matinee cliffhangers. Remember, though, that I warned you about the cheesiness.
Ignoring much of the evidence, the court finds The Feathered Serpent not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Historical Background