The Aztecs Review

Time to read: 7 minutes

My Review (01×06)

For Doctor Who story #6, we come to one that’s in my opinion one of the strongest of the entire First Doctor era.   The Aztecs was when I first started watching Hartnell era Doctor Who the earliest “perfect” story.  In my mind back then (1986), it was perfect.  Obviously, as I’ve had some years to digest it, it’s not “perfect” perfect, but back then, it was far superior in my eyes to any other Hartnell story I had seen.    This is an opinion I still share today.  The Aztecs is spectacular.

In fact, I sat down tonight to watch it on DVD, prepared to do what I did for the other stories before this in the series.  That’s “take notes”.  I did that, so I wouldn’t forget various parts to talk about.  Halfway through Episode 3, I realized I never took any.  I was engrossed right from the start.   I’m going to sound like a broken record with this one, but for the William Hartnell era, this is as good as it gets.  If you will watch one first Doctor story in your time, make it this one.

The first time I ever watched this, was immediately brought in.  That the Tardis crew appeared from the inside of an Aztec tomb was fascinating.  Why Doctor Who never took that kind of angle with historical pieces – where the crew was made out to be some sort of God because of their mere appearance was something I thought has always been a possibility ripe for picking.  It’s done here, and first Barbara & Susan appear, and start talking about the Aztec culture.   Barbara is quick to point out that this kind of thing was her speciality in school.   Much has been made over the years of how Susan was rather quickly reduced to a screaming teenager very quickly in the show’s run.  Not a lot is said about Barbara being a teacher too often, either.  This is a story where she gets to play to what the original character’s design was (much like the next story, The Sensorites was for Susan).   Anyway, Barbara is captured when she wanders out of the tomb, but is placed on high as a reincarnation of their God merely because she’s wearing a bracelet that she picked up from inside the tomb.

That’s a bit of a flimsy excuse to believe in someone, that they’re wearing a bracelet, but it’s quickly forgotten about.  Barbara decides to try and change history by trying to convince the Aztecs that their concept of human sacrifice should be abolished.  This is where we get Hartnell’s famous “You can’t rewrite history – NOT ONE LINE!”.   Wonder what the First Doctor would think about all the mucking about with “time can be rewritten” in the modern show.  :)

After Barbara tries to stop the sacrifice, the chief priest of sacrifice, Tlotoxl immediately calls her a false god, and tries to depose/kill her.  She’s backed by the high priest of knowledge for awhile, and from there is the drama of the rest of the story.  Barbara and the other characters have gotten themselves into a situation and they can’t get out, because the tomb is locked from the outside – you can’t get back in there.  So they are mucking about until they can find a way to get back inside the tomb and to the Tardis and escape.   In the meantime, all four characters get involved in various individual stories, and while they’re mostly separate from each other physically (but not all the time), all the plotlines intertwine very nicely.   It’s not like all four lead actors don’t interact, they do.  But they all have their own paths and trails to follow.   Initially, the “Servants of Yetaxa” (What the Tardis crew are called by the Aztecs) are allowed to roam freely around the Aztec village, hence their getting involved with other characters. It’s a very well constructed, very well intertwined story in my eyes.   Here’s a few remarks about the individual characters.

  • Susan – I’ll mention her first, because she IS the most separate.  Carole Anne Ford had her “vacation” from the show here, and was gone for two episodes.  She does appear in those episodes via small filmed bits that she presumably did during Episode 1 filming (which she’s in fully).  Susan spends most of her time in a “seminary” of sorts, to prepare her for Aztec culture.   She’s the most disconnected from everything, although her seminary stuff is brought into play in Episode 4 when she refuses to marry the Aztec human sacrifice.  As she broke their law, she’s to be punished.
  • Ian – Ian ends up the target of Tlotoxl, and he is set up as a great warrior, and to combat Ixta, their chosen leader of their armies.  The two are supposed to battle to find out who is stronger to lead the armies.  Ian uses an interesting trick where he defeats Ixta with just his thumb in front of the High Priest of knowledge, and they’re all amazed he could defeat a warrior with just his thumb.   Ian mostly spends his time around with Ixta, and has a few battles.
  • The Doctor – The Doctor is considered an “old man”, so he’s treated with reverence.  He spends most of his time talking with folks in a “Garden of Peace”.  His best moments are with an older woman from the tribe, called Cameca.  The Doctor is being just nice to her, but accidentally ends up getting engaged to her.  He actually plays that engagement for their benefit a little.  He initially I think saw it as funny, but when he had to mine that relationship for his own benefit, I got the impression he felt bad about that.  Not quite as in your face with the emotional stuff as say, something more recent like the 10th Doctor being turned human, and having to break the heart of a human woman.  It was like that, only more tame.   Still, there was some wonderful acting by William Hartnell in this story.
  • Barbara – Well, she’s the focal point of the story, and spends the overwhelming majority of the time in the temple, and the area right around it.  She actually is rarely seen going anywhere else except the temple sitting room, and the area right outside it.  She does make one appearance in the village at one point, but is a pretty immobile character in this story.   Her character’s arc is basically to keep from being discovered as a false god, and not be killed.  Barbara was never my favorite character, but I thought Jacqueline Hill did quite well in this one with emotional range, and anger, and disgust and all that.

The physical battles are a weak point in the story – the big combat pieces don’t seem like terribly good fighting segments.  They’re OK I suppose, given it’s 1964 here, but it’s the one letdown for me.

There were a few production realities of 1964 that crept in here.  The extreme smallness of the recording studios played into things more than once.  At least twice by my account the camera that is being used to film a closeup ran into part of the set, and there was some pretty bad shaking of the cameras.  Once was a closeup on the High Priest of Sacrifice, and the camera hits the scenery pretty bad. Also in the village when Tlotoxl tries to frame Ian by making it seem he attacked the High Priest of Knowledge, the same thing happened again.   There’s also a shot in Episode 4 during one of the battles where you can see the edge of the set floor.  :)   These don’t detract from the strength of the story, but they are pretty noticeable technical blunders from 1964.  I only point them out because you’ll probably see them too.  They don’t bother me at all though.  Minor chuckle on the camera wobbles, but hey – 1964 BBC Sci-Fi.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “The Temple of Evil” – May 23, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Warriors of Death” – May 30, 1964
  • Episode 3: “The Bride of Sacrifice” – June 6, 1964
  • Episode 4: “The Day of Darkness” – June 13, 1964
  • Director:  John Crockett
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert / Mervyn Pinfield
  • Writer: John Lucarotti
  • Production Code: F

Story Notes

  • This story re-used the final shot from Episode 6 of “The Keys of Marinus” when the Tardis departs Marinus.
  • The Doctor ended up keeping the brooch given to him by Cameca.  He initially was going to leave it in the tomb, but picked it up and took it with him when he entered the Tardis to leave.  Not a real “fact”, but a note I liked.  :)
  • Early on in Episode 1 after Barbara was crowned , William Hartnell walked to the wrong spot on the floor, causing himself to deliver his dialogue from behind Barbara’s Aztec headdress.  The camera man had to move the camera unscheduled to pick up Hartnell for the remainder of the scene.

Future References

  • This story was not directly referenced on screen in televised Doctor Who, however…  in a Big Finish audio play (Relative Dimensions) with Paul McGann as the Doctor, he and Susan got together, and the Doctor gave Susan a bracelet from this story.
  • The actor who played Tlotoxl (John Ringham) would appear twice later in Doctor Who in another Hartnell story “The Smugglers” as Josiah Blake, and in a Pertwee story “Colony in Space” as Robert Ashe.
  • The actress who played Cameca (Margot Van der Burgh) would turn up in the Tom Baker story, “The Keeper of Traken” as Katura.

In Summary

The author of this story (John Lucarotti) apparently put a lot of research into the Aztecs to get things right.  Apparently their clothing had men with not a whole lot more than loincloths, and women were topless.  They took a bit of liberty with clothing, given the programme’s audience, but apparently a lot of effort was put into getting things right with this. It shows in my opinion.  The characters are strong, it’s a well constructed story, and it looks good (save for the technical realities of 1964 TV).   The art design is quite well done, I loved the way this looked and felt.   As I said earlier, it’s the strongest William Hartnell era story there is, and I’m quite QUITE pleased we have it in full (*COUGH*Marco Polo*COUGH*).

10 out of 10.  Best Hartnell story there is, front to back.

External Links

Purchase Links



Speak Your Mind