time and space
The Doctor succeeds in getting Ian and Barbara back to Earth. Well, I say succeeds. The TARDIS lands in Mexico in the 15th Century, which is still a long way from home. The space they land in is within a tomb.
who and the crew
It shows something of Barbara’s development in the series that she is still finding dead bodies the moment she steps out of the TARDIS, but no longer screams at them. Here she gives an excited “Look at that!” She then starts grave robbing and pushing open the nearest door. Of the team at the moment, she remains the one with the big spirit of adventure, she was the first to turn her travel dial on Marinus too. She loves it.
Ian, no doubt getting cheesed off with standing aside and watching the guest characters fight, finally gets to play the warrior. Meanwhile, Susan the alien schoolgirl goes to Aztec school and the Doctor sits in the local care home and checks out the ladies.
humans vs aliens
The joy of these historical stories continues to be the way the team show us how alien our own history can be. Barbara gets to walk in and play god to an ancient culture. She wants to end the human sacrifice, which she considers barbaric, but the Doctor is quick to tell her not to interfere.
The society they find has two leaders, Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge, and Tlotoxl, High Priest of Sacrifice. Whilst Tlotoxl is presented as our villain, he’s wonderfully played by John Ringham, all I can see is Penny’s dad from ‘Just Good Friends’, and he is probably the hero of the piece, acting the rest of the supporting cast off the screen.
love, lust and loss
The Doctor shamelessly flirts his way towards the information he wants. He meets Cameca in the Garden of Peace, a resting place for the over 50s. There he gets engaged over a cup of cocoa and plays the relationship through to its thrilling conclusion.
In contrast, Susan is offered the chance to marry the human sacrifice. It would have been a very short marriage, as he was due to be killed by the end of the week. Even so, she refuses to have her husband chosen by somebody else. She gets suitably uppity about it.
style or trial?
Susan reminds us of the danger of time travel when you don’t do your legal research in advance. Not familiar with local customs she faces whipping, piercing with thorns and no doubt death for her heinous transgressions. It’s a good job her history teacher is a god with a very specialised knowledge of Aztec culture, Barbara to the rescue.
Oh Barbara, it’s any excuse to play dress up. If it isn’t pulling on Thal trousers, it’s popping on a Chinese hat. Here she steals a bracelet then robes up with a big flowery hat as Yetaxa. Ian isn’t far behind, but in the costume stakes, he doesn’t get much in the way of fancy headgear until the last episode – where we wouldn’t want to recognise the use of a stunt double.
moments of magic
Bored with the guest stars doing all the fighting, Ian is finally given the chance to take centre stage and fight. And good grief is there some tedious hand to hand combat in this story. We have three fights across four episodes, but they’re not the most exciting. The last one is damaging though, as this is the first time we see one of the TARDIS crew kill a man. It is just a little bit shocking.
And then there’s one line tucked away in an argument between Barbara and the Doctor that suggests a bigger back story for the Doctor than ever before. As he tries to prevent her from interfering in the Aztec history, he says, “What you are trying to do is impossible. I know, believe me, I know.” Another layer to the mystery, he and Susan are exiles, cut off from their own people, but why? What did he do? What did he try to change?
3 reasons this is the greatest doctor who story ever made
Jacqueline Hill. This is Barbara’s story, as she faces the big question – What’s the point of travelling in time and space if you can’t change anything? – not happy with being a space tourist, Barbara wants to use the TARDIS as the chance to make a difference. Yet she comes unstuck, lying to Autloc, who has put his faith in her. She is magnificent.
Tlotoxl. It may be that he is painted as the villain because he wants to kill the TARDIS crew, but like Tegana before him, he is only trying to expose our heroes as liars who are a threat to his future. His confrontations with Barbara where she pulls a knife on him then later she admits that she isn’t Yetaxa are extraordinary.
The sets. Ordinarily I get caught up in characters or action, but this is BBC world building at its best. Barry Newbery’s work is bigger than ever – helped by them having more space to work in than usual.
everything i need to know for life i learned from doctor who
- “How glad… I’ll tell you how glad I am to see you later.”
Sometimes it’s better to focus on the matter in hand.
- “Better to go hungry than starve for beauty.”
Well, it may not be true, but it’s a fun one to wander around saying to people.
- “What better way to destroy your enemies than to let them destroy themselves.”
By ‘themselves’ I think Tlotoxl meant ‘each other’, but in its simplest form, do nothing and hope for the best seems like the procrastinator’s dream.
The ordinary edition of ‘The Aztecs’ is still available from Amazon, so too a special edition that has been cleaned up a bit, and includes the rediscovered third episode of ‘Galaxy 4′ – but I won’t be getting to that one for a while! For those who can’t cope with black and white telly, why not dabble in the audiobook read but Ian Chesterton actor, William Russell!
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