By Sophie Iles
The Aztecs is a masterpiece. There, I said it. You can shout at me all you like later, you can tell me there are better serials out there in the world of Who, and I will listen, but the levels this serial goes to really is wonderfully thrilling to watch. There’s some dodgy fighting, and some of the dialogue is a little stuffy — but overall, it’s a thrilling watch and one of the few I could probably watch all over again after getting to the end of the episode. I can now also see where Dreamworks got some of their ideas for The Road to Eldorado…
Funnily enough, The Aztecs was the first episode of Classic Who I ever saw. It was on Netflix, and it cut like the first five minutes so i didn’t know what was going on. I was expecting the legendary Tom Baker at the time, to suddenly see it in black and white and his grumpy old man shouting at a woman about not changing history. Unfortunately, teenage Soph wasn’t impressed and switched off after the first episode. This time couldn’t have been further from the truth, I absorbed it like a sponge.
Lets look this week at the intro to this tale: The Temple of Evil and The Warriors of Death!
First we see Barbara and Susan exit the TARDIS after landing in a tomb, which Barbara correctly identifies as an Aztec tomb, of a high priest no doubt, as we discover it’s her favourite historical period — her specialism — which is pretty lucky if you ask me. Barbara and Susan become interested in a door after some exploring and putting on the priestess’s jewellery, Barbara leaves the tomb despite Susan saying she’ll get the others and she walks right into the clutches of the Aztec outside. Susan returns with the Doctor and Ian to tell them Barbara found a door, but obviously can’t find her. The Doctor is furious with her, and Ian is obviously a little worried, which escalates when they too run into the attendants outside.
DOCTOR: You know where we came from?
AUTLOC: The tomb.
DOCTOR: Tell me, is there a way through from this side?
AUTLOC: The tomb is sealed. Go now with these attendants, and soon you shall meet the one who wears the bracelet of Yetaxa.
DOCTOR: What’s he talking about now?
SUSAN: He must be talking about Barbara. She picked up a bracelet from the tomb.
IAN: Well, perhaps we’d better go and meet her.
Whilst behind them, the entrance to the tomb, and their escape is closed and no entrance can be made from the outside. Which, is a big problem, but at least for now, everything appears safe.
Barbara has been dubbed the reincarnation of the High Priest Yetaxa, due to the fact she was wearing their bracelet. The company are in good spirits, except for being unsure how to get back to the TARDIS, but Ian and the Doctor are given permission as the ‘Servants of Yetaxa’ to wander the city, which Susan, her handmaiden, is to stay with her.
We meet two priests who are in complete contrast to each other. Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge, and Tlotoxl, the High Priest of Sacrifice, who Ian labels the “local butcher” before he even announces his title. The latter is wonderful, played by John Ringham, who brings a creepiness to his performance, claiming that Ian should be the commander of their armies, as the chosen one of Yetaxa, to which our friendly neighbourhood science teacher can’t possibly refuse, and that he must challenge the current man fighting for that honor, Ixta.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is taken to the Garden of Peace, which is where the residents over the age of fifty three are given a place of solitude to spend their final years. This is where he meets the beautiful elder Cameca, who he decides to question about the tomb when he finds out she knows of the father and son in regards to whom built Yexata’s tomb.
For a few good moments, perhaps possibly Ian having to deal with the jealous Aztec warrior, the crew seem to be enjoying their stay. Barbara and Susan enjoy wearing the Aztec headdresses, observing how the Aztecs had both beauty and horror, which the Doctor seems overwhelmingly charmed by Cameca in the garden. It’s not until Ian rushes to Barbara to tell her that he has to hold down a sacrifice in her honor that Barbara decides she, as the Goddess Yetaxa, would not allow it.
She wants to meddle with history, remove the sacrificing all together, and protect the Aztec civilisation before it gets destroyed by the Spanish. The Doctor is furious but Barbara as she often does stands her ground. The whole moment completely opening up a discussion on why the Doctor is so set on not meddling with time. The whole dialogue in that scene, and the delivery made me wonder, as I often do, what William Hartnell’s mind had concocted as we know he and Carole Ann had their own ideas of their family background just what the First Doctor meant by that final appeal:
BARBARA: There will be no sacrifice this afternoon, Doctor. Or ever again. The reincarnation of Yetaxa will prove to the people that you don’t need to sacrifice a human being in order to make it rain.
DOCTOR: Barbara, no.
BARBARA: It’s no good, Doctor, my mind’s made up. This is the beginning of the end of the Sun God.
DOCTOR: What are you talking about?
BARBARA: Don’t you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that’s evil here, then everything that is good would survive when Cortes lands.
DOCTOR: But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!
SUSAN: Barbara, the high priests are coming.
DOCTOR: Barbara, one last appeal. What you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know, believe me, I know.
In other words, what the hell did you try to do before now One?
As the time for sacrifice comes, Barbara stands her ground, informing them all she does not wish the sacrifice to go ahead, but insulted and dishonoured, the victim instead throws himself off the top of the tomb at Tlotoxl’s suggestion. And just then the rain arrives just as Tlotoxl said it would. Susan also tried to stop the sacrifice too when she was not permitted entrance, which gets her sent away to learn their customs, better than to be punished. Poor Barbara trying to protect everyone, just gets people dead anyway or in more trouble than it’s worth. Not to mention, Tlotoxl is now absolutely sure that she’s a false goddess.
The Doctor is really harsh with her when he sees her alone again, shouting and now even more upset that Susan is somewhere they can’t reach. It’s a good moment, strongly acted, Barbara trying to show her strength of will is still crushed at the thought that Susan could not come to any harm to which she starts to cry. The Doctor does apologise to her, comforting her, and tells her that they’ll be fine, he has plans to find out to get into the temple with his new found friend in the Garden of Peace.
It’s after this that Barbara gets to face off against Tlotoxl, who tries to trick her into giving knowledge she wouldn’t know, but her knowledge on the Aztecs and her quick cunning words give her time and space to speak to them. She’s great here, both actors spar with each other expertly, and when it is said and done, Barbara has asked that Autloc challenge her divinity as the High Priest of Knowledge, whilst Tlotoxl informs her, Ian is to fight Ixta over the command of their armies.
Ian seems to not be out of place though next to Ixta, the young man who is his rival to command is a try hard, desperate to prove himself, and is obviously good with weapons. Ian though, cool as you please suggests that the only he only needs his thumb to defeat him and proves as such, putting said thumb on the pressure point at the back of Ixta’s neck that renders him unconscious in front of a lot of influential people. (Go Ian Go!)
This only makes Ixta hate Ian further, he’s determined to defeat Ian and he’s about to get his chance. Cameca approaches Ixta, asking about his father’s plans for the tomb, claiming the older servant of Yetaxa is after information. He says he will speak to him, and tricks the Doctor, by claiming that he needs his help to defeat his rival in combat. The Doctor is unaware that it’s Ian that Ixta is facing, gives him a poisoned thorn from one of the plants in the garden, and tells him that if he scratches his opponent with it it will drain them of his strength. So by giving Ixta the tool to defeat Ian once and for all.
Susan meanwhile seems to be doing well learning the customs of the Aztecs, but still is in refusal to accept some of their traditions. It’s a very strong serial for her in that regard, considering the smaller part she plays, and showing that defiance to Autloc is going to get her into a lot of trouble, and she, taking after her other female role model Barbara, won’t take no for an answer.
The Doctor goes to tell Barbara about Ixta and the plans for the tomb, but Barbara informs him that she’s not allowed to see anyone but their own priests whilst Tlotoxl is challenging her divinity — and informs the Doctor that he’s assisted in Ixta defeating Ian which clearly the Doctor is troubled about, and though he rushes out to help, he’s taken away to be punished! Barbara tells Autloc he had not known of the denial of entry, and was ignorant and she tells him also that the fight between Ixta and Ian should not end in death and she forbids it with the hope that it’s not too late.
So the fight between Ian and Ixta begins at sunset, Susan blissfully unaware still learning away in the city, whilst the pair fight on. As an observation, Ixta who’s supposed to be well trained does do badly against the science teacher. This is surprising as a new viewer but actually there’s a Big Finish Audio that does explain this Ian trait (It’s Farewell, Great Macedon check it out if you like this serial!) but Ixta finally uses the thorn on Ian and it’s not good news.
It’s terrible to watch as The Doctor rushes forward towards the fight, newly released, trying to warn his friend but it’s too late, Ian Chesterton’s reflexes slows down, fighting hard all the while as he’s slowly poisoned. It’s only when Ixta is ready to give the final blow when Barbara turns up in her beautiful headdress every bit a goddess — determined to make sure it doesn’t end in blood shed and left in a chilling cliffhanger that I don’t think I could have handled to wait a week for…
TLOTOXL: A false goddess forbids it. Destroy him.
TLOTOXL: Your place is in the temple.
BARBARA: I am loyal to those who serve me.
TLOTOXL: If you are Yetaxa, save him.
And so next week, we look at what happens to Ian, what will Susan’s modern views mean for her safety, and how far will Tlotoxl go to prove Barbara isn’t a goddess. Find out next week with The Bride of Sacrifice and The Day of Darkness….
Sadly, I don’t have a picture today, due to having been at Cardiff Comic Con this weekend, so instead, have a picture of men, dressed like a miniature sized twelfth doctor who left his real jacket at home and stole Ace’s badges….. I hope you’re all having a wonderful weekend and see you next week!