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Thoughts on “The Aztecs”

Lately real life has gotten in the way of my blogging (how dare there be things like job interviews when I’ve got a blog to write!), but I’m trying to get caught up now.  I’m finally writing about “The Aztecs.”  It is the sixth story of the first season of Doctor Who and, of course, features William Hartnell as the Doctor, and his companions remain Susan, Ian, and Barbara.

Barbara as Yetaxa

Barbara as Yetaxa

The TARDIS lands in 15th century Mexico, right in the most sacred area of an Aztec pyramid.  Barbara and Susan are the first out and they begin to explore.  Barbara is quite the expert on the Aztecs (she is able to give a very precise date to the objects they find), and she puts on a bracelet she finds as she is going through the objects in the tomb.  They soon find a door that leads out of the tomb and Barbara goes through it, while Susan returns to the TARDIS to get the others.  On the other side of the door, Barbara encounters the high priest of knowledge.  He stops Barbara as an intruder because no one is allowed in the tomb, but when the man sees the bracelet on her arm, he believes that she is the reincarnation of Yetaxa and must be worshipped as a god.

When the others come out of the tomb, Barbara is gone.  The door to the tomb closes behind them, separating them from the TARDIS.  They realize that the door was made to allow the gods out, but to keep people from going in.  They will need to find a new way of getting into the tomb.  Soon the travelers meet Autloc, the high priest of knowledge, who takes them to meet Yetaxa.  They are surprised to discover that Yetaxa is Barbara.  Thanks to Barbara’s new position of authority, she is able make sure that her “servants” have the right to walk around freely.  They also meet the high priest of sacrifice, Tlotoxl, who insists the Ian become the leader of their army.  This creates a conflict between Ian and Itxa, the man who expected to be the leader.

While Ian is being taken to challenge Itxa, the Doctor is taken to the Garden of Peace, which is where the older members of the Aztec civilization spend their time.  He meets a woman, Cameca, who is very wise and takes a liking to the Doctor.  He quickly uses his new-found friend to arrange a meeting with the son of the builder of the pyramid, in the hopes of discovering a way into the tomb.

Ian learns that one of his new duties is to present the sacrifice to the god of rain to end the drought.  He is unwilling and tells the Doctor this. However, the Doctor tells him he must go along with it, so as not to make the Aztecs suspicious of them and Ian reluctantly agrees.  The sacrifice is to happen at the same time that Barbara is presented to the people as the reincarnation of Yetaxa, so the Doctor warns her not to interfere.

However, Barbara refuses to go along with the sacrifice.  She believes that she can use her influence as a god to stop the Aztecs from continuing the practice of human sacrifice, thus allowing their civilization to survive.  When the time comes for the sacrifice, Susan becomes upset and Barbara does intervene.  However, the sacrifice is so upset at not being given the chance to prove himself that he throws himself of the pyramid, sacrificing his own life just before it starts to rain.

The incident leads to Tlotoxl losing his belief that Barbara is the true reincarnation of Yetaxa, and Susan is sent away for tutoring, since her actions were against the Aztec practices (in reality Carol Ann Ford was on vacation).

The Doctor and Ian

The Doctor and Ian

One interesting thing that I noticed in these early episodes is that the travelers truly go into the past.  There are no aliens in this story, they are simply dealing with the problems the face from the Aztecs themselves, and the problem of being separated from the TARDIS.  Episodes like these remind me of why the Doctor is traveling with Barbara, a history teacher.  She is able to provide the group with incredibly detailed information about the society they are visiting.

This episode is also interesting in that the idea of whether or not the travelers can alter history is discussed for the first time. The Doctor tells Barbara in no uncertain terms, “You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!”  Barbara does not listen, but the group ends up leaving the society basically unchanged.  The one man who was influenced by Barbara leaves the group and goes off on his own.

This episode also contains a flirtation between the Doctor and Cameca.  This episode really gives William Hartnell a chance to develop the character of the Doctor.  Instead of simply being cranky and physically frail, he shows himself to have a great deal of knowledge and gets to demonstrate a lighter side in his flirtations with Cameca.  In a rather comical scene, Cameca hopes to get the Doctor to offer he cocoa because to the Aztecs sharing a cup of cocoa is a way of asking someone to marry you.  She brings her cocoa near the Doctor and he tells her that he familiar with cocoa and they should share a cup.  Of course, he is not aware of the Aztec tradition and is surprised to learn that they are now engaged!

Ultimately, Cameca helps the group escape and gives the Doctor her seal, to remind him of her.  The Doctor almost leaves the seal behind in the tomb, but instead decides to take it, betraying that he has grown fond of Cameca.  This is the Doctor’s first love interest on the show.

The Doctor "proposes" to Cameca

The Doctor “proposes” to Cameca

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this story; it is definitely my favorite story of the first season.  It is remarkable how the show manages to keep the suspense going over the four episode story with no alien opponent, something they would never do now.  The story is clever and manages to mix the dramatic moments with some humor.  It also really allowed Barbara to grow as a character.  It was nice to see her in a position of authority and possessing great confidence, instead of simply following Ian’s lead.  The different Aztecs are also allowed to develop strong personalities, which keeps the story interesting as well.

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One response to “Thoughts on “The Aztecs”

  1. Aidan ⋅

    That cocoa scene is one of my favorite Bill Hartnell moments in Doctor Who. Just beautifully timed and very, very funny.

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