Doctor Who (Classic): S01E06 “The Aztecs”

Season 1
Directed by John Crockett
Written by John Lucarotti

Six serials in and we are starting to get into a pattern of alternating historicals with sci-fi episode a trend which would continue through the end of the year. Unlike the last historical “Marco Polo”, all four episodes of “The Aztecs” remain and is one of the few random serials available on Netflix Instant (the next isn’t until Season 6’s “The Mind Robber”. This time around, the Doctor and his companions are sealed out from the Tardis after Barbara goes off exploring through a door that has no way of entering, but only exiting. Apparently no one thought of using a makeshift doorstop.

Barbara is mistaken for a reincarnation of the god Yetaxa and instead of just allowing for wacky situations, the serial takes it seriously. Barbara hopes to stop the practice of human sacrifice seeking to improve the civilization but The Doctor is adamant that they are allowed to continue this practice and that they must make no attempts to change history. While “The Daleks” clearly showed The Doctor giving the Thals technology they shouldn’t have, here we are instead introduced to a Doctor who refuses to change history. This push and pull between the ability to and consequences of doing so is an aspect of the show that continues on through both the classic run (“The Massacre”) and has persisted to the modern day (“Father’s Day”, “The Fires of Pompeii”, “The Waters of Mars”, etc.). Despite Barbara’s attempts to save the sacrifice victim, he still kills himself to prove his worth (and “successfully” brings on the rains”) and only places suspicion onto whether she is truly the reincarnation.

As an enemy, Tlotoxl is probably the most formidable The Doctor has faced yet. Like Tegana of “Marco Polo” he is a top advisor suspicious of their true nature (specifically Barbara), but this time he has the advantage of being completely right if not the advantage of having everyone believing him. Barbara is a false goddess. Instead he proves himself a great manipulator (as opposed to Tegana’s bumbling attempts) positioning their great warrior against Ian through his convincing of the awesomely named Perfect Victim, sending Susan away (so Carole Ann Ford could have a vacation but that’s not important right now), posing frequent challenges to Barbara’s nature which she proves to be woefully unprepared, and even framing Ian for attempted murder. He may be brutal especially compared to Autloc (the High Priest of Knowledge), but he is also far more crafty. Even Ixta proves effective at manipulation getting The Doctor to unknowingly help him defeat Ian while bluffing him with promises of non-existent drawings.

While there is the questionable heavy emphasis on sacrifice amongst the Aztecs and their silly religious beliefs, there is still plenty of sympathetic portrayals to go around with only Tlotoxl being portrayed as evil (which only really after things start falling apart) and even he is only doing what he feels is best for his people against someone who is insulting their religion and trying to change their very ways. And in the end, Tlotoxl wins and he is able to perform the sacrifice. Autloc’s faith is destroyed even if he has been brought into the light so to speak but that really brings us to the message of the episode. The Doctor’s line to Barbara of “you failed to save a civilization but at least you saved one man” is almost a mission statement for the show. He may not be the all-powerful world saver of NuWho, but The Doctor and his companions are capable of making a difference even without “fixing” the past. It sets the show up in the middle ground of the desire to fly around through time fixing all of humanity’s mistakes and the cant’ change anything approach without dire consequences. This allows both the preventing too much a change for the future, but also allows The Doctor to be heroic even in small ways. He may still be primarily interested in just making sure that his companions and himself escape intact, but the show is slowly moving away from merely trying to escape, but living up to its name and truly trying to help people.

Grade: B-

Stray Observations

– “Hey look cartoons. They got bubbles coming out of their mouths.”
– Somehow the dialogue for Susan gets worse every week
– Similar to “Marco Polo” all of the Aztecs are played by white actors in brownface.
– Ian straight up Vulcan nerve pinches the greatest warrior among the Aztecs after calling him out and later almost defeats him in hand to hand combat until he is poisoned. Where the heck did this Ian come from?
– The Doctor has an adorable little flirtation and engagement with an Aztec woman which of course ends when he has to depart.
– Would it kill the set designers to make sure the mattes in the background are smooth instead of having very visible folds? That’s all I ask.
– Tlotoxl gave me some major Richard III vibes with his hunchback and scheming though obviously the ends of their stories are quite different.
– This week in cliffhangers: The cliffhanger makes a return appearance with the TARDIS showing conflicting information of being both stationary and moving. Hardly an exciting cliffhanger, but at least they are back.

Next Up: “The Sensorites” on Monday 1/4/16 and not just because I need that extra time to make it through that serial again.