The AztecsBookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 June 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

I�d forgotten how good �The Aztecs� is. The production values are generally excellent, with both costumes and sets being detailed, impressive and convincing (the odd painted backdrop not withstanding). In fact, they are so good, that they only add insult to the injury of the loss of �Marco Polo�. So drawn into the story was I that at almost no point did I actually think, �hmm, nice set� whilst I was watching it � I believed that the Doctor was in a garden, that Ian was in that tunnel, and the TARDIS was in a tomb. But as good as the production values are, it is the scripting and acting that really makes �The Aztecs� shine. 

The Doctor is superb here; his accidental engagement to Cameca is at first just funny, especially when he first mentions it to Ian. It becomes touching however, when it becomes clear that he has grown genuinely fond of her, taking delight in her company, and seeming sad to take his leave of her. She in turn shows her worth by helping the Doctor and his companions to escape, despite the heartache it causes her, and the final scene in the tomb, when the Doctor leaves the brooch she gave him on Yetaxa�s sarcophagus only to change his mind and pocket it, shows that she has made enough of an impression on him for him to want to remember her. We are again reminded of just how much the Doctor has mellowed since �100,000BC�, as he sympathizes with Barbara�s inability to save the Aztecs and also as he shows genuine panic as Ixta traps Ian in the tunnel from the garden to the tomb. The scene in which he tells Barbara that even though she couldn�t save the Aztecs she perhaps saved one man is quite moving, and clearly demonstrates his concern for her. He also shows his determination and cunning once again, as he comes up with the pulley that they use to regain entrance to the tomb and thus the TARDIS, and he aids Ixta by improvising a sleeping drug from plants in the garden. In spite of their plight, he still seems to be having fun whenever he is challenged. Another memorable aspect of �The Aztecs� is his stern warning to Barbara not to try and tamper with history. This is particularly noteworthy considering that it will be subsequently shown in the programme that time travelers can change history, but that the consequences can be dangerous; here the Doctor merely flat out states that it is impossible to change history, suggesting that he is unwilling to explain why it should not be attempted. Indeed, as the travelers leave Mexico, he explains to Barbara that Tlotoxl�s victory was inevitable, which seems to me to be a lie designed to ward off further such attempts should the TARDIS materialize again in Earth�s past. His own care in not tampering with history is demonstrated, as he is careful to take the pulley wheel with them, since the Aztecs never invented the wheel.

Susan doesn�t get much to do in �The Aztecs�, but actually demonstrates some resolve in her flat-out and dangerous (though perfectly understandable) refusal to marry the Perfect Victim. Annoyingly however, she once more assails us with shrill and hysterical screams when she overhears the news of the sacrifice in episode one. Again, this is understandable, but her screams still grate on me. Ian on the other hand continues to prove his valour, facing Ixta without fear, even during battles to the death. From the start of the series, he has shown remarkable courage and resourcefulness and this continues here. Notice his grim look when Ixta tells him that they shall have one last encounter, as he replies, �yes� a final one�. He clearly is not going to roll over for anyone, even when facing a trained Aztec warrior with an obvious bloodlust. And as with the Doctor, he clearly seems to be having fun. Ultimately however, �The Aztecs� is Barbara�s story.

From the moment she poses as the reincarnation of Yetaxa, Barbara shines throughout this story. She is quick thinking and resourceful, frequently outwitting Tlotoxl, and her determination to change Aztec civilization even in the face of the Doctor�s warnings gives her strength and resolve throughout. Whenever Tlotoxl gains the upper hand, as when he arranges to have Susan publicly scourged, rather than give in to panic, she tries to find a way round the problem. When Tlotoxl and Tonila try to poison her, she admits to Tlotoxl that she is not a god, but stands her ground anyway and challenges him to expose her without losing credibility. She�s impressive, and she easily acts the part of Yetaxa, every inch the imperious goddess. Her very personal rivalry with Tlotoxl is possibly her finest moment in the series. 

The supporting characters are also well portrayed, from the sensitive Cameca to the imposing Perfect Victim and the toadying, indecisive Tonila. The wise and gentle Autloc, Barbara�s closest ally amongst the Aztecs, is clearly set apart from his fellows, surprised by Susan�s refusal to marry, but also doing his best to spare her pain. The look on his face when Susan calls him and his people monsters is one of hurt and this almost certainly helps to reinforce his changing views in light of Barbara�s conviction that sacrifice is wrong. His eventual departure into the wilderness in search of truth is Barbara�s one success in her failed attempt to save the Aztecs, symbolized by his acceptance that perhaps the gods do not require sacrifice after all. In short, he is the individual who seeks answers within through careful thought, rather than blind acceptance of tradition. Then there is Ixta, a vicious, cruel bully whose hatred for Ian sits side by side with his smugness when he manages to beat him. He is a picture of brutal, animal cunning, ruthless in his desire for victory. His death serves as a victory of sorts for the TARDIS crew � Ian defeats his rival, despite Ixta�s determination to survive, and this and Autloc�s awakening allows them to leave with a feeling of triumph, for the viewer of for nobody else. Because ultimately, the Doctor and his companions don�t triumph here � Tlotoxl does.

Tlotoxl steals the show. John Ringham�s Richard the Third turn gives us a masterly villain, easily as memorable as Tegana. He is a scheming and manipulative, determined to prove Barbara false and ultimately successful. As Ian points out, it is Autloc who is the exception to Aztec rule, not Tlotoxl � he succeeds with both sacrifices Barbara�s attempts to stop them. The victim at the end of episode one commits suicide when �Yetaxa� intervenes, and the Perfect Victim throughout the story progresses serenely towards his death, considering it an honour. Tlotoxl�s glee as he tricks Barbara into accepting Susan�s punishment is marvelous to watch and his toothy smile whenever he has the upper hand is thoroughly machiavellian. In the end, he wins; Ixta may die, and Autloc may be saved, but as the door to Yetaxa�s tomb closes for the final time, he plunges his knife into the Perfect Victim�s chest in supplication to his god, leaving a morose Barbara to ponder on her failure. 

As one of the few surviving intact examples, �The Aztecs� is a fine instance of the Doctor Who historical stories. The Discontinuity Guide compares it to Shakespeare in terms of tone and feel, and I think this is a fair comparison. It is certainly an excellent choice to be the first Hartnell DVD.