“The Aztecs”

Series 1 may have classics such as “An Unearthly Child” and “The Daleks,” but no serial so far matches “The Aztecs” in sheer enjoyability. Like “The Keys of Marinus,” the characters all split up and have their own separate stories, but frequently interact with each other. That seems to make the best serials, as “The Romans” did the same thing. I think the interaction is key, though, without it, the viewer can’t piece together what’s happening when the story keeps shifting to different viewpoints (“The Web Planet”).

I also liked this serial a lot because it places Barbara in a position of power, and not just some female being kidnapped. That’s more Susan’s role throughout the series, anyway. I don’t like Susan.

“The Aztecs” brings to the forefront a question that was only hinted at in “An Unearthly Child:” What happens if the past is changed? As time travelers, is the TARDIS crew morally obligated to prevent bad things from happening?

Summary time: The TARDIS lands in the burial chamber of the avatar of an Aztec goddess. When Barbara emerges from the tomb, the Aztecs hail her as the goddess made human, and pretty much take orders from her. Things start to go wrong when she attempts to stop the human sacrifice that is supposed to be made in her honor. The Doctor doesn’t like it because Barbara’s trying to change the past, which is obviously VERY VERY BAD, and the head priest doesn’t like it because it’s against tradition. He proclaims Barbara to be a false goddess.

Meanwhile, since they can’t stay with Barbara in the goddess chambers, the Doctor, Ian, and Susan have been taken to live in their proper places in Aztec society. Ian is assumed to be a mighty warrior and is taken to contest to be the next army general. The head priest doesn’t like that either, because his son was supposed to be the general. Ian and the son fight, yadda, yadda, yadda, Ian wins somehow. I don’t know.

Since she’s a young girl, Susan gets taken to learn the womanly arts and gets betrothed to someone? Obviously she doesn’t like that, but I don’t like Susan, so I really didn’t care about her stuff.

The Doctor is taken to an old peoples’ garden-place, where he’s free to do whatever he wants. He meets a lady and they become friends. She tells him a secret entrance to the tomb, since it doesn’t open from the outside and the TARDIS is in there. Oh, and the Doctor accidentally gets married to her.

Yes, apparently the Aztecs have this marriage ceremony where one person presents the other with cacao. They both drink together, and BAM. Married. So, the Doctor obliviously drinks the cacao and marries this lady.

This is what MADE “The Aztecs” for me. I was aware of some Doctor Who history before watching the classic series, but THIS?! The Doctor accidentally getting married is actually a TRADITION? I thought it was something unique to the new series, since Doctors 10 and 11 look relatively young. But NOOO. Even the ancient-looking First Doctor can accidentally get married! So foxy!

The four travelers are eventually reunited and Ian kicks some Aztec butt. Barbara was unable to prevent the sacrifice, which makes her a bit sad, but the Doctor cheers her up, I think. It’s weird to see the attitude the show has towards time travel in its early stages. The seriousness of it all is lifted a little in “The Romans,” though, so that’s progress.

And thus the serial ends, but not without a confusing segway into the next. The TARDIS has landed, but is still moving? What is this nonsense? Next time: The Sensorites.


3 responses to ““The Aztecs”

  1. That sequence with the Doctor accidentally proposing is one of my absolute favorite Doctor Who moments. Hartnell’s timing and reaction shot is just wonderful and I love the way he milks telling the others about it later!

    I have a soft spot too for John Ringham’s very hammy performance as the high priest Tlotoxl, and it really is great to see a story in which Barbara is front-and-center. Definitely one of my favorite stories from season one. Looking forward to seeing what you think of The Sensorites next!

  2. The Aztecs is one of my favorite William Hartnell serials. It really is intelligently written and brilliantly acted. Definitely it makes you think about not just the idea of whether or not history can be changed, but even if one has the right to try to change it in the first place. And it is a prime example of how much the creators of Doctor Who achieved so much on such at tiny budget & under major time constraints.

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