You’re monsters! All of you, monsters!
The TARDIS arrives in 15th Century Mexico and the crew encounter the doomed Aztecs, who are a mixture of high culture and savagery. Barbara is mistaken for one of the Aztecs’ Gods, complicating matters considerably.
The Aztecs is the first time the show really addressed the issues regarding interference in historic events, and it does it really well, with Barbara being mistaken for the Aztec God Yetexa, along with her pre-existing interest in the Aztec people giving this story genuine stakes. Unlike some 60s Who, these stakes, along with the fact that each member of the TARDIS team has a decent subplot for a change, makes this one of the more memorable entries in Hartnell’s era.
The story feels quite epic in some regards and all the more impressive that it manages to deal with each of them so effectively compared to other stories in this era of Doctor Who with longer runtimes. The story uses the plot device of the two sacrifices to establish and tie-up the various subplots involved, with the main plot revolving around the consequences of Barbara having picked up the bracelet in the tomb and being mistaken for the God, Yetexa. The subplots revolve around the Doctor trying to find a way of regaining access to the TARDIS, which materialised in the tomb, Ian being roped in to fight Ixta to become the leader of the Aztec army and Susan being taken away to be taught Aztec values. With the exception of Susan’s subplot, these all interact loosely with each other through the various parts, for instance, when the Doctor gives Ixta advice on how to win his fight, not knowing that this will be against Ian, in return for supposed information on the design of the tomb. Due to Carol Ann Ford’s holiday, her subplot does feel more detached from the main narrative, although there are some other characters other than the other members of the TARDIS team who appear at times and her subplot does get worked back in nicely towards the end of the story.
The story focuses on the idea of non-interference and it is really strange coming to this story as someone whose introduction to Doctor Who was the modern series, in which the Doctor, whilst not advocating interference in historical events, isn’t so rigid as the First Doctor is here. The script gives Barbara a good enough reason to be so concerned about the plight of the Aztec people – it is one of her interests – to want to interfere, putting her at odds not only with the Doctor, but with Tlotoxl as well. Ultimately, the story does feel quite Shakespearean, especially when viewed in the light of the performance of John Ringham as Tlotoxl, one of the Aztec High Priests, whose deformities are a homage to Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard III. The character is also quite similar to the play’s hatchet job it does on the controversial monarch, quietly scheming and spitting poison into the ears of the other characters. His opposite number, Autloc, represents civilisation and order, whilst Tlotoxl represents the more savage aspects of Aztec society, such as human sacrifice.
The performances are also really good here. I’m not sure if it’s because she has less to do and is probably in the story the least, but Susan did not irritate me as much as usual in Hartnell stories, which is a distinct positive, however, the real revelation was the performance of William Hartnell. This story allows us to see a softer side of this incarnation of the Doctor which up till now has been rarely seen in the scenes with Cameca. The performances of Hartnell and Margo Van der Burgh are really lovely, and the Doctor genuinely looks smitten by Cameca and there does seem to be genuine sadness that he has to leave her behind, evidenced by the fact that he picks up her broach before leaving in the TARDIS. Hartnell seems much more genial and pleasant that the version of the Doctor we have seen before, and watching this story has really made me warm to First Doctor. He is also shown to be fallible, like when he is giving Ixta information on how to defeat Ian, not knowing the identity of the former’s opponent. Again, William Russell gives a great performance as Ian, and I particularly enjoy his reaction when he learns that the Doctor is engaged to Cameca! The main plaudits do really have to go to Jacqueline Hill who provides a majestic performance as Barbara here, as she really is the focus of the entire story and she carries it so well.
Where did you get hold of this?
I see…your what?
Yes, I made some cocoa and I got engaged…
Ian Chesterton and First Doctor
Verdict: I really enjoyed The Aztecs as it is really rather different to anything I remember the show doing before. A strong script really does help here as well. 8/10
Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara Wright), Carol Ann Ford (Susan Foreman), Keith Pyott (Autloc), John Ringham (Tlotoxl), Ian Cullen (Ixta), Margot Van der Burgh (Cameca), Tom Booth (First Victim), David Anderson (Aztec Captain), Walter Randall (Tonila), Andre Boulay (Perfect Victim)
Writer: John Lucarotti
Director: John Crockett
Parts: 4 (The Temple of Evil, The Warriors of Death, The Bride of Sacrifice & The Day of Darkness)
Behind the Scenes
- The first story to address altering the course of history and the first to have a romantic subplot involving the Doctor.
- ‘The Warriors of Death’ was the first episode filmed at BBC Television Centre following persistent requests from Verity Lambert and her allies. Ultimately, this would only be temporary, as by the end of production on the serial, they were back filming at Lime Grove.
- The only story written by Lucarotti that exists in the BBC Archives in its entirety.
- Jacqueline Hill named this as her favourite story.
- Carol Ann Ford was on holiday for two weeks and only appears in pre-filmed inserts in episodes 2 and 3.
In the story’s final scene, the TARDIS crew hear Tloxtol and the rest of the Aztecs carry out their planned sacrifice, and Barbara and the Doctor’s conversation discusses how they actually didn’t really achieve anything and the emotional impact this has on Barbara.
Oh, don’t you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that’s evil here, then everything that’s good will survive when Cortes lands.
But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line! Barbara, one last appeal: what you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know! Believe me, I know!
Barbara Wright and First Doctor