What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Aztecs,” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: The past, the year 1430 (BC?) or a bit beyond.

Place: Earth, Mexico at the time of the Aztec Empire.


1. “The Temple of Evil” (Season One, Episode Twenty-Seven)
2. “The Warriors of Death” (S1, E28)
3. “The Bride of Sacrifice” (S1, E29)
4. “The Day of Darkness” (S1, E30)

Today’s Lessons

1. One of Barbara’s specialties is history, specifically ancient cultures.  From examination of an Aztec mask, she is able to identify the year and location to which they travel in record time.

2. The budget seems to have increased by this serial.  The sets for the Aztec temple are some of the most elaborate used on the show, with ancient-looking artifacts, false walls and secret passageways, and a bevy of other interesting details.

3. Ah, the sixties!  British actors given darker faces to look like native Mexican peoples…but with the English accents still in tact.  It can’t be offensive, then, I guess…right?

4. When Barbara is believed to be a reincarnation of one of the Aztec gods, having emerged from a temple tomb with a bracelet and talisman of the revered, two high priests supplicate to her good will.  The Doctor refers to this ceremony as “charming.”  He probably forgot about the ritualistic sacrifice associated with this ancient tribal nation and empire…

5. I think the Doctor has a little crush!  He is introduced to an elderly woman in the Garden of Peace…and describes her as “charming” several times. I wonder if this will go anywhere…

6. Speaking of ritualistic human sacrifice, when both Ian and Barbara find out that a human is to be sacrificed in honor of Barbara’s godly persona and in the interest of inviting rain, both Ian and Barbara face individual revulsion and loathing to participate.  Ian is made an honored warrior and is expected to escort the human to be sacrificed to the altar and to hold him down.  Barbara, however, sees her god character as a means to appeal to the people and to end the practice of human sacrifice. In the meantime, the Doctor begs Ian and Barbara not to change history or to alter the timeline one strand/string; he says it is “impossible” to do so, and exclaims, “I know!  I know!”  That exclamation might be the most interesting and revealing line of dialogue he has uttered yet!

7. The Doctor becomes downright hostile toward Barbara for using her perceived godly influence to cancel the human sacrifice, leading the sacrificial lamb to plummet in suicidal fashion to his death out of fear of being disrespected and dishonored.  The Doctor also accuses her of injecting her traditions upon another’s culture, and he’s so vehement, Barbara starts to cry.  He then apologizes for being harsh with her…two thoughts come to mind.  First: isn’t this a bit like the pot calling the kettle black?  The Doctor changes history all the time!  Of course, perhaps not in such a key way…  Second: it was his idea to have her play the part of god in order to help their situation.  What did he expect would happen?

8. Barbara subsequently calls the Doctor “an old rogue.”  I guess they made up.

9. The Doctor meets his crush again in the Garden of Peace, who seems to be spying for one of the priests.  When he introduces himself to the woman properly, he explains that he is not a doctor of healing but one of science and engineering and “a builder of things.”  Question: What did he build, though?  He also calls her “charming” again (clearly, this means he likes her).  And she flirted back by telling him that his heart is young, and that he is “smart like a schoolboy.”  Hoo boy.  The Doctor may not start kissing people until later, but he had no problems flirting with them as early as the First Doctor!

10. Again, I call attention to the fact that the universal translator must be working well, considering they are speaking to a Native American race that was not known for its English skills, and everyone is understanding each other properly.

11. Susan is a bit of a feminist.  In order not to anger the priests further, she agrees to be trained in the duties of a hand servant, but when she is informed that she will be betrothed to marry, she refuses to submit to the idea of betrothal, instead assuring her tutors that she will marry whoever she wants.  Later, she is entreated to marry someone who will be sacrificed during a solar eclipse and is earmarked for public punishment when she refuses to do so, wherein thorns will be placed through her tongue and ears.  Why doesn’t she just agree to marry the guy when her husband will only be alive for a few days, and when they might access the TARDIS earlier than that?  That girl!

12. The suspicious priest of sacrifice (or whatever he is called) begins to defy Barbara and her purported authority as the spirit of a god.  In order to maintain her charade, Barbara cheats!  She uses her foreknowledge of the future to prophesy the demise of the Aztecs as they actually died. No one believes her, but she’s telling them about their own future!  Paradox alert: is the demise of the Aztecs a self-fulfilling prophesy?  Would they have really succumbed without knowing how they were going to succumb?  In the Whoniverse, anyway?  Update: given the end of the serial, probably not.  The Doctor notes that Barbara does not successfully change the course of the Aztec history, including the penchant for human sacrifice.

13. The Doctor is being devious and somewhat irresponsible himself, by giving the rival warrior a shortcut to defeating his challenger, Ian (the Doctor doesn’t know that Ian is the opponent).  Still, it seems callous of him to have yelled at Barbara about certain things, only to turn around and try to influence the skirmish of such high-ranking warriors.  I think there’s something off about that Garden of Peace.  Or, perhaps the Doctor is a fool in love.  Either way, this is not working out well for our intrepid Doctor and his companions.

14.  The Doctor is engaged!  It seems Ten is not the only version of the Doctor to get himself into a bit of a wedlock pickle.  There’s no doubt that the Doctor enjoys the old woman in the garden and vice-versa, but it appears that he has been nursing her requited feelings for him to obtain information…until she “accidentally” spills her cocoa beans.  Seductress!  The Doctor falls hook, line, and sinker for her ruse and is offering to boil her cocoa in no time flat!  Oh, One is so young, isn’t he?

15. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show, say, the heft of a large decorative stone being moved out of the way, to reveal an entrance to a tomb, say, one need only fashion an ornate and gilded stone out of Styrofoam and a bit of paint, even if the lack of good special effects doesn’t mask the sound Styrofoam makes when subjected to pressure, such as grasping.

16. Why is it that Barbara, as the stylized god, is so concerned with changing the people’s minds about their laws and ways?  Doesn’t she understand that changing history for them may change history for everyone else?  Doesn’t she realize that once the travelers find their way back to the TARDIS, they’ll leave, having left their indelible, history-changing mark on the Aztec peoples?  Also, why on Earth does she speak in Shakespearean diction?  Or, perhaps, stylized “royal-speak?”  I swear, every time Barbara-as-Aztec-god speaks, iambic pentameter and many “we’s” and “us’s” become part of her speeches.

17. Barbara learns that she can’t change the Aztec civilization, as, one by one, the high priests lose faith in her as a representative of the gods, but the Doctor reminds her that the high priest of knowledge who left for the wilderness adopted a new faith, a better faith, and encouraged her to take comfort in the good she did for one man.  Oh, the wise Doctor prevails.  It’s his insight into life that keeps us all coming back, I reckon.

18. Also, the Doctor was truly in love – or, at least, in admiration of the old woman in the garden. He ultimately pocketed her token.  She also accepted that they would not be married and entreated him to “think of her,” whereupon his lip quivered in regret.  Aw.

19. “The Aztecs” was a much more thorough and interesting historical serial than “Marco Polo,” as it attempted to observe actual history rather than weave pure fiction from loosely known facts.  The production values were clearly higher, with a bigger budget devoted to sets and costumes.  The delight of this serial is the growth of two characters: The Doctor himself, who we now see stepping into an advisory and educator role, where he imparts his wisdom of space and time to his companions, and Barbara, who, while playing god, learned much about being a mortal, ordinary human.  It was also enjoyable that Susan’s role was diminished in this serial – and when she did appear, she did not have one shrieking fit of hysterics, though there were some tears.  This serial did little to advance the “mythology” of the Whoniverse, but it was another interesting stab at social commentary, even as British actors portrayed an ancient and extinct people in slightly historically-offensive fashion.

Next serial: “The Sensorites” (Season 1, Episodes 31-36).


One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · January 6, 2014

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