|Air date||23 May - 13 June 1964|
|Written by||John Lucarotti|
|Directed by||John Crockett|
|The Keys of Marinus||The Sensorites|
The Azteca is a delicious chain restaurant. This may sound a bit American, but every cheeseburger I've ever gotten a Mexican restaurant is the best cheeseburger I've ever had. What are we talking about? Doctor Who? Nah, I would have remembered that.
The Aztecs itself was the very first “sixth story evar!” of Season 1 of the limey scientifical-fiction television programme Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in 1964. This story was just as much a costume extravaganza as The Web Planet would be about six months later, only this one is historical, not a crazy make-believe with bug-eyed monsters. Filled with lovingly-designed sets and costumes (with a modicum of historical accuracy) and filmed with all the finesse of your parents at a high school play (including the bit where someone jostles the camera and they leave it in), you’ll be shocked by just how primitive televisual entertainment and Doctor Who itself were back in 1963, but don’t let that put you off, this is a really good story. Usually played for lower stakes than the “entire universe ever” or something, historicals such as The Aztecs would be replaced by pseudo-historicals during the Second Doctor’s run, because monsters make everything better, right? Why fight some human villain when you can have a giant steampunk Cyberman mecha stomping around Victorian London instead? Really, it’s just a much more sophisticated form of storytelling to inject monsters into every story, seconded only to superheroes.
Barbara really shines in this story as a “companion” because back then the companions were the main deal while the Doctor himself was just a side character and only a half-step above the Tardis as a plot device. We’d have to wait several years to see the Aztecs on screen again in The War Games when the Second Doctor encountered Mexican warriors plucked out of time by the War Lords. Like you care. Obviously composed and filmed to be seen on the tiny TV screens people had back then, you should try it on your cellphone today, I bet it’ll work there too!
The First Doctor and a trio of ne'erdowells get stuck in precolonial Mexico. Barbara becomes a goddess ("becomes", he types, as though she isn't already a goddess), Ian a gladiator (doesn't the same thing happen in The Romans?), Susan is to be married to the Perfect Victim, and the Doctor gets some hot Aztec chocolate if you know what I mean.
More Details, Please
The silly Aztec peoples mistake Barbara for a goddess and the Doctor, Susan and Man Of Action Ian Chitterston for her aged servant, handmaiden and a warrior, respectively. Cut off from the TARDIS and escape, the crew fret about the Aztec hobby of frequent human sacrifice. The evil priest Tlotoxl doesn’t have a mustache to twirl but he might as well have one to match his drawn-on evil eyebrows. The Tedious Data Core notes that the actor playing evil priest “John Ringham based his performance… on Laurence Olivier's interpretation of Richard III” then says “[source needed],” but fuck that, we have eyes.
Barbara tries to go all SJW and make them stop sacrificing each other like they were potato chips or something but the Doctor famously tells her “you can’t change history, not one line!” the lying bastard. Susan is smart, then an ineffectual SJW herself and then weeps to see how useless a character she is and how most people didn’t even notice she was on vacation for a couple of the episodes. Ian tussles away a great deal of episode 2 in a manner most primitive to our modern eyes, so used to hours of hyperrealistic television violence, but this apparent failure of a sequence only serves to make his fight to the death near the story’s end all the more effective, as it had been better shot and edited and even choreographed. Ian shows his scratch to the cameras to be sure we caught it. You can hear the Doctor drop a few beans as he decides to get married to Cameca (with no River Song in sight); Hartnell fails to sell this romance in one of just a couple crucial scenes but managed better later, probably because Rose wasn’t around yet. Barbara threatens the evil priest like stone-cold boss which was awesome. All this just so they can open a door and escape! Low stakes, but carrying a stronger air of dread and regret than you’d expect to waft from something so archaically made.
As Doctor Who episodes back then each had their own titles rather than one arching for four or six parts, I should probably list them here:
- The Temple Of Evil
- The Warriors Of Death
- The Bride Of Sacrifice
- The Day Of Darkness
Everyone pick one for your band name!