The Aztecs has a very efficient script, with very tight plotting – even when required to accommodate holidays for certain regular cast members. So much so, that many of its nuances have been glossed over in fan opinion pieces.
Tlotoxl is only the second villain to feature in a Doctor Who serial – the first being Tegana in John Lucarotti’s previous story, Marco Polo and John Ringham’s performance is pretty much stock for this kind of role.
Unimaginative commentators have noted Tlotoxl uses sacrifice as a means of wielding his power. While this counter poses him neatly against Autloc – a more passive character – it’s not a very respectful reading of the (well-researched!) Aztec culture depicted.
Yes, the man’s big into human sacrifice – but this is an honour in the Aztec civilisation. When Barbara attempts to prevent a death in The Temple of Evil (part one), this is the first dent in her armour. Why would the Goddess deny the victim? Her actions coax him into killing himself in a botched and imperfect sham of the ritual.
Tlotoxl is initially suspicious of the sudden appearance of the Goddess – and rightly so. We, the audience, know full well Barbara’s a massive fraud. For the first time in the series, we’re in a position where we are not only able to sympathise with the villain, but he is in the right. Autloc just blindly accepts everything she says.
Before the Doctor’s famous “can’t rewrite history” line, Barbara claims that if she can destroy everything that’s evil about Aztec culture, then the good parts are much more likely to survive when Cortes lands.
This is pretty shocking and categorically untrue – she announces her intention to reshape an entire culture to conform to her values in order to pave the way for an invasion in the (genuine, though misguided) belief that it will be less destructive.
Two readings of the Doctor’s rewriting history line are opened by this. It could be youthful inexperience of practical time travel. This makes Jon Pertwee’s otherwise pointless aside in Inferno about free will not being an illusion a little easier to swallow.
Alternatively, he could be compressing his argument to address the urgency of getting Barbara to change her course of action – he says he’s a servant of truth later.
Except he’s a right bastard in this one.
There really is some very charming William Hartnell material in his romance with Cameca – and it’s the only on-screen romantic interest for the Doctor throughout the 1963-1989 run.
He really doesn’t seem to mind the thought of not getting the TARDIS back as he’s talking about his engagement – and he seems to quite like the idea of marriage.
And Cameca is just lovely. She’s charming, intelligent, patient with the Doctor – and an older woman, so points there. But then the Doctor cruelly uses her to get the TARDIS back anyway and carries on pretending Barbara really is the Goddess throughout.
As the series hasn’t got into the ‘Doctor and his friends’ pattern at this stage, all the characters have some great material in balance. It’s great to see the Doctor just being one character in an ensemble and in fact this is possibly the peak of the original crew.
The Aztecs is famous for the strong performance of Jacqueline Hill as Barbara; it’s easily her best serial.
On top of this, it’s the first time Ian gets to have a big punch up at the end, repeat performances of which have led DWM to call him the series’ first (eurgh) “action hero”.
Finally, while more could have been made of Susan’s betrothal to the Perfect Victim (she can’t be that bad ZING), it’s the last good script for Carole Ann Ford. I really like Susan, but after this point she becomes the first companion whose character is gradually starts to lose out to screaming.