I must say that I am enjoying this era of Doctor Who more than I predicted. Black and white can be less visually interesting than colour, and the lesser budget given to the show might reflect on viewing, but it just didn’t stop me from enjoying this story.
A basic overview is that the Tardis crew land in an Aztec temple. Barbara puts on one of the bracelets in there and forgets about it. When they emerge from the temple to explore, the Aztecs consider her a reincarnation of their god, Yetaxa.
When Barbara realises the command that she now has, she tries to stop the human sacrifices from happening. It is a fairly straight forward and effective idea. Meanwhile Ian is made into a warrior, the Doctor accidentally gets engaged, (more on that later,) and Susan is basically swept to one side and made to learn Aztec facts.
My first thought on episode 1, is that the main villain of the piece, Tlotoxl played by John Ringham, reminded me of a character you might see in a Monty Python film.
The other event that took me by surprise, was when the man intended for sacrifice was saved by Susan, he decided to take his own life to keep his honour. For tea-time in 1964, this was dark stuff; and it’s brilliant. This leads us to the Doctor telling Barbara that she ‘can’t rewrite history, not one line!’
A sentiment echoed in the similar story The Fires of Pompeii.
It is my firm belief that the Doctor is mostly asexual, apart from the fact that he had a grand daughter, and so presumably a wife and kids. I dislike the notion that the Doctor should get engaged willy-nilly to Marilyn Monroe or Queen Elizabeth the first. However, the idea that the Doctor should see somebody who he grows fond of seems natural in this context. While trying to find a way back to the Tardis, he sees a lady who he takes interest in.
Cameca shows him some cocoa beans, and he suggests they drink some; unaware that this signifies a proposal. By the end of the story they are engaged through miscommunication. If this sort of thing happened in a Matt Smith story, I would roll my eyes and sigh, but somehow it just feels natural here.
Meanwhile Ian is trying to assist in finding a way back inside the temple, but is challenged to several fights to the death along the way. I must say that I love the way that he outsmarts his rather two dimensional opponent Ixta, by just using his pressure points against him. They get into so many duels that by the end, Ixta being rolled off the top of a building just felt okay.
Something else that surprises me in this story, is that there seems to be no jolly consolation for Barbara and the Doctor. She has been unable to change the course of history and stop horrific sacrifices, but she accepts that time must go unchanged. The Doctor has to leave Cameca for good once she helps them get back to the Tardis. All she asks is that the Doctor remembers her. I have to say that I found this a million times more heart wrenching than watching River Song say goodbye to the Doctor on 15 different occasions.
In many ways The Aztecs feels ahead of it’s time, and a revised version wouldn’t look out of place in a series of modern Who. It doesn’t feel too bogged down in story or exposition, but doesn’t feel like a waste of time either. Actually, the end scene in which the Doctor is about to leave the gift brooch given by Cameca, but then picks it back up at the last moment really reminded me of the final scene of The Girl in the Fireplace. It’s funny how simple story traits re-emerge every so often. If An Unearthly Child was the intro, The Daleks was the sci-fi, The Edge of Destruction was the character piece, Marco Polo was the adventure, The Keys of Marinus was the road trip, then my goodness The Aztecs was the emotional masterpiece. For the quality of this story, I would award it eight Aztec pyramids out of ten.