Reviewed By: X-alt
Review Date: 2/11/16 5:41 pm
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'The Aztecs' have in common with previous episodes that, like 'Marco Polo' before it, it is an historical episode, and that, like '10,000 BC', it is only four-episode short which, as a result, gives an interesting mixture because, unlike 'Marco Polo', the plot evolves more rapidly, though it is a bit less complex than the aforementioned seven-episode story, and, unlike '10,000 BC', it has a real four-episode plotline, with not so unfamiliar issues at stake. The pivotal ones here are that (a.) a human sacrifice is due to take place and that (b.) Barbara will try to use her powers to prevent it, committing the precise same mistake as settlers had -- or will -- during the colonization of South America, that is, try and civilize the savages to help them get rid of their barbaric rituals: "Human sacrifice is their religion," the Doctor reminded her in episode 2.
In this respect, the story is often praised as the first, in the whole Whoniverse, to have dealt with the problems of changing the course of historic events -- problems which the Doctor raises explicitely when he told Barbara with very meaningful words at the end of episode 1: "History can't be rewritten. Not a line. [...] What you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know. Believe me, I know." Her efforts, however, reveal pointless since she fails to prevent the sacrifice of a man who refuses to be denied "honor".
As early as episode 1, called "The Temple of Fear", Barbara is established as one of the leading characters of the story -- it is therefore not surprising that she should appear, along with Susan however, before the Doctor in the introducory scene. The relationship between the two characters -- Barbara and the Doctor -- grows progressively more complex, though pretty much erratic and changing at the same time.
As opposed to Ian, who we learn received training when he took his National Service, or to Susan, unsurprisingly AWOL in in the two middle episodes, Barbara is rapidly presented as the specialist, or at least, an Aztec culture enthusiast. It is a shame though that her knowledge of Aztec culture should limit to a debate over human sacrifice. Yet there is something more that contributes to make the story a good and captivating one: for one thing, unlike the Doctor, she might have been aware (as John Lucarotti probably was when he wrote this story) that offering cocoa to an Aztec woman, as the Doctor did in episode 3, was a way to propose to her.
Most interestingly, the story provides fresh outlook into Aztec society: Autloc is the first Aztec "prototype" whom the time travelers encounter, as opposed to the "butcher", a noun used to characterize Tlotoxl. In fact, though knowledge of Azstec history in the 1960s was not as detailed as it is today, as a result of the revisionist wave of the late 70s-80s, it could be argued Tlotoxl is more the product of story-telling than he is of a mere stereotype, since he has the unpleasant role of the troublemaker, the antagonist, the bad guy. The binary formed by Tlotoxl and Autloc was very common at the time in Doctor Who, and can be found in many episodes.
In this respect, it can be said that it is even characteristic of story-telling as it was in the 1960s and yet it definitely raises matters of interest for contemporary audiences, most notably as a result of the Doctor's "Not a line" speech which we still find in modern episodes (season 30/ series 4 and season 32/ series 6 in particular). Despite the absence of science fiction elements, at least in terms of extraterrestrials, and some stereotypical characters, the overall result is that this four-episode story can be shown to anyone today and remain all the more relevant.