It is my intention, at this early stage in proceedings, to post a review featuring each of the classic Doctors over the course of November as we celebrate 50 years of Police box-based science fiction telly. I have posted reviews of the first and second serials from back in the 60s (which I’m sure you can find by the wonder of tags), and now I’m going to spin forward a few months to story number 6: The Aztecs. This seems an obvious choice on a blog which occasionally covers religious matters as well as science fiction, as religion is very much a theme of this story.
In an opening scene of somewhat dubious taste, Barbara pinches a bracelet from a corpse, and on being caught wearing it by one of the natives is promptly hailed the reincarnation of the ancient high priest Yetaxa. In order to avoid the Doctor and the others getting into all manner of trouble with the locals, she goes along with this; however, instead of staying out of Aztec politics, Barbara attempts to use her power to bring an end to the human sacrifice demanded by their religion.
It could be that the Time Lords – at least at this point in the Doctor’s personal history – did indeed have some sort of Prime Directive, as the Doctor does his best to try and dissuade Barbara from this course of action on the grounds that you shouldn’t mess with people’s religion, and in any case ‘you can’t rewrite history. Not one line!’
Later though, as Barbara is contemplating the point in time travel if you can’t put right what once went wrong, the Doctor points out that she did in fact make a difference to one individual, helping to change the views of Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge, who seemed to be having some doubts about the whole human sacrifice business at the outset of the story.
I made some cocoa and got engaged.
Susan, meanwhile, is sent to Tlotoxl’s School for Wayward Aztecs after refusing to marry the Perfect Victim on the eve of his sacrifice, another little piece of 60s reform thrown into a backwards, alien world to see what happens.
The Doctor, too, has a brief romantic encounter with an Aztec woman named Cameca, which brings out his likeable side, and even makes him smile for reasons other than amusement at his own mischief-making.
Ultimately, however, very little changes. The Perfect Victom sacrifices himself, the reformed Autloc becomes an outcast because of his views, and, presumably, the Conquistadors still see fit to destroy an entire culture because human sacrifice is distasteful even to them.
Ok, the fight scenes with a science teacher beating a an Aztec warrior who has probably been trained since birth to kill with his bare hands were improbable, cheesy and painfully slow, but there’s still – despite my natural preference for aliens and robots – a good Doctor Who adventure to be had here.
And of course, the subject matter gives rise to plenty of discussion of religion in general terms (“Why are Earth people afraid of the word ‘God’?” Susan asks at one point) as well as the specific rights and wrongs of Aztec culture. It’s worth watching for that, if that’s the sort of thing that interests you – and if not, watch it for the cranky old First Doctor crushing on an Aztec lady.
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