Season 1 – Episode 6 – (1964)
Doctor: 1 – William Hartnell
Companions: Susan, Ian, Barbara
Classic Doctor Who has a very interesting little facet. The stories that we watch are more like serials than episodes. They come in multiple parts, which is completely different from today’s modern take on the show. It’s become convention to name the serial rather than the individual episodes. In the future this would become standardised and the show would give a four episode serial that had a good pace. In the 60s, however, the number of episodes in the serial hadn’t been set in stone leading to wildly different story lengths. This ranges from the single storied Mission to the Unknown – clocking in at 25 minutes, to 12 stories of The Daleks’ Master Plan – clocking in at 5 hours. This leads to some pacing problems, which are no doubt going to get to in due course. After all, both of these stories are just two seasons away.
For me, The Aztecs is bang-on. It’s a 4 parter in which all characters are used to the proper extent. It’s a real gem of the early classic series and if I had to pick one story from this season to recommend, this would be it. (Maybe the Daleks but that drags a little.) The escape from Marinus, throws our heroes, where else, but back on Earth in the wrong time. They arrive in a tomb which only opens from the inside. They leave and are caught by the natives but thankfully Barbara is mistaken for a reincarnation of a high priest Yetaxa, with the rest assumed to be her heavenly servants.
It’s a balancing game from here! The group have a working knowledge of the people’s customs but they must appear as all knowing – thus asking how to get into the tomb from the outside is a no go. The key players from the serial are: Autloc – the high priest of knowledge, he is a morose yet kindly figure who wishes to help our group and even entertains the ideas that the customs of their people may be wrong. Next is Ixta the chief warrior who finds the arrival of Ian (a young, apparently angelic warrior) a threat to his position. Finally is Tlotoxl who is the high priest of sacrifice. He suspects imposters from the moment that Barbara expresses her dislike of the idea of sacrifice; also, wherever he goes, the actor leaves bite marks on the scenery – it’s wonderfully hammy.
Broadly the story has Barbara trying to persuade the Aztecs of the evils of sacrifice, while trying to maintain the air of divinity. This could easily be a story where her role could be minimised but quite the opposite, she really shows her steel in this one. Ian’s role is proving his strength to warriors, which he does mostly through knowledge of pressure points on the body – he is really our man-of-action and he is the one who is trapped in the pyramid that accesses the tomb as it fills with water.
Susan speaks out against one of high priests and therefore is sent away to be re-educated. This means that she is absent for a lot and I don’t necessarily miss her. I’m harsh on Susan but the writing around her can be really, really bad – Carol Anne Ford’s acting is not bad by any means! The Doctor really shines in the epsiode though. He is sent to a garden for the purpose of those who are considered old. He obtains information from a lady called Cameca who he shows genuine affection for, he gets this through flirting and genuine Mercurial charm. He also gets engaged.
Eventually, The Doctor constructs a pulley in order to open the tomb and the group escapes in the TARDIS as they always do. This story also sets up something that the show may play a little fast and loose with in upcoming years. With the doctor spouting “You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!” Ah for the days of that logic.
- The Doctor: Yes, I made some cocoa and got engaged.
9/10 (A real gem)
Next time: Oh please no… How much material can you get out of meek alien nuisances (that are mildly psychic). 6 episodes!? That has to be a joke… Nope. Let’s get stuck on a space ship with some Sensorites.