Doctor Who

Time to Watch the Doctor – Doctor Who: The Aztecs – You Can’t Change History

Written by John Lucarotti and Donald B. Wilson
Directed by John Crockett

Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series that has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has a companion traveling with him, usually female, sometimes male, sometimes one of each. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.

A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, the Doctor is portrayed by William Hartnell. His traveling companions are his granddaughter Susan (portrayed by Carol Ann Ford), and school teachers Barbara and Ian (portrayed by Jacqueline Hill and William Russell).

The TARDIS lands among the Aztecs, hence the title. Its actual location is in a tomb, and when Barbara emerges from the tomb wearing a bracelet she found, she is mistaken for the reincarnation of a priestess. They must go along with that supposition for the time being, or the Aztecs will kill them. The Aztecs believe she has the power to create rain as they are in the midst of a drought.

Unfortunately, things deteriorate from there. Barbara is unwilling to bless a human sacrifice and her powers and identity are doubted. This casts a shadow of suspicion on all of them. Barbara insists on forging ahead with her idea that she can somehow help the Aztec civilization to survive.

Their presence has an unsettling effect on those who have been in the high command until now. The High Priest of the Sacrifice, Tlotoxl (portrayed by John Ringham) is especially put out by the situation. He manipulates events to keep the four new arrivals separated. All the while, they need to get all four of them back inside the TARDIS which is located inside the tomb.

The Aztecs is a bit different than many other Doctor Who stories. Instead of contending with an alien threat, the four of them are trying to reach the TARDIS and get out of there. It works quite well with the four of them separated, although there’s little for Susan to do. She’s barely seen, and most of the action focuses on what happens with Barbara, Ian, and the Doctor.

Hartnell is excellent here. I hadn’t seen many of the very old episodes of the show, but The Aztecs works largely due to Hartnell. He gives his line life where they could end up feeling contrived. There’s even a bit of a reluctant romance, a rarity in the Doctor’s world where he seems to have kept potential romance at arm’s length until recently. Hartnell gives hints that there’s more bubbling beneath the surface of the Doctor that viewers have yet to be clued in about.

The great interplay comes between the two Earthlings. It’s Ian who finally gets through to Barbara about how she cannot change society. They have a very strong story due to the fact that it’s a familiar environment for them, with Barbara being a history teacher. However, where the Doctor is seen more as an outsider to counsel Barbara on her attempts to change the history of their world, Ian is like her. They have very strong roles, and Ian gets to have some fun as well.

Susan is neglected here, which is something that happened a number of times until the actress left the show. It is unfortunate that no one seemed to know what to do with the character and rather than write strongly for her, she’s dumped off and forgotten about until the need suits them.

I have to give huge kudos to the restoration job on this DVD. The picture is great for a black-and-white production. The excellent work is especially noticeable after watching the special feature on the restoration job, which shows what kind of shape the original print was in.

Even the sets in The Aztecs are pretty darn good by Doctor Who standards. There aren’t a whole lot of special effects, but the sets and costumes are fairly intricate for a show on such a limited budget. I was honestly surprised, especially after viewing the hideously cheesy sets and costumes for The Web Planet.

There are a slew of extras on the DVD, which is what I would like to see from more of the older shows. Cast and crew who remain alive are back to talk about making the show, or at least what they can remember after all these years. In reality, it felt more like they just all got together and reminisced in general with the backdrop of this story sequence.

I was surprised at how well The Aztecs held up as a story. Part of it had to do with the quality of the production, but it also is a well-written, character-driven story that doesn’t entirely rely on special effects. If you want to check out the oldest stories in the series, this is one of the best that’s out there.


• Commentary with Verity Lambert, Carol Ann Ford, and William Russell
• Remembering The Aztecs
• Cortez & Montezuma
• Restoring The Aztecs
• TARDIS-Cam No. 3
• Intro Sequences
• Information Text
• Designing The Aztecs
• Making Cocoa
• Photo Gallery
• Who’s Who

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