Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Story 6 - The Aztecs

In which the TARDIS materialises inside an Aztec tomb, in 15th Century Mexico. Barbara puts on a coiled serpent bracelet and wanders outside, where she is confronted by Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge. Seeing the bracelet, he takes her to be a reincarnation of the High Priest Yetaxa, whose tomb this is. The others leave the chamber to look for her, and the door seals shut - cutting them off from the ship.
Barbara must keep up the pretence for a while, to allow the Doctor time to work out a means of getting back into the tomb.
Ian is invited to become leader of the Aztec army - despite this role already being offered to Ixta. They will have to compete to see who takes command. After breaking a law inadvertently, Susan is despatched to a seminary to learn Aztec customs. The Doctor may spend his days in the gardens at the foot of the pyramid along with the other old folk.
Barbara refuses to have anything to do with human sacrifice, making an enemy of the High Priest of Sacrifice, Tlotoxyl. The Doctor insists she do nothing to alter history, and to accept this culture for what it is.

Ian and Ixta fight a duel, in which Ian overpowers his rival with a well-placed thumb. A rematch is called for, and Ixta tricks the Doctor into helping him. Ixta's father was architect of the tomb, and he claims to have plans of the building. Barbara arrives in time to save Ian.
Tlotoxyl plots to expose the "false Yetaxa" but she finds a friend in Autloc, who knows that the sacrifices do nothing to affect the weather etc.
The Doctor befriends a lady named Cameca, and accidentally becomes engaged to her after making her coffee.
When Susan refuses to marry the Perfect Victim, who is to be sacrificed on the forthcoming Day of Darkness and whose every wish must be granted, Tlotoxyl arranges for her to be punished as part of the proceedings.
The Doctor discovers a secret tunnel leading from the gardens into the tomb. Ian is framed for an attack on Autloc, in order to break his friendship with Barbara. On the Day of Darkness - a solar eclipse - Cameca helps Ian and Susan escape. The Doctor has fashioned a wheel and pulley to enter the tomb. Ian and Ixta fight, the Aztec plunging to his death. Autloc has gone off into the wilderness to become a hermit. The travellers escape, the Doctor remembering to take the wheel with him, as Tlotoxyl goes about his bloody business.

This 4 part story was written by John Lucarotti, and was broadcast between 23rd May and 13th June 1964.  Doctor Who's early remit to be educational is clearly on show here, as we learn about Aztec customs and religion.
Once again, the costumes and sets are stunning - many colour photographs fortunately existing from this story. Barry Newbery conducted a considerable amount of research for his sets. There was some criticism that the Aztecs are somewhat overdressed, but Daphne Dare's costumes were also meticulously researched.
It is Carole Ann Ford's turn to have a holiday - all her seminary scenes being shot on film in advance.
The other regulars have a lot to get their teeth into - particularly Barbara. It is very much Jacqueline Hill's show, as her character struggles to change history and save this culture from its inevitable destruction in a few generations time. With the Doctor adamant that history cannot be rewritten, she turns to Autloc (Keith Pyott) for support. She ultimately fails, of course, but at least saves this one exceptional man.
Ian gets to be the man of action, battling three times with Ian Cullen's Ixta.
The Doctor has some fabulous scenes - especially when dealing with the unrequited love of Cameca (Margot van der Burgh). Unrequited? It is significant that at the end he leaves the love token she has given him in the tomb - then snatches it back at the last moment.

Chief villain of the piece is John Ringham's Tlotoxyl. He is certainly channelling Laurence Olivier's Richard III in his performance - and getting away with it. Ringham will be back in Doctor Who twice, but not as a villain. He's the Excise man Josiah Blake in The Smugglers, and colonist leader Ashe in The Colony in Space.
The only performance which lets things down is the mercifully small role of Perfect Victim - Andre Boulay. Perfect Lump of Wood more like.
Episode endings for this tale are:

  1. The Temple of Evil - After she has tried to stop a sacrifice, Tlotoxyl believes Barbara is an imposter - and he will destroy her.
  2. The Warriors of Death - Ixta has used a drugged thorn on Ian during their duel. Tlotoxyl orders he kill the teacher as Barbara watches, apparently helpless to intervene.
  3. The Bride of Sacrifice - Ian is trapped in the secret passage as it fills with water.
  4. The Day of Darkness - The Doctor is puzzled. One of the TARDIS instruments says they have stopped - whereas another says they are still in motion.

One of the best of the historical stories, it has marvellous dialogue, and everyone takes it seriously throughout. The short length means no padding but still allows for some great performances from both regulars and guests alike. One of the rare occasions where the villain does not get their comeuppance, leading to a bitter-sweet ending.

Things you might like to know:

  • When we see Ixta's dead body, Ian Cullen is actually standing on one leg against a set flat, painted to look like flagstones. The cameras couldn't manage overhead shots. Richard Martin would have used a mirror.
  • I Googled Andre Boulay - he doesn't seem to have worked again...

No comments:

Post a Comment