Trapped in a narrow passage within the pyramid, Ian discovers that it is beginning to flood with water...
He moves up the tunnel and emerges into the tomb chamber through a secret panel built into Yetaxa's funeral bier. The Doctor rushes up to the temple to tell Barbara that Ian is trapped in the tunnel and at risk of drowning, but is very pleased to see him emerge from the tomb. They now know that they can access the tomb through the tunnel, and organise some way of opening it from the temple side.
Leather cords on their own are no use as they break, and the Doctor decides that a wheel-and-pulley system is required. The Aztecs did not exploit the wheel, so he will have to fashion something himself.
Realising that Barbara has a powerful ally in Autloc, Tlotoxl decides that he must break this relationship - getting rid of Ian at the same time. He has Ixta attack Autloc in the gardens, striking him down from behind and leaving Ian's weapon behind.
The scheme works as the injured Autloc begins to think of Barbara as false.
Ian has been arrested, to be executed before the sacrifice along with the punishment of Susan. She has been brought back from the seminary. Both will be held under guard in the army barracks.
Barbara is able to convince Autloc that she would never do anything to harm him, and he is forced to accept what she says. Now believing that their civilisation is doomed as she has predicted, he decides to leave the city to go into the wilderness. Beforehand he agrees to help Barbara by engineering the release of Ian and Susan. For this he solicits Cameca's aid.
She, meanwhile, has come to realise that the Doctor will be leaving them soon - a situation she reluctantly accepts.
The day of the eclipse has arrived, and Cameca goes to the barracks with Autloc's official regalia, which mean ownership of all his property. She tries to use this to blackmail the Guard Captain. When he hesitates, Ian forces the issue by knocking him out. Cameca then takes Susan up to the temple to join Barbara. She bids the Doctor farewell, giving him a small token of her love for him.
On finding the Captain unconscious, Tlotoxl orders Ixta to kill him for letting the prisoners escape. He also tells Tonila that he will be the new High Priest of Knowledge.
Ixta sees Ian climbing up the temple steps, and gives chase.
The two men fight as the Doctor, Barbara and Susan open the tomb door. Ian proves victorious as Ixta plunges from the pyramid summit to his death. He then joins the others in the tomb.
Undeterred, Tlotoxl proceeds with the sacrifice of the Perfect Victim as the eclipse reaches its totality.
In the tomb, the Doctor consoles Barbara by pointing out that she may have failed to save this civilisation, but she did manage to save one individual - Autloc.
He leaves Cameca's token on the funeral bier, but at the last moment snatches it back.
Some time later in the TARDIS, the Doctor and Susan are faced with a conundrum. He tells the teachers that his instruments are indicating that the ship has stopped, but she points out that other instruments are showing that they are still in motion. Ian suggests that they have landed on top of something, whilst Barbara thinks that they may have landed inside something...
Next episode: Strangers In Space
Written by: John Lucarotti
Recorded: Friday 22nd May 1964 - Lime Grove Studio D
First broadcast: 5:15pm, Saturday 13th June 1964
Ratings: 7.4 million / AI 58
Designer: Barry Newbery
Director: John Crockett
Carole Ann Ford returned from her fortnight's holiday in Portugal to find that she had entirely missed working at Television Centre, as the series had returned to Lime Grove Studio D for this episode.
As summer had now arrived, the heat in the cramped studio was unbearable and the sprinkler system was activated during afternoon camera rehearsals.
The big fight sequence between Ian and Ixta had been filmed at Ealing on 14th April. This was set mainly at the top of the pyramid in the open air, so Barry Newbery did not have to worry too much about the lack of studio space to hang the scenic backdrop.
David Anderson, who was still playing the doomed Guard Captain, donned Ian's eagle headdress whilst Billy Cornelius wore Ixta's jaguar headdress. It was fortunate that the two men were wearing such head coverings, disguising as they did the identity of the stunt men. Derek Ware assisted Anderson in arranging this fight, for which he was co-credited. Cornelius had previously featured in another Ware fight - the one between Kal and Za in Episode 4: The Firemaker. They had also worked together on Marco Polo.
Ware was highly critical of John Crockett's handling of the action. He thought the director should have had faster cutting and some close-ups of the combatants' faces, but elected to show rather static long shots only.
When Ixta is killed, Cullen stood upright against a flat which had been painted to look like a section of paving, contorting his body slightly, and the camera image was then inverted - making it look like a bird's eye view of his dead body. This was in studio on the day of the recording, rather than pre-filmed at Ealing.
Newbery was unhappy to see that the tunnel which Ian climbed up would emerge from underneath the funeral bier. Had he known he would have finished this piece of set properly. As it is, you can see that it is made of wood rather than stone.
The history lessons continue as the Doctor and companions discuss how the Aztecs did not exploit the wheel in their technology. They did employ it, but merely as a toy for children rather than something which could help with transport or machinery.
The Aztecs shows the civilisation at its height, but does hint at its eventual destruction.
Autloc accepts that his way of life is doomed, and so takes himself off to become a hermit in the wilderness.
In April 1519 the Spaniard Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico after departing Cuba. It was not the Conquistadores alone who defeated the Aztecs, ruled by Moctezuma II - Cortes was joined by various Mexican tribes who were traditional enemies of the Aztecs. The conquest was completed within two years. The Aztec capital fell in August 1521.
Many of the native peoples were killed by diseases for which they had no immunity, imported with the invaders. In late 1520 there had been a smallpox epidemic which killed thousands.
The Aztecs had been warned of their doom through supernatural omens. A series of eight events had taken place around a decade before the invasion, including temple fires, lightning strikes, a boiling lake and a comet or fireball.
It is claimed that Moctezuma actually believed that the Europeans were emissaries from the gods, as Quetzalcoatl was due a return. People from the east (the land of the sunrise) were prophesised to arrive, who would rule the Aztecs.
This is the only story in which the villain of the piece avoids any form of comeuppance. Only Tlotoxl's henchman, Ixta, is seen to be defeated as he is killed in a fight with Ian. Our last glimpse of the High Priest of Sacrifice is of him going about his grisly business, no doubt even stronger in his position now that Autloc has departed.
However, as Ian and the Doctor both point out at different times, Tlotoxl is simply doing what he is supposed to do, what his beliefs tell him is right. Autloc is the one who is at odds with his own culture and society.
At one point the Doctor declares: "I serve the truth!" - despite the fact that he and his companions have been deceiving the Aztecs the entire time. His treatment of Cameca is especially poor.
Tlotoxl believes Barbara to be false, and he's absolutely right. Poor Autloc is manipulated and led astray by Barbara's lies. Assuming that the arrival of the Spaniards isn't imminent, Tlotoxl is going to thrive, whilst Autloc is going to live a miserable existence in the desert, when he could have enjoyed a pleasant retirement in the city.
What makes Barbara's actions even worse is that she - a white Westerner - has taken it upon herself to decide what is best for this society. People wouldn't have thought twice about this at the time of broadcast, but it is very noticeable now. She is imposing her values on the Aztecs, whose belief system she cannot or will not respect.
This story may be a good one for Barbara, but she's exhibiting her colonial attitudes throughout. There would be much talk of cultural appropriation if this were to be made today.
(To be honest, we could talk about this with regards hundreds of stories - it's just that those involve alien planets instead of Meso-American civilisations. The Aztecs are the most "alien" of cultures handled by the Historical stories, being so unlike modern Western society. All later Historicals will tend to feature societies that really aren't all that much different to our own).
The story ends with a mystery, which seems to imply that the TARDIS has never landed inside a moving object such as a spaceship before - otherwise why would the Doctor and Susan be so baffled? Considering the number of spaceships and other modes of transport which it will land in / on in the future, this does seem odd. It could be taken to mean that the Doctor and Susan have not been travelling all that long before meeting the school teachers.
So far we only know of one alien planet they have visited, and then it was some sort of jungle (Quinnis), whilst all the other destinations appear to have been in Earth's history (the French Revolution plus the description of things which the TARDIS has previously taken the shape of. Susan's description of noisy plants in Episode 23: The Screaming Jungle could mean another alien planet visited, though it could also have simply been Quinnis again, which was certainly a very noisy place).
- This was the first William Hartnell story to be released on DVD. It was only the second B&W release (after Tomb of the Cybermen).
- The Aztecs was selected by BBC America to represent the Hartnell era during the series 50th Anniversary celebrations.
- Back in 1983 it had also been selected to represent the era as part of the 20th Anniversary celebrations, shown at the National Film Theatre in London before touring regional arthouse cinemas.
- Rehearsals began a day later than usual, on a Tuesday, as the Monday was a Bank Holiday. Carole Ann Ford, fresh from her fortnight in Portugal, attended a fete that weekend, accompanied by the two Daleks which had been loaned to the Barnardo's children's charity.
- The episode's recording had a later than usual finishing time of 10:15pm.
- John Crockett never worked on the series again. A devout Catholic, after leaving the BBC he went to live at Prinknash Abbey, Gloucester, and was buried there when he died in October 1986.
- The Aztecs was destined to be wiped in August 1967, but the BBC Film and Video Library retained copies. Additional copies of three of the episodes, including this one, were returned to the BBC from a TV station in Cyprus in 1985.