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24 September 2014

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The Aztecs

Production Code: F

First Transmitted

The Temple of Evil - 23/05/1964 17:15

The Warriors of Death - 30/05/1964 17:15

The Bride of Sacrifice - 06/06/1964 17:15

The Day of Darkness - 13/06/1964 17:15


The TARDIS arrives in fifteenth century Mexico inside the tomb of one-time Aztec High Priest Yetaxa. The travellers become cut off from the ship when they explore the temple outside and the tomb door closes behind them. Barbara is proclaimed by the High Priest of Knowledge, Autloc, as Yetaxa's divine reincarnation. However, she incurs the enmity of the High Priest of Sacrifice, Tlotoxl, when - against the Doctor's advice - she attempts to use her new-found authority to put an end to the Aztec practice of human sacrifice.

Events reach a climax on the Day of Darkness - the time of a solar eclipse. Ian's unwilling conflict with the Aztecs' 'chosen warrior', Ixta, ends in a fight in which the latter falls to his death from the temple roof. The Doctor manages to reopen the tomb door using a wheel-and-pulley that he has carved (the Aztecs not having mastered the use of the wheel) and the travellers make good their escape.

Episode Endings

Tlotoxl proclaims that Barbara is a false goddess and that he will destroy her.

Tlotoxl cries out for Ixta to kill the overpowered Ian. Barbara suddenly arrives and orders that the fight be stopped. Tlotoxl challenges her - if she is indeed Yetaxa, then let her save her servant...

Ian is trapped inside a dark tunnel leading to Yetaxa's tomb as it rapidly fills with water.

Leaning over the TARDIS console, the Doctor tells his companions that they have a problem: one set of readings shows that the TARDIS has stopped, but another insists that they are still in motion.


Richard III (John Ringham's performance).

Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King.

The Royal Hunt of the Sun.

Herodotus (the story of the grave-robber architect who built himself a secret entrance).

Dialogue Triumphs

Barbara Wright : "Oh, don't you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that's evil here, then everything that's good will survive when Cortes lands."

The Doctor : "But you can't rewrite history! Not one line! Barbara, one last appeal: what you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know! Believe me, I know!"

Susan Foreman : "You're monsters! All of you, monsters..."

Ian Chesterton : [Speaking of the brooch carried by the Doctor.] "Where did you get hold of this?"

The Doctor : "My fiance"

Ian Chesterton : "I see... Your what?"

The Doctor : "Yes, I made some cocoa and got engaged..."

"How shall a man know his gods?"

"By the signs of their divinity."

"And what if thieves walk among the gods?"

"Then, indeed, how shall a man know?"


Aztec history was one of Barbara's specialities. The Doctor informs Cameca that he is 'a scientist, an engineer, I'm a builder of things.' The Doctor doesn't wish to change history, and so removes the wheel that he made to aid their escape. Ian has trained as a fighter [National Service].


The Doctor's Doctorate


Mexico, between 1430 and 1520 [Presumably the reign of Montezuma I (1440-69). Yetaxa died c 1430, and Ixta's father built the temple in preparation. With reference to Ixta's age and the fact that his father was sent to the Garden of the Aged when he was 52 the most likely date would appear to be around 1450.]


Carole Ann Ford appears only in pre-filmed inserts in the second and third episodes as she was on holiday during the weeks when those episodes were recorded.


For reasons of decency, the costumes for the Aztec characters covered more of their bodies than would have been the case in reality. (The costumes were thoroughly researched and accurate.)


The obvious use of doubles for William Russell and Ian Cullen in the fight sequence in episode four.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - William Hartnell

Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill

Ian Chesterton - William Russell

Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford

Autloc - Keith Pyott

Aztec Captain - David Anderson

Cameca - Margot van der Burgh

First Victim - Tim Booth

Ixta - Ian Cullen

Perfect Victim - Andre Boulay

Tlotoxl - John Ringham

Tonila - Walter Randall


Director - John Crockett

Assistant Floor Manager - Ken Howard

Associate Producer - Mervyn Pinfield

Costumes - Daphne Dare

Costumes - Tony Pearce

Designer - Barry Newbery

Fight Arranger - David Anderson

Fight Arranger - Derek Ware

Incidental Music - Richard Rodney Bennett conducted by Marcus Dods

Make-Up - Jill Summers

Producer - Verity Lambert

Production Assistant - Ron Craddock

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - David Whitaker

Studio Lighting - Howard King

Studio Sound - Jack Brummitt

Studio Sound - John Staple

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Writer - John Lucarotti

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'You can't rewrite history. Not one line!' Doctor Who often works best when it is pretending to be something other than a family SF show, and The Aztecs - which wants desperately to be a Shakespearian historical tragedy - works on this principle. A lyrical piece of BBC costume drama and a gem to cherish.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The Aztecs, John Lucarotti's second contribution to the series, is another superb historical adventure. While it lacks the epic quality of his debut story, Marco Polo, it makes up for this with its fascinating and compelling depiction of the Aztec civilisation, which combined great beauty with great savagery - the latter being exemplified in particular by its practice of human sacrifice.

As Brian J Robb noted in Cameca's Summer Special, dated July 1986, these two seemingly contradictory aspects of the Aztec culture are personified in the characters of the two High Priests: 'Tlotoxl and Autloc are not so much characters as signifiers. Tlotoxl represents the savagery of the Aztec way of life - he has a guarantee of power through the fear generated by sacrifice. In the classic mould, the signifier of savagery is imperfect. Tlotoxl has a limp... Autloc, the signifier of civilisation, has no... prominent deformities... [He] realises within himself that [human] sacrifice is not necessary but is simply a tool to rule.'

This issue of human sacrifice provides the basis of the story and, as Robb observed, it is foregrounded right from the opening scene: 'The tomb into which the TARDIS crew emerge contains a human skeleton surrounded by various implements of torture... The Doctor and his companions, through the visual juxtapositions, are set the task (no matter what they say) of ending [human sacrifice].'

It is Barbara, temporarily elevated to the position of a divine reincarnation, who takes the initiative in trying to bring human sacrifice to an end. In fact, of the regulars, Barbara is very much to the fore in this story, although the other three are also well catered for: Ian engages in a feud with the 'chosen warrior' Ixta; Susan finds herself consigned to a seminary, where her refusal to accept an arranged marriage to the Perfect Victim creates further trouble for the travellers; and the Doctor has a charming romance with the elderly Aztec lady Cameca.

Lucarotti's excellent characterisation is one of the story's greatest merits and, as Tim Munro commented in Issue One of Star Begotten dated winter 1986, the nature of its historical setting makes it easy for the viewer to identify with the travellers' plight: 'The problem facing our heroes is purely the question of their own personal survival, and [this] is far more credible and frightening than [some] grand apocalyptic galactic catastrophe... Because the threat is localised and easy to visualise, the viewer's sense of involvement is increased.'

The Doctor tries to dissuade Barbara from the course upon which she has embarked. With his broader alien perspective, he knows that her attempts to transform the Aztec civilisation are futile, and that it is doomed to destruction at the hands of Cortes's Spanish forces.

The story can indeed be seen as an exploration of the reasons underlying the ultimate downfall of this strange, almost paradoxical culture, as Rob Byrne argued in Perigosto Stick Issue One, dated February 1991: 'Through the Doctor's words and Barbara's experiences, John Lucarotti is telling us that the Aztecs were doomed through the very nature of their society. The paradigm to which they subscribe is a dead end alley, and they have cut off all hope of turning back, through their own institutionalised violence and the startling gaps in their knowledge - metal rather than wooden swords would have given them a far greater chance against the Spaniards.'

This sense of doom is well captured by the story's closing scenes, as Robb described: 'Susan is to have her eyes gouged out, Barbara is to have her heart cut out, and Ian is to be thrown from the parapet... The TARDIS crew escape [but] the violent, savage death of the Perfect Victim goes ahead, and Tlotoxl's power is renewed for a little longer... History,... as both Ian and the viewer know it, [reveals] that the TARDIS crew failed...'

The BBC's Audience Research Report on The Bride of Sacrifice episode recorded some (with hindsight surprising) comment from viewers who apparently thought that the series was already becoming somewhat tired: 'A local government officer wrote, fairly typically here, that he was "afraid that this series has gone on far too long; the danger and escape therefrom fall into a never varied pattern length and repetition - result, ennui".'

However, the report went on to note:

'A large minority made it plain that they continue to be well satisfied with the entertainment offered by the Doctor Who scripts, about situations contrived with sufficient ingenuity to engross adult attention and exciting enough for all the family to enjoy. Some viewers speaking for their children said that the Aztec instalments had been voted "smashing" (several children of school age writing down their own impressions called it "super" or "fab"), though a few youngsters, apparently, did not find the Mexican background as appealing as some of the earlier space-time encounters of Doctor Who and his young scientists [sic]...

'The production... was the subject of a good deal of comment, much of this directed (very favourably) at the settings and the exotic-looking costumes and ornaments worn by the Aztec characters, which a housewife, for one, thought not only sumptuous but "presumably historically correct". There was hardly any concerted criticism on points of presentation, but one or two viewers noted that the stone at the entrance of the tunnel was moved without much semblance of weight.'

This high standard of production remains apparent today, and is one of the many reasons for the story's enduring appeal. As Munro put it:

'The Aztecs is a beautiful piece of work and all involved can feel justly proud of the end result. [It has] adventurous production, clarity of plot, tension, viewer involvement and high acting standards...

'From Barbara's first exploration of Yetaxa's tomb to the Doctor's final snatching up of Cameca's [brooch], The Aztecs is entrancing television - full of magical moments.'

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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