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Review: Brit TV-Doctor Who(1964)-The Aztecs – Part 1

Barbara Wright in her costume as the reincarnation of the high priest Yataxa.

The next story arc we have is The Aztecs. It is another of the “historical” stories. The first few series of Doctor Who alternated between the “Historical” and “Space” stories.

This arc leaves the Doctor and his Companions stuck, locked away from the TARDIS in the heart of the Aztec capital at the beginning of the end of the Aztec Empire. Drought and war have pushed the Aztecs to brink of disaster and they are at the height of their practices of human sacrifice.

This story plays to the strengths and weaknesses of Barbara. Barbara is a history teacher and her special interest had always been the Aztec civilization. Early on, she got separated from the others and after finding the tomb of an ancient high priest, she is mistaken for the reincarnation of the high priest, Yetaxa. Barbara decided to use this new found power to try to change the future of the Aztecs. She is appalled by their blood thirsty nature, but is equally enthralled by the beauty of their art work and the order of their society. She wants to save the best, and eliminate the worst.

The Doctor warns her against meddling with the course of a society and says there will be unforeseen consequences to trying to change history. His warnings fall on deaf ears and Barbara becomes fixated on trying to save the Aztecs from their fate. She uses and abuses her power to try to force a change the people don’t want.

It was fascinating for a children’s show, Doctor Who didn’t shy away from showing the more bloodthirsty side of the Aztec empire. Human sacrifice is shown and when thwarted, the “willing sacrifice” jumps to his death and his crumpled body shown. This is a major theme through the episode and Barbara’s struggle to stop it, and save the Empire, but this proves too ingrained and too much a part of the society.

This also touches on another major theme of Doctor Who: the inevitability of the future. Barbara struggles to change an entire society in a matter of days, but she’s fighting a battle against centuries of tradition, and, in a sense, fate. It is the fate of the Aztecs to fall to the Conquistadors. This has to happen for the rest of history to happen. The Doctor tries to warn Barbara about this, but she refuses to listen to him, and has to learn this lesson the hard way.

This story is a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the Aztecs in both a children’s show and in a show from the 1960s. The actors they chose to play the various characters even had very Aztec looks such as darker skin and large, hooked noses that we have come to associate with peoples of Aztec ancestry.

Next, we’ll look at the story from the point of view of Susan and young women in Aztec society versus a more modern society.


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