Companions: Susan, Barbara, and Ian
Written by: John Lucarotti
Directed by: John Crockett
Background & Significance: After the success of long-lost Doctor Who adventure "Marco Polo", script editor David Whitaker asked that story's writer John Lucarotti to write another historical epic about whatever he chose. Lucarotti chose "The Aztecs", a culture which had fascinated him, and they were off to the races.
While it is considered one of the great stories of the classic series, and very memorable in terms of Hartnell's tenure on the show, to call "The Aztecs" a wonderful epic story of awesome is... hyperbole. It's best defined by two very important events that happen over the course of the adventure:
Barbara tries to re-write history and The Doctor gets engaged.
The second bit we'll laugh at when we get to it in the story, but "The Aztecs" does (to an extent) deal with the threat of changing the course of history. In this, "The Aztecs" is, perhaps, most important. The idea that Barbara can, through the aid of The Doctor bringing them to that moment in history, alter the past to fit her worldview and design is nothing short of revolutionary in the scope of the series. Now, The Doctor wouldn't be just having to run away from people who want to kill him and saving his companions (or having them save him). This story established that he needs to have history play out as it should play out and that they can't go and change anything.
Really, though, that just makes this story sound much more epic than it actually is. It's not like Barbara goes around and shows the Aztecs guns or anything. She just tries to change their culture in a very small way, which, while not massive and epic on the scale of what other characters (from Time Lords to humans to Daleks) will try to do later on in the series, is at least the first story to tackle the issue, thereby giving them all the license to do it in the future.
So let's get to it!
We open on a genius shot of The TARDIS. No really. It’s brilliant. It looks like this as it dematerializes.
The TARDIS and her crew land in a tomb, where Barbara recognizes the figure and markings of the inside of the tomb as Aztecan. Susan remarks that it must mean that they’re back on earth and stuck with a bunch of Mexicans.
Please to note: She does not say it exactly like that. But the wording is not far off.
And then it takes Barbara literally no time to start plundering the body for its wealth, putting on the jewelry and noting that it’s the Aztecs in their early period (and no, she’s not psychic. She’s just a history teacher. Who happens to know everything relevant about history).
Susan takes special note of a wall painting, which she touches (because she lacks archaeological experience) and makes the wall flip up like a secret passage. While Susan goes to get the others, Barbara emerges into a large stone hall, elated at the accuracy of history.
But then, High Priest of Knowledge Autloc finds her in said forbidden area and raises the alarm for a guard to appear and arrest her. And then they stand around posing for a minute. Which is funny.
The Doctor, Ian, and Susan emerge from The TARDIS only to find the passageway door closed. Susan manages to push it up with relative ease, and they emerge into the hall place thing, only to find Barbara missing.
Ian is breathtaken by the amazing landscape, but everyone gets too far away from the passageway door, which shuts behind them, sealing them outside and away from the TARDIS within. They also take note that it’s impossible to open it from the outside.
Which I find hilarious, because it took literally no effort to push it open from the inside. Couldn’t they just push the top or something? I dunno. There must be a way. They give up fairly easy in light of their one and only transport being locked inside.
Autloc appears, welcoming the servants of Yetaxa. Ian demands to be shown Barbara, but The Doctor is much more interested in breaking into the tomb, which Autloc claims is sealed (some seal).
They leave the tomb’s entrance hall place thing and run into other High Priest Tlotoxl. Susan cringes because she’s never seen a Mexican before (she said Mexican so I’m turning it right back around on her) and The Doctor and Ian agree that he’s the local butcher.
Wow. Way to judge someone.
To be fair, he looks like this.
He gets excited that he’s sacrificing someone later, just as the rains come (which Autloc knows of, because he’s the local weather man) to affirm everyone’s belief in blood sacrifices. Autloc believes that disingenuous (because he knows it will rain with or without a blood sacrifice), but moves on anyways.
The Doctor, Susan, and Ian meet Barbara, who’s now dressed all Aztecky like and impersonating a reincarnation of Aztec God Yataxa because she stole a snake bracelet from the tomb and put it on. So everyone’s giving her extra special treatment and stuff.
Also, because she’s Yataxa, Barbara apparently has to know everything or the people will realize she’s not who she says she is and they’ll have to kill her. So… yeah. Now’s her chance to be all knowy.
Tlotoxl and Autloc appear and tell Barbara about the rain ceremony that’s coming up and she grants The Doctor, Susan, and Ian the right to move freely among the people of the city, which gives Ian and The Doctor time and freedom to find out how to break back into the tomb.
No sooner have they gotten out of the throne room, though, than Tlotoxl calls on Ian to challenge Ixta, the local leader of the military, for dominance of the warrior sort so that Ian, servant of Yataxa, the god, can prove his mettle against Ixta, a mere mortal.
Ian accepts and is led to the warrior room, where Ixta trains by himself.
Ixta is bloodthirsty and eager to prove himself. Also, it’s funny because he seems to be the sorta guy who is really strong but the lights are on and no one’s home.
He fights a random guy for fun and then smashes a shield and taunts Ian for being a sissy ninny boy who hides behind his master’s shoes. Or something. I don’t know. It’s all meant to get him all riled up, but I don’t think it works.
Meanwhile, Autloc shows The Doctor The Garden of Peace and explains it as a pretty place of scents and his beautiful daughter Cameca, with whom The Doctor flirts shamelessly, finding out who to speak to about the tomb and how to break in.
And then Ian shows up, looking like some classic Aztec awesome.
Ian’s freaking out because he has to show up during the sacrifice and hold the poor soul down as he’s bled, but The Doctor insists that he do it, because there’s nothing The Doctor loves more than watching a man get bled to death.
Ha. Just kidding. The Doctor gets all prime directive and tells him not to interfere. It’s The Aztecs’ tradition. It’s not their place to say it’s wrong.
And then Susan acts like an idiot.
The Doctor arrives and kicks Susan out to make her watch the door (Ha) while he tells Barbara about the sacrifice and forbids her to stop it from happening. Barbara resists, proclaiming she’s a goddess and that there will be no more sacrifices.
Good lord, what a frakking ego trip.
The Doctor starts to lose his face at her, saying it’s not their job to change history or interfere, no matter how much they might want to. He also adds a great bit about having firsthand knowledge of that fact, which is nice and a sweet layer to his character, especially so early on.
But Barbara doesn’t listen to him, ego tripping on the fact that she is Yataxa and can do whatever she likes.
Tlotoxl and Autloc lead Barbara out to the temple foreground area place, where a man in a really uncomfortable position is ready to be sacrificed so that it will rain.
Autloc addresses the people, saying Yataxa has returned, and invites Barbara to step forward and present herself to the people. She appears and there are cheers and Tlotoxl prepares to sacrifice the sacrifice guy.
But Barbara stops him, declaring that there shall be no more sacrifices. The sacrifice gets really pissed, saying that Barbara has denied him honor and, on Tlotoxl’s bidding, throws himself off the temple anyways (which is funny cuz it’s a set).
And then Tlotoxl gets pissed. Really pissed. Really really. He demands justice because Susan cried out and tried to stop the ceremony, but Barbara would have none of it, saying that she be instead wed off.
Tlotoxl, who’s still pissed off, proclaims Barbara a false goddess and then looks at the camera and says he’ll have her destroyed.
Which… uhhh… shouldn’t we flog him for heresy or something? Cuz that’d be great. He kinda deserves it. Barbara should do it. Maybe if she wasn’t such a weak ass pacifist she could have him killed for being doubt guy.
But alas, there are three episodes left, so it can’t be so easy.
The Doctor starts to yell at Barbara for being such a fool, which is actually rather interesting, if for no other reason that you really get to see Hartnell just lose it and go completely bonkers, and this being the thing that we’ve seen push him over the edge so hard.
Barbara apologizes, but so does The Doctor, instead launching into his new plan. Now that Tlotoxl has lost faith in Barbara as Yataxa, now it’s her job to play him against Autloc and convince him that she is for real.
Tlotoxl enters and sends The Doctor down to The Garden of Peace, after which he tests Barbara’s knowledge of things. She won’t fall for it, though, and she tells him to send off for Autloc if he wants to test her knowledge.
Down in the training room, Ixta is showing off for Ian and Autloc, trying to prove how effective he is at strength and such. Ian says he prefers a more cunning and subtle approach. Ixta pulls a really sleek switchblade on Ian, but Ian says all he needs is his thumb.
Autloc is impressed, but Ixta thinks Ian is making fun of him. Ian responds by, and I screencap-
Tlotoxl enters, looking for Ixta. Much to Tlotoxl’s anger, Autloc proudly declares Ian’s thumb the victor.
Ian leaves with Autloc as Ixta awakens. Tlotoxl makes fun of Ixta for being a sissy ninny with his lack of thumb-fense (it’s defense from thumbs. That’s for all you D&D nerds out there… It’s in the next set. Be ready) and Ixta whines and bitches about how it was a cheap trick.
The Perfect Victim arrives and, because he is scheduled to be sacrificed at the next eclipse, hearing of the one who could defeat Ixta, demands a fight between Ixta and Ian, as his will is law (cuz he’s going to get sacrificed or something).
The Doctor heads back to the Garden of Peace and resumes his flirtation with Aztec MILF Cameca, convincing her to introduce him to the son of the architect of Yataxa’s tomb.
Tlotoxl comes to see Barbara, talking about the change in status quo for Barbara etc. It’s dull. No really, it is. It just makes it impossible for Barbara to see The Doctor, Ian, and Susan.
Yeah. Like she needs them. She’s a God.
Ixta seeks out Cameca, who says The Doctor wants to speak with him (as he is the son of la la la). Ixta sees this as most fortuitous, as Cameca believes The Doctor to know of many strong magicks. He gets really excited, agrees to meet with The Doctor, and spanks the stand next to him.
Elsewhere, Autloc trains Susan in the ways of being a good wife, and she knows the code of the good wife, which is good. Good for her. Yay, learning how to be a good, serving wife.
Ixta meets up with The Doctor (disguised as a jaguar. RAWR!) and agrees to provide the information The Doctor requires, but only on the condition that The Doctor help him out by providing him magicks to help win the fight he has coming up later in the evening.
The Doctor agrees and rigs a cactus thorn through a poisonous plant, planning to use that to weaken Ixta’s opponent, blissfully unaware of the what’s-going-to-happen between Ixta and Ian.
Ixta challenges Ian to a battle of hands and man-wrestling. Ian heartily accepts, so now the fights is on.
Just to make sure, though, Ixta goes back to The Doctor, who gives him the thorn and tells him to scratch his opponent on the wrist, thereby weakening his opponent.
The Doctor heads to Barbara and proudly proclaims what he’s done, but Barbara reveals that he gave the thorn to Ixta and that Ixta is fighting Ian. The Doctor has a total “Oh crap!” moment and races out to try to stop the fight.
But no sooner has he emerged from the tent than Tlotoxl, who was waiting for this, orders The Doctor’s detainment, as he has broken the law.
Barbara appeals to Autloc, saying The Doctor didn’t know of the law when he broke it. Autloc assures her of his release, but can do nothing to stop the mortal combat between Ixta and Ian.
But enough of talking about this mortal combat. Let’s see it. In action. In youtube. In glory.
Also, I love when Ian gets thorned. Talk about amazing.
So then Barbara enters, demanding that it stop. Tlotoxl says that nothing can be done and orders Barbara to try and save Ian.
Which is crazy sauce because all she should have to do is speak the words and it’s over, but alas. No. She’s left walking towards him, trying to figure out what to do.
To resolve the cliffhanger, Barbara takes a knife to Tlotoxl’s throat, demanding that he obey her. Which is badass. I approve.
The Perfect Sacrifice declares the contest ended at the behest of Yataxa and that Ixta may not claim the victory. Tlotoxl pulls Ixta aside, angry that the proud Ixta would resort to such tricks to claim victory. But no matter. He shall question The Doctor himself.
Elsewheres, Barbara attempts to convince Autloc of her divinity, saying that he needs to trust her, which he does. I guess.
Ixta awakens Ian, saying he’s spared him this time but next time won’t leave Ian so lucky. Tlotoxl enters and reveals to Ian that The Doctor was behind the poison, and Ixta boasts that he lied to The Doctor by saying he had the plans to the tomb (which he didn’t) to get what he wanted.
And I find this whole thing ironic. Here you have Ixta, who is proud and boisterous, but also talks of honor and such, but he just made a lie like that, which is pretty damn dishonorable. What a douche.
So then this Asian Aztec enters (and before you naysay, know that it’s TOTALLY the Asian Aztec. We’ll see him in a few minutes, promise!) and Tlotoxl dismisses Ian and Ixta.
But Ian stays back a bit, able to glean a portion of the conversation (that is apparently very loud), in which Tlotoxl reveals his plans to destroy Yataxa.
The Asian Aztec doesn’t want to go along with this plan, which involves poisoning Yataxa, but Tlotoxl manages to convince him otherwise, saying it’s a plan that will prove the Gods before their eyes.
In the Garden of Peace, The Doctor continues his unwitting flirtation with Cameca, who proudly shows off her cocoa beans (not dirty). The Doctor insists they drink together, despite Cameca’s protestations and doubts.
But The Doctor insists, and departs to prepare their refreshing drink.
Ian warns Barbara of Tlotoxl’s plot to destroy her, and Barbara is shocked at the people flocking to Tlotoxl’s bloodthirsty ways when men like Autloc can so clearly be against them. Ian insists, however, that most Aztecs think like Tlotoxol and that Autloc is the exception, not the rule.
They’re interrupted by the arrival of Tlotoxl and the Asian Aztec, and Ian hides, watching what’s going to happen.
Tlotoxl offers Barbara a drink, saying he’s erred and erred hard and that she is the rightful god. Should she drink, it would represent a forgiveness and communion between them.
She’s just about to drink, though, when Ian jumps out behind them and waves his arms in caution that Barbara shouldn’t drink the drink. It is probably poison.
Which is… duh? Like Tlotoxl would randomly change his mind like that? C’mon Barbara, you’re smarter than that.
Barbara turns the tables on Tlotoxl, shoving the drink in his face and telling him to drink first. Tlotoxl lets out a ridiculously unconvincing “Errrrrr…” and Barbara knows of his treachery.
She turns on her vengeance face and gets really really mad at Tlotoxl, revealing that she is not the real Yetaxa. Tlotox gets real excited, but Barbara says that no one would believe him (because few have so far), and if he tells anyone anything she’ll have him put to death.
Elsewhere, The Doctor drinks cocoa with Cameca, and she reveals that now that they have done that, The Doctor has proposed to her. And she accepts. And they shall be married.
And then The Doctor makes “Oh sh*t face”.
Tlotoxl devises a plan to break up The Doctor, Susan, and Ian and thereby weaken Barbara’s ability to do anything.
The first way is to marry off Susan to The Perfect Sacrifice. Susan refuses, but because of the nature of The Perfect Sacrifice and his ability to get everything he wants, he demands Susan be his bride.
And she can’t refuse.
First she gets a new grandmother, and now she gets a husband. Gross.
Poor Susan. Anyways. She refuses and the Asian Aztec laughs at her for breaking the law, making the punishment most severe. Autloc offers to help, but Susan cries anyway.
The Doctor meets with Ian, showing him a token of Cameca’s love which she got from the tomb. Based on her testimony, The Doctor has deduced that there is a way into the tomb from behind a stone in the garden. They just need to break in.
Which they shall, that night.
So that night, Ian (who for NO REASON is sleeping next to Ixta) gets up and runs to the garden, ready to help The Doctor break in. Little does he know that Ixta follows close behind him.
The Doctor and Ian meet up and move away the not-really-styrofoam stone tablet. With the stone out of the way, Ian ducks into the tunnel beyond.
And that’s when Ixta makes his move, moving forward and confronting The Doctor. Seeing the not-really-styrofoam stone tablet out of place (but knowing full well of the beyond), he slides it over the tunnel entrance to keep the garden from overflowing.
Or something. It makes sense. But it’s not important.
All that really matters is that Ian’s stuck inside the tunnel, where water is flowing and threatening to whisk him away.
So I’m going to youtube the opening, because it’s funny to see the existential hell that Ian’s left climbing in order to break into the tomb.
And then just like that, he manages to break into the tomb, which opens ridiculously easy from the inside. He rigs some rope so that he can use the trick in order to break in from the outside.
He heads outside and meets up with Barbara, excitedly telling her what’s happened. But then they hear someone coming and Ian hides.
The person, we find out, is The Doctor, and he’s all a flutter over the loss of Ian, who lets him sweat it out for like… two seconds and then hops out and everything is right as day.
So now that everything’s been sorted, Barbara reveals that Susan has been detained for defying the gods.
As though by providence, Tlotoxl chooses that exact moment to bring Susan to Ixta so that he’ll keep her safe. Everything seems to be going well for Ixta. First he trapped Ian in the tomb, and now he can gloat about it to Susan.
By the way, Ixta has no ability to tell a joke. Don’t believe me? This is the dialogue from Ixta at about the speed it comes.
“Do you ask yourself where Ian is? I can tell you! He is dead!”
It really happens about that fast. Guy has no sense of comedic timing. Poor guy. But on the bright side, he can swing a mean club. Or something. Maybe he has a redeeming quality maybe.
Or not. In less than an episode’s time he’s about to drop into Doctor Who obscurity.
And that’s when Ian decides to make his heroic rescue of Susan. He easily knocks Ixta unconscious and drags Susan back to the TARDIS.
Back at the temple, The Doctor and Barbara discuss history, and Barbara acquiesces to letting history run its course. Which is… random. Let’s be honest. She gave up that battle way fast and with very little provocation.
The Doctor preps the rope to pull open the temple door, but when they try to pull it, it breaks. A minor setback, but alas. Ian decides to attempt to re-open the tomb from the inside, except this time they’ll use Susan, because she is more expendable.
Meanwhile, now that “Yetaxa” has all her cards back, Tlotoxl attempts to break faith in another way: by destroying her relationship with Autloc.
He goes to Ixta and presents him with Ian’s club, telling him to attack Autloc in the Garden of Peace during Autloc’s meditative morning stroll. Then, he shall leave Ian’s club behind as proof of Ian’s treachery.
Good lord. What what a ridiculous plan. Seriously. That’s so stupid. Like Yetaxa would have her people strike down her only ally or, even if she did, that her servant WHO IS SUPPOSEDLY A GREAT WARRIOR would leave the murder weapon behind.
Good god. It’s like they’ve never seen CSI.
Regardless, Susan and Ian arrive at the Garden of Peace in order to break into the tomb, only to stumble across the knocked-unconscious Autloc. Ian finds his club and realizes he’s been setup. They try to get away, but they are apprehended by guards and such.
Ixta runs forward and conveniently describes the supposed attack in great detail, and when confronted with how he could possibly know all that, he retorts “That club is Ian’s! What other proof do you need!”
Huh. Guess that did work. Especially because Autloc renounces his beliefs in Yetaxa.
Now everyone’s against Barbara because the evidence is “so compelling.”
Man. This culture needs some “CSI: Tenochtitlan”.
Barbara manages to convince Autloc that she meant him no harm and that even if Ian did attack him (which he so clearly didn’t), it was not on Autloc’s orders.
Down in the Garden of Peace, The Doctor finishes constructing the wheel pulley he’s been whittling (because The Aztecs don’t use wheels?). Cameca appears and reveals that she knows the wheel will take him away from her.
The Doctor is sad to say it, but yes. It is true. He breaks up with her. She cries. He forgets her in the next serial.
Autloc arrives to comfort her and bequeaths her with his possessions, saying he’s going to go walk the earth like Caine from Kung-Fu. The object he gives her will distract Susan’s captors long enough to get her to steal Susan away to the temple.
Tlotoxl delivers the news to Barbara, laughing that her one ally has decided to desert her because of an existential crisis and loss of faith.
Cameca does her job of distracting the guard long enough for Ian to knock him out. She pulls Susan away to the temple and Ian starts to take off the clothes of the unconscious warrior.
The Doctor sets up the pulley as Susan and Cameca arrives. Cameca asks to come with The Doctor (moving on), but he stands firm.
Ixta comes across the knocked-unconscious guard and kills him and he and Tlotoxl race to the temple to begin the ceremony.
Asian Aztec (who is set to become the new High Priest of Knowledge) holds Barbara under detainment as they wait for the ceremony to start. Little is he paying attention, though, to the guard who’s set to watch over them.
And because of the mystery and intrigue, I think it’s time for another youtube.
So now that they’ve retreated into the TARDIS, Tlotoxl sour grapes them, satisfied that they’ve retreated to where they came from. The sun eclipses and Tlotoxl sacrifices the Perfect Sacrifice and the sun uneclipses.
In the tomb, Barbara removes all of her ceremonial garb, reflecting on the fact that they’ve failed. The Doctor responds that they had to. It wasn’t even an option.
Nothing’s changed, and the one person who might’ve made a difference, the one person she had the ultimate respect for, departed to go hang out in the wilderness at a complete loss of faith.
The Doctor points out that while that’s true, at least she saved one man. And that’s all that matters.
The TARDIS dematerializes, and they head off.
Final Thoughts?: So this serial is shockingly not bad. I was tentative about this one. There's a quality of old Doctor Who to be extended history lessons and science lessons, but I very much enjoyed the way this one was handled. It was quite educational without being childish and in your face about it.
In terms of thematics and plot, I think the show also succeeds. The dichotomy of Tlotoxl and Autloc is at the very least terribly interesting, and the relations between Barbara and Tlotoxl really are interesting, especially in relating to the Aztecs themselves and their culture.
All in all, it's definitely a worthwhile story and I'm glad I got to experience it, which is lucky because I was so close to just not. Definitely deceptive. Definitely a good time.
Next Time!: 5th Doctor! Daleks! Odd cliffhangers! And tons and tons of Star Wars influence. And I mean lots and lots and lots. Also: best Dalek destructions so far? Possibly. Just see what's up next Tuesday when we kick off Awesome August with "Resurrection of The Daleks!"