"You can’t rewrite history - not one line!"TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 1 of The Aztecs, a story available on DVD. First aired May 23 1964.
IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands inside an Aztec tomb, and the priests of the temple take Barbara for a goddess. She means to use her new-found power to save the culture from itself.
REVIEW: Watching the episodes in order has revealed Barbara's interest in the Aztecs, dispelling what might have been a complaint about how a school teacher would have such an arcane subject as her specialty. She obviously loves and admires this culture, and gets easily swept up in events. So the only real complaint I might have about this episode is the bumpy camera work. That's it really. After the B-movie that was The Keys of Marinus, The Aztecs' cod Shakespearean historical drama is a breath of fresh air. The script is witty, but writer John Lucarotti also makes it about the good and the evil of the culture. What Susan calls "beauty and horror, developing hand in hand" can be seen in the Autloc/Tlotoxl divide (as well as in Cameca/Ixta). Though there are dangers in this environment, the real dilemma facing the characters is a moral one. To impose modern values on the Aztecs or not, to respect their traditions but be complicit in murder, to deceive them or risk losing access to the TARDIS forever. Interestingly, not all the characters are on the same side (the Doctor, of course, takes history's part, and he convinces Ian to do the same, though it doesn't sit well with him).
Susan's about to get shuffled off-stage for a couple episodes, but she's good as Barbara/Yetaxa's handmaiden here. Ian is enrolled into the army, though he must face his rival Ixta in battle eventually (and ok, another minor complaint would be the slowly paced fight between Ixta and another warrior, but Doctor Who was never very good at this sort of thing). The Doctor is pragmatically trying to get the plans to the temple to retrieve the TARDIS, but might very well be taken by the lovely and wise Cameca. And Barbara must navigate between the "local butcher" Tlotoxl and the High Priest of Knowledge Autloc, who has little appetite for sacrifices. (See also Theories.) So we've got characters inserted into different levels of society so as to better explore them.
The costumes and sets are gorgeous (and Ian finally gets out of his Chinese costume), and it's really too bad they weren't shot in color, as the few color production photographs prove. As with Marco Polo, Lucarotti injects a lot of local flavor, from respect for the elders, to the authentic weapons, to the "cartoon" pictograms. Aztec names are a little difficult to pronounce and Ian has trouble with them - the characters haven't read the script. Either because of the ornate text or John Crockett's direction, the episode has the feel of a stage play, even going so far as to give Tlotoxl an aside directly to camera at the end. John Ringham is like Richard III in that role, creeping around, hunched and reptilian, though in fact, he's a culturally-motivated character. He's a danger to Barbara and doubts her divinity, but he's RIGHT! She's a threat to his way of life and a liar! It's all part of the moral paradox imbued in this story. Do the TARDISeers have a responsibility towards the past, and what is the nature of "evil" in other times and cultures?
THEORIES: The most discussed line in the whole of the first season is probably the one quoted above. The Doctor is adamant that you can't rewrite history, but does he mean that it's impossible to do so (and Barbara is just putting herself in danger needlessly), or that it SHOULDN'T be done (because the damage to history could be important)? Obviously, the rules of the Whoniverse have rarely been coherent, and different paradoxes have caused different effects, and sometimes history has been resilient enough to resist changes. I will submit that history CAN be changed (because we see it happen often enough after this), though the episode seems to support the other theory. For example, when she stops the sacrifice, the victim commits suicide. Barbara hasn't changed a thing. Resilient history? But let's look at the Doctor's words again. After the classic line, he gets a haunted look in his eyes and says "Barbara, one last appeal: what you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know, believe me, I know." Now again, we have the idea that it's just not doable, but that "I know, believe me, I know" seems to say more. Is the Doctor on the run because he tried to change history (or did change history), and is being sought by the Time Lords for punishment? No onscreen mention of this occurs at his trial in The War Games, but it may be true nonetheless. Changing history is possible, but retribution from the Time Lords makes it risky. They might even undo the damage you've caused if their function is to protect the timeline. The Doctor might or might not care whether this ancient Earth culture lives or dies, but he probably doesn't want to alert the Time Lords to his presence by letting one of his companions cause an anomaly.
REWATCHABILITY: High - A beautifully designed and literate first chapter that deals with the very real ramifications of time travel, both its elation and its pitfalls.