"I think a little horticulture might go a long way..."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 2 of The Aztecs. First aired May 30 1964.
IN THIS ONE... Tlotoxl's schemes makes the Doctor inadvertently help Ixta win a battle against Ian, a battle that is suddenly to the death!
REVIEW: Another great piece of writing from John Lucarotti. The Doctor gives Barbara a harsh talking-to, possibly harsher because she's put Susan in danger, but still manages to narrow the divide between them. Barbara bounces back in time to verbally spar with Tlotoxl, a task she is more than equal to. Ian's first match with the warrior Ixta, one he wins with his thumb, is also witty, but I do wish there'd been a reference to having learned it in China or something. As it stands, it comes a bit out of nowhere, and is never really seen again. But they spent so much time in Marco Polo's company that it really should be assumed that's where he picked up his various fighting skills, including swordsmanship and, as seen here, pressure points. Surely, the National Service doesn't train you in all those things(?). The Doctor has a nice scene with Cameca, and seems quite taken with her. Is she one of those singular women a Time Lord could love? In some ways she reminds me of Madame de Pompadour, wise beyond her ken, and someone who sees through to his soul and here declares him "young". As for Susan, Carole Ann Ford is on holiday this week, but the character appears in a pre-filmed bit at the Aztec seminary. The scene is a simple one, divorced from the main plot, but it does showcase Autloc's kindness as he helps her recite her lessons (though shouldn't Susan's memory be better than this?), as well as infuse more historical flavor by exposing Aztec values (also see Theories).
But while the dialog and various scenes are well done, the real writing tour de force is how Tlotoxl manipulates our heroes. He makes Barbara/Yetaxa cut herself off from her friends, while simultaneously setting a trap for the Doctor by not telling him the new rules. He suggests the Perfect Victim order a second match between Ian and Ixta. More clever yet is how the Doctor is made to work against Ian in that second match. At every turn, what the characters don't know ends up hurting them. It's a great use of the splitting up trope and puts Tlotoxl far above Lucarotti's other creation, Tegana. The slack plot of Marco Polo made Tegana the guy who'd get foiled every week. Tlotoxl, on the other hand, benefits from a tightly constructed script, and actually achieves his goals. It's not how he'll be foiled, but how the characters will be able to get out of the situations he's successfully put them in.
The flaws are again due more to production than the writing or actors. Oh the look - those outlandish costumes and that beautiful garden - and the percussive, exotic music are excellent, but the camera work is still a little bumpy, and the fight... As I've said, fights will never be Doctor Who's strong suit, especially in these "done like a stage play" days. The set feels too cramped for the action to play out (does the armory double as the kitchen?) and the moves are slow and awkward. Still, playing this as more of a wrestling match does eliminate some of that. Though it's more heroic to have Ian fight the battle rather than a guest-star like Marco Polo, it does mean that the Aztecs' greatest warrior has trouble holding his own even with a poisoned school teacher. Ixta's near-desperation in trying to prove himself doesn't speak very highly of the Aztecs' martial culture and skill. The episode ends with Ixta's cheating exposed and Tlotoxl ranting and claiming the duel is now to the death, and everybody just stands there. In those final seconds, the direction fails the episode... or perhaps everyone is either intimidated by the High Priest of Sacrifice, or just stands dumbfounded, unable to process what's happening.
THEORIES: Perhaps it's a Lucarotti obsession, but in this, his second story, Susan reacts once again to the idea of an arranged marriage. It's a cute exchange between her and Autloc, but is also informed by her feelings towards Ping-Cho's arranged marriage. So why is she still surprised this goes on in ancient societies? Or his her outrage more fundamental. Her claim here that she'll choose her own mate is given so much importance that it's made me wonder... How DO Time Lords choose their mates? When we finally see Time Lords, they'll be a rather unemotional, ceremonial race. Arranged marriages wouldn't seem outside the real of possibility. Could it be that the Doctor is escaping Gallifrey to save Susan from this fate? It's never explored, though the way her story ends may support the theory.
REWATCHABILITY: High - Schemes within schemes within schemes, and all very well written and featuring an engaging cast of characters. Any weaknesses are purely cosmetic.