THE AZTECS

The Temple of Evil

My hope that Sue would soak up this episode in revered silence is dashed within seconds, mainly because we get embroiled in two very tedious discussions. Well, tedious to me, at least.

Sue: Why have they decided to visit the Aztecs? I thought Ian and Barbara wanted to get back to 1963?
Me: They’ve arrived here by accident.
Sue: Why?
Me: Well, the TARDIS doesn’t work properly.
Sue: Really? I didn’t know that. I thought the Doctor had fixed it. So when does it work properly? It seems to work all right in the new series. I thought the Doctor could go anywhere he liked?
Me: Er, well, it takes him a while to fix it, or at least figure out how to use it properly. It’s debatable. In fact, if you keep your eye on the Doctor, you’ll see him fiddling with the TARDIS all the –
Sue: DAVE? Is that DAVE?

Yes, Tlotoxl has turned up and Sue is convinced that The League of Gentlemen must have based Papa Lazarou on him (it isn’t impossible, I suppose).

The AztecsMe: It’s actually Penny’s dad from Just Good Friends.
Sue: Is there something wrong with his back or is he walking like that on purpose?
Me: He’s doing a Richard III.
Sue: Not a Young Frankenstein?
Me: Not unless the production team are time travellers as well, no.
Sue: So, why are all the Aztecs speaking English?

Here we go. Why it’s taken her until now to question why everyone speaks English (including Thals, Voords and cavemen) is beyond me, but there you go. I can either tell her to wait until the 1970s for an explanation, or I can give her the official line now. Sadly, we end up debating this during one of Hartnell’s very best moments, and she doesn’t hear his passionate warning to Barbara about interfering with history. Not one line.

Me: It isn’t stated on-screen until years later, but the TARDIS translates languages telepathically. Look, this was a plot point in David Tennant’s first episode, which you’ve definitely seen.
Sue: Like a Baffle Fish.
Me: Yes, exactly like a Baffle Fish. Very good.

Look, my wife is trying to drop references to The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy in the middle of a black and white episode of Doctor Who – you try correcting her.

I have to fill in some of the important details we missed due to this diversion (“I thought the Doctor interfered with history all the time?”), and Sue concedes that the plot is a step up from last week.

Sue: It’s more believable – I’ll give it that. It’s just a shame that everyone looks ridiculous.

However, when Tlotoxl looms menacingly into the camera – after an incredibly bleak moment where Barbara saves a life, only for the intended victim to kill himself anyway – Sue reckons it’s the best cliffhanger yet.

Sue: Now that’s what I call scary. Do you think Russell Brand has seen this?

 

The Warriors of Death

Before we watched this episode, I made Sue sit through a short DVD extra which featured Valerie Singleton giving a 1970s Blue Peter audience a potted history of the Aztecs. As a result of this, Sue is now convinced Tlotoxl is underdressed compared to the real thing and we can move on.

Sue: The direction is much better than last week. It’s much more dramatic and thought out. The acting is a big improvement, too.
Me: What about Hartnell? Don’t you think he’s great in this?
Sue: I’m sorry but I don’t think I’ll ever like William Hartnell. I just don’t get him. He’s all over the place. It’s as if he’s playing a completely different character in every scene he’s in. He still hasn’t worked out how to do it yet.

The AztecsAs if to punctuate her complete indifference to the lead character, when the Doctor enjoys a delightful moment in the garden with Cameca, my wife decides to fixate on Ronnie Wood lurking in the background instead. She has a point, though. It is pretty weird.

As Ian and Ixta fight to the death, Sue doesn’t understand why Ian doesn’t use his magic thumb again (“He’s copying Dr Spock!” – look, cut her some slack, she’s watching a black and white episode of Doctor Who) and when the Doctor accidentally helps Ixta drug poor Ian (not content with supplying the drug in the first place), Sue doesn’t hold back.

Sue: He’s a bloody liability!

 

The Bride of Sacrifice

Sue enjoys the romantic subplot between Cameca and the Doctor, and she laughs in all the right places. When the penny drops (reader, he married her) and Hartnell is framed in a wildly comic close-up, she can’t help but compliment him.

The AztecsSue: Hartnell should have played more comedy roles. He’s actually very good at comedy.

The scene where the Doctor’s granddaughter rebuffs the Perfect Victim generates even more praise.

Sue: Susan actually sounded like a real person for a change. If you give her stuff to do, she’s actually very good. The problem is I keep expecting her to throw a childish tantrum. She isn’t consistent. In fact, the only consistent characters in this programme are Ian and Barbara.

Unfortunately, it isn’t long before the Doctor annoys Sue yet again.

Sue: He’s just using that poor woman. He’s leading her on. What a git!

As Ian and the Doctor search the gardens for the entrance to a hidden tomb (“I’ve never seen the Doctor move so fast; he’s almost proactive”), Sue tries to make a virtue of the show’s limitations.

Sue: Ah, bless him. Ian is trying really hard to make that slab look real, even though it’s obviously made from polystyrene.
Me: It’s Jablite, actually.
Sue: Stop pretending you know anything about building materials, love. Remember who built the house you’re sitting in. And Jablite is polystyrene, you idiot.

 

The Day of Darkness

Sue watched vast chunks of the final episode in complete silence. She stopped asking questions, she stopped pointing out the cosmetic flaws, and she started biting her nails.

When Cameca realises the Doctor is going to leave her, and she still does everything in her power to help him escape, Sue is almost moved, although she still harbours doubts about the Doctor’s sincerity and integrity.

Sue: Why doesn’t he take her with him in the TARDIS? She could be another companion. Take her with you!

Interestingly, she doesn’t question the Doctor’s ability to have a relationship because he’s an alien, she simply sees him as a bit of a flirt who used his charm to get what he wanted. The swine.

The AztecsMe: How bleak was that? They didn’t win! Tlotoxl gets his way and the Aztec civilisation is doomed. And Autloc – the only good guy in this story – has been banished to the wilderness, and that sounds pretty fatal to me.
Sue: You could remake this story today. It would look spectacular.
Me: If they remade this story today, the Daleks or the Cybermen would be involved.
Sue: Oh yes, there are no aliens in this – I didn’t even notice that. I suppose that makes it more educational. I like that aspect to it.

As our heroes prepare to leave, the Doctor takes the brooch which Cameca gave him and leaves it on the tomb. And then he has second thoughts and slips it back into his pocket, at which point Sue makes an involuntary ‘Aww’ noise.

Sue: So he really did care about her after all.
Me: Don’t tell me you’re actually warming to him?
Sue: A bit… A bit.

 

The Score

I take a deep breath as Sue sums up.

Sue: That’s the best one so far. The story was interesting, and fairly believable, and everyone was trying really, really hard. I don’t think I’ll ever want to watch it again, but it was pretty good. For its time.

7/10

What a blessed relief. Sadly, we all know what’s coming next, and it hasn’t even been vidFIRED yet. Pray for us.

 

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Comments

  1. Rob Ritchie  February 10, 2011

    Loving this experiment very entertaining and as for the next story… my prayers are indeed with you both.

  2. Perry Armstrong  February 10, 2011

    Well-deserved marks for ‘The Aztecs’, and I think Sue’s comments about Hartnell’s flair for comedy bodes well for ‘The Romans’ (not to mention those scenes of intimacy between Ian & Barbara!).

    As someone who is genuinely rather fond of ‘The Sensorites’, I’ll be particularly interested to hear her views on that one. If nothing else, I suspect ‘stroppy Susan’ might earn a few points.

  3. Matthew Marcus  February 10, 2011

    Good on Sue! I knew she’d come through. She’ll be going to conventions dressed as her favourite Doctor before the year is out.

  4. Fuschia Begonia  February 11, 2011

    We started watching the Aztecs once, but got distracted by something newer and shinier. We also started working through from the beginning, and got distracted, too.

    I think I’m with Sue. I adore Ian and Barbara has her moments but Susan can be really irritiating and Hartnell’s Doctor is a git. Still, I suppose I should be a good little Whoer and get on with wading through them; if Sue can do it, so can I.

  5. Jess  February 11, 2011

    Baffle fish? BAFFLE fish?

    This is brilliant – and Sue is heroic, even if she doesn’t know her Baffles from her Babels.

    (Cheering from the Antipodes….)

  6. Frank  February 11, 2011

    Thank God for that! I’ve been on tenterhooks for days and I didn’t sleep very well last night not knowing if Sue would diss ‘The Aztecs’ or not.

    Loved the ‘jabolite is polystyrene, you idiot’ moment and the brief background to Sue The Builder. I think we know who wears the trousers in that house

    But clearly the dramatic power of the story won out and she enjoyed it.

    Or you’ve made the whole thing up and in fact Sue is strapped into a chair and is being force fed classic Doctor Who in a bizarre version of the Ludovico Technique while oscilloscopes and tracers record all the data for your blog entries and you drop eye drops into her clamped open eyes as John Ringham looms up on the screen.

    I think I need a lie down…

  7. Nick Lawton  February 14, 2011

    This is the funniest blog I’ve ever read.

  8. TDHO  August 26, 2011

    Howdy from over the pond. Got a link to this over on Gallifrey Base, and it’s been entertaining so far. I love that your gal Sue enjoyed the Aztecs, but what really struck me was that she seems to subtly become truly engaged with the early series in this one. Even though she’s found Hartnell to be heartless, and Susan to be what Susan was written, she’s embracing the early concept now and, like me, has really enjoyed Ian and Barbara. Possibly the finest duo of companions in the whole of Who.

    Becoming an avid reader, so thanks to you and your beloved for this experiment. It’s been mighty entertaining thusfar. Sorry for posting on such an early episode this late, but this one hit me enough to coment.

  9. encyclops  February 23, 2012

    My girlfriend and I finally got around to watching this one together. I hadn’t seen it in probably 20 years, and of course she’d never seen it. I’m afraid she didn’t warm to it at all, and only partly because she’s of Mexican heritage and it struck her as racist (as well as dull).

    I do think it has its strong points — I particularly love Barbara’s adroit roleplaying as a goddess — but I see what she means. I’m assuming we’re supposed to see this as a struggle between a civilization’s noble side and its savage side (and almost every civilization has both), but the savage side gets a LOT more airtime. Tlotoxl doesn’t HAVE to be played as a hunchbacked mustache-twirling villain, but he is, and yes, it’s memorable, but also absurd. And maybe I just don’t know my history well enough, but I can’t quite see how any change in the Aztecs’ religion would have altered their fate vis-a-vis Cortez the Killer. Still, it could have been a lot worse.

    • DPC  April 15, 2013

      GREAT points.

      History is a thorny subject (the amount of thought put into the Romans and Greeks and purported claims makes a whole argument of its own) and I can definitely see how it can be racist – the writer of the story writing it based on his knowledge, or lack thereof (and using inference to make up what is not known)… the story really could be racist, but so was Cortes – and he did interfere with the Aztecs and did far worse racist things against the Aztecs… Cortes would likely have enslaved the Aztecs and forced his version of Christianity on them regardless of how nice the Aztecs would come across… so now I just made myself racist against Spaniards, at least those with the mindset Cortes had (shove Christ down their throats or cut them off, which is quite ironic)…

      …though Barbara’s belief that things could be better was precisely what WHO needed, because it’s a show about time travel that could have something approaching an educational slant if the creators tried hard enough. Indeed, “The Time Meddler” takes that concept of meddling and has much fun playing with it, taking out much controversy in the process… but I wouldn’t necessarily call it educational either…

      Hawking ultimately had it right – “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority… and science, which is based on observation and reason.”

      • John G  April 15, 2013

        I really don’t see The Aztecs as racist – to me, it is just a brilliantly written and acted piece of drama that doesn’t resort to crude moral judgments. Barbara may think that she will help the Aztecs against Cortes by making them abandon human sacrifice, but I don’t think John Lucarotti intends the viewer to think that, it is just part and parcel of Barbara’s deluded if noble attempts to change the course of history and save a civilisation that she greatly admires. For me the great power of The Aztecs is that we can see Barbara is deluding herself, but at the same time you can’t help but admire the nobility of her intentions, which does give her inevitable failure a tragic quality.