Today, we look at The Aztecs, a famous serial and Josh’s favorite of the Hartnell era. Are its awkward brownface and excessively clothed Aztecs dealbreakers, or is all that outweighed by the Doctor’s first love interest, Barbara’s steely determination and Ian’s hilarious chicken outfit?
Daleks Aren’t Robots!? is a podcast in which two Whovian friends take two non-Whovians on a deep dive through the show from the very beginning.
Theme: Garage – Monplaisir
What we showed Kari: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ysa7jRW-B7w
Podcast Contents Include
Editor’s Note: The following are my original notes for the podcast, slightly edited for readability. They’re very far from the full contents of the pod, though. – Kari
The Tardis lands in an Aztec tomb, and the group can’t get back into the tomb once they leave it because the door shuts. Barbara is mistaken for the reincarnation of Yetaxa, an Aztec god-priest. Luckily, the Aztecs are one of her academic specialties and she can play along and stall for time. Things get political, but fire-free, when Barbara tries to stop human sacrifice, Ian wears a Battle Chicken outfit, and the Doctor gets engaged, but in the end they find a way back into the temple AND the TARDIS, and escape.
- The Aztecs. There are a lot of them, and many receive some characterization, good or bad or some of each. I have read a little bit about the Aztecs but not a ton, so I don’t know how accurate it all is, but while there is a little bit of smugness about how “civilized” they aren’t compared to the Doctor and his time traveling team, it’s honestly not as bad as I thought it was going to be.
- The Doctor gets a LOVE INTEREST! It’s Cameca, an Aztec wise woman who gives good advice to others and knows a lot about botany. She’s very intelligent, pretty, age-appropriate, really keen on him, and while initially it appears he’s just buttering her up to get help back to the TARDIS, he keeps the token she gave him when he leaves. She even manages to get engaged to him, though it’s an accident on his part.
- There are two baddies, an evil high priest named Tlotoxl, who I mostly called Evil Priest, and Ixta, a warrior that Evil Priest sets up as Ian’s enemy. Evil Priest is SUPER over the top and just chews every speck of scenery ever. He doesn’t believe Barbara is a reincarnation of Yetaxa, and sees the strangers as political threats to his power. Ixta wants to command the armies instead of Ian.
- There’s also a good priest, Autloc, who does believe Barbara is Yetaxa, and even when he’s not sure, he’s generally presented as a decent person. In the end he loses his faith and goes to wander in the woods, which is sad, and it is presented as such.
- The setting is earth! And an actual place in actual history.
- There are multiple sets for multiple locations in this episode, and both the sets and the costumes look pretty good for the most part, apart from the hilarious Battle Chicken Ian and the Puma Man outfit Ixta wears.
- However, all the outfits include pants, which is hilarious. These are the most clothed Aztecs who have ever existed.
- They are also, apparently, all white. Yikes on trikes. >.<
- Susan really gets the short end of the stick in this episode. She’s in a tent going to Aztec school for much of the episode, and then imperils the party by not agreeing to an arranged marriage with the next sacrificial victim due to die in a couple days. He honestly didn’t seem that bad, I’m not saying she should have agreed but she didn’t even try to stall for time by asking to think about it or anything. Susan’s not this dumb, show! This is getting frustrating!
- Barbara is the queen of this episode, successfully pretending to be an Aztec priest-goddess.
- Not only that but she heads straight for the corpse of Yetaxa to investigate it, identifies where and when they are and lets no one push her around. At one point Evil Priest tries to gatekeep her by asking her about Aztec cosmology but she knows all the answers.
- Her motive throughout is preventing the Aztecs from sacrificing people, which for some reason she thinks will stop Cortez from destroying their entire civilization (which is absolutely not correct). She’s really upset when it doesn’t work, because she genuinely loves the culture. Again, a lot less smugness than expected, and they end up not interfering in the indigenous culture (though not from lack of trying).
- Ian gets a surprisingly large amount of fighting in this episode, most of which is cheesy and should have the Star Trek fight music playing while it happens. He also gets to wear an INCREDIBLE bird warrior outfit that has feathers everywhere and he looks like an overgrown Pokemon. BATTLE CHICKEN ATTACK! Also Ian can do the Vulcan nerve pinch!
- The Doctor gets to woo Cameca, who is presented as pretty wise and daring herself, and he was very flirty. I could ship it, it’s a shame she’s probably not going to come back.
- The Doctor also gets at least one comeuppance, when he is deceived into helping Ixta in his fight against Ian, providing some knockout juice to slow Ian down. And at one point he actually DOES apologize to Barbara, a real apology.
- But he also turns out to be right in his conflict with Barbara and Ian at the beginning. They CAN’T stop the sacrifices; the societal inertia and religious practices are too much.
- Speaking of which, the Doctor is TOTALLY willing to let people be sacrificed in this episode. Zero issues with that, yet again.
- The show is really really reaching already for reasons they can’t get back to the TARDIS. And at the end the TARDIS breaks again. It’s got the same downtime as the transporters on Star Trek, it seems.
- They still haven’t fed it. Couldn’t they have gotten a leg or an arm from the Perfect Victim? Surely the Aztecs could spare ONE limb for a hungry time machine!
- The Doctor had his first romance on the show, and almost ended up getting married. His eyes almost fell out of his head when he found out he was engaged, but he couldn’t leave Cameca’s ornament behind.
- Aztecs DVD commentary.