Weighing in at an impressive 800 episodes, Doctor Who has been entertaining audiences for the past 50 years. Yet, despite this vast backlog of content, I know next to nothing about the actual series. For that reason, I’ve decided to watch this unusual show from the beginning, to discover the source of its unique appeal. Come with me as I tackle this daunting sci-fi phenomena from the very beginning in The Complete Doctor Who.
Warning: the following contains spoilers.
Doctor Who: Serial 6 The Aztecs, Episode 1: The Temple of Evil
Hey everybody, welcome back. Quick confession before we get into the action, this is actually the first Doctor Who episode I ever saw. Long before I began this project, my curiosity drove me to Netflix and this very serial. At the time I remember thinking it was kind of a bore. Watching it again though in the context of the series, I realize it’s actually a huge step forward for the show.
Here we get the show’s first flirtation with theme and, even though the story isn’t exceptional, the fact that it’s trying to say something makes it go down much easier than some of the more disposable adventures we’ve had so far.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The episode begins with a brief shot of the TARDIS escaping the planet Marinus, then coming to rest in a small stone room.
In researching the show, I learned it was originally pitched as an educational program, with the Doctor’s time travel serving as a means to educate viewers about important people and places throughout history.
Apparently some of that mandate stuck around, as Barbara and Susan emerge from the TARDIS and immediately engage in a thinly-veiled history lesson.
“All these things belong to the Aztecs early period.”
“Cortés landed in 1520, didn’t he?”
The lesson ends when Susan discovers a large stone door that opens to the touch. Barbara steps through it alone, where she’s immediately discovered by the Aztec high priest Autloc.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew finally pads out of the ship. Susan shows them the door and they all go through, realizing too late that it locks behind them. Yup, we’re roughly two minutes into this thing and they’ve already managed to lose the TARDIS. They really ought to start leaving someone behind to guard the damn thing.
After discussing their predicament, they too are discovered and brought into the presence of…Barbara sporting a pretty fantastic new wardrobe.
Seems Autloc believes her to be the reincarnation of the god Yetaxa, which, by extension, makes the rest of the crew her divine servants.
We’re also introduced to Tlotoxl, High Priest of Sacrifice. If you consider yourself a bad judge of character, fear not, because the show posits him as the episode’s obvious villain from the very first frame. There’s scarcely a moment where he isn’t leering like a madman, shouting his lines, or frothing at the mouth.
The problem with impersonating a god is that sooner or later people are going to start putting you to the test. Sure enough, as the story progresses, Barbara’s “servants” are recruited to serve in a variety of unpleasant ways.
First Ian gets whisked off by Tlotoxl to lead the Aztec army.
This puts him in contention with the army’s current leader Ixta, who is less than pleased by the prospect of competition. Eager to prove his superiority, Ixta displays his battle prowess with some of the most poorly choreographed fighting ever put on film.
After this brief bit of chest-thumping, Ian learns that there’s a human sacrifice taking place later that day and he gets the honor of escorting the man to his death.
And what about the Doctor? Looks like he drew the long straw this week as he gets sent off to the garden of peace, a kind of proto retirement home where aging Aztecs go to live out their remaining days. Guess for once it pays off being old.
While there, he meets Cameca, a female resident of the garden who he begins subtlely pumping for information about the tomb where his ship is held.
Then Ian shows up in full armor to tell him about the sacrifice.
Here’s where things get interesting. Despite their obvious disgust at the custom, the Doctor insists that Ian absolutely cannot interfere.
Then the Doctor returns to Barbara to fill her on what’s happening. He gives her the same lecture against interference, but Barbara’s having none of that and decides to use her power to end human sacrifice altogether, reasoning, “If I could start the destruction of everything that is evil here, then everything that is good would survive.”
Sure enough, a short while later, Barbara and crew get paraded out for the sacrifice.
Susan steps in and interferes. Barbara backs her up by trying to ban the practice, which immediately backfires when the sacrifice himself begs her to reconsider, stating that by sparing him he is robbing him of honor.
When she refuses, he runs over to the wall and promptly throws himself over the side.
Then, to make things even worse, it immediately starts to rain, making a pretty compelling case for the sacrifices to continue.
Needless to say Tlotoxl is less than pleased and demands that Susan be punished for her interference. Barbara points out that Susan didn’t understand the rules, to which Tlotoxl snaps, “Then let knowledge be beaten into her,” which I believe was a short-lived educational slogan from the late 30s.
He wants her killed, but Barbara offers to have her sent to the seminary to learn about their culture.
This sends Tlotoxl into full on supervillain mode, staring directly at the camera as he vows to destroy “the false goddess”.
Overall, a pretty decent episode. For once the characters feel like a natural part of the story, with each of them given something to do. The moral dilemma’s pretty cool too. Obviously a twentieth century school teacher’s not too keen on human sacrifice, but as the Doctor points out, you can’t rewrite history. It introduces a real moral gray area to the proceedings while grafting a sense of responsibility onto their trips through time.
Next up, The Warriors of Death