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 2: The Warriors of Death
Last time, the TARDIS stranded our heroes in 14th Century Mexico. Barbara was mistaken for the Aztec god Yetaxa, Ian got drafted, and Susan got carted off to religious school. As for the Doctor…well, he got to hang around the pleasure garden, flirting with one of the aging residents, so he’s doing alright.
Barbara also stopped a ritual involving human sacrifice, drawing the hatred of high priest Tlotoxl.
Needless to say, the Doctor’s none too happy about that and launches into his best Capt. Picard.
“You can’t rewrite history,” he tells her, “Not one single line.”
It’s a really good scene that gives Hartnell the chance to really cut loose, while adding some much-needed moral responsibility to their adventures. Prior to this, they’ve just sort of bounced around doing whatever they wanted, history be damned, so it’s nice to get some sense of their actions having consequences.
Afterwards, the Doctor apologizes for being so harsh, which is also a nice little touch. Not so long ago, the thought of the Doctor apologizing for anything was next to impossible, but now that the group has tightened, he’s falling into more of a Grandfather role.
Since Tlotoxl is now their sworn enemy, the Doctor stresses the importance of keeping the other high priest Ortlock on their side.
As this is happening, Tlotoxl struts right in during their conversation, and when Barbara demands an explanation, he counters with, “I proclaim myself only to my gods.”
That more or less sets the tone for the entire episode, with Tlotoxl playing bitchy cheerleader to Barbara’s popular new girl.
Meanwhile, back in another part of the temple, Ian and Ixta are still fighting over the right to lead the Aztec army. By this point, it’s pretty well established that Ian is the group’s man of action, but this time around, the show catapults him to the status of full-blown badass.
When Ixta tosses a spear into the wall, an unimpressed Ian counters, “Real enemies can hit back.”
Later, in the same conversation, Ian says, “I won’t kill you this time, not this time Ixta.”
It’s pretty fantastic, Jason Statham dialogue delivered by a milquetoast high school science teacher.
Finally, after a great deal of chest-thumping, Ian just holds up his thumb, claiming it’s all he needs to beat Ixta.
One Vulcan neck pinch later, Ixta is on the ground unconscious and Ian is strutting away. “Tell him to have a good rest when he wakes up,” he says on his way out. Fantastic!
When Ixta does wake up, Tlotoxl is right there, goading him into a bare knuckle contest with Ian at sundown.
Meanwhile, the doctor’s back in the garden of peace, trying to charm the secrets of the TARDIS’ resting place out of his new friend Cameca.
Cameca sets up a meeting him and the son of the tomb’s architect, who just so happens to be Ixta. Twist!
At this point we finally catch up with Susan at the seminary where Ortlock is quizzing her on The Code of the Good Housewife, which includes such gems as: “Do not spend recklessly” and “Keep clean your pot and soup pan”.
After forcing her to learn pages 1 through 40 of the misogynist’s handbook, Ortlock drops another little gem on her, casually revealing that she’s to be the subject of an arranged marriage.
Considering what she’s just been studying, this probably shouldn’t come as much of a shock, but Susan loses it, loudly proclaiming, “It’s my life. I’ll spend it with whom I choose, not someone picked out for me.”
Then, Ixta shows up for his meeting with the Doctor and since first impressions are very important to him, he wore his best leopard.
Ixta says he has a map of the tomb and that he’ll exchange it if the Doctor can provide him an advantage for an upcoming fight.
Doc creates a knockout toxin for him by soaking a needle in the juices of a local plant. Only problem is, Doc doesn’t know the opponent is Ian.
Everyone gathers together for the big showdown.
The fight begins and Ian goes on to dominate the Aztec warrior in every way. I don’t know what was going on in London High Schools circa 1963, but whatever it is left Ian remarkably suited to 14th Century combat.
As the fight draws it its end, Ixta scratches Ian with the poisoned needle. Ian starts to waver, then just as Ixta is on the verge of killing him, Tlotoxl wanders over to Barbara and insists that if she really is a goddess she’ll be able to save Ian’s life. Fade out.
The show is making some pretty big strides with this story arc. For the first time, the Doctor feels like the lead character rather than a guest star in his own show. He’s got real dimension and gets to do a lot this episode, showing off his intellect with Ixta, playing the charmer with Cameca. Hartnell seems to be having much more fun with the role too, playing him as a kind of mischevious schemer.
Most of the other characters rate pretty well here too. Barbara’s moral struggle is interesting and Ian’s sudden transformation into a swaggering badass is pretty fun. Susan doesn’t really get to do much this time, but even she gets her brief moment of empowerment. Looking forward to seeing where we go from here.
Next episode: The Bride of Sacrifice, which doesn’t sound too good for Susan.