Defining the Doctor: The Aztecs

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Guest contributor Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull begins a new series looking at the stories that define each Doctor.

Before I begin my comprehensive analysis of The Aztecs, I thought it would be best for me to introduce you to this new series, Defining the Doctor. Through the next eleven months, we will be counting down to the grand Fiftieth Anniversary in November and in this series I am going to do just that. From the First incarnation of the Time Lord, William Hartnell to our current, Matt Smith, I will explore the stories I feel define each Doctor and also give a look at the stories I’ve chosen. I hope you are satisfied with my choices and so we begin all the way back at step one in Season One with…

The Aztecs (1964)

To me, Barbara Wright was always such an interesting companion; probably one of my favourite of the original three assistants. She, compared to Ian and Susan, showed gaping flaws in the latter two’s characters. Susan was always too naïve for me and this innocent child of Gallifrey stood out to me to be a bit toady. Her departure left me deadpan and aloof, Susan would not be missed in my eyes and I was thrilled when Ian and Barbara stayed on for more. Ian was the muscleman of the foursome and often performed feats that the elderly Doctor was incapable of doing. He was also a bit clownish at times but one trait I loved most in him was his abiding fondness for Barbara. In The Crusades, Barbara is shanghaied by Saracens and Ian journeys to find and retrieve her. The chemistry between the two Earthlings fizzes at many intervals but never rises to anything of substance. Barbara to me, always seemed to have the best reason to join the TARDIS. Her fascination with history was evident from early into An Unearthly Child and stayed with the character until her departure. The Aztecs proved to be her best story and Hartnell at his true zenith.


William Hartnell always seemed like an unhappy child in the layout of the stories he starred in. He would arrive and be initially crabby but then, as the episode panned out, he would slowly begin to enjoy himself and at some point, crack a couple of jokes. The Aztecs is a suitable example for this attitude and the First Doctor really seems to blend into his surroundings. His betrothal to Cameca was a hilarious but ultimately sad subplot and a cute relationship for the First Doctor to be in. Surprisingly enough, this was the first human that the Doctor ever expressed romantic attraction to (a tradition that would begin in The TV Movie with the Eighth Doctor and Grace Holloway all the way through to the Eleventh Doctor’s Amelia Pond). Cameca and the Doctor’s relationship was more serious than you may believe and she really felt shackled to the Time Lord. He declined for her to “stay by his side” i.e. travel in the TARDIS with her and she was agonised. She left him… yearning for him to “think of me”. I feel that she should join the list of companions that never quite made it, examples are Madame de Pompadour and Lynda Moss. Cameca was the love the Doctor lost and he truly knew it.

With only six episodes in, Hartnell had really sunk into the role and his superb mixed acting palette meant we got different sides of the eponymous alien. The scene in which the First Doctor discourses Barbara on the problems of meddling with time is tremendously well scripted and Hartnell added a superlative performance that made the gloomy atmosphere feel even darker. Barbara’s stubbornness and justification that abolishing human sacrifice in the 15th century was wise showed a new development in her characterisation and another layer of attitudinal being.


Ttotoxl was a nice change of villain, differing from the rubbery Voords of the preceding episode The Keys of Marinus and the way he was written showed that there were more sides to his story. This may be too abstruse but I think there was more to the bloody butcher than portrayed on screen. He was a deeply religious man whom sought the peaceful entombment for former priestess Yetaxa. When Barbara came along and began aping the clergywoman, he was furious as many would be if they were so dedicated to their belief. What he did was justified at times but his attempted execution of Ian was just plain evil, and the character whom I tried to sympathise with, reverted to his cutthroat persona. As the story progressed he became more of a savage and nasty creature, menacing every word and creeping around the temple, commanding his henchman Ixta to kill whomever he wanted.

The Doctor and Barbara have two standout moments: before entering the tomb in The Day of Darkness and before they enter the TARDIS to depart. The former was a brief moment of victory for the Time Lord but he does not traditionally rejoice. Instead he nurtures his companion as she admits defeat over attempting to change history. Before the pair clamber into the TARDIS they share a minute of reflection when Barbara mournfully says “what is the point of travelling through time and space if they can’t change anything”. The Doctor reassures her that even if she didn’t alter Aztec culture, she successfully changed Autloc’s (the High Priest of Knowledge. He exiled himself after the situation spirals out of his control. He also had a special fondness for Barbara and resigned his position as High Priest) life. Acknowledging this, Barbara and the Doctor enter the time machine and embark on another adventure.

In conclusion, The Aztecs was a fine, historical drama that first introduced the all-important rule of time: no meddling. Barbara took centre stage as she tried to change an Aztecan civilisation, whilst Ian bucked up as the TARDIS crew’s hardman. Susan was continuing rather naively but didn’t especially alter the plot and got some nice moments alongside other wise Aztecs.

The First Doctor shone gloriously throughout and I felt that this story mixed all of Hartnell’s traits: anger, joy, wisdom, irascibility, humour and most importantly, his adoration and love of his companions.