The Aztecs: The Temple of Evil
First Broadcast May 23rd, 1964 @ 5.15pm (7.4m viewers)
The early seasons of Doctor Who do not often get the credit they deserve for the wonderful historical stories they managed to produce. Dictated by creator Sydney Newman’s desire to make the show educational as well as entertaining, historical stories became the core of William Hartnell’s tenure as the Doctor. ‘The Aztecs’ is a particular highlight. It would be a brave production team even nowadays to attempt to bring a convincing 15th Century Mexico to the screen, lest of all in the restricting confines of a television studio but somehow they managed it through brilliant set design and stunning costumes.
Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)
You can’t rewrite history. Not one line!
Any science fiction programme which features time travel must at some point approach the subject of changing history. Doctor Who has since introduced the concept of fixed points in time, where things must always stay the same, and the episode ‘Father’s Day’ demonstrated what can happen when history is changed even in a seemingly small way. This story approaches the subject by stating categorically that historical events must not be meddled with. It is the first time really that the Doctor is presented as not just a traveller but a careful watcher, like a documentary filmmaker he feels that he should not interfere, implying that he can see or at least comprehend the potentially catastrophic effects which may disrupt the timeline. Sometimes of course, he does interfere, to protect the vulnerable in a battle against the evils of the universe, a decision which would catch up to his Second incarnation. In this adventure however, he realises that changing the destiny of the Aztecs would irreparably alter the course of human history, being very clear to Ian and then Barbara that they must not interfere.
The episode opens with Barbara and Susan exploring the Aztec tomb inside which the TARDIS has materialised. Immediately we get a sense that this is one period which history teacher Barbara has a genuine passion for, demonstrating her detailed knowledge on the subject. She also seems hurt that most of the Aztecs great achievements are overlooked because of their penchant for human sacrifice, telling Susan that “that was only one side to their nature. The other side was highly civilised” and describing their destruction as a tragedy. From this scene we understand her reasoning for trying to dispense with these gruesome rituals, believing that the Aztec civilisation will thrive and flourish without them. Her desire to inflict modern sensibilities on an ancient culture proves disastrous and threatens the safety of all the travellers. The sacrificial offering himself is also outraged at being robbed of his moment and so flings himself from the tomb to his death. This conflict of ideologies adds a tremendous level of intrigue and drama to an educational tale about the Aztecs civilisation, making it perhaps the best historical story ever made for Doctor Who.
Doctor Who – William Hartnell
Barbara Wright – Jacqueline Hill
Ian Chesterton – William Russell
Susan Foreman – Carole Ann Ford
Autloc – Keith Pyott
Ixta – Ian Cullen
Cameca – Margot van der Burgh
Director – John Crockett
Producer – Verity Lambert
Writer – John Lucarotti
Also First Aired On This Day…
- Inferno : Episode 3