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The Doctor Who Exegesis - The Aztecs

By Craig Young

Yes it's time for another analysis of the historicals, mainly because yours truly got lumbered with them by Scheib.

Ah well ... the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan materialize in Mexico c1430, so we get a chance to listen to moralisms about the nasty Aztec custom of human sacrifice. (And I suppose the Conquistadors behaved like a pack of Boy Scouts ninety years later?)

Anyway the first page of this effort starts off with Ian musing about an aerospace facility in the 1980's (which he and the others never visited in the tv series. This must have been an unrecorded adventure ... So why didn't Ian and Barbara jump ship when they were back to somewhere like present-day Earth? Thatcher?)

Ian seems resigned to the fact that the TARDIS is acting up again, and is described in the text as a scientist - no, he's a science teacher, John Lucarotti, remember? Quite coincidentally, Barbara happens to be a dabbler in Aztec history. Just a minute then, why is she a schoolteacher when one assumes she could have found a lucrative job somewhere, judging from her knowledge of the period displayed here?

It comes in quite handy because lo and behold, two Aztec priests pop up and hail her as the reincarnation of the High priest Yetaxa (since deified after death and the attractive Aztec woman Cameca falls in love with the Doctor. Barbara is trying to rearrange things slightly so that the Aztecs will resist Cortez when he comes along.

Macho man Ian becomes engaged in a duel when one of the priests starts becoming suspicious about Barbara. He apparently knows the martial arts. Where did he learn them? I wonder if it's Venusian Akido, that consequence of an unrecorded visit to a future terraformed Venus.

A few problems with the Aztec social structure pop up when we encounter Susan, who's being groomed for an arranged marriage. Let's see - the priests accept Barbara as a reincarnation of Yetaxa despite her gender, Cameca seems to have a high enough place. A feminist historian is what's needed at this point.

Physical combat is enjoined, Susan puts her foot in it and is scheduled for human sacrifice. Barbara is learning that her position and the inevitability of history are preventing her from making the necessary reforms and the psychological costs begin to take their toll. There's an amusing scene where Ian fossicks in the TARDIS for rope ... and can't find any!

Several more scrapes later which I can't be bothered reporting because they seem to have been introduced to unnecessarily complicate and prolong matters, Barbara accuses the culture of schizophrenia. How does that translate into the language and philosophical context of Aztec society? Never mind, though, the Doctor's psi-related translation abilities somehow does the job again.

Hilariously, one of the priest's then discourses on ... Christianity?? Wait a mo', there are the myths of St Brendan the Navigator - except he's supposed to have made landfall in the north-eastern part of America, far away from Mexico.

Eventually our heroes find that the Aztec social structure will not change that easily and so a depressed Barbara, brattish obnoxious Susan and Ian all depart with the Doctor, leaving a broken-hearted Cameca who has been successfully romanced by the Doctor.

Does this historical work? Some of the anachronisms are wince making. Fortunately there aren't all that many of those. Even so this time the need for an educational role seems to have been badly handicapped by the narrative flow and I'm afraid that I found the persistent complications and scrapes surplus to requirements. We are told at the onset that history can't be changed, so the outcome never really seems in doubt. Barbara certainly comes across well in this one ... unlike Susan whose impetuous ingenue role tends to grate after a while. Ian really has nothing to do, except act as body to the Doctor's brain. Also note the Doctor's romantic attachments this time. Certainly a departure from his usual asexual image.

This item appeared in TSV 12 (March 1989).

Index nodes: Exegesis, The Aztecs