The Aztecs was the sixth story of season 1 of Doctor Who. It was the first story to address the issue of altering the course of history, and the first to involve a romantic subplot concerning the Doctor.
“The Warriors of Death” was the first episode of the program recorded at BBC Television Center, following a pitched battle on the part of Verity Lambert and several allies for better studio accommodations. The move to Television Center was brief, though, since the production team had to return to Lime Grove Studios by the end of the serial.
Episode 1: Temple of Evil
The TARDIS crew arrive in Mexico in the 15th century in the inner sanctum of an Aztec tomb. Barbara and Susan leave the TARDIS first and begin to explore the crypt. Barbara, whose specialist knowledge is on the Aztecs, finds a bracelet and absentmindedly puts it on. Susan finds a door in the wall, which Barbara goes through. Susan goes back to the TARDIS for the others. Barbara is met by a man who, thinking she is a trespasser, fetches warriors. When the warriors come for her, however, he sees the bracelet on Barbara’s wrist and his opinion changes.
When the First Doctor and Ian go through the trap door, they find Barbara gone. Even more worrisome, once all of them are through, the door closes behind them and refuses to open. The Doctor says that it would have been built to allow the gods out, but not allow grave robbers in. Soon the man that accosted Barbara returns and introduces himself as Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge, and says that Yetaxa seeks an audience with them. The travelers go to meet this deity. On their way they encounter the High Priest of Sacrifice, Tlotoxl. When the travelers are taken to Yetaxa they are surprised to see that it is Barbara. Once they are alone, she explains that as she was wearing Yetaxa’s bracelet when she was captured, the Aztecs believe her to be a reincarnation of the deceased high priest, and therefore a god.
Barbara demands the Aztecs give the Doctor and Ian free run of the civilization. Although they agree, Tlotoxl has ideas of his own. He convinces Autloc that Ian should be the leader of their army, to which Ian begrudgingly agrees. While Ian goes to meet Ixta, his rival for command, the Doctor is taken to the Garden of Peace. Here he meets Cameca, a local sage and philosopher, of whom he quickly becomes very fond. This does not stop him from smooth-talking her into a meeting with the son of the designer of the temple Topau, to find a way of retrieving his TARDIS from the center of the tomb.
Ian meets up with the Doctor again and says that in order to prove himself to Autloc and Ixta, he needs to escort the person to be sacrificed to the god of rain to put an end to a drought. Ian is reluctant, but the Doctor says that he has to do this to not blow their cover. The Doctor tells Barbara of this, and Barbara refuses to allow it. She believes that if she stops human sacrifices, the Aztecs will not become extinct and will live on as a better civilization. The Doctor tells her that she cannot change history. Barbara remains obdurate. Just before the sacrifice takes place, Barbara puts a stop to it. Both Ixta and the first victim are outraged. The sacrifice, furious that he has not had the chance to prove himself, is encouraged by Tlotoxl to throw himself from the top of the tomb, which he does. The rains soon come. Triumphant, Tlotoxl says that this proves that sacrifices are necessary. Barbara denies this, and says that sacrifices shall no longer be practiced. This infuriates Tlotoxl, who vows that he will unmask Barbara as the fraud that she is.
Episode 2: The Warriors of Death
The Doctor berates Barbara for interfering. Tlotoxl now suspects that she is not a real god, and Susan has been taken to a seminary after her outburst. However, the Doctor soon brightens up when he recounts to Barbara his encounter with Cameca and the chance he could learn more about the construction of the tomb. Meanwhile Ian and Ixta are practicing for their showdown. Ian is irritated by Ixta’s boasting, and states that he could kill Ixta with just his thumb. He soon proves this by applying his thumb to a pressure point at the back of Ixta’s neck that renders him unconscious. Tlotoxl enters to this sight and is shocked to see that Ian is gaining the upper hand over his favored candidate. Autloc says that as Ian has disarmed Ixta, he is the rightful commander of the Aztec army. Desperate to prevent this, Tlotoxl convinces the next human sacrifice, the Perfect Victim (whose last days are spent in total control of those around him), to order that another, more equal contest be held. This is agreed to. Tlotoxl offers Ixta untold riches if Ian is killed in their battle.
Meanwhile in the Garden of Peace, the Doctor and Cameca share stories and flirt. He convinces her he should meet the son of the tomb’s designer by saying that he is only called the Doctor because he is “a scientist, an engineer. I’m a builder of things.” When Cameca leaves to ask the son, it is clear that the Doctor is smitten by her. Tlotoxl visits Barbara and warns her that he is getting more people to believe that she is not the real Yetaxa. He begins to question her on knowledge of their ways, but she counters that such should be done by the High Priest of Knowledge. He says that Autloc will question her later. Until then she is confined to the tomb. To tease her, he tells her of the fight that is to take place between Ian and Ixta. This clearly distresses her.
Ixta is elsewhere, practicing for his fight. Cameca visits him and tells him the “older servant of Yetaxa” wishes to see him. Realizing the Doctor doesn’t know his name or his rivalry with Ian, he will meet him and try to destroy the travelers from within. All this time Susan has been receiving tutoring from Autloc and Tonila on how to be a good wife; whilst successful in learning the kowledge, she struggles with some of the more antiquated views of a woman’s role in this society.
Ixta goes to the Garden of Peace to meet the Doctor. He says he would love to show the Doctor some drawings that his father made of the tomb, but he is to be in a fight that evening and he must do well. If he loses, he will be dishonored and not allowed to speak with anyone for days. The Doctor suggests that they can help each other. The Doctor goes to a plant he has been studying and draws a pin through it. Presenting it to Ixta, he states that one scratch from this needle will render his opponent weak and unable to fight anywhere near his true capability. Ixta accepts this gratefully and says that he will meet the Doctor there the following day.
At the tomb, Autloc questions Barbara on why she deems it so important to stop the sacrifice. She claims to prophesy the downfall of the Aztec civilization with such barbaric acts of butchery. This affects Autloc. She asks to Autloc to see to it that the fight between Ian and Ixta remains a non-fatal one, as it was intended to be. Later the Doctor goes to visit Barbara, who immediately tells him he should not be there. She is supposed to be in isolation whilst she is being questioned. However, the Doctor has enough time to recount his encounter with Ixta, only for his pride to be spoiled when Barbara informs him that Ian is the adversary the Doctor has aided Ixta against. As the Doctor leaves the tomb, he is arrested by Tlotoxl for talking to Barbara. Barbara demands that the fight between Ian and Ixta not go ahead, but Tlotoxl insists that this is something that cannot be quibbled about.
The fight between Ian and Ixta begins. Ian is clearly winning until Ixta scratches him with the needle. As he flags, Ixta strangles Ian. Tlotoxl bays for Ian’s death whilst Autloc says that Yetaxa forbids human sacrifice. Barbara tries to break up the fight. Tlotoxl says she should not have left the tomb, but then states that if she is truly Yetaxa she would be able to stop the fight herself. An unsure Barbara approaches the pair of men.
Episode 3: The Bride of Sacrifice
Barbara responds to Tlotoxl’s demand by unsheathing his knife and holding it to Tlotoxl’s neck, saying that if the fight continues she shall kill Tlotoxl. Tlotoxl reluctantly stops the fight. Back at the tomb, Barbara further tries to convince Autloc that the ritual of sacrifice is one that will soon see the end of the Aztec civilization. She seeks his support in stopping the coming sacrifice.
Tlotoxl finds the Doctor in the Garden of Peace to ask why he gave Ixta the needle that would weaken Ian. The Doctor says that he didn’t know who Ixta was fighting, and that he did it to get the plans of the tomb. He convinces Tlotoxl that the only way for him to prove if Yetaxa is real is by also finding his way into the centre of the tomb. Back at the scene of the fight, Ixta wakes Ian and tells him what has happened. He is more amiable with Ian now, assured that, come the next fight, he can beat him. Tlotoxl asks Ixta if he can see the plans that he promised the Doctor. Ixta informs him there never were such plans. He was using the information that Cameca gave him to get the draft from the Doctor. As Ian and Ixta leave, Ian overhears Tlotoxl trying to convince Tonila that the only way to prove Yetaxa a god is by poisoning her. If she dies she is a fake, but if she lives she is a god, as poison would not affect her. Tonila seems convinced by this argument.
In the Garden of Peace, Autloc asks Cameca why she has been so happy of late. Cameca confides in him that she is in love with the Doctor and intends to get him to drink cocoa with her, an Aztec symbol of committing to marry someone. Cameca spills the cocoa beans she is holding in front of the Doctor. Unaware of the symbolism, he asks her to join him in a cup of cocoa. Meanwhile, Ian sneaks into the tomb to warn Barbara that Tlotoxl is plotting against her and her plans to save the Aztec nation are futile. She had earlier thought that all Aztecs were like Autloc and that Tlotoxl was a bad apple. In reality, he tells her, it is Autloc who is the exceptional man, while the rest of the society feels as Tlotoxl does. This conversation is interrupted by Tlotoxl and Tonila, who present Barbara with wine in the guise of friendship. Ian, who has hidden behind a column when the men came in, gestures to her not to drink it. Barbara asks Tlotoxl to drink first. When he refuses, Barbara denounces it as poison and throws the cup to the ground. She shouts at Tonila to leave, and then confides to Tlotoxl that she is indeed a fake, but that if he tells anyone she will get the Aztecs to destroy him.
At the Garden of Peace the Doctor and Cameca are sharing their cocoa when Cameca says that she is happy they are getting married. The Doctor is shocked. Meanwhile Autloc and Tonila are talking about Susan’s impressive progress as their student, but they recount the headstong ideals she holds about a woman choosing whom she wishes to marry. Tlotoxl overhears them and decides to use this against Barbara in order to unmask her as a fraud to the rest of civilization. Again he enlists Tonila to help him.
Later that day, during Susan’s studying, Tonila brings the Perfect Victim to her, who demands that Susan marry him. She refuses. Tonila jumps on this defiance and says that Susan must be punished for such a breach of conventions. Back in the Garden of Peace, Cameca shows the Doctor a brooch that belonged to Ixta’s father, with whom she was once in love. She says that it was found in the Garden of Peace, from whence he went missing years ago.
Tlotoxl and Tonila tell Barbara that someone has been defying conventions. According to the law she must be punished. Barbara reluctantly agrees, anxious not to further blow her cover. Whilst this is happening, the Doctor goes to Ian to show him the brooch that belonged to Ixta’s father, who he suspects had escaped into the tomb. He plans to find out if there is a secret entrance anywhere. Ian says he’ll meet him at the Garden of Peace that night. The Doctor also tells Ian about his “fiancée”, which Ian finds most amusing.
Autloc goes to see Barbara and says that he plans to stand with her in her objections to sacrifice. This pleases Barbara, but her joy is short lived when he informs her that the person to be punished is Susan. Barbara says that both the sacrifice and the punishment have to be stopped. Autloc is unsure, asking Barbara whether she would sacrifice the civilization to spare one girl pain.
Later that night, Ian sneaks out of his dormitory to meet the Doctor. He is followed by Ixta. When they get to the Garden of Peace, the Doctor has discovered that one of the panels in the wall can slide. Ian slides it away and goes in. He leaves the Doctor behind, saying it might be too dangerous. Whilst Ian explores the passage, Ixta shows himself. Feigning ignorance that he saw Ian go in, he tells the Doctor that the stone must be put back. It forms part of a dam. Unless the stone is replaced the garden will be flooded. He does this, much to the Doctor’s discomfort, as inside the water begins to puddle around Ian’s feet.
Episode 4: The Day of Darkness
As the water rises, Ian finds a loose slab over his head which he moves aside. He crawls through tunnels and finds his way back to Yetaxa’s tomb and the TARDIS. He ties a rope to an ornament on the door and opens it, bringing the other end of the rope with him to leave some purchase to open the door later. Barbara is shocked to see him as he exits the tomb. As she questions him as to how he got there, they hear someone coming. Ian hides. It is the Doctor, worried that Ian has been killed. Ian reveals himself and shows the Doctor his plan for getting back into the tomb. Ian decides to free Susan from the warriors so they may leave. Meanwhile, Tlotoxl is congratulating Ixta on his murder of Ian and tells him that he must guard Susan. Susan is brought in to him. Ixta tells Susan that he killed Ian; Ian, approaching him from behind, knocks him out and escapes with Susan.
When Ian and Susan return to the tomb, the foursome try to open the door but the rope breaks. Meanwhile, Ixta has regained consciousness and an irate Tlotoxl berates him for his loss of Susan. Worried that Autloc will take Ian’s seeming resurrection as yet another sign of Yetaxa’s powers, Tlotoxl has Ixta frame Ian by using Ian’s club to knock Autloc unconscious and put the blame on the travelers.
To gain access to the tomb again, Ian returns to the hatch in the Garden of Peace. He takes Susan with him to watch for others. When they get there, they find Autloc unconscious on the ground. Ian finds the club and realizes he’s being set up, but it is too late. Ian is arrested. As Autloc regains consciousness, he proclaims Yetaxa a false goddess.
With his plan falling into place, Tlotoxl plans with Tonila a way of getting rid of Barbara. He will lock her away in a room during the eclipse so that those around them think that she vanished. Meanwhile in the Garden of Peace the Doctor is making a pulley to open the door. Cameca says she will do anything for the Doctor for Ian to be saved. He says that the only thing that might help is by Autloc going to talk to Barbara.
Barbara convinces Autloc that it wasn’t Ian. However, he says that the situation is out of his hands. He can find a way to free Susan, but not Ian. After his talk with Barbara, he goes to the Garden of Peace. He is in a state of confusion and doubt of his faith. He gives Cameca his badge of honour, symbolizing his position as High Priest of Knowledge, his house, and all his possessions. He asks her to give it to Susan’s guard as a bribe to liberate Susan. Autloc leaves to go into the wilderness.
As the Doctor and Susan put the finishing touches on the pulley system, Tlotoxl tells Barbara that the sacrifice is preparing outside. Tlotoxl also tells her that Autloc has left forever, and that there is no hope for her friends. Meanwhile, Autloc’s plan to free Susan works better than expected. While Cameca shows the guard the badge, Ian uses the distraction to knock him out. Susan escapes with Cameca and Ian takes the guard’s head dress as a disguise.
Tlotoxl lays out his plan to Tonila. He says that if it works, Tonila will take over from Autloc as the High Priest of Knowledge. Back at the tomb Susan is reunited with her grandfather and Barbara. The Doctor thanks Cameca and they say their goodbyes to one another. Cameca gives the Doctor a seal to remember her by.
Tonila finds the guard unconscious and a furious Tlotoxl orders Tonila to kill him. Tlotoxl rushes off to ensure that the travelers do not disrupt the sacrifice. As the sacrifice begins, Tlotoxl, blinded by rage, tries to kill Barbara. Ian stops him, and Ixta and he fight. Ian kills Ixta by throwing him off the top of the tomb during the fight.
By this time, the door has been opened and the travelers escape through it. Tlotoxl watches them go and then performs the sacrifice. Hearing all this, a desolate Barbara asks what the point of travelling through time and space is if they can’t change anything. The Doctor reassures her that even if she hadn’t changed a civilization, she changed Autloc’s life and made him see the truth. Barbara goes back into the TARDIS. The Doctor is about to leave Cameca’s seal behind, but turns back to pick it up again.
Later in the TARDIS the Doctor looks bemused and tells his companions that half of his controls are telling him the TARDIS is stationary and the other half that it’s moving. Ian wonders if they have landed on something; a worried looking Barbara asks if they could have landed in something.