The Aztecs were, in my understanding, a warrior nation with a very rich culture. I have always kind of imagined them as a more violent version of the Mayans. Clearly, my education in Central and South American Indian nations was a bit lacking. No fear, however, Dr. Who is here to shore up my knowledge. The Aztecs is the second history/education based story and is, I think, more valuable as such than Marco Polo. That may simply be a side effect of being able to watch the actual episodes.
In short, the travelers land inside a tomb or temple of some sort. Which is unfortunate, because had they landed a few yards to one direction, there would have been no doubt about their status as gods. They walk outside, but realize that they get back into the tomb due to the gigantic stone door. The Aztecs, in the middle of a power struggle between the peaceful priest and the human-scarifice-hungry medicine man, confuse Barbara for a goddess and therefore her friends are treated, for the most part, pretty well. Until her divine status is questioned of course. Then, it’s a mad scramble to open the tomb and get back to the ship.
The education of this story is centered, once again, on Barbara’s historical knowledge. We learn about the Aztecs’ human sacrifice and the general structure of their society. What I thought was interesting, though, was that Barbara tried to change their society. This is another instance of the travelers attempting to impose their own values on those they encounter (the Thals). This time, Barbara tries to prevent the human sacrifice under the assumption that eliminating such barbaric activities will help to preserve the civilization. The Doctor, much more experience in time travel, tells her that she cannot make any changes, even if she tries. Just like in Lost, if it didn’t happen, it can’t happen. Despite our heroes’ attempts to affect others’ cultures, this seems to be an indictment of such ethnocentric beliefs. So, not only do we have a historical lesson, but a moral one as well.
Our education is not limited to history and morals, however. We also get a bit of physics. Not from Ian, of course. He is too busy learning how to fight Ixta, the mighty Aztec warrior. Like his strange relationship with Marco Polo, Ian once again finds himself sleeping in very close quarters with Ixta. After being poisoned during a battle with Ixta, Ian becomes smart enough to warn Barbara of the same fate. Anyway, the physics. The Doctor, in a stroke of genius, decides that he can open the gigantic stone door through the use of a pulley. We witness his contruction of the wheel and his description of how the pulley works. Science education, clearly an intention from the who’s inception is most obvious here.
Speaking of the Doctor, we see a bit of humanity in him. The Senstive Doctor shows his face and it’s rather refreshing. He unwittingly becomes engaged to a lady that has taken a liking to him in the Retirement Garden where he spends most of his time whittling his pulley. The doctor comes off as compassionate and kind, something that has been lacking in his character thus far. There is actually a bit of genuine romance present in his interaction with the woman. It would be nice to see this portion of his personality developed a bit more. Susan is also engaged to be married. Here is another comment against arranged marriages. What is it with the show’s writers?
Overall, The Aztecs was a pretty average story. It stuck to the formula and didn’t really do much for me, although the educational aspects were a nice addition.
Some Questions: Do we ever get more of the Doctor’s human side? Does Ian ever teach us about science, since it’s kind of his job? Do the travelers ever stop trying to interfere with the lives of those they visit?