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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 516 > The Aztecs

The Aztecs

In the empire of the Aztecs, Barbara becomes a god, Ian fights for his life, Susan prepares for marriagea and the Doctor gets engaged!

The Fact of Fiction

Scratching beneath the surface of Doctor Who’s most fascinating talesa

What’s the point of travelling through time and space if we can’t change anything?” despairs history teacher Barbara, as she and her friends at last depart the doomed Aztec Empire. The Doctor consoles Barbara with the thought that thanks to her influence, Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge, has chosen to find another faith, rather than blind devotion to hideous Huitzilopochtli. But a fat lot of good any other faith will do one man alone in the wilderness, when Tlotoxl, High Priest of Sacrifice, is at that very moment about to plunge his hand into the ripped-apart chest of yet another victim, and tear out his still-beating heart to the cheers of the rest of the Aztec nation. Given that Tlotoxl isn’t an historical figure, what’s most striking about The Aztecs is that, as the undoubted villain of the piece, he receives no kind of comeuppance. Writer John Lucarotti might so easily have contrived to have Tlotoxl stabbed with his own bloody knife; or to have Tlotoxl make a desperate dash under the closing door to Yetaxa’s Tomb, only to end up crushed to death beneath it. But no – Tlotoxl ends The Aztecs in triumph, his position unassailable.

So it’s not unreasonable for Barbara to ask the question: what is the point of The Aztecs, if our heroes don’t change anything? What she doesn’t see, however, is what the Doctor does after his companions have entered his TARDIS; he chooses not to replace the brooch given to him as a love token by the noble lady Cameca, and takes it with him instead. Why? Perhaps because, although he hasn’t changed the Aztecs’ world, living in the Aztecs’ world, however briefly, has changed him… just a little. Just like it’s changed Barbara, evidently; just like it’s changed Ian and the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, too.

What’s the point of travelling through time and space if you can’t change anything? To change yourself, Barbara. That’s the point.

The TARDIS departs planet Marinus… and soon, lands inside a tomb. Stepping out, history teacher Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) points out a skeleton laid out on a slab to Susan (Carole Ann Ford).

■ As with the last-but-one story Marco Polo (1964), there’s no direct link between the end of The Keys of Marinus (1964) and this new adventure – a pity, since Barbara and Susan exiting the ship only to see a skeleton in bling would have made a fantastic cliffhanger!

■ It’s a real skeleton, incidentally…

The ornamental mask covering the skull belonged to a priest of the Aztecs’ early period – circa 1430, thinks Barbara, who idly places a serpent bracelet around her wrist.

■ Stage directions stated: ‘A mask of the Sun God covers [the priest’s] skull.’ In his Target Books novelisation (1984), Lucarotti has Barbara elaborate: ‘“It’s an Aztec mask of Quetzecoatl, the Sun God, who was driven into exile by Huitzilipochth [sic], the God of Darkness…”‘

■ Yetaxa’s mask was a direct copy of an original Aztec item seen by designer Barry Newbery in the British Museum – one of the so-called ‘Turquoise Mosaics’, an ornately decorated human skull with eyes of polished pyrite. The skull doesn’t represent Quetzecoatl, however; rather, it’s believed to represent another god, Tezcatlipoca. It remains in the museum’s collection to this day: tinyurl.com/YetaxaMask

■ “All these things belong to the Aztecs’ early period,” says Barbara, authoritatively. At the time of The Aztecs’ production, historian GC [George Clapp] Vaillant’s Aztecs of Mexico: Origin, Rise and Fall of the Aztec Nation (1944) was a standard work on the subject. The 1430 date given by Barbara sits bang in the middle of the 1403-55 range that Vaillant (1901-45) gave for the ‘Early Aztec III Period’ – covering the rise of the city of Tenochtitlan and the organisation of the so-called ‘Triple Alliance’ between Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan (the alliance on which the Aztec Empire was founded).

■ When republished by Pelican in 1965, Vaillant’s volume bore a cover depicting the same mosaic mask used as the model for Yetaxa’s.

■ The Aztecs were one of Barbara’s specialisms, we learn – and indeed, in the first episode of The Keys of Marinus, she’d compared the construction methods used in an alien pyramid to those of “the Indians of Central and Southern America”!

When the Spanish land here in Mexico, continues Barbara, they’ll find a civilisation dependent on human sacrifice – and destroy it, the good as well as the bad.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: · An exclusive interview with the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker · DWM asks what the casting of Jodie Whittaker means for the future of Doctor Who. · Go behind the scenes with monster makers Millennium FX, with never-before-published imagery from the making of the last series. · DWM talks exclusively to former showrunner Russell T Davies about his illustrations for the forthcoming collection of Doctor Who poetry, Now We Are Six Hundred. · Nicholas Briggs reveals the secrets of giving voice to the Cybermen. · Discover new information about a classic adventure as the 1964 First Doctor story The Aztecs goes under the spotlight in The Fact of Fiction. · DWM pays tribute to the late Trevor Baxter, who played Professor Lightfoot in 1977's The Talons of Weng-Chiang, with contributions from Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Christopher Benjamin, Lisa Bowerman and more. · A brand-new comic strip adventure continues for the Doctor and Bill The Parliament of Fear, written by Scott Gray and illustrated by Staz Johnson. · A sneak preview of the forthcoming book on the history of Doctor Who in the USA: Red, White and and Who. · Legendary guitarist Hank Marvin talks about his latest recording – the Doctor Who theme! · Previews, book and audio reviews, news, the Watcher's column, prize-winning competitions and much, much more.
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