The Aztecs (Doctor Who)

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006 – The Aztecs
Doctor Who serial
Aztecs (Doctor Who).jpg
Ian and the warrior Ixta fight to the death atop a pyramid.
Directed by John Crockett
Written by John Lucarotti
Script editor David Whitaker
Produced by Verity Lambert
Mervyn Pinfield (associate producer)
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Richard Rodney Bennett
Production code F
Series Season 1
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Date started 23 May 1964
Date ended 13 June 1964
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Keys of Marinus The Sensorites
Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)
Doctor Who episodes (2005–present)

The Aztecs is the sixth serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 23 May to 13 June 1964. It was written by John Lucarotti and directed by John Crockett.

The serial sees the mysterious time traveller the Doctor (William Hartnell), his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford), and teachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) arrive in Mexico during the Aztec empire. Barbara becomes mistaken for the goddess Yetaxa, and accepts the identity in hope of persuading the Aztecs to give up human sacrifice. The Doctor warns her about changing history.


The TARDIS crew arrive in Mexico in the 15th Century. With the TARDIS trapped in a tomb, Barbara is mistaken for a female reincarnation of the ancient high priest Yetaxa, and assumes her guise and identity. From her new position of power, Barbara sees her chance to bring an end to human sacrifice. She sees the good side of Aztec culture manifested in Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge, and the gruesome side embodied in 'the local butcher', the High Priest of Sacrifice, Tlotoxl. As something of an expert on this period, she sees how advanced their culture really is and believes that if sacrifice were abolished, they would be spared destruction at the hands of the Spanish. The Doctor's urgent warnings that Barbara cannot change history fall on deaf ears, much to his fury.

The bloodthirsty Tlotoxl begins to suspect Barbara is not Yetaxa returned, especially because she is trying to ban human sacrifice. He sets a series of elaborate traps for her and her companions. For example, Ian has been compelled into the military and fights the strongest warrior, Ixta, to prove his ability to command the Aztec forces. Thus Ixta develops a grudge against Ian and is used by Tlotoxl to try to prove that Barbara is not Yetaxa. The Doctor unwittingly tells Ixta how to defeat Ian in combat using a drugging agent, and this battle nearly ends in the Doctor witnessing his friend's death. When this fails to be conclusive, Tlotoxl convinces the subordinate priest Tonila to make a poison for Barbara; the death of Barbara following consumption of the poison would prove she is not immortal and therefore not a god. But Ian silently warns her from his hiding place, and Barbara refuses to drink the poison. She tells Tlotoxl that she is not Yetaxa but warns him not to tell the people. He now knows the truth - but must find a way to unmask the false goddess.

Susan and the Doctor have meanwhile both become involved in marriage-making scenarios. Susan has transgressed Aztec law by refusing to marry the Perfect Victim, who has been scheduled for sacrifice by Tlotoxl on the day of the next eclipse; while the Doctor, who knows little of Aztec customs, has become accidentally engaged to an Aztec woman named Cameca after they shared a cup of cocoa. Cameca is a kind lady and helps the Doctor and Ian find a way to re-enter the tomb by a secret entrance, despite realising that this will enable her beloved to leave her. Ian braves a treacherous tunnel in which he is almost drowned to re-enter the tomb by a secret door and soon tells his friends that they can flee.

Despite her efforts Barbara realises that she cannot change an entire culture, although she does succeed in changing the views of one man; the High-Priest of Knowledge, Autloc. But this comes at a high price to Autloc, who exiles himself. He helps her to reunite with her friends before departing to meditate in the desert on what remains of his faith. In a pitched battle to gain access to the tomb door, Ian kills Ixta in a fight to the death to protect the TARDIS crew.

The Doctor and his companions leave knowing that despite their intervention, history will take its pre-destined course. As they depart Tlotoxl is very much in control and sacrifices the Perfect Victim to end the naturally occurring eclipse. The Doctor comforts Barbara by telling her she did help Autloc find a better belief system; and then before they depart he re-pockets a brooch given to him as a parting gift by Cameca.


The Aztecs was filmed in April 1964 at Ealing Studios, with studio recording in May at Lime Grove Studios for episodes one and four and at the BBC Television Centre for episodes two and three.[1]

Carole Ann Ford took a two-week holiday in the middle of filming this story; she did not appear in episodes two and three, except for pre-filmed inserts.[2]

Cast notes[edit]

John Ringham later played Josiah Blake in The Smugglers and Ashe in Colony in Space. Margot Van der Burgh later portrayed Katura in The Keeper of Traken.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Episode Title Run time Original air date UK viewers
(millions) [3]
Archive [4]
1 "The Temple of Evil" 23:56 23 May 1964 (1964-05-23) 7.4 16mm t/r
2 "The Warriors of Death" 24:11 30 May 1964 (1964-05-30) 7.4 16mm t/r
3 "The Bride of Sacrifice" 25:27 6 June 1964 (1964-06-06) 7.9 16mm t/r
4 "The Day of Darkness" 25:30 13 June 1964 (1964-06-13) 7.4 16mm t/r

In 2008, Radio Times reviewer Mark Braxton called The Aztecs one of the best Doctor Who adventures, highlighting Barbara's dilemma about changing history, the art direction, and the "sense of impending tragedy". Despite this, he did note minor issues like the backdrops and unconvincing fight scenes.[1] Christopher Bahn of The A.V. Club described The Aztecs as "a classical tragedy infused with just enough hope toward the end to keep it from being unbearably bleak" and discussed the inability of changing history and the Doctor's only romantic entanglement in the classic series, which he called "sweet and funny".[5] Ian Berriman, writing for SFX, gave the serial three and a half out of five stars, describing it as "Jacqueline Hill's finest hour" but "the show is stolen by John Ringham as Tlotoxl". Though mostly positive, Berriman felt that some of the education content was forced and "it's a shame that much of the dialogue is so fustily formal".[6] In 2013 Digital Spy featured the story in an article on the 10 best Doctor Who stories of all time, praising the script, performances and emotional impact of the serial. Morgan Jeffrey summed it up as 'quite simply 100 minutes of sensational drama - it's William Hartnell's finest hour on Doctor Who and one of the show's very best offerings.'[7]

Themes and analysis[edit]

Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood reject the oft-suggested theory that this was inspired by the National Theatre Company's The Royal Hunt of the Sun, suggesting instead that it is a fusion of Lucarotti's familiarity with Mexico and its history and David Whitaker's interest in the meetings of two cultures.[8]

Commercial Releases[edit]

In print[edit]

The Aztecs
Doctor Who The Aztecs.jpg
Author John Lucarotti
Cover artist Nick Spender
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
20 September 1984
ISBN 0-426-19588-4

A novelisation of this serial, written by John Lucarotti, was published by Target Books in June 1984. The novelisation dates the story to the year 1507. Whereas in the televised story Ixta is the son of the architect, in the book he is the grandson, and Lucarotti updates Ian and Barbara as travellers from the 1980s. An unabridged reading of the Target Novelisation was released in 2012, read by William Russell.[9]

Home media[edit]

The serial was released on VHS in 1992.[10] On 21 October 2002, it was released on Region 2 DVD. This release was the first Doctor Who DVD to use the VidFIRE process throughout the whole production.

The Aztecs was re-released on 11 March 2013 as a special edition. According to the sleeve notes this version has "greatly improved restoration"; in the intervening years processes such as VidFIRE had been refined considerably. New extras include a reconstruction of the lost story Galaxy 4, comprising the recently rediscovered episode "Air Lock", plus remastered off-air soundtrack recordings of the other episodes, accompanied by stills, animation and snatches of surviving footage.[6]

"The Aztecs" is currently available to stream via online video services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. It is also on iTunes.

In 2013 it was released on DVD again as part of the "Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited 1-4" box set, alongside Tomb of the Cybermen, Spearhead from Space and Pyramids of Mars. Alongside a documentary on the First Doctor, the disc features the serial put together as a single feature in widescreen format with an introduction from current show runner Steven Moffat, as well as its original version.

See also[edit]

The Feathered Serpent, a late 1970s ITV children's drama series set in Aztec Mexico and starring Second Doctor Patrick Troughton as a scheming high priest.


  1. ^ a b Braxton, Mark (6 October 2008). "Doctor Who: The Aztecs". Radio Times. Retrieved 23 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). "The Aztecs: Things to watch out for...". Doctor Who: The Television Companion. London: BBC Worldwide. p. 25. ISBN 0-563-40588-0. 
  3. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017. 
  4. ^ Shaun Lyon; et al. (31 March 2007). "The Aztecs". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 3 August 2008. Retrieved 30 August 2008. 
  5. ^ Bahn, Christopher (25 September 2011). "The Aztecs". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 23 November 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Berriman, Ian (8 March 2013). "Doctor Who: The Aztecs — Special Edition Review". SFX. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  7. ^ "'Doctor Who' best stories: 'The Aztecs'". 16 September 2013. 
  8. ^ Miles, Lawrence and Tat Wood (2006). About Time Volume 1. Mad Norwegian Press. pp. 70–71. 
  9. ^ "Doctor Who: The Aztecs (Classic Novel)". AudioGo. Retrieved 13 October 2013. 
  10. ^ Lofficier, Jean-Marc and Randy (1 May 2003). "First Doctor". The Doctor Who Programme Guide. iUniverse. p. 25. ISBN 0595276180. 

External links[edit]

Fan reviews[edit]

Target novelisation[edit]