The duels established in the previous episode start to get complicated here. The episode begins with a blazing row between the Doctor and Barbara – the first one they’ve had since The Edge of Destruction. The Doctor is furious at Barbara’s attempt to interfere in history – this one lapse has placed all of them in grave danger. I’m positive this scene inspired the 2005 episode Father’s Day, when Rose similarly tries to rewrite history and is rewarded with a massive dressing down by a furious Doctor. But just as the ninth Doctor can’t stay angry with a contrite Rose, so the first Doctor apologises for his harsh words and starts to look for a practical solution. Sadly, as in Father’s Day, words aren’t enough to repair the damage done by one intemperate act, and while the later story revolves around the SF conceit of temporal parasites feeding on the paradox, here it’s the rather more prosaic impact on Tlotoxl that’s the biggest problem.
Having been established as a black hat villain, Tlotoxl turns his malevolence against Barbara in particular, removing her ‘servants’ by banishing Susan to a seminary, barring the Doctor from visiting the temple, and plotting to have Ian kille. He’s a more effective baddie than Tegana mainly because he’s nastier, crueller and played with such lip-smacking relish. But his methods, manipulating the other characters to turn against the time travellers, are much the same. He spends many of his scenes, like an Aztec Wormtongue, lurking at the side of one or other of the characters, dripping poison in their ears either to threaten or provoke them to take action.
Autloc is less utilised, and is more the subject of Barbara’s manipulation – her prophesies (or rather, hindsight) of the doom of Aztec civilisation clearly hit home with him. He’s a reasonable man in an uncivilised age, but, just as Tlotoxl is inherently evil, Autloc is merely inherently good – Lucarotti makes no effort to explore why he’s so much more open minded or trusting of Barbara, or why he believes human sacrifice is up for debate. They’re just convenient ciphers for the duality of Aztec civilisation – as though having two people who have different outlooks is enough to stand in for any explanation of why they have these differences. At this stage, I’m surprised to see that Terry Nation invested more thought and effort into characterising the Daleks’ and the Thals’ worldviews than Lucarotti has done. Possibly the idea is that Tlotoxl is a Marco style character – sceptical until he sees the evidence with his own eyes, whereas Autloc is more like Tegana – credulous, and a true believer in the gods, hence how easily he swallows ‘Yetaxa’s’ lies.
Elsewhere, Lucarotti’s script is good at mirroring certain scenes: we go from Tlotoxl manipulating the Perfect Victim to the Doctor manipulating Cameca and then Ixta manipulating the Doctor, all to advance their own agendas. Having Ixta be the son of the temple builder is a neat complication – the secret to escaping Mexico in the hands of a villain. The Doctor and Cameca get a lovely moment of mild flirting, with Cameca concluding, ‘Your heart is young too, Doctor.’ It’s a cute summary of the first Doctor’s character.
Aside from a film insert of Susan reciting the Code of the Good Housewife and having a Ping-Cho moment when she considers marrying a stranger, this is much less overtly ‘educational’ than Marco Polo. This is generally a good thing, but we could have done with maybe more of a sense of why there are such contradictions at the core of the Aztec civilisation. Look past the historical trappings, and this is every bit as pulpy, Boy’s Own stuff as The Daleks.
Other things to notice: the quality of this telerecording is much better than The Temple of Evil’s, so the detail of the sets is much more apparent. They’re gorgeous, particularly the sculptures at the temple. The moment when the Doctor surreptitiously sneaks into the inner sanctum was re-used in 2013’s The Name of the Doctor to represent him stealing into the TARDIS for the first time. Doctor Who has a proud history of rubbish episode titles, and this is one of the daftest: The Warriors of Death? What did we expect, The Warriors of Dance?
Next episode: The Bride of Sacrifice