The resolution to last week’s cliffhanger is brilliant: challenged to prevent Ian’s death, Barbara grabs a knife and holds it to Tlotoxl’s throat. It’s hard to imagine another companion until Leela having the wherewithal to do such a thing. It’s also the crux point of the whole plot: Tlotoxl is suddenly placed on the back foot, and humiliated, which makes him even more dangerous and determined.
This then leads to the most Shakesperean bit of plotting so far: Tlotoxl schemes to poison Barbara with the help of the priest Tonila. There follows a neat confrontation between Barbara and Tlotoxl in which she reveals she is not Yetaxa. This is extraordinary, given a few minutes previously she was insisting on her divinity to Autloc. But then, being honest with your enemies and deceiving your friends crops up several times in this episode. Having bested Ian in battle, Ixta is quite pally with him, cheerfully telling him, ‘Now that I can defeat you openly, I have no need to destroy you in secret.’ Meanwhile, the Doctor manipulates a lonely woman’s feelings for him in order to get what he wants. The only sincere characters are Cameca and Autloc, both of whom are going to end up devastated by being caught up in the time travellers’ schemes. It’s not exactly a very edifying story.
Perhaps this links to the idea of ‘sacrifice’ – the theme of the episode. The title seems to refer to Susan. Having learned of her views on marriage, Tlotoxl sets up her up as the bride for the Perfect Victim – a literal ‘bride of sacrifice’ – while figuratively he’s planning to sacrifice her to unmask Yetaxa. However, there’s another sacrificial bride waiting in the Garden of Peace: Cameca, who is going to have to sacrifice her happiness and hopes for the future on the altar of the Doctor’s escape plans. Hartnell gets some lovely scenes with Margot Van der Burgh where he spits out his cocoa having inadvertently proposed, and then contemplates ‘a garden of our own’ together. But later, he makes light of the whole business with Ian, dismissing it all as ‘neither here nor there.’ Neither he, nor Barbara is coming out of this smelling of roses. While she may dislike human blood sacrifice, Barbara’s quite willing to sacrifice Autloc’s reputation and way of life to get her own way – she might look sheepish when he asks, ‘Will you sacrifice us to save your handmaiden pain?’ but it doesn’t mean she’s going to change her mind. This is shaping up to be the first story where everyone is worse off because the Doctor went there, on a whim.
Elsewhere, Ian’s transformation from Coal Hill science teacher and reluctant hero to ‘generic male companion’ is complete. He might as well be Steven Taylor, pilot of the future, able to hold his own against a highly trained Aztec warrior, and shift massive stone slabs without breaking into a sweat. Particularly since Sentence of Death repurposed the Doctor as the hero of the show, William Russell hasn’t had anything meaty to do for five weeks now. In this episode he at least gets a nice scene with Jacqueline Hill (and the episode’s best line – ‘You can’t fight a whole way of life, Barbara.’), but if he and Susan weren’t in this at all there’s no sense that Hartnell and Hill couldn’t have essentially carried the story. Both of them are absolutely on fire in this one: Hartnell, showing off his comic talent as he stumbles into marriage and then gets rumbled by Ixta, and Hill as she confronts Tlotoxl.
Next episode: The Day of Darkness