Here we are again, we being the Historian, Ketina and Ronelyn--a reduced crew this evening! As always, the review will follow the episode summary!
Episode summary: First aired 6 June, 1964. Ixta is about to put a drugged Ian to death, when Barbara enters the barracks and forbids it. Tlotoxl demands she use her powers to end the combat if that's what she wishes. Quickly thinking, Barbara grabs a guard's knife and holds it to Tlotoxl's throat, demanding none of her servants be harmed if they value their priest's life! After the others leave, Ixta tells Tlotoxl of how he gained the Doctor's help. The priest realizes it was botany, not magic that nearly gained Ixta the victory. Barbara and Autloc converse and he warns her that she has humiliated Tlotoxl and he will never again support her. He tells her that an eclipse is coming and there will be a sacrifice. Barbara gets Autloc to admit that he knows the sun will shine again, sacrifice or no, and asks him to support her. He agrees, but realizes that it could mean his end if things do not go as "Yetaxa" foresees. In the Garden, Tlotoxl tries to engage the Doctor to give him proof that Barbara is not who she says she is. The Doctor replies that if he can get into the tomb (where the TARDIS is, remember), Tlotoxl will have his proof. When the priest says it is impossible, the Doctor reveals that Ixta has drawings of the temple plan. Ian wakens and Ixta tells him of his cunning--which Ian had previously suggested a good leader needs. The warrior declares himself to be Ian's friend, until the next contest. As they are about to leave, Ian overhears Tlotoxl talking with Tonila, a scholar, about testing the divinity of Yetaxa, but is unable to hear any more. In the Garden, meanwhile, the Doctor meets Cameca, who is carrying cocoa beans. The Aztecs use them for currency, but (unknown to the Doctor) they have another significance. When a person offers a cup of cocoa to a prospective mate, it is seen as a proposal! Unknowing, the Doctor offers to brew a delighted Cameca a cup. Ian goes to Barbara to warn her of the plot against her. She maintains that Tlotoxl is "evil," and is dismayed that he can sway others to his way of thinking. Ian finally convinces her that Tlotoxl's way of thinking is the normal Aztec way, and she is doomed to failure. Autloc, says Ian, is an extraordinary man...and it will take more than one man to change a culture. Ian hides as Tlotoxl and Tonila enter, offering Barbara a cup of peace between herself and the high priest of sacrifice. She demands he drink first and when he refuses, she smashes the cup and sends them away. Before he leaves, though, Barbara reveals to Tlotoxl the fact that she is not divine, but threatens that if he tries to move against her, she will destroy him. She now realizes that the only way for she and her friends to survive is to get into the tomb and back to the TARDIS! Meanwhile, the Doctor and Cameca drink their cocoa and the Doctor is astounded to learn its true meaning. Tlotoxl, hearing of Susan's willfulness (she will only marry a man of her choosing), conceives a plan. He has Tonila take the Perfect Vicitm, who will be sacrificed the night of the eclipse, into the seminary to meet Susan and, sure enough, he chooses her to be his bride. Susan angrily refuses, even though she is told he must be obeyed in all things--she has committed a serious offense. Cameca gives the Doctor a medallion and draws his attention to a stone in the wall covered with Yetaxa's symbol, which gives him an idea...Barbara, meanwhile, is attended by guards and the priests. Tlotoxl asks whether, during the eclipse ceremony, it is proper to punish someone who has trangressed the law--by scourging and other means. Barbara, being in public, is forced to agree, only finding out later that it is Susan he was speaking of! That night, Ian sneaks out of the warriors' house to meet the Doctor, not realizing that Ixta has followed him. Ian and the Doctor manage to move the stone and discover a passage behind it! Ian goes to explore it, leaving the Doctor behind to guard the entrance. Ixta surprises the Doctor and tells him that the passage must be sealed; it is a waterway, filled from the lake, and if the stone is not put back into place, the Garden will be flooded. Despite the Doctor's protests, Ixta replaces the stone. In the passage, Ian feels water starting to flow over his feet....
Whew! As is usual for these early Hartnell episodes, a lot happened in this one! Once again, the general consensus was that the whole thing was pretty marvelous. Impressive writing and very impressive acting. John Ringham's Tlotoxl, which started out perhaps a bit over the top, has turned into a really menacing villain. One with more than one dimension, of course; he likes his power, but, as Ian explains so well, he represents the Aztec culture (or one aspect of it) that Barbara is trying to change. In opposing her, he is fighting for that culture. (Though this is slightly diluted by having Autloc believe that sacrifice might not be necessary.) In fact, everyone is wonderful this week, even Susan in the pre-filmed inserts. The interesting thing is although some plots points are fairly easy to predict (Susan being betrothed to the PV was pretty heavily foreshadowed last week, for example), others still surprise. Ronelyn was shocked by Barbara's admission to Tlotoxl, for example. To me, it made sense; essentially, she's realized that she's painted herself into a corner and, instead of trying to continue an obviously unworkable bluff (unworkable with Tlotoxl, at any rate), she simply confronts him with it and essentially says, "What are you going to do about it? Nothing, that's what!" Very gutsy, makes perfect sense in context, and makes us love the character even more.
And, once again, we get to see the Doctor being outmaneuvered, this time by Cameca and her proposal. Hartnell's reaction shot is absolutely priceless. "Oh yes, that's very nice and--WHAAA?" And Ian and the Doctor's little conversation where the latter drops the fact he got the medallion from his fiancé was lovely too. These are characters who can joke together, who are comfortable with each other and who have grown in an organic way--a far cry from the strangers who mistrust each other in "An Unearthly Child!"
And then there's the scene where Ian finally makes Barbara see where she's gone wrong. The Doctor tried to shock some sense into her last week, but it's Ian who makes her realize that she's not simply dealing with one man (Tlotoxl), but with everything he represents--the entire Aztec culture. This moment might very well be the true climax of the story, where Barbara realizes that they must escape, that the Doctor is right and (at least in this case) history really cannot be changed. Unfortunately, she's committed herself and the rest of them to this course of action and it might be Susan who pays the price....
Really, all I can do is sum up by saying, Wonderful! More of this, please!
Until next week, I remain
Fun episode. I too am enjoying this story. While it's not 100% perfect, it's overall good. Barbara's continued struggle with the Aztec culture, the Doctor's blooming relationship, and Ian's manly man-ness are all extremely enjoyable. And Susan was there too. :P
But, to be critical, I will say that the plot is a bit predictable, and more so than some of the previous stories. And I still feel that the dialogue pacing is very Shakespearian, although less so than last week. The Aztecs speak so very precisely that it seems unrealistic to me.
Also, of the silly moments, there were only two that stood out for me: One, the Doctor's reaction to his sudden marriage proposal, was completely over the top. Funny, but thankfully funny in a good way. Then two, there was moving the obviously styrofoam rock from in front of the tunnel. Ixta does a convincing job putting the stone back, but Ian's removal of the stone is completely goofy. Hundred pound stone blocks should not bounce! :D
Again, no screams this week. Let's keep this up. The best episodes definitely lack in the scream department, which is fine by me. :D
Also, I must say, having seen this story a couple of times before (although not for years, and I can't remember the details of the story) seeing it one episode a week does indeed improve the viewing.
NEXT WEEK: "THE DAY OF DARKNESS"