The Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm. This week we delve into the second episode of our Aztec historical. Let's get to the summary!
Episode summary: First aired 30 May, 1964. Tlotoxl, the Aztec Priest of Sacrifice, has decided that Yetaxa (Barbara) is a false goddess and vows to destroy her! The Doctor confronts Barbara about her attempt to halt sacrifices and change history. Barbara admits that things have turned out badly (Ian stuck with the warriors, Susan "locked up" in the Aztec seminary for education in their culture and--especially--Tlotoxl's new emnity) and she apologizes. The Doctor never-minds her and reveals that he hopes to soon get more knowledge of how to reenter the tomb so they may return to the TARDIS. He suggests that Barbara play Tlotoxl against Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge who still believes in Barbara's divinity. The Doctor leaves as Tlotoxl enters, challenging Barbara by asking her theological questions, which she partially answers, then refuses to continue. She demands, and he agrees, that it is Autloc who may question her, not he. Meanwhile, Autloc is witnessing a test of skill by Ixta in the warriors quarters. Ian, less impressed, offers to fight Ixta with only his thumb, and disables the warrior with a nerve pressure. Tlotoxl enters and finds Ixta worried over defeating Ian's magic, but the priest manipulates a visiting "Perfect Victim" into commanding that the two warriors meet for another contest at sunset. Tlotoxl tells Ixta the fight, against custom, must be to the death. The Doctor, meanwhile, has met with Cameca again in the Garden. She shows him an herb whose sap will induce unconsciousness and the Doctor reveals his interest in the sciences. He again get her to promise to introduce him to the son of the builder of the Temple/Tomb. She then goes to the warriors quarters where she meets Ixta, who is the man she spoke of, and tells him of the Doctor's wish to meet him. Initially reluctant, Ixta realizes he can use the older servant's magic against the younger one...Susan, meanwhile, is learning about Aztec culture, having mastered the maxims for a young wife. She declares, however, that no one will ever tell her who she must marry, she will decide for herself! A masked Ixta meets the Doctor in the Garden and reveals that his father left drawings of the plan of the temple. But that night he must fight a warrior and, if he loses, he might not be able to bring the drawings to the Doctor. The Doctor agrees to help him, giving Ixta a cactus needle coated with sap of the sleeping herb. He tells the warrior to scratch his opponent on the wrist and the other will lose his strength. Barbara, talking with Autloc, "prophesies" the destruction of the Aztec culture if sacrifice is continued. One will become thousands, leading to famine, death and destruction. Autloc, who believes she speaks the truth--he, too, does not see the point of human sacrifice--agrees to think on what she has said. Wearied by the intellectual challenges, Barbara droops. Later, the Doctor comes to her to tell her he has a lead on the temple's entrance, but she realizes he has transgressed the law by coming to see her and sends him away--though not before they both realize that the Doctor has helped Ixta in his quest to defeat Ian! The Doctor goes off to warn Chesterton, but is stopped and arrested by Tlotoxl and his guards. Meanwhile, the fight has started and Ian, using wrestling and judo moves, has the upper hand. The Doctor, accompanied by the priests and several guards, bursts in to warn Ian just as Ixta scratches him. Ian slowly starts to falter and Tlotoxl declares that this test must be to the death, but Barbara enters and declares the contest must be ended. Tlotoxl insolently tells her to use her divine powers to stop it and Barbara looks on helplessly....
This is another one of those hard episodes to review, because there isn't anything bad to say about it! (Well, not for most of us, anyway.) The writing and acting are top-notch and the plot hums on happily. There are some very nice touches, some definite plot seeds (the pre-filmed insert with Susan is pretty heavy foreshadowing) and a really well-choreographed fight scene, which lends evidence to Schmallturm's assertion last week that the fight that episode was deliberately stylized. A few things stood out, of course. The first scene with the Doctor confronting Barbara was a wonderful piece of acting and writing. She begins defiant and then, as the Doctor's argument (quite angry argument too) begins to sink in, she realizes what she has done and breaks down--at which point, the Doctor consoles her, as a friend should. It's a very skillful scene with very well defined characters. Ian, too, comes across as very intelligent and resourceful, as well as being full of surprises. It's obvious he's had some decent wrestling/martial arts training at some point. (I made the point that he was of an age to have done National Service, but that might not explain it. And yes, I have looked it up and there's no pressure point that induces unconsciousness where Ian put his thumb. Still, it looked impressive!)
I think one of the most fun things in this episode, for me at any rate, was seeing the Doctor out-manipulated at every turn. Even by this point, we've become used to the Doctor being able to be a step ahead of his opponents, but Ixta's simple con (with a little assist from Tlotoxl, who delays his warning Ian) catches him completely unaware. It works the way all good cons work: Ixta uses the Doctor's blind spot (he never even thinks anyone might be able to trick him) and dangles something he wants in front of him (the temple plans). It's really fun to see William Hartnell play up his just pure amazement that he's been caught out. Barbara's own con, of course, is helped by the fact that she both really knows her stuff and that she's lucky enough to have a sympathetic ally in Autloc. That priest, though, is still obviously overshadowed by his counterpart, Tlotoxl, and it seems to me that it is who will win that battle of wills that may determine how this story closes.
There were no new sets or costumes this week, but the familiarity probably helped. It makes a contrast with "Marinus," where we had new locations almost every week, so none of them really felt explored. Everything here looks good, though; it's very impressive what they can manage to do with a small studio interior. The music, which I don't think we've mentioned until now, is also very nice. Not overpowering, used mainly as "stings" or scene transitions, it's subtle and works very well to convey the mood of the story. (And this episode isn't unique in that!)
All in all, this was a lot of fun, as the TARDIS crew's predicament continues to grow. They're potentially in a bit over their heads and cut off from their ship, and they might just be digging themselves in deeper...Can't wait to see what happens next week! Until then, I remain
This was a very good episode of Doctor Who. I know I say that a lot, makes me sound like the big fan girl that I am, but this week in particular I couldn't find much to criticize. Just a few nitpicks, that don't take anything from the overall plot. So, the bad:
Ian's little Vulcan neck pinch maneuver. What the heck was that? Also, the fact that Ian could pretty much handily beat the Aztec warrior in a wrestling match seems a bit surprising to me.
I also felt that the introduction of the "Perfect Victim" character was missing something. I like the idea, I just would have liked maybe an extra line of dialog to explain exactly what a Perfect Victim was, and more importantly, why everyone has to obey him.
And finally I had a random observation during the same scene with Tlotoxl, Ixta, and said Perfect Victim. I was struck by how the scene reminded me of Shakespeare. I felt it was like watching a bunch of Shakespearian actors playing out a, admittedly very well acted and directed, stage play of Doctor Who. The delivery of the lines, character blocking, and volume of speech all made me imagine I was seeing a live performance on stage instead of a TV show. This wasn't a bad thing, I just thought it was a bit odd after the last few stories we've seen.
As for the good, well as I was implying before, it was all quite good. I especially enjoyed the fight scene between Ian and Ixta. Quite the opposite in quality of last week's fight scene with Ixta and random guy.
Oh, and completely aside, but I thought "Perfect Victim" was very hot. I'm sure he's supposed to be attractive, as the perfect sacrifice to the gods, but he was taller, handsomer, and more muscular than "Mr. Captain of the Army" Ixta. :)
Oh, and my foreshadowing guess last week, that Ixta was the son of the architect who made the tomb, was right on the money. I have another prediction for next week, but this time I'll keep it to myself. :)
That's all from me this week.
NEXT WEEK: "THE BRIDE OF SACRIFICE"