Written by John Lucarotti
Directed by John Crockett
Western imperialism tends to bring out the worst in people. The Aztecs may have been a group of thugs who terrorised any nearby local civilization into paying them outrageous tributes, and would sacrifice and eat anyone who disobeyed, but their crimes pale in significance when compared to the atrocities committed by the europeans who leveled the Aztec cities in a desperate bid to steal all the gold their ships were capable of carrying.
The doctor’s companions do not disgrace themselves to quite that extent here, but their haughty and unthinking attitude towards the Aztecs and their civilization comes from the same casual dismissal of anything thought to be of a ‘lower’ culture. Even Ian, initially dead set against interfering with their ways, ends up murdering an Aztec warrior*. Of all of them, only the Doctor himself takes a stance of total non-interference, and only wants to regain access to his TARDIS, locked away in a seemingly impenetrable tomb.
As for the Aztecs themselves, they are portrayed with a surprising amount of balance, particularly for the time. Yes there are some outright Aztec bastards here, Tlotoxl and Ixta for example, but there are also genuinely good people among them, such as Cameca and Autloc. Indeed, Cameca is one of the very few humans the Doctor ever shows any sort of romantic attachment to; after becoming accidentally engaged to her, he actually seems quite happy about it.
Its also noticeable here that, for the second timed in a row, the actor’s holiday schedule was leaving its mark on the production. Susan disappearing into a seminary for two episodes makes more sense than the Doctor’s departure in the previous story, but it still leaves an odd hole in the cast. The show had been running non-stop for more than six months by this point though, so it was only fair that the cast get some time off.
Getting shoved off to some seminary was only the last in a rather long list of humiliations Susan was forced to bear, particularly compared to her initial conception. Would the character ever be able to meet the potential she had as the granddaughter of the Doctor? No, not really, as it turns out, but she did come pretty close in the next story.
*The only time I can recall when one of the Doctor’s companions kills another human being, unless you count Sara in the Dalek’s Master Plan, though there are bound to be other examples.