Classic Doctor Who: Cocoa with The Aztecs

Classic Doctor Who (Classic Who episode list here; previous entry here; next entry here.)

Season 1, Episode 6

The Aztecs


Going in, I know that this is a highly-regarded serial. It’s where a few famous lines come from, like the one about not changing history, “not one line.” And the Doctor gets engaged, which somehow involves a cup of hot cocoa.


Ok, let’s head into The Temple of Evil! (Seems like a bit of a judgmental title, really.)


Well, we’re heading right into the Aztec era, anyway! Barbara immediately identifies the dead priest as an Aztec, which is impressive—and then she identifies the exact year he died, which is REALLY impressive! It makes sense, because she’s a history teacher. And apparently the Aztecs were one of her specialties. Little history lesson from Barbara and Susan—really a cultural tolerance lesson, explaining how the Aztecs might have looked savage but actually had a mix of both good and bad traits. Kind of like, you know, humans.

Susan gets distracted by “cartoons” drawn on the wall, which turns out to be a rotating wall, because of course it is.

Barbara, having raided the priest’s tomb (terrible archeological technique there, Barbara!), wanders out and gets accosted by…a living priest, I think. He immediately calls for guards to seize her, which is a fairly logical reaction, really, but he gets distracted by the stolen jewelry she’s put on.

Meanwhile, the Doctor’s getting grouchy about Barbara having wandered off, but they all come out to find her—except she’s vanished. She does have a way of doing that. They get a great view of the Aztec city, and get locked out of the tomb (oops), before the (live) priest turns back up, much friendlier this time. His name is Autloc, apparently (I had to look that up to spell it). For some reason they aren’t allowed to see Barbara yet, although they do see a guy who scares Susan.

Tlotoxl, a professional at menacing looks.

Not sure why, except that he has some facepaint on? But Ian and the Doctor conclude that he’s the guy in charge of the human sacrifice. Autloc seems to be arguing with this guy that human sacrifice isn’t necessary. I’m not sure how realistic that would be, but ok.

Finally we see Barbara, who’s had a costume change—another habit of hers, although at least she had a reasonable amount of time to do it, unlike on Marinus. Ah, the Aztecs have concluded that she’s the reincarnation of the priest in the tomb, Yetaxa. Apparently they don’t mind that he switched genders when reincarnating, which seems quite progressive of them. Also, lovely costume!

Obligatory picture of Barbara as Yetaxa. Seriously pretty, though.

Ha, everyone correcting Ian’s pronunciation of Autloc!

The sacrifice priest’s name is Tlotoxl, and he seems definitely slimy and/or power-hungry. Ah, they have a problem with a drought. Barbara’s playing her part quite well.

The Doctor being described as “the aged servant of Yetaxa” is probably highly insulting to him.

Huh, Tlotoxl has some kind of manipulative game going on, and is putting Ian in charge of the army, which already has someone in charge (Ixta). So Ian has to fight Ixta. Lovely.

Fight scene between Ixta and some random warrior, presumably to show off Ixta’s skill (to us or to Ian, I’m not sure). Ixta’s decidedly antagonistic toward Ian, not that I can blame him. Apparently they don’t have to fight yet, which is good. Ian gets to live with the army, or possibly just with Ixta, since he’s the only other commander-rank warrior. Apparently he killed all the others? Seems wasteful, really.

The Doctor’s been taken to the complete opposite of the angry warrior dorm; he’s in the Garden of Peace, which is the Aztec retirement community. Their retirement age is 52, which is nice. Oops, the Doctor finds the idea of a peaceful garden horribly boring. Well, THAT doesn’t change.

Except now he’s getting interested in one particular woman, Cameca. Is he flirting?? Huh, maybe, but he may only be doing it to get information about the temple structure, so they can get back into the tomb where the TARDIS is stuck. That’s cold-blooded, Doctor!

Here’s Ian, now in full warrior costume.

The Doctor seems…downright smitten with Cameca. “Charming person. So intelligent and gentle.”

Oops, Ian’s supposed to hold down the human sacrifice victim, and the Doctor tells him to get on with it. That’s…horrifying.

Meanwhile, Barbara and Susan are happily cosplaying.

Really, Susan?

Now the Doctor’s trying to convince Barbara to help out with the human sacrifice ceremony. She’s not ok with this. I wouldn’t be either, but—oops, she’s planning on using her authority as a god to make the Aztecs end human sacrifice completely. Yeah, no. As unethical as human sacrifice is, impersonating a deity and trying to re-shape a culture to fit your own standards is definitely not ok.

“But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!” I fully agree with the Doctor on this, although I also strongly disagree with his trying to force Ian and Barbara to help out with the human sacrifice.

Wow, another impressive line and delivery from the Doctor: “What you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know. Believe me! I know!” You definitely get the impression of some kind of painful previous experience.

The Doctor’s shielding Susan from knowing what’s going on, though.

Barbara gets a huge cheer from the crowd.

She tries to stop the sacrifice, and only succeeds in offending the person who was to be sacrificed. He throws himself off the building, so that plan didn’t go well.

Tlotoxl is seriously angry now, though. Aaaand he’s trying to take it out on Susan. Jerk. Barbara intervenes, and Susan gets taken off to “the seminary” to learn proper respect. Interesting. Tlotoxl is decidedly NOT appeased, and swears that Barbara’s a fake, and he will DESTROY HER.

Somewhere, is there a count of the number of times a Doctor Who antagonist is sure that the companion or Doctor is a fake at whatever they’re trying to…well, fake? And the antagonist makes the Doctor and friends (and the audience) mad by continuously accusing them of being fakes. Which they are. I mean, Tlotoxl’s a jerk, but he’s correct that Barbara’s a fake. And he’s probably also correct that she’s dangerous, considering that she’s ACTUALLY plotting to screw up his whole culture.


Anyway, on to watch The Warriors of Death!


The Doctor’s taking Barbara to task. Harshly. He’s got some points. It depends on whether you think the culture must be respected no matter what, or whether you think that you (or Barbara) should stand up for your own beliefs no matter what.

Anyway, he finally calms down and tries out his relatively new comforting mode once he sees that she’s genuinely distressed.

…And his next plan is for her to play Autloc and Tlotoxl off each other. Not sure if that’s really any more respectful of the culture.

Just as they’re getting their plan finalized, naturally Tlotoxl turns up, menacingly. Quick, back into character! Tlotoxl starts quizzing Barbara on Aztec traditions, which she handles pretty well, but also tells him off for trespassing into Autloc’s role as High Priest of Knowledge.

Ah, but probably what he really wanted to do was to freak her out by telling her that Ian and Ixta are about to have their combat. Oops.

Ixta’s showing off that he can throw heavy spears. Ian’s using Vulcan techniques. Before the Vulcans were created, which is impressive.

Tlotoxl’s pissed and is playing on Ixta’s insecurities. Ixta’s super sulky. Now Tlotoxl’s manipulating the next sacrifice victim into ordering another combat.

Back to the Doctor and Cameca in the calm garden. Why is this random couple eavesdropping?

They’re listening to us, aren’t they?
Honey, they’re following us.


Seriously, Doctor, you’re falling hard here.

Tlotoxl’s now coming up with an excuse to ban Barbara’s friends from visiting her. Although again he’s technically accurate that they would conspire against the Aztecs if they were allowed to visit.

Eep! Cameca’s accidentally getting Ixta to come visit the Doctor to get advice on how to defeat Ian! Wait, All-Brawn-No-Brains Ixta is the son of the guy who designed the temple?? Apparently he missed out on inheriting some key traits of his dad’s.

Finally we get to see Susan! She’s learning away. Well, until the topic of marriage comes up. Then she gets a bit defiant. Susan is NOT ok with arranged marriages, as we saw in Marco Polo.

Back to the Doctor. These scenes are rotating a bit quickly. I’m getting dizzy. Maybe Ixta did inherit a bit of brains, because he’s successfully manipulating the Doctor into helping him kill his opponent.

Autloc’s questioning Barbara. She’s still trying to convince him of the futility of human sacrifice, with HISTORY! Well, it’s history from her perspective. From Autloc’s perspective, it’s prophesying. Barbara, stop trying to change history!

Sure enough, this mainly serves to piss Tlotoxl off more.

The Doctor finally figures out he’s accidentally screwing Ian over…and promptly gets arrested. He’s properly indignant, which doesn’t do any good. Thankfully, Barbara stays calm and does more good. Ah, Ian and Ixta’s fight isn’t supposed to be mortal; that’s just Tlotoxl’s plotting that’s making Ixta promise to kill Ian.

Here we go with the fighting. Ian has some skills in wrestling-type moves. Actually considerably more than Ixta. But Ixta has his secret needle-weapon. The Doctor rushes in to warn Ian! Exactly too late, as you do.

Ian’s still doing pretty well, though. Oops, there goes the drug’s effect. Seriously, though, he’s still giving Ixta a reasonable beating. I mean, Ixta manages to pin him on the table eventually, but good show, Ian!

Tlotoxl, grinning like the evil slimeball that he is, keeps ordering them to fight to the death. Now Barbara turns up to save the day! Except that Tlotoxl, quick on his feet, demands that she prove she’s Yetaxa by saving Ian.

Oh my, that’s a cliffhanger!


On to The Bride of Sacrifice! (which, uh, can’t bode well for Susan.)

Quick recap of the life-threatening situation we were in, and—

Dayyyyum, Barbara!! BADASS!!


To summarize, Barbara responds to Tlotoxl’s challenge by taking him hostage, saving Ian’s life very effectively. They don’t even let Ixta claim victory (which is fair, because he cheated), but that will probably only antagonize him more.

Yep, Ixta’s getting mad at Tlotoxl and even more bitter about Ian.

Barbara’s still trying to convince Autloc to end human sacrifice. It’s really a good example of a naïve do-gooder trying to “save” a “primitive” culture without really understanding it. Although in her favor, Barbara really does have genuine respect for the Aztec culture. But it’s maddeningly naïve and privileged for her to think that she can change the whole thing by just saying so, and that even if she succeeded, all the repercussions would be good. Seriously, has she thought at all about the cultural upheaval that would have to happen for her decree to work? I mean, obviously not. But as a historian, she needs to.

Autloc begging her to not prove false to him is kind of heartbreaking, SINCE SHE IS COMPLETELY FALSE.

Meanwhile, Tlotoxl’s trying to mess with the Doctor, who’s also trying to mess with him. Snerk, I love the grouchy First Doctor—“Oh go away, Tlotoxl” when he gets tired of the transparent manipulativeness.

The Doctor’s trying to get Tlotoxl to help him open the tomb, telling him that this will let him “find the truth” about Yetaxa. Oddly enough, that’s kind of true.

Ian’s waking up. Ixta’s taunting him, and also being friendly, which is confusing. Now Ixta’s gloating about having fooled the Doctor, which is annoying.

Tlotoxl’s trying to recruit another warrior, Tonila, to help destroy Yetaxa. Foolishly, he’s doing this in Ian’s earshot. Sigh, they’re planning on poisoning Barbara.

Cameca has gotten some cocoa beans, and she and Autloc are philosophizing about them. I already know about the cocoa thing, so I won’t pretend I don’t know where this is going. Interesting that she and Autloc describe it as a “love potion,” though.

Oh dear, she’s checking to be sure he knows what “drinking cocoa” means, and he’s pretending he does. Or he’s assuming that he does. He’s not noticing that she’s MUCH more excited than she ought to be about a cup of chocolate.

Now Ian’s trying to convince Barbara that she’s misguided. I—I think he’s actually getting through? He’s definitely got a point, that she’s seeing Tlotoxl’s insistence on human sacrifice as an aberration, when really it’s the norm, and Autloc’s willingness to question is the aberration. Aggravatingly, that’s fairly true for all human cultures.

And, just as they’re getting somewhere, they get interrupted. Predictably enough, it’s by Tlotoxl trying to poison Barbara. As much as he’s trying to defend his culture, he’s still a lying hypocrite. If he were ACTUALLY just interested in defending his culture, he’d be honest about what he’s doing, and he’d have more witnesses. Jerk.

Barbara, don’t drink it! WHY do you need Ian to warn you??

Anyway, she gets out of it.

Huh, Barbara just goes on and tells Tlotoxl that she’s not Yetaxa. That’s an interesting strategy.

Back to Cameca and the Doctor, she’s getting more and more Shakespearean. Finally the Doctor clues in that they’re married now, and that’s an awesome face!


I kind of feel sorry for Tlotoxl, despite his assholery, because he now knows for a fact that Barbara’s a fake, but everyone keeps chastising him for doubting. That’s gotta be frustrating. Aaand then he destroys all possible sympathy by deciding to manipulate Susan.

Although. To be fair. (Sigh.) Tlotoxl wouldn’t actually see forcing Susan to marry the sacrificial victim as a horrible thing. In theory, that’s an honor.

Still a jerk move, though, since he’s just doing it because he knows she’ll hate it, and that it will therefore get to Barbara.

Back in the retirement garden, the Doctor seems to be coping well with his engagement. And frankly blatantly lying to Cameca, which is starting to creep me out. Doctor, you’re NOT planning to live a life of serenity with her!

Now Tloxotl’s trying to trick Barbara into decreeing a horrible punishment for Susan. Thankfully, her basically decent nature doesn’t let her fall for it, and her quick thinking leads her to make sure all of her friends will be together at the same time. Presumably she’s trusting the Doctor and/or Ian to have figured out how to get into the tomb by then.

Speaking of which, the Doctor’s figuring out something new with Ian. And he seems disconcertingly unfazed by the fact that he’s now engaged. At least Ian’s a little startled.

“My fiancé.”

“Your what??”

“I made some cocoa and got engaged.”

Actually, Ian’s more amused than startled. Why are these people so cynical? You can’t just go around getting engaged across time and space and acting like it doesn’t matter!

Oh dear, Barbara really seems to have converted Autloc away from human sacrifice. You’re going to make him betray his culture and then you’re going to bail on him, Barbara!

Oops, he’s let her know that Susan is supposed to be punished. Of course she plans on trying to stop that too. “Will you sacrifice us to save your handmaiden pain?”

Geez, Ian and Ixta have to share a bed?? Don’t they have a whole empty angry warrior dorm, since Ixta killed all the others??

Rookie move on Ian’s part to leave without checking that Ixta’s still asleep.

Secret tunnel! Naturally Ixta arrives just in time to trap Ian.

Um, shouldn’t Ian be able to just open the stone from the inside?


Welp, that’s a cliffhanger!


Starting The Day of Darkness!

Ian’s about to be drowned, Barbara’s likely to get herself killed in a riot, Susan’s scheduled to be horribly tortured in public, and the Doctor’s…well, engaged. How will our heroes get out of this one??


Well, first by Ian finding a secret tunnel in the secret tunnel.

Meanwhile, the Doctor’s seriously distressed about Ian being in danger, which is character development!

Good work, Ian, finding Yetaxa’s tomb! AND rigging it up so they can get back in.

Thankfully the Doctor’s distress doesn’t last long, because he sensibly goes straight to Barbara, which is also where Ian is. Ian promises to rescue Susan…who’s now being guarded by Ixta. Which he does. THAT was a quick fight. Blink and you miss that one.

Oops, now they’ve broken their safety rope.

Tlotloxl’s now convinced Ixta to knock out Autloc so that Ian will be blamed, which is a stupid strategy (but it worked on Marinus, so evidently it never gets old). Ixta’s WAY too excited about knocking out Autloc.

Having broken their rope, our heroes are implementing plan B, which is for Ian and Susan to climb back up the tunnel. Honestly someone should have just stayed in the tomb in the first place so they wouldn’t have had to worry about a rope.

Oops, Ian and Susan get caught, sigh. Annoyingly, Autloc falls for the trick, believing that Ian hit him, and somehow that equals that Barbara’s a false god. Like, she IS a false god, but I don’t get how you get from “Ian hit me” to “Barbara’s a false god” logically.

Meanwhile, the Doctor’s inventing the wheel. Um, talk about changing history??

Now somehow Cameca is interceding with Autloc for Barbara. But Ian’s going to be executed, BECAUSE OF COURSE HE IS. WHY does everyone always believe that the person whose weapon was conveniently found is the guilty person?? Autloc’s supposed to be smart. I mean he has a concussion right now, but still.

Somehow Cameca’s figured out that the Doctor is leaving…and that the Aztecs are doomed. Not sure how she gets that from a pulley wheel, but ok.

Autloc is…leaving. Like, leaving Aztec society completely. But he’s leaving something valuable with Cameca so that she can bribe Susan’s guard. That’s nice of him.

Cameca carries this out, but Ian simplifies things by knocking the guard out. Ah, and steals his helmet. Sensible.

The Doctor looks genuinely distressed as Cameca says goodbye to him. Wow, this is the first time the Doctor falls in love and has to leave! Well…he probably wasn’t in love. But he definitely had some affection going on for Cameca. More like, the first time someone falls in love with HIM and he has to leave THEM.

Seriously though, his face is worthy of Tenth Doctor sadness.

I did not know the heartbreak started this early.

Oops, the bribed guard promptly gets killed for his trouble.

Barbara’s getting escorted to the altar to preside or whatever a god does. Guarantee the guy in the beaky helmet is Ian.

Now even Tonila’s getting overly excited about the idea of torturing Susan. How annoying. He was a decent guy at first, I think. There’s a whole subplot there of Tlotoxl corrupting him.

Now Tlotoxl’s ANGRY! Yep, beaky helmet was Ian. He gets to guard the door while the other three pull the tomb open with the Doctor’s pulley contraption. And by “guard the door,” we mean single combat with Ixta. Again. At least I assume that’s Ixta—eep, he got thrown off the tower! Bye, Ixta. You were a jerk.

Ok, get out!

And they do, just in time for us to watch the eclipse…and Tlotoxl gets to kill his victim.

Barbara’s FINALLY agonizing over what she did to Autloc. The Doctor’s somehow trying to philosophize this into a good thing. I don’t think I’m buying it. It’s POSSIBLE that Autloc is better off wandering in the wilderness and trying to find new truth, but I doubt it. And this particular Aztec community is probably worse off with Tlotoxl in charge.

D’aww, the Doctor keeps the little artifact that Cameca gave him!


I see why this serial is highly regarded. The drama is well done but not overly politicized; the guest characters have depth and are dynamic; and the illustration of the damage you can do when you try to remake others into your own ideal image is really a very deep idea. Using brownface actors for the Aztecs is, of course, not ok. I’m not historically knowledgeable enough to judge the representation of the culture, but they definitely were presented as complex humans with agency and development, so that’s good. Autloc’s loyalty and then loss of faith as everyone betrays him is gutting. And I personally found the Cameca/Doctor subplot fairly heartwrenching.


Next up, Ood cousins as we visit the Sensorites!


2 thoughts on “Classic Doctor Who: Cocoa with The Aztecs

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