The Aztecs (Doctor Who)

The Aztecs (Doctor Who)
6 – The Aztecs
Doctor Who serial
Aztecs (Doctor Who).jpg
Ian and the warrior Ixta fight to the death atop a pyramid.
Writer John Lucarotti
Director John Crockett
Script editor David Whitaker
Producer Verity Lambert
Mervyn Pinfield (associate producer)
Executive producer(s) None
Production code F
Series Season 1
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast 23 May – 13 June 1964
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Keys of Marinus The Sensorites

The Aztecs is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in 4 weekly parts from 23 May to 13 June 1964. It addresses the issue of whether time travellers can, or should, seek to change established history.



The TARDIS crew arrive in Mexico in the 15th Century. With the TARDIS trapped in a tomb, Barbara is mistaken for a female reincarnation of the ancient high priest Yetaxa, and assumes her guise and identity. From her new position of power, Barbara sees her chance to bring an end to human sacrifice. She sees the good side of Aztec culture manifested in Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge, and the gruesome side embodied in 'the local butcher', the High Priest of Sacrifice, Tlotoxl. As something of an expert on this period, she sees how advanced their culture really is and believes that if sacrifice were abolished, they would be spared destruction at the hands of the Spanish. The Doctor's urgent warnings that Barbara cannot change history fall on deaf ears, much to the Doctor's fury.

The bloodthirsty Tlotoxl begins to suspect Barbara is not Yetaxa returned, especially because she is trying to ban human sacrifice. He sets a series of elaborate traps for her and her companions. For example, Ian has been compelled into the military and fights the strongest warrior, Ixta, to prove his ability to command the Aztec forces. Thus Ixta develops a grudge against Ian and is used by Tlotoxl to try to prove that Barbara is not Yetaxa. The Doctor unwittingly tells Ixta how to defeat Ian in combat using a drugging agent, and this battle nearly ends in the Doctor witnessing his friend's death. When this fails to be conclusive, Tlotoxl convinces the subordinate priest Tonila to make a poison for Barbara; the death of Barbara following consumption of the poison would prove she is not immortal and therefore not a god. But Ian silently warns her from his hiding place, and Barbara refuses to drink the poison. She tells Tlotoxl that she is not Yetaxa but warns him not to tell the people. He now knows the truth - but must find a way to unmask the false goddess.

Susan and the Doctor have meanwhile both become involved in marriage-making scenarios. Susan has transgressed Aztec law by refusing to marry the Perfect Victim, who has been scheduled for sacrifice by Tlotoxl on the day of the next eclipse; while the Doctor, who knows little of Aztec customs, has become accidentally engaged to an Aztec woman named Cameca after they shared a cup of cocoa. Cameca is a kind lady and helps the Doctor and Ian find a way to re-enter the tomb by a secret entrance, despite realizing that this will enable her beloved to leave her. Ian braves a treacherous tunnel in which he is almost drowned to re-enter the tomb by a secret door and soon tells his friends that they can flee.

Despite her efforts Barbara realises that she cannot change an entire culture, although she does succeed in changing the views of one man; the High-Priest of Knowledge, Autloc. But this comes at a high price to Autloc, who exiles himself. He helps her to reunite with her friends before departing to meditate in the desert on what remains of his faith. In a pitched battle to gain access to the tomb door, Ian kills Ixta in a fight to the death, as shown in the picture, to protect the TARDIS crew.

The Doctor and his companions leave knowing that despite their intervention, history will take its pre-destined course. As they depart Tlotoxl is very much in control and sacrifices the Perfect Victim to end the naturally occurring eclipse. The Doctor comforts Barbara by telling her she did help Autloc find a better belief system; and then before they depart he re-pockets a brooch given to him as a parting gift by Cameca.


  • For dating of this serial, see the Chronology.
  • The Doctor tells Barbara "You can't rewrite history! Not one line!" This idea of changing history is further explored in the spin-off media; a particularly notable example is the BBC Past Doctor Adventures novel The Time Travellers, where the First Doctor explains to Barbara that they actually change history every time they leave the TARDIS, but normally these changes are fairly minor, and the Doctor is at this point reluctant to become too involved in order to avoid attracting attention from his people.


Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewership
(in millions)
"The Temple of Evil" 23 May 1964 (1964-05-23) 23:56 7.4 16mm t/r
"The Warriors of Death" 30 May 1964 (1964-05-30) 24:11 7.4 16mm t/r
"The Bride of Sacrifice" 6 June 1964 (1964-06-06) 25:27 7.9 16mm t/r
"The Day of Darkness" 13 June 1964 (1964-06-13) 25:30 7.4 16mm t/r
  • Carole Ann Ford took a two-week holiday in the middle of filming for this story; as a result, she appeared only in pre-filmed inserts in Episodes 2 and 3.
  • The incidental music for this story was by classical composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.

Cast notes

  • John Ringham later played Josiah Blake in The Smugglers and Ashe in Colony in Space.

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by John Lucarotti, was published by Target Books in June 1984. The novelisation dates the story to the year 1507. Whereas in the televised story Ixta is the son of the architect, in the book he is the grandson. John Lucarotti updates Ian and Barbara as travellers from the 1980s.

Doctor Who book
Book cover
The Aztecs
Series Target novelisations
Release number 88
Writer John Lucarotti
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist Nick Spender
ISBN 0-426-19588-4
Release date 20 September 1984
Preceded by '
Followed by '

VHS and DVD releases

UK DVD front cover
  • The serial was released on VHS in 1992.
  • On 21 October 2002, it was released on Region 2 DVD. This release was the first Doctor Who DVD to use the VidFIRE process throughout the whole production.


  1. ^ Shaun Lyon et al. (2007-03-31). "The Aztecs". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 3 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  2. ^ "The Aztecs". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  3. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2005-04-03). "The Aztecs". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 

External links

Fan reviews
Target novelisation

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