Grab yourself a cup of cocoa and join Christopher Morley as he looks back at The Aztecs. First broadcast on this day, May 23rd 1964.
As the First Doctor continued to nose around in Earth's history, the TARDIS stopped off in Mexico at the height of the Aztec empire and the debut season of Doctor Who presented the second of its 'pure historical' stories (Marco Polo being the first).
The Aztecs serves as the sixth story of the first season, following on from The Keys Of Marinus - and the Doctor retrospectively contradicts himself. 'You can't rewrite history, not one line!' he practically barks at Barbara as she plans to use her alleged status as a reincarnation of the High Priest Yetaxa in an attempt to stop her new charges using human sacrifice, as well as keep the dads at home watching - remember that costume?
Rather handily she finds all she needs to play dress-up in his tomb (which she, Ian, the Doctor & Susan have handily materialised inside) from the off, and is quickly mistaken for said religious godhead, in part thanks to her specialism as a history teacher - the Aztecs. How convenient. Making the journey from captured prisoner to god by virtue of wearing possibly the luckiest of bracelets and fighting off Ian's sudden attempts at naughty fantasies, most likely, everyone soon buys into the idea of her as the great one - all except perhaps unsurprisingly the religious figureheads of the piece, Autloc (High Priest of Knowledge) & the altogether shadier Tlotoxl (High Priest of Sacrifice). Care to guess which one of them wants to keep the whole thing as it is?
Having pondered your answer to that question, on we move. The Doctor & Ian are allowed to go free, with licence to roam & no need to apply for a concessional travel pass on the Doctor's behalf. The senior of the two is shuffled off to the Garden of Peace, a sort of outdoor retirement community. Any thoughts of pruning the roses are put off the second he meets the lovely Cameca, though. That's right, folks- the old goat's in love! Not that he knows it, mind. And all without Ian to act as his wing-man. Never mind. Old Chestofdrawers (the Doctor's mind understandably on better things than caring to remember Chesterton's actual surname at this point, most likely) has been conned into fighting for the right to command the Aztec army. One for the 'oops' column.
If that weren't bad enough, to cement his reputation as a hard-nut he has not only to get past the challenge of Ixta (the current holder of the post) but act as escort to the sacrificial victim of their god of rain. Bit of a problem when your other half absolutely can't stand it, and you know you've a problem when even forgetting her birthday presumably becomes a secondary concern to escaping with lives intact.
She's got a good reason for wanting to give them a shove in the right direction, though - they'll live longer and be better remembered as a kinder bunch. The Doctor, though, has other ideas, reminding everyone not to muck it up before most likely secretly excusing himself to get ready for another date with Cameca. Oh, the things they'll get up to when he gets her back to the TARDIS....
Proving herself not to have listened to a word he said, Babs promptly sends the whole operation to hell in a hand-basket by ordering the planned sacrifice to be scrapped. Bafflingly, the intended victim is outraged at this turn of events & promptly throws himself from the top of Yetaxa's tomb, encouraged by the increasingly seedy Tlotoxl - angry letters to the Daily Mail damning the decline of such great institutions in the relevant day & age being largely a waste of time at this juncture. Having berated Ms Wright for her intervention, the Doctor brightens up when talk turns to Cameca & what information he's gleaned from her. Mercifully that isn't a euphemism, either.
Ian has bigger things to worry about that the Doctor's sudden interest in the fairer sex, though, and has to postpone a planned talk on the birds & the bees until after he's shaken off Ixta. A simple neck pinch appears to do the trick in training until the Doctor accidentally gives his opponent a bit of a helping hand by demonstrating the questionable properties of one of the many plants in the Garden of Peace - poison. Well, can any of us chaps say we were any less similarly distracted when love bit?
Thankfully someone's actually doing their job, Barbara winning Autloc to her cause after sharing her prophetic visions telling her the Aztecs will become great, but only if they forsake their current barbarism. Of course none of it will matter a jot when Hernan Cortes & the Conquistadors pitch up in a few years time to spoil their party, but she doesn't tell them anything of that for some reason. Maybe sour grapes. But everybody's got a lot more on their plate than some stolen gold & a possible Spanish inquisition (which nobody expects). After all the politics, its back on the love roller-coaster for Cameca...
She's been awfully happy of late, and Autloc asks why. She's rather fallen for her Gallifreyan paramour, and intends to get him to share a cup of cocoa to seal their engagement, possibly while also listening to the Time Lord's cassette copy of Hot Chocolate's You Sexy Thing, liberated from Virgin Megastores circa 1975. One can only guess that any attempts at Full Monty-esque dancing on his part didn't necessarily impress his unintended fiancée, either. Maybe she wouldn't have minded him whirling his smoking jacket around his head a bit, at least?
Don't worry though, chaps - it isn't a real custom, so next time you take that nice girl from work for a Costa you won't need to fret! For the Doctor though, the simple act of sharing a hot drink very nearly makes him the universe's oldest-looking first time bridegroom. The look of utter horror on his face at the point she reveals she's looking forward to marrying him is worth the price of admission on its own...
Heartbreakingly for her it won't last. Plans are to be made to break into the tomb, get back to the TARDIS & make a quick exit once Susan's been saved from an attempted enforced marriage & Ian from being stuck in the centre of the tomb itself after initial exploration.
Autloc becomes possibly the Aztec world's first confirmed atheist, his faith in the old ways shaken by Barbara/Yetaxa's impassioned stance against the savagery - promptly disappearing into the wilderness, never to be seen again. Cameca hands her departing intended lover a brooch to remember her by, which he so nearly carelessly tosses away but keeps at the last second, along with his Walkman & that Hot Chocolate tape.
Happily everybody else gets a nice resolution, too - Susan saved from marrying years before her time, Ian winning his fight against Ixta, & Barbara reassured that while she may not have been able to stop human sacrifice she did at least manage to change one man's mind on the whole ghastly business.
Isn't that just lovely? With that, the Doctor is left to put in his headphones once more, press 'play' on the TARDIS tape deck & set the controls for the Sense-Sphere (The Sensorites) while lovingly crooning to his faithful blue space/time steed as he dances around the console. Or something along those lines.