January 15: "The Bride of Sacrifice" / "The Day of Darkness"

(The Aztecs episodes 3 & 4)

Tonila and Tlotoxl test Yetaxa's divinity. ("The Bride
of Sacrifice") ©BBC
"The Bride of Sacrifice" is in fact Susan, who viewed an arranged marriage in Lucarotti's last serial and is now the subject of one.  Not bad for someone who's been on vacation for two episodes.  (Carole Ann Ford is included on pre-filmed inserts.)

There's a bit of a course change here, as the focus moves from trying to prevent the Aztecs' sacrifices to simply trying to get back into Yetaxa's tomb.  Which isn't to say that the issue of human sacrifice goes away; it's just not the main thrust of the drama any more.

Quick digression: there's an episode of Star Trek called "The Apple", where (putting it crudely) Kirk and his crew encounter a culture that they disagree with and force the natives to change their way of life.  This always sat poorly with me, partly because it's just assumed that Western European culture is the best, most "right" culture.  By contrast, here we get Ian arguing with Barbara about the Aztec culture of sacrifice: "You keep on insisting that Tlotoxl's the odd man out, but he isn't. ... You can't fight a whole way of life, Barbara."  It's recognition that the Aztecs don't want to be changed, that they're perfectly happy to continue human sacrifice -- indeed, as the Perfect Victim himself points out, "It is a great honor for me to be chosen."  And in fact it's the travellers who are being less than honest, portraying themselves as a goddess and her servants -- though it may have been a case of mistaken identity, they never disabuse the Aztecs of this belief.

But this is one moment in these two episodes: as noted earlier, we're now much more concerned with getting into Yetaxa's tomb.  This leads to some wonderful moments in the garden with Ian and the Doctor and then with Ixta.  And special mention must go to the lighting, which does a fantastic job of evoking a moonlit night, as well as giving the impression of water rising up around Ian at the cliffhanger to "The Bride of Sacrifice".  And if we're discussing the garden, we have to talk about the Doctor's inadvertent marriage proposal to Cameca: we get a great comedic look from William Hartnell when he learns what he's actually done by preparing cocoa, but afterwards he doesn't seem to be terribly upset at the notion and seems genuinely sad that he has to leave Cameca behind, even though he knows he must.  And it leads to my favorite moment of the story, where the Doctor puts down the brooch Cameca gave him, starts to leave, then turns and snatches it back before entering the TARDIS.  It's an understated and beautiful moment.

All this plus continued excellence from the actors shows why The Aztecs as a story is so highly regarded.  This is the only complete surviving 'straight' historical from the '60s (as opposed to, say, The Romans, which is largely comedic, or The Time Meddler, which is about someone attempting to change history), and one sometimes wonders if the high reputation the historical stories currently enjoy is due in no small part to how well this story pulls it off -- feeling nearly Shakespearean at times, as, e.g., Tlotoxl schemes to destroy Barbara or Ian announces that his and Ixta's next meeting will be their last one (as indeed it is, with a fight sequence shot on film that's far ahead of the stylized movement we got in "The Temple of Evil").  The Aztecs is magnificent.