The Aztecs

Cover of Doctor Who: The Aztecs DVD release


  • 21 October 2002 (UK)
  • 4 March 2003 (US)




Ah, The Aztecs. It's definitely one of the lighter Doctor Who adventures, and with good reason it's well-regarded among William Hartnell's material. As one of the most purely entertaining Doctor Who stories, The Aztecs comes off pretty well.

The Aztecs - 4 episodes

One might be forgiven for barely recognizing The Aztecs as Doctor Who, having seen only the first three stories in The Beginning Collection. While the early Doctor Who serials were heavy, serious, and slowly paced, The Aztecs is a different affair. The story moves along at a good clip, with all exposition out of the way in the first episode (compare The Daleks, which took four episodes). The villains and allies take their places, and the treachery begins, just like that. Perhaps most surprisingly, the Doctor and his companions seem to be having fun (of all things!). Arriving in an Aztec tomb but soon separated from the TARDIS, Barbara is forced to impersonate a goddess. She delights in it, and the others are amused and seem quite pleased at the opportunity to explore Aztec culture.

Perhaps the biggest change of all lies in the Doctor. In early episodes, he is portrayed as amoral and selfish, and the viewer is left to wonder whether he is indeed good or evil. Moreover, he has a gruff demeanor and is condescending toward his companions. Here, he smiles, laughs and jokes around. He treats his companions as equals and with respect, even when he gets into disagreements with them. And he is genuinely concerned about their welfare, instead of being focused solely on his own. It's a far cry from An Unearthly Child or The Daleks, but it fits in line with the slow softening of his character evident in the early episodes. Still, the change is dramatic here.

In terms of the plot, The Aztecs is pretty standard fare. The Doctor and Barbara disagree about whether it's appropriate or even possible to meddle with history to prevent a senseless killing. Unlike The Daleks, in which the viewer was left to wonder what would become of the local protagonists, The Thals, the outcome of this story and the safety of our heroes is never really in question. Nevertheless, the primary aim of the story seems to be light entertainment rather than high drama, and in this regard it succeeds. The only real problem with The Aztecs is that while the first two episodes pack a real punch, the latter two drag a bit. It's not a huge problem, and the overall quality of episodes is far more consistent than typical Doctor Who, but the viewer is left a bit disappointed.

The Aztecs has a rightful place as one of the classic William Hartnell stories. Indeed, if the moral dilemma at the center of the story were a bit more compelling and fleshed out, and if the latter half of the story maintained the intensity of the first half, The Aztecs would easily be Hartnell's best story. As it stands, that honor probably falls to The Dalkes, largely due to its well-presented moral dilemma. Still, The Aztecs is great entertainment, and it's probably the best introduction to William Hartnell era Doctor Who.


Special features

The special features included on the DVD of The Aztecs are a bit disappointing. Largely due to the absence of excellent moderator Gary Russell, the commentaries tend to wander and offer little insight. The best feature is probably "Remembering the Aztecs", which features memorable and insightful interviews with the two villains of the story, Ixta and Toltoxl.