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30 January 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day Thirty: The Day Of Darkness (The Aztecs, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

The Aztecs is something of an odd one, morally. There's a moment in this episode where Autloc - the time traveller's only supporter among the Aztecs for some time now - declares that Ian and Susan 'serve a false goddess', and out heart really sinks. Their final friend has turned against them, and joined sides with the evil Tlotoxl.

Except… well… he's only stating the truth! Barbara is a false God! She is deceiving Autloc, and trying to deceive the rest of the Aztecs for her own reasons, however 'right' she may believe her reasons to be. It's an interesting stance for a Doctor Who story, when villains are often painted as far more black and white.

During Marco Polo, I commented on how Tegana was almost a pantomime villain. He was evil for his own reasons, planning to steal the TARDIS and use it to help wage war. The only reason that he was a part of Polo's caravan was so that he could assassinate Kublai Kahn. He was just pure evil, in the same way that the Daleks, or the Voord have been in this season, too.

Tlotoxl, on the other hand, while still being prone to a few pantomime outbursts, is only trying to seek the truth. He knows that Barbara is lying to them (even more so after yesterday's episode, where she specifically tells him she's fake!), and seeks only to prove this to the others. Oh, sure, he goes about it in something of a devious way (trying to get them all killed on more than one occasion is one way to deal with your problems!), but it's hard to dislike him entirely.

What's interesting is that the character's painted throughout as truly believing in sacrifice. After an attempt to halt one earlier in the story sees the intended victim throw himself from the temple, Tlotoxl claims that his death is still the cause of godly intervention. During this episode, though, it's made much more clear that he knows it's all a farce, commenting that 'the darkness will come and go! A sacrifice must be made!'.

While on the subject of Tlotoxl, I've been waiting until now to praise John Ringham's performance. He's simply fantastic throughout this story. He's genuinely chilling when he wants to be - never more so than during his stare to camera during the story's first cliffhanger - and great fun throughout. I'm going to miss him as we move on to a new time and place.

It's nice, too, to see the Doctor gently supporting Barbara, as he tells Cameca that the gods really do want sacrifice to stop. He knows it's all fruitless, but it's nice to see him siding with his companion when he knows how strongly she feels about it.

As the story's rating will attest, I've really rather enjoyed The Aztecs. I've always known that it's quite a good one, somewhere in the back of my mind, since the first time I saw it, but it's nice to have that confirmed here.

I won't go into much detail about the story as a whole, as I've done that through the various entries on the four episodes. It's lovely to see Barbara given a story that is so totally 'hers'; the series at this stage is still very much an ensemble piece, and it works so well as a result of it.

Next Episode: Strangers in Space

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