Machiavellian antics begin as Anti-Yetaxa factions make their move.
“What better way to destroy your enemies than to let them destroy themselves.”
As Doctor Who villains go, Tlotoxl is one of my non-Kevin Stoney favorites. He is cunning. He is ruthless. He manipulates. Having lost faith in Barbara as Yetaxa, Tlotoxl wastes no time undermining her authority. He attempts to test her with knowledge, but when he is rebuffed he turns his attention to Barbara’s weakness: her companions. Using the sacred status of the Perfect Victim, he is able to manipulate the Perfect Victim into requesting things which cannot be denied. The request is a fight between Ian and Ixta. This is the second fight between the two men in this episode, the first saw Ian defeat Ixta due to his knowledge of pressure points. This is one area where modern knowledge soundly defeats ancient knowledge. Although, such a move probably wouldn’t have worked as effectively in Marco Polo.
Ixta soon proves to be just as cunning as Tlotoxl. In his preparation for the duel, he discovers The Doctor’s interest in the temple with Yetaxa’s tomb. Without letting The Doctor know his position as Ian’s rival, Ixta trades information about the temple for information on how to defeat a rival. In this case, a thorn whose poison slowly drains the energy of the person scratched. Tlotoxl and Ixta are formidable opponents indeed.
Barbara, meanwhile, beings to focus on her greatest ally: Autloc. As High Priest of Knowledge, Autloc outranks Tlotoxl. Barbara appeals to his wisdom and reason, building a case for the elimination of the sacrifices while undermining Tlotoxl. She also uses her knowledge of history to make a prophecy about the downfall of Aztec society. This was an interesting scene, adding a fun spin to the idea of prophecy. Someone who has foreknowledge would be in an ideal position to prophesize.
As has been the case in The Edge of Destruction, William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill put in great performances. Jacqueline has to portray a character who realizes how much of a mistake she has made, but realizes that she can’t undo her actions. She must follow the path she thoughtlessly started to whatever end it may go. As such, she must draw on an inner strength to meet a vicious man who is plotting her downfall and a gentle man whom she respects. William Hartnell is wonderful as a conniving Doctor, but rather than a malicious plotter, he is all charm. Whether charming Cameca or helping Ixta, The Doctor moves from gentle flirtations to subtle manipulator effortlessly. This character has already shown much growth. The fact that his manipulations are actually the result of Ixta’s manipulations make ominous what would normally be a great victory. Ixta promises the plans for the temple at the cost of Ian’s life.
A final note on Susan. Thankfully, she doesn’t spend the episode screaming or panicking, but we do get a scene of her reciting information she has studied while at the Aztec School of Theology. Yet her progressive views of the place of women in society are in stark contrast to what The Aztecs are used to. Even her proclamation that she cannot be told who she will married, that she will choose her future husband, has the air of a plot-point which will come back to bite her hard.
Of course, such foreshadowing is easy to catch when I have already seen the story.