Doctor Who #29: The Bride of Sacrifice

"Why should I use divine powers, when human ability will suffice?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 3 of The Aztecs. First aired Jun.6 1964.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor gets engaged to Cameca by mistake, Barbara tells Tlotoxl she's not a goddess, and Ian goes into a secret tunnel hoping to get to the TARDIS.

REVIEW: In response to the previous episode's ultimatum, Barbara does the unexpected and saves Ian by holding a knife to Tlotoxl's throat. Unexpected for the Aztecs who were expecting a miracle, and even more unexpected for the TARDISeers and the audience, because Barbara has truly gone native. Though she's trying to end their barbarity, she's actually becoming more like them. Later, she'll threaten Tlotoxl with destruction if he makes trouble. And while she didn't respond to the Doctor's harsh criticism, a kinder word from Ian makes her realize that she can't change history. As he says, Autloc is the remarkable, evolved man of this society, and Tlotoxl the rule. Things get more complicated for Barbara after sympathetic Autloc begs her not to prove false to him, and then, possibly pushed into it by Ian's arguments, when she admits she's no goddess to Tlotoxl. From here on out, though Barbara must keep up appearances, the focus is on getting the hell out of there (though Barbara still intends to end the sacrifices at the next eclipse if they haven't gone).

The Aztecs continues to be a strong serial for Barbara, who shows a lot of guts playing dangerous games with the High Priest of Sacrifice. She passes his "witch test" by refusing to drink from the poisoned cup, though it still reveals her humanity. The image of drinking from a dangerous cup is repeated in the Doctor subplot, in which he amusingly gets engaged without knowing it through a cocoa drinking ceremony with Cameca. Lucarotti isn't just throwing local color at us, he's using it as a plot complication and as much-needed comic relief. Hartnell is wonderful in this, showing real admiration and affection for Cameca, but also revealing he might be playing her a little to get plans to the temple. He'll have a cup of cocoa with her, but marriage is taking it a bit too far. And the way he glibly dismisses it when talking to Ian is just as fun. It's in these more humorous moments that I see future Doctors prefigured in the first. And there's another wedding too, an averted one between Susan and the Perfect Victim. She rejects him and incurs the wrath of Aztec law. Tlotoxl uses his usual modus operandi and makes Barbara agree to the punishment without telling her Susan's the culprit.

Meanwhile, Ixta's become real friendly with Ian. He's now confident he can beat Ian in a future match, so why not be pals until Ian has to die? It's another example of Lucarotti dramatizing the values and attitudes of another time, turning it into another planet. These aren't people of today transplanted into history, nor are they Hollywood caricatures. They're really of that time. Ixta gloats about his clever use of "stealth and cunning", something Ian taught him, ironically. It's a nice touch that immediately after that, Ian hides to listen to Tlotoxl's plans for Barbara. A nearly flawless episode then, though the director once again has trouble with the cliffhanger. The shot of water coming into Ian's tunnel is just terrible, and while I might be generous and say it was perhaps impossible to do that shot with the resources of the day, I've just thought of a better way myself, so no relief there. (The water should be washing onto Ian's feet, not spraying from a higher nozzle.)

REWATCHABILITY: High - Doctor Who's third episodes will eventually get a reputation for being padding, but The Bride of Sacrifice subverts those expectations completely. There's a complex ethical dilemma at the center of it, great dialog and character work, and some comic relief to boot.

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