We learn from the DVD text that Hartnell flubbed Aztecs as Anzacs in rehearsals. He's marvelous in the finished feature making nearly one flub but I love his flubs. This is as DW should be: a traveling adventure rather than a stuck in one spot UNIT type invasion story or a soap opera but I guess that all sorts of stories can come and go in DW. I don't mind that the look of this story was better on dusty video rather than crisp still DVD where you can see that the backdrops are really just drop cloths. It still looks good. The look is rather spoiled at 20;30 where the lame crowd sound is played at the sacrifice. I would have preferrred a longer crowd sound and maybe some stock footage. Equally lame is the rainstorm stock footage and we see no rain. The cliffhanger was to have rain hit the altar but being entirely studio bound, that was ruled out. Of course, an earlier movie KINGS OF THE SUN, had much of this done up in class and spectacle and was pretty good, better visually than this. And a later BBC serial THE FEATHERED SERPENT had proper costumes or rather lack of them as there should have been more skin on display (and FEATHERED SERPANT contains Patrick Troughton and the boy who played, later, Adric's brother Richard Willis--and may I say WOW!). None of that matters really though.
The drama holds up. Although it is difficult to keep the large cast straight and the names of all their gods, the guest actors are quite capable. Tlotloxl's actor is a bit too evilly villainous but he's adequate. The others are fully realised from Cameca, whom the Doctor seems to take a fancy to, to Autloc, the good guy as bad guy or turning from bad guy into a fully fledged good guy. It seems Ixta had killed that warrior he was sparring with but it is so subtle that it ranks among one of the least exciting scenes in DW ever...it could have been so dramatic. I guess this is still a kids' show and if you compare that to the scenes of Richard Willis's torture in sun wearing loin cloth in FEATHERED SERPANT years later (1977?) THE AZTECS comes up lacking. There is no TARDIS appearing scene. The tomb within and without sets are very nice and some of the costumes are good. The drama between the Doctor and Barbara is the highlight.
Here, DW or maybe just the DOctor trying to keep things on the narrow tells them history cannot be interfered with and that you cannot rewrite one single line. We know now that their actions can change things but if too much...and the Doctor later states he's an expert and he can do that but here that's NOT the implication at all. Here he's not supposed to try and even if he did, he can't. He says he knows that it cannot be done: it's impossible. David Whitaker told us in a letter on the DVD text that he once wrote to a fan that time is like a hill, with past behind and future ahead and all the Doc and co can do is watch it behind and ahead and never interfere or get involved. This would make a very boring show. Even here, they do get mixed up into it and it's far from boring. Barbara is full of herself in this and in some way it is satisfying to see her knocked off her high horse, almost as much as seeing Tennant's Doctor get knocked off his later on.
This story is rather good and this ep is in particular a good ep despite the studio bound drawbacks and the nearly over the top Tox whatever his name is. It ranks as one of the best stories ever to be honest. The entire set up is just marvelous and tension filled.