The sky grows dark, lightening flashes, thunder is heard, and it begins to rain. ”With death came rain,” Tlotoxl tells Barbara, his contempt apparent. The high priest of sacrifice is certain now: Barbara is not Yetaxa. As lightning continues to flash across the sky illuminating his gruesome features, Tlotoxl determines to destroy the false goddess…
The most interesting question John Lucarotti asks in The Temple of Evil isn’t whether history can be changed, but what is the nature of history? And even more fundamentally than that, what ultimately defines the greater shape of things that we recognize as history? The answer is obvious: individuals though our actions and the choices we make—and the consequences of those choices.
This isn’t the first time the question of agency has come up, but this time it’s more obvious, and immediately the consequences of Barbara’s initial attempt to change Aztec culture, ostensibly with good intentions, is clear: she has put the time travelers in a far more dangerous position by stopping the human sacrifice and raising Tlotoxl’s suspicions about her divinity as the supposed reincarnation of Yetaxa. Barbara is overwhelmed; she didn’t think, and that’s the problem, the Doctor angrily tells her.
Barbara’s direct approach probably wouldn’t have succeeded, regardless of whether “history” ultimately can or cannot be changed. After all, culture isn’t really driven by gods or high priests—though they do have a significant part to play—but rather by ordinary people: the countless (and nameless) men, women, and children whom history has all but forgotten. Sudden, dramatic cultural shifts do occur, of course, but mostly it’s a very long game; as a history teacher, Barbara should have realized this immediately. Even so, she is in a unique position, and in her urgency to see the culture she regards so highly not be destroyed, it’s perhaps understandable that she opted for such a straightforward, uncontrived means.
Autloc, as high priest of knowledge, admits that he doesn’t believe human sacrifice is absolutely necessary, but he serves the gods, and accepts sacrifice as part of his culture. At the same time, he’s not upset that Barbara attempted to stop the sacrifice of the Sacred Victim, telling her, “We send messengers to the gods; why should the gods not send a messenger to us?” It’s a valid question, and Barbara takes advantage of it: she foretells “famine, drought, and disaster” and the death of 10,000 men in a day if the sacrifices continue. Autloc is troubled by her prophecy, and tells he that he will consider what she has to say—he won’t defy the gods if it’s their will the sacrifices should end.
Ironically, however, the Doctor himself fails consider the full consequences when agrees to provide the temple builder’s son (really Ixta, though the Doctor doesn’t know this), with whom Cameca has arranged a meeting, the means to defeat his opponent (really Ian, though the Doctor doesn’t know this, either) in a non-lethal combat in exchange for the temple blueprints, and hopefully access to the TARDIS. It’s only when Barbara reveals that Ixta is fighting Ian in hand-to-hand combat that the full gravity of his actions becomes apparent.
It’s no surprise that Tlotoxl and Ixta have conspired together to ensure Ian’s death during the match. As the fight commences, both men seem equally matched with one another, and as the combat goes on, Ixta sees the opportunity to use the drugged thorn the Doctor provided. The Doctor arrives with Tlotoxl and sees what’s about to happen—he calls out to Ian, distracting him just long enough for Ixta to scratch him. His strength begins to fade as the drug begins to take effect. Ixta pins Ian to the ground, ready to kill him—
Barbara enters with Autloc at the last moment, commanding an end to the combat, but it may be too late. Tlotoxl mocks her, now openly questioning whether she is truly an emissary from the gods. If she truly is divine, he gloats, then she must save Ian. Barbara moves toward her friend, uncertain what to do…
Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He's been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he's way behind.)