Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9-10)
“The Aztecs” is one of the better-known stories from the William Hartnell era of Doctor Who, partially because it is where he utters one of the First Doctor’s most famous lines: “You can’t rewrite history, not one line!” The TARDIS lands in 15th century Mexico, specifically, inside an Aztec tomb. When the Doctor and his companions are discovered, their imminent arrest turns into something altogether different when Barbara is mistaken for a reincarnation of the tomb’s occupant, the High Priest Yetaxa.
While it does allow her to make sure that her friends are not mistreated, Barbara’s newly acquired god status also requires involvement in practices that a 20th century woman just cannot stomach. The Aztecs have been in a severe drought, and a human sacrifice is planned to the rain god in hopes of reversing the situation. Now, since Yetaxa has returned to them, she gets to preside over the ceremony herself.
Once alone with the Doctor, Barbara voices her opposition to what she sees as a barbaric practice and declares her intention to stop the sacrifice, not only sparing the life of the victim but also perhaps steering the Aztecs away from the path that she, as a history teacher, knows will very soon lead them to disaster. The Doctor, however, strenuously objects (uttering the aforementioned famous quotation) and urges Barbara not to interfere with the proceedings.
She can’t do it, however. She can’t stand by and watch while another human being is murdered in what she knows to be a futile attempt to affect nature. Even though the intended victim still dies (upset at being robbed of what he considered a great honor, he throws himself off the side of the pyramid), even though the Aztecs don’t change their barbaric ways, even though the Doctor is proven right in the end, Barbara stops the ceremony and prevents the priests from performing the sacrifice..
It would have been easy to be an observer and let things play out the way she knows they will. It would have been so easy to follow the instructions of the experienced time traveler. Barbara didn’t settle for easy, though. She saw the opportunity to make a difference and she took it, even though it didn’t produce immediate, noticeable results. She did what she saw as the right thing despite the fact that nothing really changed in the end.
Barbara did the right thing despite the fact that, as far as she could tell, nothing really changed in the end. Who knows what small, subtle changes might have happened because someone saw her take action? Who knows what good she might have actually brought about? The truth is, often we don’t see immediate, noticeable results, especially for our efforts in the spiritual realms. That should never stop us from speaking out, taking a stand, and doing the right thing. Even when it seems that nothing has changed, we never know when we might just have rewritten someone’s future history.