Written by Lewis Greifer and Robert Holmes
Directed by Paddy Russell
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series which has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has one human female accompanying him on his adventures, and sometimes a human male as well or another alien. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.
A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, he is portrayed by Tom Baker. Baker was one of the most popular incarnations of The Doctor, and by many fan’s assessments, he was the most popular.
In Pyramids of Mars, the Doctor and his traveling companion Sarah Jane (portrayed by Elisabeth Sladen) are in the TARDIS discussing life in general. The Doctor is fretting over having reached “middle age” when the TARDIS malfunctions. The two find out they have landed on Earth back in 1911. They are in the home of a renowned Egyptologist, Marcus Scarman (portrayed by Bernard Archard). Recently returned from an expedition, his house is filled with treasures and he hasn’t been seen in weeks. Ahmed, an Egyptian who returned with him, is doing his bidding.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane have an encounter with the butler, who soon turns up dead. The bodies accumulate and the Doctor soon surmises this is all the handiwork of one of the vilest villains of the galaxy, Sutekh. If left unchecked, Sutekh will destroy the Earth.
Sutekh was buried beneath one of the pyramids. There is a force field holding him in his prison which gets its power from Mars. Robots are building rockets which they intend to use to take this power source out. Can the Doctor and Sarah Jane stop them in time and save the Earth once again?
This was an episode of Doctor Who that I actually remember watching in my teens. Although the details were fuzzy after all these years, I could remember certain scenes distinctly. That was a nice surprise.
Having its roots in Egyptian mythology, Pyramids of Mars is a great story that encompasses everything I have grown to love about this show. It’s character-driven with a great mystery that unravels slowly throughout the story. The guest stars rise to the occasion and give terrific performances as well. Overall, it’s probably one of the best of the old series. That’s probably why I remember it so well.
The location for the shoot was fantastic. The home used belonged to Mick Jagger. It’s the type of home I would imagine for a setting like this with lots of hidden spaces and secret passageways. The depiction is terrific as it really comes together and makes for a great setting.
Sutekh controls a series of mummies by thought. These guys aren’t modern mummies, but old-fashioned ones reminiscent of horror movies of the past. They walk with the deliberate slowness yet somehow manage to capture human prey which seems much quicker. It would be laughable were it not executed so well.
Tom Baker is terrific. He goes from fretting initially over his circumstances in life to a renewed vitality. It’s not overdone or overt, but there’s a subtle contrast in his demeanor from the beginning to the end of the serial that’s nice. There are the moments that endear him to fans as well, such as when he’s trying to impart to Sarah Jane what the Earth will look like in her time unless something is done. Likewise, his interpretation of the Doctor when his mind is under the control of Sutekh will inspire a smile, rather than a feeling of peril. That’s what’s endearing about the show.
Elisabeth Sladen actually has some good material here. She’s much more than just the damsel in distress as she actually participates much more. Her weak moments come when she wants to leave the planet to Sutekh and the Doctor must lecture her, and eventually show her, what Earth in her time will look like if they do so. Seeing Sarah with more of a concern for self-preservation than her usual support and blind faith that the Doctor knows best was a bit out of character. Also, it was amazing how she chose the appropriate clothing even before she knew the time they would be landing in. None of that is Sladen’s fault, of course. She is doing her best with how the character is written. This is one of the better offerings for Sarah Jane, too.
The effects are cheesy, but that is also part of what’s good about the series. It’s not trying to dazzle us by setting up a situation to show us a cool effect. The effects are truly part of the story and with the limited capabilities and low budget for the era (this was aired in 1975), they are often laughable. However, it’s still fun to watch the effect used for the communication portal between Sutekh and those he controls, as well as the “fire” depicting the destroyed priory in the end.
Fans of the show should definitely not miss Pyramids of Mars. It has everything we love about the show. It’s also a great story arc to use to bring others into the old show for the first time.
• Howard Da Silva Intros
• Osirian Gothic
• Serial Thrillers
• Now and Then
• Deleted Scenes
• Commentary by Elisabeth Sladen, Michael Sheard, and Producer Philip Hincliffe