CRRRaSh! 345 Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars

By Roy Mathur, on 2020-11-30, at 23:42:09--00:14:58 GMT, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen

The State of the Revisit

I said in 343 that I saw this the first time around, now I'm not sure. I definitely saw this recently as a TV repeat, but whether or not I saw this in 1975... I just don't know. It does seem familiar, but they all do from the mid-70s onwards.

I said recently that Jon Pertwee was my Doctor, but he was only my Doctor because it was years after I was born before we had a television. Technically, Patrick Troughton was my Doc, though I think Jon Pertwee was the coolest and Tom Baker the most entertaining. The most kid friendly was Peter Davison (Peter Malcolm Gordon Moffett) and the Sylvester McCoy was the most mysterious, mainly because Andrew Cartmel's Virgin Books tie-ins.

Before we start, I must warn you, I went a little overboard and wrote far too much about this one story. Perhaps it's because of the barmy amount of caffeine ingested before-hand, which will soon become apparent. Expect tangents. Expect mania.

Cast, Crew, and Production Notes

Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith: Elisabeth Sladen
Director: Paddy ("Patricia") Russell, an early BBC female director, credits included The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve (1966), Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974), Pyramids of Mars (1975), Horror of Fang Rock (1977)
Writer: Lewis Greifer original script, Robert Holmes rewrite, credited as Stephen Harris
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Story 3 of Season 13, following Planet of Evil covered in 343, 4 x 25 minute episodes, first broadcast from 25 October to 15 November 1975.

On this Day in the UK

I can't do this anymore! Nothing happened that day. Nothing! Do you hear me? Well, do you?!

What Happens

The TARDIS is diverted in its flight back to UNIT HQ and lands instead in the right place, but at the wrong time, in a priory built some time before the later UNIT facility.

The property belongs to Egyptologist Marcus Scarman, who returns through a portal within a sarcophagus and, on arrival, kills Namin his servant. Marcus Scarman is possessed by Sutekh (Set), the last of the omnipotent alien race called the Osirans, who is imprisoned within a pyramid in Egypt and held there by a signal emanating from a pyramid on the planet Mars.

Sutekh uses his puppet, Scarman, to control robots in the guise of mummies---the bindings of which are simply a protective covering---to build a missile to destroy the pyramid. After Lawrence Scarman, Marcus Scarman's gentle inventor brother---who was hitherto helping the Doctor and Sarah---dies, the Doctor disguises himself as mummy with the bindings removed from one of the robots by Lawrence. He then sabotages the missile by blowing it up with a box of explosives from a local poacher's shed.

The Doctor is, however, himself possessed by Sutekh and takes Marcus to Mars in the TARDIS, where Marcus cuts the signal holding Sutekh. Doctor realises that the time a radio signal will take to reach Earth from Mars will buy him some minutes, and so returns and uses the TARDIS's time control to move the end of the spacetime tunnel into millennia into the future, whereupon Sutekh dies of old age.

What I Thought

I enjoyed the Doctor's textbook mid-life crisis at beginning. And, you know what Doc? Tell me about it.

The story combined tropes so old, I didn't even have to go to TV Tropes. Namin is both the Orientalist caricature of the dodgy dark foreigner and the organ playing villain. Encore! Tropes and stereotyping aside, which, by the way, are acknowledged in Namin's dialogue, Namin's organ playing was fantastic and sinister, and now I want an organ.

Marcus Scarman was played by Bernard Archard how has a delightfully villainous face---all hard, bony angles, thin lips, and a great, sharp, hooked bill of a nose.

As far as costumes go, I love both the spacesuit Marcus uses to traverse the spacetime tunnel---the cape and helmet is Ziggy Stardust if Ziggy Stardust was E-V-I-L (and there's even dry ice harkening his arrival through the portal). The outfit worn by Sutekh captures the Ancient Egyptian/megalomaniac supervillain look to a tee. Imagine if Lord Buckethead had a bit part in The Bangles' Walk Like an Egyptian video. Well, sort of, but not at all. Look mates, it gives you a rough idea of what the hell I'm talking about, and also how much Red Bull I've been drinking. Less prosaically, Marcus looks rather like an all-in-black space Trojan and Sutekh the same-ish, but with a spacey version of an Egyptian death mask... Oh, that it so enough now.

The mummies red control crystal set into their backs reminds me of a reversing light. Cue more unmanly giggles.

What we see under Sutekh's mask resembles the composite of a horse and jackal with glowing eyes, bringing to mind the mysterious Tythonian animal of the god Set.

Possibly the most ridiculous way to die ever conceived on screen; sandwiched between the tummies of two rather robust mummies. Encore bravo! Those robotic mummies are silly and far below the standard of horror I'd expect of a Hinchcliffe production.

Almost every week, I see a prop I'd like to own. This week it was the Doctor's lock pick, like a key collided with an orrery.

There is a point at which, shortly before she is strangled by a mummy, Sarah positions her neck so that the mummy actor can more easily achieve a credible chokehold, given the great clumsy bindings around his hands. It reminded me of two wrestlers clumsily staging a fake move.

Around about the time Sarah she looks out onto the wrecked landscape of an alternate 1980, should Sutekh's plan come to fruition, she says, "But I'm from 1980". That's an interesting fact I can't recall mentioned before this point.

That radio signal time delay idea makes total sense, until you realise the Doctor owns a bloody time machine. But then that has always been one of the biggest, most utterly ludicrous holes in the logic of Doctor Who. I'm sure it's been 'splained away dozens of times over the years, with something like, "ooo, you can't meddle with time", but come on, give me a break. On the other hand, the radio signal delay is real and is science, so at least that's a smithen of hard sci-fi to assuage us hard sci-fi nuts. According to the ESA, radio takes thirteen minutes and forty-eight seconds to reach our little blue ball.

I can't help feeling this story, with its alien ancient Egyptian gods, must have influenced the Stargate (1994) movie and later TV series has a similar malevolent species called the Goa'uld.

Did I actually like it? It was okay. I wouldn't say it's one of the best, and while I pan the mummies, like Bok the prancing gargoyle (covered in 250; Doctor Who: The Daemons (1971)), they make me laugh no matter how many times I rewatch this story.

I must also compliment actor Gabriel Woolf, whose voice so deliciously delivers Sutekh's beautifully erudite and evil lines of dialogue.

Finally, the Ancient Egyptian themes, gods, and the mythology of the conflict between Set and Horus, appealed to my past as an Old World archaeologist. In conclusion, despite a few minor quibbles, yes, I enjoyed Pyramids of Mars.


Scarman's inventor brother is played by Michael Sheard who would go on to play nasty deputy head Maurice Bronson in Grange Hill and, of course, that unfortunate Empire officer in The Empire Strikes Back.

Filmed at Stargrove Manor, Hampshire and BBC Television Centre, Shepherd's Bush. The excellently named Stargrove Manor was bought by Mick Jagger in 1971, became a recording studio used by bands including Led Zeppelin, and... the list of how insanely connected this building is to posh and rich weirdos is too long for a single podcast.

According to the BBC episode guide this story has its roots in classic mummy horror films like Hammer's The Mummy (1959) and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971).