Pyramids of Mars

DVD NTSC
Region 1

DVD PAL
Region 2
VHS Video
NTSC A
NTSC B
NTSC A
NTSC B
PAL
(Doctor Who Story No. 82, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Robert Holmes and Lewis Greifer under the name "Stephen Harris"
  • directed by Paddy Russell
  • produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The TARDIS is drawn to the year 1911, landing in the mansion of archaeologist Marcus Scarman. But ever since his discoveries in an Egyptian pyramid, Professor Scarman has not been himself, to put it mildly, and mummies are soon seen roaming the countryside. The Doctor and Sarah begin to suspect that an unimaginably powerful danger is about to be set loose on the galaxy....

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Michael Sheard (Laurence Scarman), producer Philip Hinchcliffe,
    and director Paddy Russell.
  • "Osirian Gothic" making-of featurette (22 min.) adding Bernard Archard (Marcus Scarman), Gabriel Woolf (Sutekh),
    Peter Copley (Dr. Warlock), and designer Christine Ruscoe.
  • "Serial Thrillers" featurette on the Hinchcliffe/Holmes years (42 min.)
  • Deleted Scenes (3 min.)
  • "Now and Then" Location featurette (8 min.)
  • "Oh Mummy!" spoof featurette (7 min.)
  • Photo Gallery sound effects montage (11 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • "Who's Who" text biographies (may feature on Region 1 discs only)

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


Although the noticeably slow pace of this story has never been in doubt in my mind, its highly exceptional visual effects, generous smatterings of Egyptian & Martian mythology, and dynamically satisfying ending were strong enough to make me consider it for top season thirteen story in the past and let it sit in second place just slightly behind "Terror of the Zygons" (story no. 80). However, my values have shifted since I first saw it, and so now does its rank.


Character Flaw

What we see of the guest characters during their time on screen makes them seem quite a boring bunch. Many of them are little more than fingers and toes for Sutekh, who is constantly discussed and yet still never gains a greater depth of character exposition than: "Oh, I want to be evil and destroy everything because that's good to me." Lots. Not as believable as a character should be. Sutekh and his followers constantly spout insults and threats with religious fervour, which in itself is quite boring, and although the Doctor manages to have a small bit of verbal fun now and then, it's not enough to make the drama entertaining all the way through.

The opening footage of pyramids in Egypt starts the story off right, and the real Marcus Scarman's only scene in the tomb is enjoyable, up until the point where he gets killed by absolutely nothing. (VERY reminiscent of the beginning of the previous story!) Nice footage; it just needs a video effect to complete itself.

The TARDIS gets a useful exterior establishing shot, and satisfyingly liberal use of the interior, a welcome rarity for the Hinchcliffe era. The Doctor and Sarah are both introduced exceptionally well, both with opening visual shots and with all the right exposition in the content of their dialogue, but unfortunately the Doctor's mood is rather foul, so perhaps it isn't well to introduce new viewers to the show through this story after all. Then, not only is the TARDIS materialization skimped on, but the police box is completely neglected in the storage room in which it is supposed to have landed throughout the first two episodes. Visual literacy gone awry. The final two episodes do the police box justice in this room; too bad no one had the quick thinking to bring some of those shots forward into the first two episodes to make them more complete.

The Doctor does surprisingly little real investigation in this story; instead he follows the villains around and hides while they throw their religious curses and threats around, then he doubles back to a safe place with his friends and proceeds to spout answers off the top of his head as if all the details of Sutekh's history and technology were common knowledge across the galaxy. If that were true, there'd probably be more Sutekh imitators than one could count.

This running back and forth between morbid eavesdropping and exposition in a safe place accomplishes very little for our heroes and makes a boring plot. It is overdone here, and re-used formulaically in more stories than I can count.


Music and Energy

Dudley Simpson does some nice work for the music of this story, mixing his Doctor's theme with some Egyptian motifs, and applying the organ quite powerfully to build emotion during Sutekh's "descent." However, considering the excess of footage of sneaking around and running from the mummies, particularly through the forests which become very repetitive and drag the pace of the story out, I felt a lively, rousing theme for the villains was sorely lacking from the score, and would go a long way to injecting a much needed energy to the action sequences and help make the slow pace less noticeable and drowsy.

And so I composed some music of my own to dub onto my copy of the story, and my "Sutekh" theme was born. My only attempt to score the theme to picture so far has been an as yet unreleased cue of 2 minutes 31 seconds, which backs Namin and the mummies' first chase of the Doctor, Sarah and Warlock through the forests, where Dudley Simpson had previously used only short, sparse cues far too quiet for my liking. As Namin and the mummies are called away, the relief of tensions calls for a change of mood, and returning from my theme back to Simpson's music does the job.

Again, I think the Heathcliff Blair re-recordings of this particular score work better than the original performance used in the video story. The organ sounds more tasteful and crisp, the effects and low notes carry more power, the Egyptian qualities are more pronounced.

Music by Dudley Simpson
Five re-recorded tracks feature on:
Audio CD - Pyramids of Mars

Classic Music from
the Tom Baker Era

Heathcliff Blair

More info & buying options
Music inspired by "Pyramids of Mars" by Martin Izsak
"Sutekh" (1:46) features on:
Audio CD:
Harmonic Odyssey

An instrumental electronic mix of new age, classical, and upbeat easy listening all original songs.

More info, free samples & buying options

"Every point in time has its alternative...."

Sarah brings up an excellent idea in episode two, to use the TARDIS to navigate back to the 1980 that she knows. Of course we can't expect the Doctor to admit that he doesn't know how to do that by TARDIS navigation alone, even if he does accept the notion that Sarah's 1980 and the alternative one destroyed by Sutekh are co-existing simultaneously. So far, the only way he knows of accessing Sarah's 1980 is by going through the motions of defeating Sutekh, and then going forward in time with the TARDIS. In fact, I'll bet it was his foul mood that guided him to this deadly version of 1911 in the first place.

The scene is a lovely use of the TARDIS interior, and the CSO revealing the desolate landscape is brilliant - quite a rarely used style of doing the TARDIS doors. If only Harry Sullivan had had as good a scene in the interior at the beginning of the Tom Baker era as Laurence Scarman does here, the series might have been much easier to follow for general audiences and made a better first impression on North American viewers.


Casting

Michael Sheard stands out among the guest actors, giving quite an endearing performance for Laurence Scarman. Gabriel Woolf, whose performance is necessarily based almost solely on vocal characteristics, succeeds in creating a chilling presence for Sutekh despite the melodramatic dialogue given by the script. The rest of the actors do adequate work, but can't quite rise above the script that has most of their characters bogged down in an unpleasant quagmire of drowsiness and morbidity. Ernie Clements in particular seems to be a less interesting re-working of Holmes' Sam Seeley character from "Spearhead From Space" (story no. 51).


Design Highlights

Ian Scoones, Christine Ruscoe, and Paddy Russell also deserve due credit for making the story such a successful visual treat. We get lots of ornate Egyptian artifacts and wall decorations, plus lavish English mansions, followed by a trip inside a Martian Pyramid. Then there are outstanding colourful effects like the space/time tunnel, not to mention the ripples of light on the sarcophagus itself as Sutekh speaks.

And Tom Baker gets what must be the most definitive coat of his era - a magnificently rich brown with slightly golden highlights. It's perfect.


The Best of the Four Episodes

Episode Three boasts the strengths of the story's plot, as it revolves almost entirely around the Doctor's efforts to thwart Sutekh's pyramid shaped "rocket". The story beats are all logical and escalate in a satisfying manner. They still come off a trifle slow, but they are solid, and work much better than many other season thirteen offerings. This episode also shows off the best of the location work around the house. The robot mummies are a unique sight, particularly on location, and somehow they seem to be at their most appropriate outdoors around the pyramid "rocket".

Episode Four should be the most interesting of all, as we get to go to Mars to explore a pyramid there. The visuals are certainly fascinating, but the characters (what few of them are left by this point) are at their dullest. The Doctor himself is tortured and drained of most of his charm after a little possession by Sutekh during the journey to Mars. Paddy Russell gets a star for including the one perfect shot of the TARDIS interior that we need during that sequence, with the added bonus of seeing the room full of Egyptian artefacts through the TARDIS exterior doors.

The sequences of the Doctor and Sarah following Marcus Scarman and his mummy through all the door puzzles offers little of interest to the older, more sophisticated members of the audience. The Doctor ultimately has no need to follow Scarman at this point, and because he is following, doing the puzzles second, his efforts to solve them really don't carry much relevance at all. In "Death to the Daleks" (story no. 72), the city of the Exxilons looked far more boring, but the story was better structured, with the Doctor hitting the puzzles first, and needing to complete them quickly before the Daleks caught up to him. Here, the puzzles become more padding than anything else. Presumably the rocket would have bypassed them by destroying the entire pyramid. Would that have worked, or did Horus have a booby-trap ready for that contingency? Horus doesn't actually seem that smart.


In the end, I think "Planet of Evil" (story no. 81) has stood the test of time better than this story, which must take a back seat to it now, but "Pyramids of Mars" still boasts many great elements and remains a strong and solid story, albeit a bit morbid and fanatical. Can it and "Planet of Evil" still outrank "The Seeds of Doom" (story no. 85)? Ahh, but that's a question for another review....



This story has become available on DVD and VHS video:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
NTSC A in Canada
NTSC B in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Android Invasion"



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