Doctor Who – Pyramids of Mars

Doctor Who Story 082 – Pyramids of Mars

Sutekh enjoying his new, and temporary, freedom.
Source: Tardis Index File. Copyright 1975 by BBC.

Who Wrote It: Steven Harris (well, Robert Holmes)

What’s It About: The Doctor and Sarah arrive in 1911 and find a Victorian manor with walking mummies, a malicious Egyptian, and the corpse of an archaeology professor working together to free an ancient evil that has been imprisoned on Mars.

I have watched Pyramids of Mars more than any other Doctor Who story. In the past, this has been the serial used to introduce curious friends to the classic series. It is a good mixture of the gothic horror of the Hinchcliff era and the occasionally cheesiness of classic Doctor Who. Plus, it has some really good Tom Baker moments. Because I have seen this story so many times, I have learned the hard way that Pyramids of Mars works best in small doses (well, for me). It is a fairly straight-forward adventure but little else.

Pyramids has a lot of things going for it. It is written in the style of a Victorian adventure, thus putting Doctor Who in a position to be included in the Wold Newton Family alongside Sherlock Holmes, John Carter, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and so on. In fact, it seems that Robert Holmes occasionally defaults to Victorian adventure when he is in a time crunch. Pyramids also gives us a godlike villain in the form of Sutekh, an ancient alien who is stronger than any living being—stronger even than the Time Lords. This puts Sutekh in the company of the Animus and The Great Intelligence, both villains that are stronger than The Doctor. There is just something fascinating, to me, about The Doctor fighting Lovecraftian beings, aliens that are practically gods from a human perspective. And at its core, this story is very dark and bleak. The very concept that Professor Scarman is a corpse that has been animated by Sutekh’s will is wonderfully creepy. This entire story is a fun adventure that, if thought about deeply, is actually quite conceptually disturbing.

Unfortunately, it isn’t perfect. A large part of the final act is lifted from Death to the Daleks—a fact that the script actually points to. And while the final method of dispatching Sutekh works, it isn’t really satisfying. I think this is a case of creating a villain that was too powerful to defeat with the story elements that were given. In the end, this is a story with good atmosphere, acting, and production values; it is a story that has good amounts of horror and adventure and some interesting concepts. It just doesn’t resolve them in a completely satisfying way.

My Rating: 3.5/5

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