BBC HomeExplore the BBC

1 October 2014
Accessibility help
Text only

BBC Homepage

Entertainment Cult

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

 
Pyramids of Mars

Production Code: 4G

First Transmitted

1 - 25/10/1975 17:45

2 - 01/11/1975 17:45

3 - 08/11/1975 17:45

4 - 15/11/1975 17:45

Plot

The TARDIS materialises on Earth in the year 1911 inside an old priory owned by Egyptologist Marcus Scarman. Scarman has been possessed by Sutekh, last survivor of the god-like Osirans, who is held prisoner inside a pyramid in Egypt by a signal transmitted from one on Mars. Sutekh desires his freedom and instructs Scarman to construct servicer robots - which look like Egyptian mummies - to build a missile with which to destroy the Martian pyramid. The Doctor foils this plan by blowing up the missile.

He then falls under Sutekh's control himself and is made to transport Scarman to Mars in the TARDIS. Scarman cuts off the signal but the Doctor, now freed of Sutekh's influence, realises that there will be a short delay before it ceases to have effect, owing to the time taken for it to reach Earth.

He rushes back and uses the time control from the TARDIS to move the end of the space-time tunnel that links the priory to the Egyptian pyramid into the far future. Sutekh, travelling down the tunnel, is unable to reach the end in his lifetime, and dies.

Episode Endings

Marcus Scarman's servant Namin plays the priory's organ as three robot mummies line up in front of a sarcophagus mounted on a raised dais. The front of the sarcophagus becomes a vortex and Namin comes to kneel before it as a black-robed figure steps through. The figure grasps Namin's shoulders. Smoke pours from the Egyptian's body and he falls dead to the ground.

The Doctor, Sarah and Marcus Scarman's brother Laurence return to the latter's house, where they discover the body of Scarman's friend Dr Warlock. The Doctor plans to block Sutekh's control of Marcus Scarman and thus cause him to collapse. Outside, a poacher named Clements is crushed to death between two mummies. Laurence shoots at them but they advance into the cottage, where one of them grabs Sarah by the throat.

The Doctor, disguised as a mummy, places a box of dynamite in the missile being prepared for launching. Sarah then fires a rifle at it. The box ignites but there is no explosion as Sutekh is mentally containing the blast. The Doctor travels to Sutekh's pyramid in Egypt using the sarcophagus space-time tunnel. Once there he breaks the Osiran's concentration and the missile is destroyed. Sutekh blasts the Doctor with light from his eyes.

With Sutekh dead from old age, the space-time tunnel explodes as the thermal balance equalises. A fire begins to rage in the priory and the Doctor and Sarah make a hasty departure so as not to be blamed for starting it - as the Doctor comments, he had enough of that in 1666.

Roots

Egyptian mythology.

Mummy films (especially Hammer's The Mummy and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb).

Edgar Allen Poe (decoding principles).

H.G. Wells is mentioned.

The Sword of Rhiannon.

Norse mythology (Loki's imprisonment).

Bram Stoker's The Jewel of the Seven Stars.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "The Earth isn't my home, Sarah. I'm a Time Lord."

Sarah : "Oh, I know you're a Time Lord."

The Doctor : "You don't understand the implications. I'm not a human being. I walk in eternity."

The Doctor : "Deactivating a generator loop without the correct key is like repairing a watch with a hammer and chisel. One false move and you'll never know the time again."

The Doctor : [Angry at Laurence's incredulity when he asks what year it is] "If I knew I wouldn't need to ask. Don't be obtuse, man!"

Sutekh : "Your evil is my good. I am Sutekh the destroyer. Where I tread, I leave nothing but dust and darkness I find that good!"

Continuity

The Osirans are described as being dome-headed, with cerebrums like spiral staircases. They were led by Horus and his brother Sutekh ('the Typhonian beast'), who destroyed the home planet of Phaester/Osiris and left a trail of havoc across half the galaxy (variations of Sutekh's name including Set, Satan and Sadok are reviled on many worlds). He was captured on earth by Horus and 'the 740 gods named on the tomb of Thuthmosis III' and was imprisoned for 7000 years.

Sutekh is aware of the Time Lords by reputation. The Doctor tells Sutekh that the TARDIS is isomorphic (can only be operated by him). [Sutekh would see through this if it were a lie, and therefore the Doctor must be talking about a safety feature that can be switched on or off.] The Doctor has a respiratory bypass system.

The Doctor accidentally causes the fire that destroyed the Old Priory, on which [one of the] UNIT HQ[s] was later built. He says 'We don't want to be blamed... There was enough of that in 1666'. [He's probably teasing Sarah. Cf. The Visitation.]

QV

Dating the UNIT Stories

The Location of Gallifrey

Location

The Old Priory, 1911. ('An excellent year, one of my favourites,' says the Doctor.)

Links

Untelevised

The Doctor was given his picklock by Marie Antoinette.

Trivia

This story features the last appearance of a traditional-look TARDIS control room set until The Invisible Enemy eleven stories later.

In a chilling sequence, the Doctor takes Sarah to an alternative 1980 to show her the destruction that Sutekh would wreak on the Earth if allowed to escape.

Myth

Sutekh is an Osirian. (The name of his race is both spelt and pronounced 'Osiran' on numerous occasions in the story's scripts and dialogue.)

Technobabble

The TARDIS' relative continuum stabiliser is discussed. We also have references to a parallax coil, a cytronic particle accelerator, etheric impulses, a decadron crucible and 'triobiphysics'.

Goofs

Sarah says that the complex design of the eye of Horus 'reminds me of the city of the Exxilons' But she was never in the city in Death to the Daleks. [Perhaps the Doctor shows her some pictures, as it was one of the 700 wonders of the universe.]

In episode four a technician's hands hold down the cushions on Sutekh's throne as he stands up.

Rather conveniently, Sarah puts on a period dress before realising that they've landed in 1911.

Marcus' tie design changes all the time.

The Osiran warning is in English.

Why bury Sutekh with everything that he needs to escape?

If Scarman controls the mummies telepathically, why isn't the Doctor spotted when he dresses up as one?

The Doctor's extraordinary babblings over a puzzle in the pyramid, involving seven stiches, binary figures and centimetres, are mere showing off over an 'odd man out' puzzle (it's the one with the vertical stripe). It also contains a mathematical error: '120.3 [should be 20.3] cm multiply by the binary figure 10 zero zero..

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Tom Baker

Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen

Ahmed - Vik Tablian

Collins - Michael Bilton

Dr. Warlock - Peter Copley

Ernie Clements - George Tovey

Laurence Scarman - Michael Sheard

Marcus Scarman - Bernard Archard

Mummy - Nick Burnell

Mummy - Melvyn Bedford

Mummy - Kevin Selway

Namin - Peter Mayock

Sutekh - Gabriel Woolf

Crew

Director - Paddy Russell

Assistant Floor Manager - Paul Braithwaite

Costumes - Barbara Kidd

Designer - Christine Ruscoe

Film Cameraman - John McGlashan

Film Editor - M A C Adams

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Jean Steward

Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe

Production Assistant - Peter Grimwade

Production Unit Manager - George Gallacio

Production Unit Manager - Janet Radenkovic

Script Editor - Robert Holmes

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Ron Koplick

Studio Sound - Brian Hiles

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Ian Scoones

Writer - Stephen Harris This was a pseudonym for Robert Holmes and Lewis Griefer

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'You pit your puny will against mine? In my presence, you are an ant, a termite. Abase yourself you grovelling insect!' Pyramids of Mars features one of the series' most chilling enemies. There is a fascinating discussion between the Doctor and Laurence about being able to 'choose the future', and a seeming explanation of the Doctor's motivation: that he is a prisoner of moral obligation, unable to leave anywhere without attempting to 'do his duty'.

The scene in which Sarah criticises the Doctor for his lack of feeling after the death of Laurence, and he describes the horror of what will happen if Sutekh isn't stopped, is another classic Doctor Who moment.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

In Pyramids of Mars, the gothic horror style brought to Doctor Who by Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes is given its fullest expression yet. Here we have an ancient evil entombed in a pyramid, a possessed human and walking mummies: all the elements of classic 'Egyptian mummy' horror movies. Given the Doctor Who twist, however, the ancient evil is revealed to be an alien worshipped by the Egyptians, while the mummies turn out to be robots.

Robert Franks, writing in Aggedor Issue 4 in 1983, thought the story an excellent one: 'The plot... stands out as one of the freshest and most stimulating in Doctor Who's twenty years. The concept of a race of universally powerful beings, capable of destroying whole planets with the slightest thought... may not have been entirely original, either in Doctor Who terms or otherwise, but for once there was a genuine feeling of panic and desperation associated with the pace of the story.'

'The beginning, one of the most important bases for a story, was just great,' enthused Steve Ocock in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society Yearbook 1976. 'The idea of a certain Professor Scarman opening up a tomb is captivating enough, but when he begins to scream we find ourselves in the TARDIS control room. A very clever move this; you've just got to watch the programme now to find out what happened to the Professor!'

The first episode is indeed an excellent scene-setter, and ends on a superb cliffhanger as a terrifying black-robed figure emerges from the vortex within the sarcophagus in Scarman's house and walks down a short flight of steps, smoke billowing from its feet as it treads on the carpet, to grip Namin by the shoulders and end his life in grisly fashion. This is just one of many memorable moments throughout the story. Chris Dunk and Rosemary Fowler, writing in Baker's Best in 1981, pointed out some other noteworthy aspects: 'The old priory being the site of UNIT HQ (only years before), [and burning] down due to the Doctor's own actions... was a nice link. Sarah's appropriation of Victoria's old dress was also a nice touch... The sets and costumes were magnificent from the first to the last... The grounds gave a chance for some nice, fresh location work too, enhanced by nice direction on the part of Paddy Russell... The mummies were effective in their simplicity, powerful-looking yet basic and menial servants... Sutekh himself [had] a macabre appearance...'

Other highlights include Marcus Scarman being shot by Clements, the poacher, only for time to go into reverse and the bullet to fly back out of his body; Clements running into the deflection barrier placed around the priory by Sutekh, and later meeting a gruesome end as he is crushed to death between two mummies; Dr Warlock being killed by the possessed Marcus Scarman; Laurence Scarman having a similarly fatal meeting with his brother; and the Doctor, in a tellingly alien moment, pointing out to Sarah that grief is a luxury they cannot afford as the deaths they have seen will just be the first of many if Sutekh is not stopped - 'Know thine enemy,' as he puts it.

The story also has very high production values, including some fine incidental music by Dudley Simpson, and uniformly excellent performances from the small guest cast. Gabriel Woolf's icily understated Sutekh - another in a long line of masked villains - is particularly effective, and a good match for Tom Baker's Doctor. 'The initial blast from Sutekh's eyes was a chilling intro to the fascinating confrontation between Time Lord and god,' wrote Keith Miller in DWFC Mag Number 25, dated March/April 1976. 'The cool, calm yet malicious voice of Sutekh was superb, as was [Tom Baker's] acting... when the evil alien extracted information from the Doctor's brain. Especially notable was the Doctor's humiliation when Sutekh forced [him] to his knees.'

It is not hard to see why this near-flawless story is so well remembered. As Stephen Cole put it in DWB No. 126, dated May 1994: 'This is one of those much-loved classics of Doctor Who, packaging a solid plot, chilling adversaries, fine acting performances and smooth direction with the lead actor effortlessly moving towards his disarming, charmingly alien peak of performance. And really, after all this time "up there" as one of the golden reasons we're all fans in the first place, is there much more to be said?'

< Planet of EvilFourth DoctorThe Android Invasion >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy