Thought I’d write up a bit on one of my favorite Tom Baker serials, “Pyramid of Mars”.
After making a strong impression in his first season (12)-although pretty much pitted toward familiar adversaries such as Sontarans, Daleks, and Cybermen (as well as two new threats in the form of the K-1 Robot and the Wiirn) Tom Baker’s second season-13-sort of had a classic horror film vibe (Britain in particular was doing well with it’s Hammer studios horror films), with the Doctor’s adventures often recalling those films, but with a bit of a more sci-fi, or uniquely Doctor Who-style twist.
To that end, there was Terror of the Zygons and Android Invasion, both of which played on themes of body replacement or stolen identity like in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (Although “Zygons” threw in the Loch Ness Monster as well) Planet of Evil was pretty much “Forbidden Planet” with a touch of Jekyll and Hyde thrown in (“Forbidden Planet” had a bit of Jekyll and Hyde to begin with as well). “Brain of Morbius” of course was Frankenstein, and perhaps is the best example of a story being given a Doctor Who embellishment, as Morbius-whose brain-detached from his original body, although kept alive (Kind of needs a full body to regenerate though!) needs to be transported into a new body-was a former Time Lord president, although a pretty bad one. The final story, Seeds of Doom, mixes the “Day of the Triffieds” with the “Thing from Another World” (Later of course, the inspiration for it’s 1982 remake “The Thing”).
Pyramid of Mars, the third story, is my favorite of the season, and perhaps one of my favorites of all time. Maybe because it deals with Egyptology a bit, which is sort of a side hobby of mine, or how it really sells the threat as one of the Doctor’s biggest challenges, one that he-and the universe-was literally seconds away from failing.
Pyramids begins with some stock footage of Saqurra and the step pyramid near there, before going to studio and video with a scientist-Marcus Scarman. I’m guessing the actor-Bernard Archard-was cast in part because he has a very Peter Cushing look to him (Archard had previously been in Troughton’s debut story, Power of the Daleks, but as a totally different character).
Anyway, he enters an old-but well preserved-tomb, but discovers a strange glowing eye of Horus which glows red (and scares the local diggers) and then opens a door-and then Marcus finds himself falling over in agony from a green light.
One TARDIS shot later, and we’re with the Doctor and Sarah in the console room, which, in this version, has some pretty large roundels (This is actually one of the first times the console set is seen, and for pretty much most of the series after this, they’d pretty much shrink to yellowish ones. Sarah’s trying on a new dress, but the Doctor is somewhat distracted, referring to her as “Vicky”, although rather than the usual times when he misnames a companion (after regeneration scrambles his brains a bit), he explains that it’s Victoria’s old dress. Which is a bit confusing because the Doctor had a companion named Vicky, and also later Victoria (Who the dress actually is supposed to belong too).
I think it’s pretty obvious it’s the latter. Sure, “Vicky” wore dresses, but not like Victoria’s.
Anyway, the Doctor’s a little worried that he’s becoming “middle aged” at 740 years (although from the perspective of the new series and like, 10 regenerations later and a thousand or so years later, he’s actually very young at this point!), and therefore needs to sort of detach himself from being UNIT’s scientific adviser, a role he’s had since season 7 and, since he’s recently become a new person (In “Planet of the Spiders”/Robot”) and even earlier regained his freedom with the TARDIS (“In the Three Doctors”) he’d rather resume his old travelling days.
However, suddenly the ship gets hit by something, causing the console to spark and the ship to tremble, with Sarah getting spooked by a bizarre looking Jackal head that suddenly pops up. The Doctor’s initially disbelieving of her claim, since “nothing can enter the TARDIS” unless it has some really strong mental projection…but she’s still spooked, especially when they land….and although they’ve landed at the right destination (UNIT HQ), they’ve landed in the wrong time (In the old mansion the base was built on)….and the Doctor suspects this isn’t just the TARDIS being finicky again, but there’s something very wrong and contrary to the laws of the universe. Now he’s spooked. It’s interesting how haunted the Doctor seems in these two scenes, first by the prospect of aging, and second by time being out of whack. Although Tom is often stated to be one of the “funnier” Doctors-something which is primarily based on his later stories, no doubt-he certainly captures the alien aspect here pretty well.
Meanwhile, in the other part of the house, some really spooky organ music is playing very loudly by a man in a Fez (of course, Fez’s would become a bigger part of Doctor Who’s iconography later on, but that’s neither here nor there in this review 🙂 ), as he is confronted by the butler and Dr. Warlock (Interesting name) a colleague of Professor Scarman, who is wondering why Marcus Scarman’s brother, Lawrence, has been banned from the mansion they share. The main room here is actually a pretty decent set, in particular the sarcophagus itself.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Sarah try to get their way out of the room, with Marie Antoinette’s old pick-lock, and the Doctor cracking a joke or two to lighten the mood. Although the butler opens it for them from the outside. Speaking of which, looks like less effort was put into these particular sarcophagi by the art department, but then again they’re supposed to hold the big signature monsters from this story so their somewhat strange, large size does kind of make a bit of sense, although the paint job looks a bit high school art project.
The butler just thinks that the Doctor and Sarah are buddies of Warlock’s, and he lets them on their way, and they decide to head outside…to of course, sneak in another way.
Warlock and Namin continue their debate, with Namin making veiled threats, but the screams of the butler alert them to the room with the sarcophagi. Turns out he’s dead-strangled, by something which quickly wiggles it’s way back into the coffin before it’s spotted. Namin of course goes into full nutjob here talking about ancient gods returning, although Warlock is adamant to call the police, and then Namin produces a gun. Maybe you should’ve just run when the thing started talking a bit nutty, Warlock.
Warlock is badly winged, but saved due to SCARF ATTACK! from the Doctor who escapes with Warlock (although it’s directed a bit oddly). However, Namin decides to activate the main hench-monsters here-The Osirian war robots, which actually kind of look pretty imposing when standing still. But kind of goofy when they walk. They don’t walk in a Hollywood mummy way, but in a kind of “I’m wearing a really bulky suit and can barely move” kind of way.
Next we have a bit of a cat and mouse between the characters, as the Doctor and Warlock hide in the woods from Nabim and the robot mummies, while Sarah also attempts to evade them and, on Warlock’s advice, seek Lawrence’s help.
Eventually Nabim gets distracted, sensing something, and heads back to the main room, allowing Lawrence to tend to Dr. Warlock. The Doctor initially expresses disbelief about Sarah spotting the walking mummies, despite the fact that he was literally just hiding from one himself!
Allowing Warlock to recover, Lawrence is baffled by the new arrivals. The Doctor doesn’t want to call the police because they’d obviously confuse matters (and probably wouldn’t do well against alien robot mummies either, especially in the early twentieth century)…and of course doesn’t believe that Sarah is from 1980 (which is actually a whole other can of worms in Doctor Who’s sometimes tangled continuity….which I really won’t get into here, but it mainly deals in part with something brought up later on in a Peter Davison serial, “Mawdryn Undead” and where the “Modern day UNIT” stories were set…). Despite all this, Lawrence-amazed by the Doctor’s knowledge that his experimental “Marconiscope” is actually an early Radio telescope-sort of an anachronism (and one eventually explained by the outcome of this episode). Nevertheless, it’s receiving a transmission, from Mars.
….and it’s a warning. “Beware Sutekh”….and once again we get haunted Doctor face. Without explaining much, he states “The Earth is facing the greatest peril in it’s history”, and even more omniously.. “The forces that are being summoned into corporeal existence in that house are more powerful and more dangerous than anything even I have ever encountered.” Daleks, Cybermen, the Master, Omega—they’ve got nothing on Sutekh. Despite telling Sarah and Lawrence to stay put, they follow him as he looks on to what’s transpiring.
The Doctor heads back to the mansion, where the organ music has become really swelled (It’s never really explained how the organ music is supposed to make the sarcophagus work, and it’s pretty much playing itself at this point (Although that might be just a bit of a flourish by composer Dudley Simpson) The sarcophagus suddenly becomes a funky looking multi-colored portal, an effect we see several times in this serial.
Out emerges a creature possessing a helmet similar to the mummies (but without the wrappings and a black suit along with some equipment. However, as it tells Namin (Who as it turns out, is part of an ancient cult who kept an eye on Sutekh’s tomb) , it’s not Sutekh, just his servant, and that Sutekh doesn’t need another (Well, apart from those robot mummies). He does away with Namin by putting his smoking hands on his shoulders, and that he’s going to help bring Sutekh’s gift of death, to all humans. Cue cliffhanger!
Next: The identity of the man in black is revealed, something Lawrence has some severe problems with, which could complicate the Doctor’s plans big time, and we get introduced more to Sutekh and the threat he poses. We get a look into what happens when the Doctor *doesn’t* do anything with a present threat to a time period, and a local poacher adds some light comic relief and also slightly frustrates things for the Doctor and co.