on July 22, 2001
I'll make no pretense - this is my favorite Doctor Who adventure of all time. It is moody and intense, with brilliant performances by Tom Baker, Lis Sladen, and Gabriel Woolf. No other DW villain has really been so imposing - we never see Sutekh's face (unless that mask -is- Sutekh's face) or see his lips move, but his voice is so powerful and resonant it sends chills down the spine; more than a worthy adversary for the tall and deep-voiced Tom Baker.
The story is nicely claustrophobic, mostly taking place in and around a mansion, with the marvelous sense of a horror movie. The script is another real gem by Robert Holmes (despite the writer's credit, he wrote almost all of what appeared onscreen), and no actor is off-par.
The only downside about this video is that it was one of the first DW videos released, so the four 25-minute episodes have been truncated into a long 95-minute "movie". Still, in lieu of an unedited video or DVD release, this is a fine purchase and should be in anyone's Doctor Who collection.
Some stories done during Dr. Who producer Phillip Hinchcliff's time has been known as the Gothic era of the show. He commissioned stories based on old horror and sci-fi. Pyramids of Mars is a tribute to Hammer Films' mummy movies, using a lot of Egyptology themes and names.
After being mysteriously drawn off course to 1911 in an old priory where UNIT HQ would be built, the Doctor and Sarah become involved in the attempted return of Sutekh, an Osirian who was imprisoned by his brother Horus in a tomb recently uncovered by archaeologist Marcus Scarman. He returns to the priory, a zombified puppet of Sutekh, who with help of service robots disguised as mummies, create a deflection barrier around the priory and set about constructing a rocket to destroy the pyramids of Mars to free Sutekh.
The Doctor and Sarah rescue Dr. Warlock, a friend of Marcus's who has been shot by an Egyptian, and enlist the aid of Laurence, Marcus's brother. Laurence is an affable fellow, but despite seeing the possessed Marcus, still thinks of Marcus as his brother and not a puppet of Sutekh. Laurence is played by Michael Sheard, a multiple Who alumni and Admiral Ozzel in The Empire Strikes Back. Bernard Archard (Marcus) is effectively terrifying, his evil-looking eyes, curved down lips, and paled face put to good use.
How evil and how much Sutekh hates life is demonstrated in these lines: "The humans, animals, birds, fish, reptiles. All life is my enemy. All life shall perish under the reign of Sutekh the Destroyer." "Your evil is my good. ... Where I tread, I leave nothing but dust and darkness. I find that good!" Gabriel Woolf's sepulchral voice is put to good use here as Sutekh.
Lots of Egyptology comes in, such as Horus's defeat of Sutekh with the help of 740 Osirians. Not so coincidentally, 740 gods were listed on the tomb of Thutmosis III. The answer to that is the wars of the gods (Osirians) entered into Egyptian mythology and the whole of Egyptian culture founded upon the Osirian pattern. The various sarcophagi and artifacts boost the story's theme.
An interesting discussion takes place between Laurence Scarman, Marcus's brother, and the Doctor. He takes Sarah and Laurence to a future Earth, a desolate planet circling a dead sun, which is how Sutekh would leave it. "Every point in time has its alternative. You've looked into alternative time. ...The actions of the present fashion the future." When Laurence asks him if a man can change the course of history, the Doctor says "To a small extent. It takes a being of Sutekh's limitless power to destroy the future." The Doctor is thus a prisoner of moral obligation--until he stops Sutekh, he just can't up and leave.
Funny lines from Tom Baker: "deactivating a generator loop without a correct key is like repairing a watch with a hammer and chisel. One false move and you'll never know the time again." And he panics at Sarah throwing him a box of gelignite, saying, "Sweaty gelignite is highly unstable. One good sneeze could set it off." When he asks the chastised Sarah for detonators or fuses, she can't find any, and mischievously says, "Maybe he sneezed," meaning the owner of the gelignite. We also learn here that he is 750 years old.
A blaring booboo comes when Sarah claims she comes from 1980. UNIT stories generally take place the year the story is filmed. Also, as the Brigadier retired in 1976 (q.v. Mawdryn Undead, this is clearly inaccurate, as a future story in the same season has the Brigadier still working. So Sarah should've said she comes from 1975.
Trivia: at the time of shooting, the property where this was shot belonged to no less a person than Mick Jagger, but before, the house in the story had belonged to Lord Carnarvon, the archaeologist who uncovered King Tut's tomb, so a coincidence there.
Stylish and evenly-paced, with the Egyptology motif a good asset.
on June 25, 2005
At last, one of the best Tom Baker era stories has been given the proper release on DVD that it deserves. That is, the transfer is very clear and the DVD is chock full of extras. Not to get too much into the story, as you who are reading this are probably already an avid Doctor Who fan like myself, but the main gist is that the Doctor has to go against one of his most powerful enemies, Sutekh-this guy makes the Master seem like the Good Humor man. A special note of consideration: the importance of Gabriel Woolf's vocal portrayal of Sutekh's cold evilness cannot be overstated. I don't think this episode would have come off half as scary without Woolf's participation. As for the extras, bon' appetit! The best of the little spoof about Sutekh and his career post-Pyramids of Mars. There are two very informative interviews/documentaries. The first is specifically about the episode of the Pyramids and how it came to be. The second is an overview of the Hinchcliffe/Baker era of Doctor Who, often considered by many fans to be the golden era of Doctor Who. Other extras include a compare/contrast feature of the Stargrove location (then owned by Rolling Stone Mick Jagger) where parts of the episode were filmed. The easter egg is of some BBC announcements of the Pyramids episode and the Alien Invasion episode that followed. The other feature that is very worth a while to check out is the production note option. This is an informative, and relatively non-obtrusive, behind-the-scenes factoid of the production of the Pyramids of Mars episode.
on August 14, 2005
Arguably one of THE best Doctor Who serials ever, takes the Doctor and Sarah to 1911 at the home of Professor Marcus Scarman, recently possesed by Sutekh the Destoryer. It looks and sounds fantastic! All extras, including the hilarious "Oh, Mummy", are top notch. Interviews with the cast and crew have never been more entertaining. An absolute must for all Doctor Who fans.
on September 13, 2004
Dragged from the BBC archives comes another pair of classic Doctor Who releases on DVD from two different eras of the show. "Pyramids of Mars" and "Earthshock" are only six years apart in broadcast terms, but seem much more distant when viewed back to back. They're cracking tales nonetheless.
"Pyramids of Mars," the earlier story, broadcast in March 1976, stars Tom Baker in the role of the fourth Doctor alongside his travelling companion Sarah-Jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen. Arguably one of the most successful pairing's of actors in the long running show's history, the chemistry between the two leads is at its peak, helped along largely by the incredible production skills of Philip Hinchcliffe and the scripting of Robert Holmes. This story takes them back to Earth, but this time into the near distant past of Edwardian England for a period piece exploring Egyptian mythology with sci-fi overtones. It's not only a cracking yarn and splendidly acted by a very, very strong cast, but designed and plotted to the hilt. It also presents one of the most chilling opponents the Time Lord has ever faced, Sutekh, played wonderfully by Gabriel Woolf. There is very little to criticize here, although detractors will try, unlike the companion release "Earthshock."
Produced in1981 for Peter Davison's first season as the fifth Doctor, "Earthshock" had a huge impact on the viewing public at the time of it's broadcast due to the reappearance after a seven year absence of the Doctor's second most popular enemy: The Cybermen. Kept a secret from everyone outside of the production, with red herring's set aplenty by the producer John Nathan-Turner to make sure it remained so, their sudden appearance at the end of episode one was a true classic moment of great TV. It comes at the end of a very atmospheric and chilling first episode, but alas, the pace isn't maintained in the remaining three. Written by the show's script editor, Eric Saward, it is very indicative of his style and that of the production team as a whole that guest stars, special effects and lavish sets were promoted to the detriment of plot and scripting. The plot to this story has so many holes and inconsistencies it all unravels into something of a mess. But having said that, it still works and if you don't pay too close attention, it's very enjoyable romp. Marking the first long time companion of the Doctor to meet a grisly end, the story finishes on a muted note that had a profound impact on the show and indeed the ratings; more so even than the Cybermen's return to TV screens.
As always, it's the extras on the discs that make the entrance price worth every penny. The BBC always does a tremendous job with the picture quality, commentary tracks, the subtitles and production notes and all sorts of bonus material. The bonuses here include two absolute gems that had me in fits of laughter. "Pyramids of Mars" contains a mock documentary about the villain Sutekh's life after the story and "Earthshock" has an additional "episode 5." Terrific stuff. The commentaries are also wonderful. Elisabeth Sladen and Philip Hinchcliffe are joined by recurring guest actor Michael Sheard with occasional comments from director Paddy Russell for a truly interesting commentary on "Pyramids." The commentary for "Earthshock" is even more fun with the full regular cast (Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Matthew Waterhouse and Sarah Sutton) having a wonderful time coming together once more. Their on screen relationships were never very close or harmonious so it's great to hear that the four actors really were a very close team of pals.
Two terrific releases, despite weaknesses in the later story, which would be entertaining to non Doctor Who fans as well as the more seasoned viewer. Highly recommended.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that adventures that I consider being the "Best of" early Dr. Who tend to be ones with imagery that have vividly remained with me over the past 30 odd years. Nevertheless, even to this day as a jaded adult, these fantastic stories STILL engage and enthrall me, so perhaps it is their staying power even for an 8 year old is a testament to their crafted accomplishments. PYRAMIDS OF MARS is one of such poignant stories.
It has all the elements that define for me the classic feel of Dr. Who. One most particular trend, which often separates the Best from the rest, is hinted at secrets that evoke a impression of a rich (yet never fully expounded) background- one may liken this technique to Frank Herbert's literary device of building a deep past without dwelling on details in his DUNE series. This adventure was for all intents and purposes rewritten by Bob Holmes from page 1, and this undoubted master of Dr. Who scripting has achieved the same marvelous effect in respect to the Osarians and an ancient evil of many names, addressed here as Sutek.
Along with tight, flowing pacing, fun action, strong environmental flavoring, quips and visual delights, this current DVD offering also includes a great documentary, "Serial Thrillers", an outstanding overview, which even newcomers to the series will enjoy, of producer Philip Hinchcliffe's indelible mark on Dr. Who from 1974 to 1977 and beyond. Yes, PYRAMIDS OF MARS is most certainly on of the Best, then and now.
on March 4, 2015
One of my favorite episodes that I watched as a child. Egyptian god, emprisoned for centuries, attempts to find a way out as to destoy all living beings. Forget the Master here. Sutekh is much more diabolical! I do not want to give away the narrative, either. Those of you who are fans already know it.
Tom Baker, the 'Force of Nature,' is aided by the always-wonderful Sarah Jane (who acts effortlessly) to stop Sutekh. The script is flawless (no holes). The sets are cool! I want to run around them! I have my children interested in Egyptian mythology now.
5 of 5. Nice extras and 2nd disc features. I now know that the estate where the episode was shot was owned by Mick Jagger at the time. Trivial things that mean nothing!
on June 29, 2014
I have always loved this story and watching the info text I found out that a lot of the bits I loved the best were improves by the actors. That info text is still the best feature. As usual I will skip the storyline I am sure you already know it and tell you what you want to hear.
This offering contains One Disc with Four episodes and Special Features.
Special Features include:
Howard Da Silva Intros; Voice Over intros and closing Teasers recorded for American Audiences by Howard Da Silva
Now and Then;
Audio Options; Meaning the Commentary
on April 28, 2005
The Pyramids Of Mars is my third favourite Doctor who story. It features one of the most powerful villans ever in Doctor Who, no less than the Egyptian god Sutekh (Set). Fortunately he is trapped in ancient pyramid after his god brothers (Horus, Osiris and others), stopped him from destroying the Universe. But thousands of years later, a British archaeologist stumbles into the wrong tomb and is taken over by Sutekh who's mind is free but his body is totally imobilized. The Doctor and Sarah land in the wrong time zone and become embroiled in the situation. At one stage Sarah raises a point that has significance for all Doctor Who. What if they leave in the TARDIS and go back to the present (or say, five years in the future, for those who think 1980 is a canonistic glitch), won't the Universe be ok? After all, they just came from there and everything was fine (aside from rampent zygons and the Loch Ness Monster, but that's another story...). The Doctor does just that and they find Earth an empty wasteland, just a ball of space dust. Why is that? If the TARDIS hadn't landed where she had the Doctor would have never fought Sutekh and the Earth would not have been destroyed in 1980. But the fact is, the TARDIS had, and so everything was set in motion. Time was waiting for the Doctor to arrive, and when he did switches were activated and the time track was changed. But what if the Doctor had died in the previous adventure. Who would have stopped Sutekh? Would the Universe be wiped out. Perhaps it would. Or maybe Time would have found someone else to fix the problem. If some belive in Gaia, a living, perhaps sentient Earth who will fight back if her survival is threatened, perhaps our Universe is a kind of Mega Gaia who can manipulate Time and Space to guarantee her survival.
All this is very deep, but I think relevant to this particular story. Doctor Who is not mindless entertainment for the kiddies. But for those who like entertainment with their philosophy:
Watch robot mummies crush a poacher, watch Sutekh and his Gift Of Death, see the Doctor bow down to a mighty Egyptian god, and gasp at the Eye Of Horus within the Pyramids of Mars.
on October 17, 2004
I first began watching "Doctor Who" as a teenager in 1983 while the PBS station in St. Louis was in its first run of the episodes from the Tom Baker era. Baker remains my favorite Doctor, although I do find something to like in each of the Doctors. "Pyramids of Mars" was one of the first stories I remember watching, and to this day, it remains one of my overall favorite DW adventures. Set in 1911, the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) arrive at an old English priory owned by an Egyptologist. After a series of killings and other strange events, the Doctor and Sarah discover that Professor Scarman has been taken over by Sutekh, the last survivior of the Osirans, an extremely powerful race perceived as gods by the ancient Egyptians. Sutekh, the lord of death and destruction, has been imprisoned in a pyramid for millenia by his fellow Osirans, and now he seeks to use Professor Scarman as an instrument to gain his freedom from his prison. Among the supporting cast is actor Michael Sheard, whom "Star Wars" fans may remember as Admiral Ozzel in "The Empire Strikes Back" (He also played an autograph-happy Hitler in "Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade"), as Lawrence Scarman, the archaeologist's brother. Sheard narrates "Now & Then," a featurette which revisits the Stargrove locations where "Pyramids of Mars" was filmed. He also joins Elisabeth Sladen, director Paddy Russell and then-DW producer Philip Hinchcliffe for the commentary track. Other features include the "Osiran Gothic" documentary, the "Serial Thrillers" featurette which looks at the Hinchcliffe era of DW, deleted/extended scenes and the hilarious "Oh Mummy" spoof which follows Sutekh's life post-"Pyramids." "Pyramids of Mars" is one of the greatest "Doctor Who" stories ever, and this DVD does it justice. These "Doctor Who" DVD's have really brought back a lot of great memories, and I look forward to the new series in 2005.