Pyramids of Mars
|082 – Pyramids of Mars|
|Doctor Who serial|
“Kneel before the might of Sutekh!”
|Directed by||Paddy Russell|
|Written by||“Stephen Harris” (Robert Holmes and Lewis Greifer)|
|Script editor||Robert Holmes|
|Produced by||Philip Hinchcliffe|
|Incidental music composer||Dudley Simpson|
|Length||4 episodes, 25 minutes each|
|Originally broadcast||25 October – 15 November 1975|
Pyramids of Mars is the third serial of the 13th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 25 October to 15 November 1975. Inspired by Gothic horror films, the story features an extraterrestrial antagonist, Sutekh the Destroyer, who was said to have influenced ancient Egyptian mythology. The serial is noted for the performance of Gabriel Woolf as the voice of Sutekh, an actor who returned to Doctor Who in a similar role in 2006.
In Egypt in 1911, archaeology professor Marcus Scarman excavates a pyramid and finds the door to the burial chamber is inscribed with the Eye of Horus. Scarman’s Egyptian assistants panic and flee, leaving the Professor to enter the chamber alone. As he holds a light up to see the tomb, he is blasted by a green ray.
The TARDIS is forced out of its flight path as Sarah sees an apparition of a jackal-like face in the console room. The Doctor lands the TARDIS in the Scarman family home in England, which is filled with Egyptian artefacts. Discovered by the butler, they are told that the house has been taken over by a mysterious Egyptian by the name of Ibrahim Namin. In another part of the priory, Namin is confronted by Dr. Warlock, a friend of Professor Scarman. Namin sends a robot disguised to look like an Egyptian mummy after them. The three make their way to a hunting lodge used by Laurence Scarman, Professor Scarman’s brother. Laurence is an amateur scientist whose marconiscope has intercepted a signal from Mars. The Doctor decodes the signal as “Beware Sutekh“. Sarah recognises the name of Sutekh as an alternative name of the god Set in ancient Egyptian mythology. The Doctor explains that Sutekh is in fact the last of a powerful alien race called the Osirians. He was pursued across the galaxy by his brother Horus, and was finally defeated on Earth.
Namin and the mummies greet the arrival of Sutekh’s servant who travels to the priory via a spacetime tunnel, the portal of which is disguised as an upright sarcophagus. The Servant burns Namin to death, and is revealed to be Marcus Scarman. Sutekh orders him to secure the perimeter of the estate and construct an Osirian war missile. After Scarman and the robots leave, the Doctor, Sarah and Laurence Scarman enter. The Doctor disrupts the tunnel using the TARDIS key. Hearing Scarman return, Laurence hides the three of them in a priest hole.
In another part of the estate, a poacher, Clements, finds a mummy ensnared in a man-trap. He is prevented from escaping the estate by a deflection barrier. Meanwhile, Marcus Scarman finds Warlock and kills him. The Doctor retrieves Namin’s ring from his corpse and he and Sarah hide in the TARDIS to avoid detection. When Sarah suggests they should just leave, the Doctor moves the TARDIS forward to 1980, revealing it to be a blasted wasteland. They must return to 1911 and stop Sutekh or the future will be lost.
Back in 1911 the Doctor makes a jamming unit that will stop Sutekh’s servants, Marcus Scarman included. Laurence attempts to stop the Doctor from activating the device. The robots find and kill Clements and overrun the hunting lodge. Sarah, using the ring they took from Namin, orders the robots to return to Control.
The Doctor decides to blow up the partially assembled rocket. Laurence suggests using blasting gelignite, which Clements kept in his hut. The Doctor and Sarah leave to obtain the gelignite, ordering Laurence to strip the bindings from a deactivated robot. Marcus finds Laurence, who reminds his brother of their childhood in order to revive his humanity. The conditioning proves too strong, and Marcus kills Laurence.
The Doctor and Sarah detonate the explosives, but Sutekh telekinetically suppresses the explosion. The Doctor uses the spacetime tunnel to travel to and distract Sutekh, allowing the rocket to be destroyed but trapping himself. Confronting Sutekh, the Doctor identifies Sutekh as the origin of mythical figures such as the Egyptian god Set, Satan and “Sados”. Sutekh interrogates the Doctor and discovers he is a Time Lord. He locates the TARDIS and decides to use it to transport Scarman to Mars in order to deactivate the Eye of Horus, which is holding him prisoner. Sutekh subjects the Doctor to mind control and returns him to the priory. He orders Scarman to bring a robot and Sarah into the TARDIS to travel to the pyramid of Mars.
On their arrival, Sutekh orders Scarman to dispose of the Doctor and the robot strangles him. Scarman leaves the first chamber beneath the pyramid. The Doctor regains consciousness, his respiratory bypass system having allowed him to avoid death. They set off in search of Scarman through a series of locked chambers which are dependent upon solving logical and philosophical problems.
Reaching the central chamber first, Scarman destroys the Eye, then falls to the floor and decays to dust. The Doctor realises that Sutekh will not be released for two minutes, that being the time that radio signals take to travel from Mars to Earth. Sarah and the Doctor return to the Priory and use a module from the TARDIS to move the other end of the tunnel to a point 10,000 years in the future, ensuring Sutekh will not escape until he dies of old age. The Doctor and Sarah leave in the TARDIS as the priory is consumed in flames.
Sarah wears a dress which the Doctor says belonged to Victoria. She remarks that the puzzles are similar to those in the Exxilon City in Death to the Daleks, although she personally never entered the City.
The story as originally written by Lewis Greifer was considered unworkable. As Greifer was unavailable to do rewrites, the scripts were completely rewritten by Robert Holmes. The pseudonym used on transmission was Stephen Harris. Pyramids of Mars contributes to one of the contradictions in the Doctor Who universe: the UNIT dating controversy.
The exterior scenes were shot on the Stargroves estate in Hampshire, a Victorian mansion noted for its ornate, Gothic revival style of architecture which was owned by Mick Jagger at the time. The same location would be used during the filming of Image of the Fendahl. The new TARDIS console, which debuted in the preceding story Planet of Evil, does not appear again until The Invisible Enemy. Owing to the cost of setting up the TARDIS console room for the filming of only a handful of scenes, a new console set was designed for the following season. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen improvised a number of moments in this story, most notably a scene in Part Four where the Doctor and Sarah start to walk out of their hiding place and then when they see a mummy, quickly dart back into it. Baker based the scene on a Marx Brothers routine.
Several scenes were deleted from the final broadcast. A model shot of the TARDIS landing in the landscape of a barren, alternative 1980 Earth was to be used in Part Two, but director Paddy Russell decided viewers would feel more impact if the first scene of the new Earth was Sarah’s reaction as the TARDIS doors opened. Three scenes of effects such as doors opening and the Doctor materializing from the sarcophagus were removed from the final edit of Part Four because Russell felt the mixes were not good enough. These scenes were included on the DVD, along with an alternate version of the poacher being hunted down in Part Two, and a full version of the Osirian rocket explosion.
Although the name of Sutekh’s race is pronounced “Osiran” throughout the serial, the scripts and publicity material spell it as “Osirian” in some places and as “Osiran” in others. Many fans use the “Osirian” spelling, as do some reference works such as the Battles in Time collectable card game and the Virgin Missing Adventures sequel novel The Sands of Time. Another member of the Osirian race also appears in the Big Finish Productions audio drama The Bride of Peladon.
Features a guest appearance by Michael Sheard; he was cast by director Paddy Russell without any audition, purely on the recommendation of production assistant Peter Grimwade. Sheard previously featured in The Ark and The Mind of Evil and would later appear in The Invisible Enemy, Castrovalva and Remembrance of the Daleks. Bernard Archard previously played Bragen in The Power of the Daleks. Michael Bilton previously played Teligny in The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve. George Tovey was the father of Roberta Tovey, who appeared as Susan in the films Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD.
Gabriel Woolf reprised his role as Sutekh in the Faction Paradox audio dramas Coming to Dust (2005), The Ship of a Billion Years (2006), Body Politic (2008), Words from Nine Divinities (2008), Ozymandias (2009) and The Judgment of Sutekh (2009), from Magic Bullet Productions. He also provided the voice of Sutekh for the comedy sketch Oh Mummy: Sutekh’s Story, included on the DVD release of Pyramids of Mars. Woolf would go on to provide the voice of The Beast in the 2006 episodes “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit“. He also provided the voice of Governor Rossitor in the Big Finish Productions audio plays Arrangements for War and Thicker than Water.
The Doctor, Sarah and Laurence Scarman hide in a priest hole in the priory. This is an anachronism that even the Doctor comments on, since priest holes were a feature of the Elizabethan era and earlier, and not of Victorian architecture (“A priest hole? In a Victorian Gothic folly? Nonsense!”). The puzzle in which Sarah is imprisoned in a tube is a variation of the classic logic puzzle, Knights and Knaves.
Broadcast and reception
|Episode||Broadcast date||Run time||Viewers
|“Part One“||25 October 1975||25:22||10.5|
|“Part Two“||1 November 1975||23:53||11.3|
|“Part Three“||8 November 1975||24:32||9.4|
|“Part Four“||15 November 1975||24:52||11.7|
The story was edited and condensed into a single, one-hour omnibus episode, broadcast on BBC1 at 5:50 pm on 27 November 1976, reaching 13.7 million viewers, the highest audience achieved by Doctor Who in its entire history to date. The figure was not bettered until the broadcast of City of Death in 1979. BBC2 broadcast the four episodes on consecutive Sundays from 6–27 March 1994 at noon, reaching 1.1, 1.1, 0.9 & 1.0 million viewers respectively.
Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping gave the serial a positive review in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), praising the “chilling” adversary and some of the conversations. In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker described the first episode as “an excellent scene-setter” and the story as “near-flawless”. They wrote that Pyramids of Mars gave the “fullest expression” of the Gothic horror era and had high production values and a good guest cast. In 2010, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times called it “a bona fide classic” with “arguably the most polished production to date”, and praised the powerful plot. However, he disliked how UNIT was dismissed in the season, and found “minor, amusing quibbles” with the plot. Charlie Jane Anders of io9 described Pyramids of Mars as “just a lovely, solid adventure story”, highlighting the way the Doctor seemed outmatched, the pace, and Sarah Jane. In a 2010 article, Anders also listed the cliffhanger to the third episode — in which the Doctor is forced to confront Sutekh — as one of the greatest Doctor Who cliffhangers ever. In a 2014 Doctor Who Magazine poll to determine the best Doctor Who stories of all time, readers voted Pyramids of Mars to eighth place.
The writer John Kenneth Muir was critical of the serial, querying the Egyptian mythology conceit that is woven through the whole story; he questioned a number of apparently illogical story elements, such as why the robots that guard the priory were disguised as Egyptian mummies, and why the Osirian rocket was shaped as a pyramid. In his assessment, the use of ancient Egyptian objects and symbols by the Osirian race was inadequately explained in the script, and he contrasted the Pyramids of Mars unfavourably with Stargate, a 1994 television series which relied heavily on the concept of ancient astronauts visiting Earth. Muir traced parallels with earlier Doctor Who serials such as The Dæmons (1971) and Terror of the Zygons (1975) which had also drawn on the idea of ancient Earth mythologies having extraterrestrial origins. Like The Dæmons and Tomb of the Cybermen (1967), Pyramids of Mars exploited many familiar conventions of classic mummy films, but less successfully in Muir’s view.
John J Johnston, vice-chair of the Egypt Exploration Society, explored the influences on the Pyramids of Mars in the Encyclopedia of Mummies in History, Religion, and Popular Culture. He argued that the story drew heavily on a number of classic horror films such as Boris Karloff‘s The Mummy (1932) and Hammer Films‘ The Mummy (1959), in its setting and the performance of the actors. Johnston also noted the influences of archaeology on the production design. According to Johnston, the robot mummies designed by the BBC’s Barbara Kidd were inspired by an ancient rock painting of a mysterious domed-headed figure that had been discovered by Henri Lhote in the Sahara Desert in the 1950s, and which Lhote had nicknamed “the Great Martian God”. Similarly, he considered Sutekh’s mask to have been modelled on a statue of a bearded man dating from c.3500 BCE that had been excavated at Gebelein by Louis Lortet in 1908.
|Cover artist||Chris Achilleos|
|Series||Doctor Who book:
|16 December 1976|
A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in December 1976. The novelisation contains a substantial prologue giving the history of Sutekh and the Osirians and features an epilogue in which a future Sarah researches the destruction of the Priory and how it was explained. An unabridged reading of the novelisation by actor Tom Baker was released on CD in August 2008 by BBC Audiobooks.
The story first came out on VHS and Betamax in an omnibus format in February 1985. It was subsequently released in episodic format in April 1994. It was released on DVD in the United Kingdom on 1 March 2004. It was also released on 31 October 2011 as an extra on The Sarah Jane Adventures Series 4 DVD and Blu-ray boxset as a tribute to Elisabeth Sladen who had died earlier in the year.
In 2013 it was released on DVD again as part of the “Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited 1-4” box set, alongside The Aztecs, Tomb of the Cybermen and Spearhead from Space. Alongside a documentary on the Fourth Doctor, the disc features the serial put together as a single feature in widescreen format with an introduction from current show runner Steven Moffat, as well as its original version.
- Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). “Pyramids of Mars”. The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5.
- Historic England. “Stargrove (1339802)”. National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
- Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (2003). The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to DOCTOR WHO (2nd ed.). Surrey, UK: Telos Publishing Ltd. p. 387. ISBN 1-903889-51-0.
- “Pyramids of Mars”. Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
- Sullivan, Shannon (7 August 2007). “Pyramids of Mars”. A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
- Mulkern, Patrick (14 July 2010). “Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars”. Radio Times. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Anders, Charlie Jane (30 August 2012). “Old-School Doctor Who Episodes That Everyone Should Watch”. io9. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Anders, Charlie Jane (31 August 2010). “Greatest Doctor Who Cliffhangers Of All Time!”. io9. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- “The Top 10 Doctor Who stories of all time”. Doctor Who Magazine. June 21, 2014. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
- Muir, John Kenneth (2007). “Season 13”. A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television. McFarland. pp. 237–241. ISBN 9781476604541.
- Johnston, John J (2014). “Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars”. In Cardin, Matt. Mummies around the World: An Encyclopedia of Mummies in History, Religion, and Popular Culture. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781610694209. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
- Martin, Will (20 September 2011). “The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 4 DVD artwork revealed”. Cult Box. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
- Pyramids of Mars at BBC Online
- Pyramids of Mars at Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- Pyramids of Mars at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- Pyramids of Mars reviews at Outpost Gallifrey
- Pyramids of Mars reviews at The Doctor Who Ratings Guide
- Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars reviews at Outpost Gallifrey
- Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars reviews at The Doctor Who Ratings Guide
- Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- On Target — Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars
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