Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars

"I bring Sutekh's gift of death to all humanity."

We never really see the Doctor terrified. And by the Doctor, I mean Tom Baker. Despite all the horrors the universe constantly throws at our curly haired adventurer, we never see him get frightened and hide behind the sofa. Sure, we've seen him worried on occasion, but more often than not he’s mocking the Daleks, making jokes about the Sontaran’s height, verbally duelling with the Cybermen or offering Zygons a jelly baby. But that was before Sutekh.

'Pyramids of Mars' is one of my favourite stories. Like much of this era, it was heavily influenced by classic horror movies, in this case Universal’s Mummy movies with an added dollop of Hammer thrown in for good measure. The acting from the entire cast is impeccable. The script, despite being a last minute re-write by Holmes, is terrific. Paddy Russell’s direction is superb. The production values are top notch with no noticeable special effects failures to take you out of the action. And Dudley Simpson provides a wonderful score, dripping with dread.


Perfectly underplayed by Gabriel Wolf, Sutekh the Destroyer, last of the Osirians, reeks of barely controlled rage and ice cold menace, despite some dodgy looking head gear. With Sutekh we have a monster that makes even the mighty Tommy B soil himself. Which is impressive for a guy who spends 90% of his only story sitting on his backside doing as little as possible. But don’t let his idleness fool you, Sutekh is the ultimate evil, which becomes even more obvious when his minions kill that other great universal terror: Mr Bronson.

Yeah, he’s that evil!

This story has the Doctor at his most intense and driven. At times he comes across as cold and callous (most notably after Laurence is killed), but that is only because he is seeing the bigger picture. He understands completely the threat the Sutekh poses and will do everything he can to stop him, even sacrifice his own life. The Doctor had to have known that by entering Sutekh's tomb, he was very likely going to his death. There was no possible way for him to get out of that situation. His best hope was that Sutekh would kill him quickly. Instead, and with little effort, he turns the Doctor, our gallant, infallible hero, into his mindless puppet. When the Doctor finally comes face to face with Sutekh, he doesn’t make any childish jokes or witty insults. There’s no point. His usual defence mechanisms are no good against this abomination from ancient Egypt. Even the will of a Time Lord is no match for the awesome might of Sutekh.


In many ways 'Pyramids of Mars' is almost the perfect Doctor Who story. I say almost because the story sadly starts to lose momentum in the final episode as the heroes and villains stumble around the titular Martian pyramid, solving a tiresome series of childish puzzles, before zipping back to earth for a limp last minute showdown with Sutekh. But that’s a minor flaw that never spoils the overall enjoyment of the story. 'Pyramids of Mars' remains an undisputed classic from the show’s golden age.

Notes and Quotes

--At the start of the story, Sarah Jane enters wearing a dress that she has just found in the wardrobe. The Doctor calls her 'Vicky', and then says that his former companion Victoria used to wear the dress.

--We learn that Gallifrey is located in the constellation of Kasterborous, at galactic coordinates 10-0-11-0-0 by 0-2 from Galactic Zero Centre.

--Gabriel Wolf also voiced the Devil himself in 'The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit'.

--The Doctor claims he has lived "for something like 750 years" and agrees that this makes him middle-aged.

--Ever the name dropper, the Doctor tells Sarah that he got the picklock from Marie Antoinette ("Charming lady. Lost her head, poor thing"). He also hints that he was involved in starting the Great Fire of London.

--The originally draft of the script was written by Lewis Greifer, but was considered unworkable. As Greifer was unavailable to do rewrites, the scripts was completely rewritten by Robert Holmes. The pseudonym used on transmission was Stephen Harris.

--Where did Sarah become such a good shot? Has she been hanging out in the UNIT shooting range during her free time?

--Sarah says she is from 1980. This would prove to be rather problematic later on. See: UNIT Dating Controversy.

--Be careful with those unstable explosives. You don't want to get any Artz on you.

--I love the scene in Episode 4, where the Doctor and Sarah start to walk out of their hiding place and then quickly dart back into it when they see a mummy. The whole thing was improvised by Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen.

--Exterior scenes for this story were shot on the Stargroves estate in Hampshire, which at the time was owned by an obscure musician called Mick Jagger.

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."

Sutekh: "You pit your puny will against mine? In my presence, you are an ant, a termite. Abase yourself you grovelling insect!"

The Doctor: "Serve you, Sutekh? Your name is abominated in every civilised world!"
Sutekh: "You pit your puny will against mine?! Kneel!"
The Doctor: "NO!"
Sutekh: "Kneel before the might of Sutekh!"

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."

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!"

The Doctor: "Where are we?"
Scarman: "A priest hole."
The Doctor: In a Victorian Gothic Folly? Nonsense!"
Sarah: "Oh, so pedantic at a time like this!"

Four out of four pyramid powered rockets.

2 comments:

Mark said...

I love this story too.

I am surprised that you didn't mention the scene tangent to the story, where Sarah says "Why can't you (leave)?... We know the world didn't end in 1911." Well before we had people on the Internet complaining about plot holes, this answered the big question of why the Doctor does what he does. It also explains why the Doctor would later go to Sutekh's tomb (and breathe out those five words).

Room for another quote?
"How do I look?"
"Must have been a nasty accident!"
"Don't provoke me."

Tim said...

One of my favourites. Up there with The Talons Of Weng Chiang.

Sutekh scared the crap out of me as a kid, especially the moment when we see him for the first time in the sarcophagus/time tunnel thingy.

In later years I began to appreciate this as a Lovecraftian tale (though I'm not sure if this was intentional on the writers part.)

Looking forward to remaining reviews of the classic 16th season, especially The Seeds Of Doom (another HPL-influence one IMO).