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The Doctor Faces An Adversary Who Very Well Could've Been His Equal

  • Feb 18, 2014
I wouldn’t exactly say that I “grew up” watching Doctor Who.  I can admit that I discovered it in the mid-1970’s by way of the local PBS affiliate broadcasting the BBC program here in the United States, and I can say – without reservation – that my first Doctor was the legendary Tom Baker.  (And, yes, I subscribe to that whole wives’ tale that tells us: “Your first Doctor is the best Doctor.”)  Mr. Baker was a delight, always struggling to maintain an almost manic intensity by way of alien science so that he could marshal the forces of his various companions and (naturally) save the universe from certain doom.  Bits and pieces of PYRAMIDS OF MARS came back to me as I was watching it, so I know that I’ve seen it before … though I’ll honestly admit I don’t recall it being this exciting.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
As its been want to do over the years, the TARDIS is suddenly yanked out of its trajectory by a force beyond its control, depositing the Doctor (the aforementioned Baker) and Sarah Jane Smith (the lovely but recently dearly departed Elisabeth Sladen) in England, circa 1911.  It would seem that a follower of the ancient Egyptian god Sutekh has discovered that the deity wasn’t vanquished as previously believed but rather he’s been imprisoned on the planet Mars.  Using some alien technology available to him by this contact, this young, disillusioned man has begun the process of releasing Sutekh – who now has his sights set on subjugating all of modern man to his nefarious wishes – only the Doctor might have something to say about that if – in the nick of time – he can close the portal giving the god access to our world.
Wow.  Wow.  And wow.
As I mentioned above, I’d obviously seen PYRAMIDS in my youth, but I honestly had very little recollection of it.  I couldn’t say why particularly, but I suspect it’s that, in my younger days, I was more interested in the episodes that explored space-bound environments, those set aboard a space ship or ones using more and more special effects.  PYRAMIDS has very little of those elements – basically there’s a portal using wormhole like technology opened up between Earth and Sutekh’s prison cell on the red planet, and that’s about it for ‘high tech’ – and what it does have is reduced most to flashing lights enhanced with modest post-production trickery.  But – considering the story – I’m practically befuddled that this one didn’t stick in my brain.
Now, let’s be clear: vintage DOCTOR WHO never had much of what most folks would consider legitimate action sequences, and PYRAMIDS is no exception.  Still, these four episodes definitely had a decided serial quality to them.  There’s the set-up (the scenes of the Egyptologist being seduced to the mission in a newly uncovered crypt), which segues into the Doctor and Sarah being plucked out of time and space to be deposited in England.  Since it happened under curious circumstances, they’re bound to want to know why, which leads them further into the mystery whose answer only draws them deeper and deeper into the action.  As is often the case with some of these older yarns, there’s a fair bit of sidebar involving some Martian mummies – basically, it’s a series of scenes used to establish how lethal they are and could be – that’s a bit extraneous; but, all-in-all, PYRAMIDS is a cracking good time.
Now – it doesn’t exactly pain me to say this, rather it’s something I’ve observed now that I’m a bit older and wiser (at least, I hope I am) – Baker’s stint as the time lord is still one of the best (so far as this reviewer is concerned).  I wanted to admit that hindsight has shown me he may not have always been all that warm and fuzzy with his various companions (his Doctor can be downright impatient, if not overly critical when remarking on ‘human intelligence’), but I tend to chalk that up to how Who evolved.  While those early doctors tended to be much more grandfatherly in look and design, even grandpa could be a bit stuffy when you disappointed him, spilled coffee on his trousers, or refused to pull his finger.  Perhaps that’s what the writers were channeling when they scripted a few of these scenes (Baker gives Sladen more than a few ‘stink eyes’ than I remembered), but methinks it was still all meant to be good fun.
DOCTOR WHO: PYRAMIDS OF MARS (1975) is produced by the British Broadcasting Company (aka The BBC).  DVD distribution is being handled (as well) by the British Broadcasting Company through BBC Home Entertainment.  As for the technical specifications, the sights and sounds still hold up today with studio sets and on-location shooting bridging actually quite nicely given the age of the original elements.  As I’m penning this review after watching the said program via streaming as an Amazon Prime member, I couldn’t speak to the special features available on the disc, though Amazon lists them if you’re interested in knowing what’s available.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Watching classic episodes of the BBC’s enduring DOCTOR WHO can be a bit treacherous for viewers new to the series, but PYRAMIDS OF MARS is one of those rare exceptions that ‘feels’ almost timeless, so much so that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine this story fitting in with modern age Who (albeit with less impressive effects work).  The serialized story moves along briskly, pitting the good Doctor and Sarah Jane in a bit of danger involving robotic mummies, crazed henchmen, and an alien Hell bent on escaping his incarceration so that he can take over the big blue marble itself.

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As a young boy, I vividly remember some of the shows I used to watch late on a Saturday night. Saturday nights were the one night during the week that I was able to stay up late. Sometimes I would watch WWF wrestling with my dad and other times we would watch the Three Stooges on the local tv station. My dad never cared for sci-fi. He grew up with Westerns and my siblings and I all grew up with a very deep appreciation of that genre. For Dad, sci-fi was the opposite of the Western. He didn't like …
review by . August 08, 2007
It's no secret that Tom Baker portrayed probably the most loved incarnation of "Doctor Who." Sarah Jane Smith was one of his best companions. "Pyramids of Mars" is one of the best serials to feature them together. No, there aren't any Daleks or Cybermen roaming around, but there is one nasty villain who goes by the name of Sutekh. He's an Egyptian "god" who had a run-in with another Egyptian god, Horus. He's trapped in the Eye of Horus for all eternity....or at least that's what we're told. In this …
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What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops".   … more
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The popularity of this Tom Baker-eraDoctor Whoserial among fans led directly to its release on DVD (it ranked first in aDoctor Whomagazine poll about stories to be released on disc), and once again, the WB/BBC DVD doesn't disappoint with a sparkling presentation and a wealth of supplemental features. The third serial in the thirteenth season (1975-1976) finds the Doctor and Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) on Earth in 1911, where an Egyptologist has come under the power of Sutekh, a powerful alien bent on unleashing worldwide destruction. The much-discussed "Gothic" sensibilities that producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and writer Robert Holmes brought to the series during this season are largely in effect here--mummies and sinister henchmen mix freely with robots and alien invaders--as are the quality of writing and acting that helpedDoctor Whospike some of its highest ratings to date during this season. One of the series' strongest and most entertaining stories,Pyramids of Marsis undoubtedly a must-have for Baker andWhofans.--Paul Gaita
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Studio: BBC Video / Warner Bros.
DVD Release Date: September 7, 2004

First to Review

"One Of Baker's Best"
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