Doctor Who #412: Pyramids of Mars Part 1

"I'm not a human being. I walk in eternity."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Oct.25 1975.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS is taken to 1911 where mummies and an ancient power are rising on the site of the future UNIT HQ.

REVIEW: For all of Pyramids' qualities - and there are many - it does have the nasty habit of rewriting the show's history. Of course, there's the infamous line about Sarah Jane coming from 1980, which perhaps isn't Pyramids' problem as much as it is later stories set earlier in time, but later in the Brigadier's life. There's Victoria's dress, which Sarah finds in the wardrobe (see Theories), but never wore. Victoria boarded with the clothes on her back and then switched to 60s mini-skirts for the rest of her stay. The distracted Doctor calls Sarah Vicki, initially, causing, I seem to remember, some confusion in my younger mind, whether the two Vics were one and the same (and I'm not sure the script knows they're not here). The Doctor is suddenly 750 years old, and says he has a responsibility as a Time Lord, something never before evoked. All that "I walk in eternity" stuff, and even the way the camera dramatically comes down on the Doctor seems to say this is an Introduction with a capital "I". Indeed, the Doctor even muses about quitting UNIT for good. Holmes (writing this story under a pseudonym) is finally done with the scripts ordered by his predecessor and he makes a Statement about HIS Doctor. Small continuity mistakes were inevitable.

That said, we're off to a great start. Director Paddy Russell was able to make parts of Invasion of the Dinosaurs moody and Gothic, so she has no trouble taking Holmes' riff on Curse of the Mummy material and making it work. The sets, both in Egypt and in the English priory, look spot on, and even the stock footage fits the episode's look. The chase through the forest is a bit slow for my tastes, but not boring. The mummies look like nothing ever mummified on Earth, but are instead simple, memorable designs, of a piece with the Servant of Sutekh's helmet. The music is lugubrious, and I expect to miss Ibrahim's crazed organ-playing, possibly even his fanatical personality, though he goes out in memorable agony under Sutekh's smokey touch. Looks like I'm going to say "memorable" a lot, because so much of it is.

The dialog, for example. In the canon, Holmes is unequaled in quotability. The Doctor's tongue uses the lofty language of the Time Lords while staying firmly in his cheek, poking fun at UNIT or Egyptian "relatives". Sarah has fun too, leaving it at a jolly "sorry" when Laurence Scarman refuses to believe her story about 1980 (I know how he feels). There are some great lines about jumping back and forth through time as well. Sarah perhaps knows a bit too much about Egyptology and as in Planet of Evil, seems much more attuned to the psychic plane, but Lis Sladen prevents her character from turning into a cipher for whatever lines need to be said by adding some fun, goofy bits of business. She mocks the Doctor behind his back, tries to get his attention with jokes both verbal and visual, and is flippant when introducing her "companion". The guest characters seem to be living on borrowed time (two dead and one wounded by the end of Part 1), but Holmes makes them whole characters for the time they do have. Collins, for example, is a nosy servant that could have come out of Downton Abbey, but he thinks, he jumps to conclusions, he helps rather than hinders, and you're sorry to see him go. This is a story where you very quickly come to care for characters, just before someone MELTS THEM. Take note, New Who fans, this one is right up your alley.

THEORIES: Let's talk wardrobe. The TARDIS is in flight, on its way to Earth Present, and Sarah Jane is rummaging in the wardrobe. She walks into the console room with a very pretty, antique white dress. Something happens, the TARDIS is taken off course and materializes in 1911... where her clothes are suddenly NOT anachronistic. Coincidence? Or since the ship is on some level aware of where it's going (even if its pilot does not), can it telepathically "push" a companion to wear the right kind of clothes? If we were to catalog every costume change for the companions, how many occured without them seeing what was outside the ship first? We know the wardrobe must create and/or modify clothing (even it was all picked up on early travels by the Doctor and Susan, why would it have clothes that specifically fit Barbara and Ian, for example?), so it might have other powers.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A very effective first episode, with great lines, characters, designs, sound and atmosphere. What we need now is a boss villain!


Calamity Jon said...

Theory-wise, I'd actually postulate it the opposite way; if a semi-self-aware TARDIS notices that a companion has donned some sort of borderline Edwardian dress, it might rig itself to materialize somewhere appropriate to the guise, near some detected trouble spot.

I'd prefer that, actually, I really didn't like Gaiman's idea that the TARDIS was a daffy, self-aware presence driving the Doctor from crisis to crisis. I preferred the element of randomness...

Siskoid said...

Chicken or egg?

It's still random to the Doctor and viewers if only the TARDIS knows where it's going, no?


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