Doctor Who #413: Pyramids of Mars Part 2

"The actions of the present fashion the future."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.1 1975.

IN THIS ONE... Marcus Scarman returns as servant of Sutekh, 1980 is laid waste, and mummies crush a poacher's dreams.

REVIEW: Bernard Archman as Marcus Scarman, all red eyes and waxen skin, looks like a proper, vampiric villain, and between his voice and that of Gabriel Woolf as Sutekh, rich, wonderful voices, it looks like even Paddy Russell's CASTING is Gothic. Now, we only get a quick flash of Sutekh, not enough to judge, but his head minion is very creepy. His humanity apparently lost, he is just an animated puppet of the Ancient Egyptian god, able to take gun shots are keep walking. It's especially horrifying that he's made the instrument of Dr. Warlock's death. The man's screams aren't just about the mummies, but about being killed by his best friend. It makes us dread the moment when Sutekh has brother murder brother, or do you really think Laurence Scarman will survive this story? And then there's the poacher who tries to avenge Warlock's death and gets one of the most horrible - and simultaneously ridiculous - deaths in the entire Doctor Who canon, crushed between two mummies. The way it's staged, it's like he can't quite believe it himself... just before the screaming starts. This is a story with a LOT of screaming, ramping up the violence and fear an extra degree.

Paddy Russell sure likes to make her characters crawl through that forest location though. For the second episode in a row, these scenes slow down the story's momentum, even if they each have a purpose (establishing a force field around the property, etc.). It's a small complaint made possible by the high quality seen all around the flaw. But we are dealing with the episode where we get all the explanations, and the talkiness really required more active action scenes during the wordless moments. We learn that the TARDIS was snagged on a space/time corridor that led from Sutekh's tomb to the English priory, and that Sutekh is an Osiran, a member of the god-like race that inspired Egyptian myth. Nothing new in the Doctor Who universe, of course, and neither the first or the last such advanced being to stamp his mark on human culture. But Robert Holmes does give us something new...

The show's had its flings with what we today call "timey-whimey" concepts, but this is really the first time we see the potential consequences of the Doctor failing. In past historical adventures, we've been told the past should not be changed (not one line!), or the Doctor has fought alien incursions as if they took place in the present - because evil aliens need to be fought. But no one's ever invoked, as Sarah does here, the aliens' insured failure because we know the present is fine and accounted for. After all, we were there only a few weeks ago! For the first time, the Doctor makes a quick hop to the present day, opens the doors, and shows a companion not what is, but what might be. This take on history is no different, really, than Day of the Daleks', but it feels much more real because it's OUR time and place that's been wiped from the books. History CAN be rewritten, and "gods" like Sutekh are just the guys to do it too. It raises the stakes tremendously, not just for this story, but for every story. Any apocalypse the Doctor prevents in any time protects all later times, already visited and yet to visit. This has always been true, but Holmes gives us an example and puts history in the crosshairs. For all time.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Some slow bits, but the horror is palpable and the 1980 scene is a real game changer for the program.


Anonymous said...

Warts and all, this is a fantastic story combining both high SF concepts and classic horror. And you are totally correct about the poachers death.

snell said...

Ah, but the headscratcher is, if they had skipped this particular stop, and just gone on to 1980 to fight Krynoids, would they have come upon a devastated world then? If so, why not earlier, during Terror Of The Zygons, for example?

Perhaps it's like Schrodinger's Cat--until they interact with that event in the past that changes the present (look inside the box, as it were), it doesn't "happen" for them yet.

I just hurt my brain.

Siskoid said...

Want me to address it in tomorrow's theories?

...IF I CAN!


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