Doctor Who #414: Pyramids of Mars Part 3

"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."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.8 1975.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor dresses as a mummy to blow up a pyramid missile, then travels to Sutekh's tomb to break his concentration.

REVIEW: Bob Holmes is often praised for his "comic double acts", but it's always about Jago & Litefoot, or Garron & Unstoffe. Rarely is it remarked upon that his #1 double act is the Doctor and his companion. In this episode, that's very much how he treats his protagonists. The Doctor is witty and clever, but impatient and callous, while Sarah manages not to give in to his abuse with sarcastic remarks and wit of her own. She describes screaming as "breaking the sound barrier", and makes jokes about people dangerously sneezing around sweaty gelignite. The Doctor, really the only one who knows what's at stake and in how much danger the universe is, doesn't seem as  ready to embrace the humor of his situation. If callously dismisses Laurence Scarman's corpse, it's because he's more concerned with the big picture. As he reminds Sarah, he's not human, and we shouldn't expect human reactions from him.

Sutekh is more fully revealed, and he's got a lot of presence for a character that's always sitting. Great mask, certainly, and that last shot of his eyes lighting up is very cool. But I think what makes him so awesome is Gabriel Woolf's voice (New Whovians, it's the same voice as the Beast's in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit), that simply quivers with excitement at the prospect of freedom. There was never a more joyful nihilist in all of creation and fiction. Marcus Scarman sometimes speaks as if he were Sutekh, which makes me think the Osiran basically created a copy of his mind and put it in Scarman's body. I defers to the real Sutekh whenever he speaks to it, but is essentially a part of himself. And yet, there's a glimmer of the man he was, momentarily brought out by his brother Laurence, which makes the fratricide he commits all the more horrible and sad.

There's certainly a strangeness to the ancient science of the Osirans. I've never listened that closely to the Doctor's description of the Osiran war missile, but it sounds like it actually creates a projection of itself, then replaces that projection in space. It doesn't need rockets. "Pyramid power" is a New Age buzz word, but here has a sort of meaning, and is a lot more entertaining than your usual techno-babble (though we get some of that too). With the power of his mind, Sutekh prevents the gelignite to explode, reversing and stifling the explosion until the Doctor breaks his concentration. The mix of ancient myth and super-science is so well done, the thing that's least believable is Sarah Jane's sharpshooting skills! The way she talks, sounds like her dad took her out hunting when she was a kid. It's backstory without the infodump. I'm more doubtful of her extremely detailed knowledge of Egyptology, to be honest. But hey, she probably wrote an article for that magazine of hers. Still, Super-Sarah could use a line or two explaining her incredible abilities.

THEORIES: Yesterday, I let the devasted 1980 pass without real comment, but it deserves some exploration. What's so timey-wimey about the Doctor showing Sarah an apocalyptic future is that if the Doctor's intervention is required to save the universe from destruction in 1911, why is there a future to go to in Planet of Evil, Terror of the Zygons, et al.? But that's true of EVERY intervention the Doctor has ever made. We never question why there's a post-1984 Earth before The Tenth Planet even if the Doctor has yet to stop the Cybermen there. It seems the Doctor was always meant to interfere and is a part of history, in most cases at least. In Pyramids, the Doctor does say that Sutekh is a rare being capable of changing the future, or if we use the Day of the Daleks template, creating an alternate timeline (which the TARDIS would be forced to travel to after landing at this particular crisis point?). It's often made clear that the Whoniverse is a place determined by WILL. The monks of Logopolis basically "dream" the universe into existence, and it's suggested that the Time Lord's very early civilization becomes a biological template for civilizations to come. In the Whoniverse, our choices matter. So while Pyramids could have fallen under the aegis of every other serial (the Doctor solves and has always solved the problem, preserving history), in Part 2, he actively chooses not to intervene, and that choice changes the universe. So during Zygons, History had it that the Doctor had saved the world in 1911. In 1911, if he makes a different choice, or fails (Sutekh's power being enough to overcome any fixed points in time thrown at him), only then would history be changed. Or, to put it another way, Sutekh is powerful enough to change history, even the history that says the Doctor defeated him. Or if you don't buy any of that, we could say the Doctor went to some blasted, barren planet and told Sarah it was Earth 1980 to make his point and couldn't actually "check on his own success" via time travel.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Witty dialog that extends to the techno-babble, more dark violence, and a memorable villain revealed in full regalia. The heroes are a bit too competent or lucky at times, but that's hardly a harsh criticism.


snell said...

Or, to be perverse, in this case it was the Doctor's visit to 1911 that actually altered the timeline.

What if he and Sarah Jane don't blow up the missile? Perhaps in the "original" timeline, the missile fails anyway, and maybe malfunctions and permanently entombs Sutekh. And in this timeline, as there is no Time Lord to use his TARDIS & solve the puzzles to free him, he can't emerge, and 1980 is safe. (Would have made The Waters Of Mars pretty interesting, maybe...)

Calamity Jon said...

Man, I remain super-peeved that Waters of Mars had nothing to do with either Pyramids of Mars or The Ice Warriors ...

Siskoid said...

That's really twisted Snell, but the most likely theory yet!

Jon: To be fair, the Pyramids of Mars don't feature much in this story either!

Siskoid said...

Actually, I take it back. That still doesn't work because it hinges on Sutekh getting the TARDIS, but in the destroyed 1980, he couldn't have had, because the Doctor left 1911 before Sutekh could get his hands on it. Now you've got me having a headache too.


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