Doctor Who #415: Pyramids of Mars Part 4

"In my presence, you are an ant, a termite. Abase yourself, you grovelling insect."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.15 1975.

IN THIS ONE... Sutekh uses the TARDIS to take Scarman to Mars where the Eye of Horus is disabled, but the Doctor wins in the end.

REVIEW: Sutekh is such an awesome villain, it's a shame he appears so little in the story, and is destroyed by the end. Obviously, he's too powerful to be allowed to live, but his quivering voice lives on in various .wav files on my computer, and in the comedy sketch on the DVD (my very favorite of 2|entertain's comedy extras). Plaything of Sutekh! You are an ant! Your evil is my good! Great, over-the-top lines given gleeful and surprising readings. Sutekh can't help himself, sadism gives him the giggles. And he doesn't accept your moral absolutes. I don't like his maskless look very much, however, the jackal head has much less personality and can even said to be silly. This is a story in which he essentially wins, turning the Doctor - the symbol of freedom itself - into a puppet, and the Doctor can only free himself by feigning death. In the end, Sutekh DOES free himself from his shackles, but the Doctor manages to time loop him in the time corridor, making him die from old age during the journey. It's an acceptable ending, though rife with technobabble and bears asking if immortals CAN die of old age - or was he still underpowered from Horus mojo?

But that's the weakness of this chapter - the horrendous technobabble. Even Sarah talks about tribophysics as if that were in her wheelhouse. We're happy to see Mars, finally, but no mention is made of the geological formations that gave the serial its title, and all we get is caves, interesting CSO elements, and padding via various puzzles. It's the exact same thing Holmes pulled as apprentice script editor in Death to the Daleks, something Sarah even points out (EVEN without having been present during those scenes - oops!). Getting doors to open with "tribophysics" is a meaningless exercise for the viewer, as is the "Chinese puzzle" (how do 7 stitches covert to 164 cm again?). The logic puzzle that could mean Sarah's death has its own babble name, the "decatron crucible", and can at least be played with the kids at home, but it never fails to confuse me initially because the buttons aren't that visible at first, and I can't help wondering why we didn't see Scarman go through it, or come to think of it, why Horus would fill the pyramid with logic puzzles instead of a proper security system. Why is anyone being "tested"? Shouldn't Sutekh be trapped forever and the doors opened for absolutely no one? As in Death to the Daleks, it's a sequence that buys time. Yes, it fits the archaeology element of the story, but it's a shame we couldn't get a better final act.

Despite the uneven climax, there are still many things to love. The Doctor and Sarah doing a comedy 180 to avoid the mummy's gaze. The ambiguity of Scarman's final "I'm free!" before he dies. Is that Sutekh talking, or Marcus Scarman's soul given voice? His body turning to ash in a room of golden energy. How the priory's fire was foretold and the heroes' nonchalance at letting history take its course. OMG, the hand that keeps Sutekh's cushion from slipping off when he finally rises! That's one of Who's most beloved and hilarious boo-boos! And of course that wonderful, heightened language as the Time Lord insolently squares off against a giddy god.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization includes a prologue about Sutekh's imprisonment, and an epilogue in which Sarah reads about the priory's history in the newspaper.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I'm not a fan of the logic puzzle padding, but I'm all about Sutekh, who finally gets a more meaty role in Part 4.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - Better than the sum of its parts, Pyramids is always a joy seen as a whole since no single episode can leave you hungry for more.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Logic problems are the thing most likely to keep Ice Warriors out. They're also effective against Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulators.

And the pyramids were built by J'onn J'onnz's people so they didn't really factor into the story.

Siskoid said...

Crossing over into any other story frees Sutekh in, like, 2 minutes.

d said...

Good job on the recap. My 1st story ever and still my all time fave! 7:30 weeknights on Channel 12 PBS.

 

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