Timestamp #82: Pyramids of Mars

Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars
(4 episodes, s13e09-e12, 1975)

Timestamp 082 Pyramids of Mars


They’re finally back to London, but it’s not really the one Sarah Jane wants.

Professor Scarman is excavating a pyramid which contains what he calls the perfect tomb. There is an Eye of Horus on the door to the inner chamber, which scares away his assistants, but the professor shows no fear as he opens the door… and gets blasted by a ray of green light.

Change scenes to our heroes and the TARDIS travelling through space-time. Sarah Jane gleefully shows off a dress she found in the wardrobe, which a pensive Doctor offhandedly remarks that it belonged to “Vicki” or “Victoria”. That’s either Victoria Waterfield or Vicki Pallister. When Sarah Jane presses the matter, the Doctor explains that he no longer wants to chase after the Brigadier’s whims, and he doesn’t feel quite at home on Earth. His maudlin musings are broken when the TARDIS jolts violently and is redirected to the priory – Professor Scarman’s family home – that existed on the site where UNIT HQ was eventually founded. During the turbulence, Sarah Jane sees an Egyptian jackal face that rapidly disappears.

The priory is occupied by Ibrahim Namin, a mysterious Egyptian gentleman, who is confronted by Dr. Warlock, a friend of the professor who was zapped in the opening scenes. Namin’s butler discovers the Doctor and Sarah Jane, believing that they are agents of Dr. Warlock, and warns them against Namin. As the travelers depart, a sarcophagus opens on its own.

Warlock and Namin are engaged in a heated argument when the butler screams. They rush to the scene and find him strangled, and as Namin nearly kills Warlock with a gun, the Doctor intervenes and saves Warlock before disappearing again. Namin opens the sarcophagus and awakens the mummy within using a special decoder ring. The mummy and Namin pursue the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and a critically wounded Warlock, but are called off as a blast of organ music echoes through the forest. The travelers are found by Laurence Scarman, the professor’s brother, and they hide at his hunting lodge.

The year is 1911 and Scarman has developed a Marconiscope, a predecessor to the radio telescope, which can intercept signals from space. As they switch it on, they receive a signal from Mars that overloads Scarman’s device. The Doctor decodes it: “Beware Sutekh.”

Okay, so we’re talking about Mars. Are the mummies the Ice Warriors?

As the team decides to investigate further, the Doctor claims, “I never carry firearms.” Uh, yes you do. You shot people in Planet of Evil and Day of the Daleks, and you also have a favorite collection.

Anyway, the Doctor and the humans return to the priory as Namin summons a servant of Sutekh through a special sarcophagus carrying a lodestone. Alas, it’s not the Ice Warriors, but it kills Namin as the mighty Sutekh needs no other servants. The servant then morphs into the professor and takes the mummies to set his plan in motion. The Doctor investigates the lodestone and explains that Sutekh is the last of the Osirans. He accidently activates the spacetime tunnel and is nearly drawn through it until he disrupts it and falls unconscious. Sarah Jane and Laurence hide away in a priest hole.

A non sequitur (and likely redshirt) poacher runs into the deflection field set up around the estate by the Sutekh. Professor Scarman, while searching for his brother, finds Warlock and learns about the Doctor. Scarman orders a mummy to kill Warlock. The poacher runs from the death screams and seeks out Laurence. The Doctor decides that his can stop Sutekh by blocking his transmissions to Earth, but he needs Namin’s ring to isolate the frequency. On cue, the professor arrives and almost finds the travelers until the poacher arrives and shoots him. The professor sets the mummies loose on him. True to form, the redshirt’s gonna die.

The travelers locate Namin’s corpse and retrieve the ring, then hide in the TARDIS. The Doctor determines that the mummies, who are really robots, are building rockets to free Sutekh from his imprisonment by destroying the force field generator on Mars. Sarah Jane suggests, since the world didn’t end in 1911, that they should just travel forward to 1980 and be done. The Doctor takes her there, revealing a desolate wasteland, and Sarah Jane realizes that they have to stop Sutekh.

They return to 1911 and take refuge in Laurence’s lodge, planning to build a jamming device. As the mummies kill the poacher, Laurence tries to stop them and the mummies overrun the lodge. The mummies destroy the jamming device, but Sarah Jane drives them off with the ring. The team decides to blow up the missile using blasting gelignite, of which the poacher (of course) had a supply. Laurence stays behind to unwrap the robot as Sarah Jane and the Doctor head for the poacher’s hut. En route, they disrupt part of the barrier, which the professor investigates only to find Laurence. Laurence believes that part of his brother still survives, and he nearly breaks through until the Sutekh persona recovers and tortures Laurence for information.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane take the gelignite to the missile, but do not have detonators or fuses. They return to the lodge to find Laurence’s corpse, and they use the wrappings as a disguise to infiltrate the mummies. The disguised Doctor places the gelignite, but when Sarah Jane shoots it with Laurence’s rifle, the explosion is constrained by Sutekh’s mental power. The Doctor determines that the only way to stop him is to go to Mars and distract him. As the Doctor arrives through the spacetime tunnel, he is stunned by Sutekh, and the action causes the destruction of the rocket.

Sutekh interrogates the Doctor and discovers who he is, and he offers an alliance that the Doctor rejects. Scarman calls and reports that they have captured Sarah Jane, and Sutekh orders her death until the Doctor protests. Sutekh reads the Doctor’s mind and learns of the TARDIS, then transports the key to Scarman. The Doctor saves his life by claiming that the TARDIS controls are isomorphic and will only responds to his touch. He claims allegiance to Sutekh and is supposedly placed under the alien’s command, then returns and pilots the TARDIS to the pyramid so the professor can override the restraining field. The professor enters the chamber and the mummies try to kill the Doctor after he is no longer needed, but that releases Sutekh’s hold on him. He survives due to a respiratory bypass system. It’s convenient, but it’s also science fiction.

The path to the Eye of Horus, the source of the restraining field, is blocked by several logic puzzles which are very reminiscent to a previous story. The professor has Sutekh’s knowledge to help, but the Doctor and Sarah Jane are slower. At one point, Sarah Jane is trapped and the Doctor must face a Knights and Knaves-style challenge: There are two buttons (one is freedom, one is instant death), and the answer lies with two robots (one always lies, one always tells the truth). He successfully answers the riddle, but they are too late since the professor has already destroyed the Eye.

The Doctor realizes that the Time Factor can still save them since the transmission takes two minutes to move from Mars to Earth, and he rushes with Sarah Jane back to the TARDIS and 1911. Using a piece of the TARDIS console, he blocks the spacetime tunnel and traps Sutekh inside, propelling the Osiran forward into the far future until he dies of old age. The sarcophagus explodes, burning the priory to the ground and paving the way for UNIT’s arrival in the future. The Doctor muses about his involvement in the great London fire of 1666, and with that, the pair move on to their next adventure.

Maybe they’ll find London this time?

This was a fun adventure with plenty of twists and turns. It was very engaging. The villain seemed pretty standard until he actually got proactive about the Doctor and tried to kill him, and that small character development pushed it over the top for me. I mean, this villain actually wins until the Doctor stops him at (literally) the very last second.

Looking back, the body count is high in this one. Everyone the Doctor meets is dead at the end. I’d hate to be the CSI lead trying to put this one together.

After reading more about this one, this story also adds to the so-called UNIT Dating Controversy, which isn’t a sticking point on my end yet. That will come up in about seven seasons (or about a year in Timestamps time) with Mawdryn Undead, and, as with most continuity problems in Doctor Who, I’m just going to consider it timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly and move on.

This one ended up as a high four, and I’ll round up.


Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Android Invasion


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.




12 thoughts on “Timestamp #82: Pyramids of Mars

  1. This story is usually considered one of the Tom Baker greats and its when it’s considered the Robert Holmes (this was written under a pseudonym due to BBC rules about a script editor commissioning his own work) actually hit his stride as a writer. I also like that they show the stakes by actually going forward and seeing what would happen if they didn’t stop Sutekh. We haven’t seen time travel used to such good effect in the show since Day of the Daleks, and I liked that touch.

    Also, even though this story has segments on Mars, but we don’t see Ice Warriors the books do develop the idea that the Osirans also had an impact on Ice Warrior culture and the Pyramid on Mars is part of that.

  2. […] The android finds Adric and the gang, scaring the bandits away before following Adric to the TARDIS.  The android enters TARDIS but is destroyed thanks to Nyssa’s sonic device. Nyssa and Adric move the TARDIS to the house, and the Doctor uses the scanner (after a jab at Adric’s dense questions and a bit of “Dad” reasoning for Tegan) to locate the Terileptil. They arrive at a London bakery and encounter all three Terileptils. A fight and a fire break out, and the heat causes the Terileptil weapon to overload. The resulting explosion destroys the bakery in a blazing inferno, which proves the perfect crucible for the plague serum. The travelers depart, leaving Mace to fight the fire, and the Doctor muses about the historical implications of this adventure: He just started the Great Fire of London, even though he previously denied any involvement. […]

  3. […] Meanwhile, in the Attic, the Bannerman Road Gang (with Luke calling in via video) watch a livestream from a recent NASA Mars rover landing. As the rover crests a hill, Sarah Jane disables the machine. NASA believes that they’ve lost another one, but Sarah Jane knows the truth: She’s just prevented the probe from discovering an ancient and deadly civilization. […]

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