Monday, 20 July 2009

Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars

Part One

“I bring Sutekh’s gift of death to all humanity.”

After an appropriately horror film-esque teaser with lots of stock footage in an Egyptian bent, we get a brief shot of the TARDIS flying through space, Just as we did at the end of Planet of Evil. Sarah’s trying on Victoria’s old dress in a bit of gratuitous continuity that’s mind-bogglingly rare for the Hinchcliffe era. The Doctor, meanwhile, is such a mardyarse that the script cannot be the sole culprit- would Paddy Russell be directing this one, perchance?

Mardy or not, he gets a good line in just-this-side-of-pretentious dialogue from, ahem, “Stephen Harris”: “I’m not a human being. I walk in eternity.” Oooh! The reason for the Doctor’s foul mood (Tom Baker’s obvious foul mood is something else entirely!) Is that he’s got a massive strop on about running around after the Brigadier. Is it me, or is there some sort of running theme emerging here? Actually, I suspect there may be two, the other one being that he doesn’t want Sarah to leave.

The TARDISeers land in the Doctor’s lab at UNIT HQ, except they don’t because it’s 1911 and still “the old priory” before it mysteriously burned down. Gosh, I wonder, for no reason in particular, what the last shot of the story could possibly be?

The Doctor’s getting quite into his namedropping again, Marie Antoinette being this week’s lucky woman. The Doctor’s rather fond of 1911, “An excellent year, one of my favourites.” Sarah, meanwhile, is revealed to be from 1980. That exact year. Fact. She says it straight up. Still, it could really be any old year as UNIT chronology is arguably completely buggered up by this point anyway.

Aside from all this we get a splendidly atmospheric first episode, with a real sense of threat, and the Doctor’s brooding presence and sudden mood changes really help in establish this. The Doctor manipulates Lawrence Scarman (the excellent Michael Sheard) into helping him by being alternately rude and charming. Well, alright, he’s charming once. Oh, and the Doctor claims to never carry firearms. Liar!

Good stuff so far, and a cliffhanger that really raises the stakes.

Part Two

“Holy Moses!"

So the Egyptian gods were really “Osirans”, all-powerful aliens who were behind all of Egyptian culture and, presumably, built the pyramids. Grr! I really hate this stuff. Just for once, can’t we have some ancient monument somewhere just being a result of ancient humans being clever?

Still, that’s not all we get. In what I like to see as a nod to the era just gone we have a poacher getting killed. How nice! And there’s a great scene where Laurence Scarman gets to see the inside of the TARDIS, just to make up for the Doctor bullying him even more than he did last episode, if that’s possible. Blimey, Tom / the Doctor really is in a foul mood. Was the Coach and Horses closed for refurbishment or something? Gosh, this bloke is, clearly, in no way going to get killed. And there’s more accurate piloting from the Doctor, incidentally. 

The guff about the alternate 1980 is nice, too, and something the series had to do at least once. I’m not sure it really works though- surely Marcus Scarman would have found the tomb anyway whether the TARDIS landed in 1911 or not, so all this would always have happened anyway?

Oh, and why is all this happening in England anyway if all Sutekh’s stuff was originally in that tomb near Sakkara?

Part Three

“Perhaps he sneezes?”

This is my fave ever Tom/ Lis episode, as it consists of the Doctor going straight for an attempt of the world mardiness record while Sarah spends the whole episode mocking him. All this and a real sense of peril too. Sadly Laurence has to die (isn’t Michael Sheard magnificent?) but at least he won’t have to put up with any more nastiness from the Doctor. The worst thing is, the Doctor still manages to be likeable even when neither he nor Tom Baker are trying to be.

Sutekh is a uniquely terrifying villain; he doesn’t want to rule the universe but to destroy all life. And it’s made clear just how powerful he is; even the Doctor’s precious Time Lords wouldn’t stand a chance.

The Doctor (well, actually Lawrence) determines to blow up the rocket Marcus Scarman is building with some gelignite, so he dresses up as a mummy with some rags. I love Sarah’s comment that it must have been a nasty accident, although I can’t help wondering how come all that metal framework is clearly visible underneath.

The ending is fantastic- Sutekh stops the explosion through sheer force of will, but then the Doctor distracts him so the gelignite can explodes. But, it seems, only at the cost of his certain death…

Part Four

“Where I tread I leave nothing but darkness. I find that good.”

Gabriel Woolfe must surely have the greatest voice for a superbaddie that ever, er, walked the planet. Just imagine Stephen Thorne saying these lines and you realise just how peerless he is. I mean, he even manages to say the line “You pit your puny will against mine?” without hamming it up, a feat surely once thought impossible.

Interesting line from the Doctor about the TARDIS controls being “isomorphic”- they certainly never have been in the past. Either he’s been tinkering or he’s telling porkies. Can Sutekh actually be lied to, though?
Tom Baker is spine-chillingly good as the possessed Doctor in a scene which must have scared the kiddies out of their wits. This is a great last episode; until the last couple of minutes it looks as though our heroes stand absolutely no chance whatsoever. Still, at least the Doctor survives his possession by using yet another previously undivulged superpower, his “respiratory bypass system”.

Incidentally, I love the Doctor’s description of the Osirans as having “dome-shaped heads… and cerebellums like spiral staircases”.

The bit with the puzzles is nice (I especially like the use of the old “forked road” riddle) and doesn’t hang around long enough to outstay its welcome. Bits of it look uncannily similar to puzzles in Death to the Daleks, but that’s ok because Sarah gets to undercut this by actually pointing it out!

The time loop ending is a clever twist, although I have no idea whether it makes sense or not. But in dramatic terms it’s a triumph. Oh, and famously all the supporting characters have been killed!

Probably not quite as good as either of its two predecessors, but still earns the third 5/5 of the season. Is this going to be the best season ever?

No comments:

Post a Comment