Pyramids of Mars was the third serial of season 13 of Doctor Who. It was written by Robert Holmes under the pseudonym Stephen Harris, directed by Paddy Russell and featured Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith.
It saw the introduction and, as of 2018, only televised appearance of Sutekh.
In a Victorian Gothic mansion, strange things are afoot. The master of the house, away in Egypt, has been replaced by a sinister Egyptian. Cloth-wrapped mummies roam the grounds, killing people. Beneath a pyramid, the last of the Osirans — Sutekh the Destroyer — waits to be freed, to at long last bring his gift of death to all who live.
Egypt, 1911: Marcus Scarman, Fellow and Professor of Archaeology at All Souls College, Oxford University, is excavating a blind pyramid. He finds the door to the burial chamber is inscribed with the Eye of Horus. The Egyptian assistants flee at the sight of the glowing hieroglyph, leaving the Professor to enter the chamber alone. As he holds a light to see the undisturbed tomb, he is blasted by a green ray that emanates from a seated and cowled figure.
The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith are still on their way back to UNIT headquarters in the TARDIS. Sarah Jane comes in with a dress on and tells the Doctor he should be glad to be going home. The Doctor replies Earth isn't his home, and it is time he finds something better to do than run around after the Brigadier. Sarah Jane attributes this state of mind to the Doctor going through something of a mid-life crisis. At the moment the tomb is disturbed, the TARDIS is forced out of its flight path. Sarah Jane sees an apparition of an alien, jackal-like face in the console room. The Doctor comments that a mental projection that could have this effect on the TARDIS would be powerful beyond imagination. He follows the energy source back to its point of origin and lands the TARDIS in the Scarman family home, a former priory somewhere in England, occupying the future site of UNIT HQ.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane explore the priory and find what appear to be Egyptian artefacts in the storeroom in which the TARDIS materialised. Discovered by Collins, they are told that the house has been taken over by a mysterious Egyptian gentleman by the name of Ibrahim Namin. Collins urges them to leave. As he turns to inspect the room after the Doctor and Sarah's departure via the window, a sarcophagus lid begins to move.
In another part of the priory, Namin is confronted by Dr Warlock, an old friend of Professor Scarman, but their heated debate is interrupted by a scream. Warlock and Namin find that the scream came from Collins, who has been strangled in the storeroom. Namin shoots Warlock to prevent him from going for help. The Doctor, who has witnessed the argument and heard the scream, prevents the shot from being immediately fatal by using his scarf to pull the gun in Namin's hand. The three make their escape onto the grounds of the estate. Instead of following, Namin removes the lid of another sarcophagus to reveal a mummy. Holding up his ring, he commands the mummy to activate and orders it to pursue them.
The Doctor, Sarah and Warlock hide in the woods until the pursuing mummies are called off the hunt by Namin, who is summoned to the central room of the house by a blast of organ music. The three fugitives make their way to a hunting lodge on the grounds used by Laurence Scarman, Professor Scarman's brother, as a home. Laurence is an amateur scientist whose latest invention, the Marconiscope, which the Doctor recognises as a primitive form of radio telescope, has intercepted a signal from Mars. The Doctor uses a more portable device to decode the signal as "Beware Sutekh".
The Doctor returns to the house in order to formulate a plan to stop Sutekh, followed by Sarah and Laurence Scarman.
Namin and the mummies — really service robots — greet the arrival of Sutekh's servant, who travels to the priory via a lodestone, the portal of which is disguised as an upright sarcophagus. The Servant of Sutekh appears as a dark-helmeted humanoid figure dressed in black. The Servant ignores Namin's pleas for his life and kills him, declaring that Sutekh needs no other servant.
After killing Namin, the Servant transforms into Marcus Scarman, although he appears to be an animated corpse. Scarman uses the space-time tunnel to communicate with Sutekh, immobile in his pyramid, who orders Scarman to secure the perimeter of the estate and to construct an Osiran war missile. After Scarman and the robots leave to execute their orders, the Doctor, Sarah and Laurence Scarman enter the main room. The Doctor explains that Sutekh is the last of a powerful alien race called the Osirans, a paranoid megalomaniac who came to believe that all life was his enemy. He locates the space-time tunnel but accidentally activates it and is nearly dragged through. He disrupts the tunnel with the TARDIS key and is knocked unconscious by the energy discharge. Laurence hides the three of them in a priest hole, fearing discovery by his brother.
In another part of the estate, a poacher, Ernie Clements, finds a mummy trapped by one of his snares. He retreats but is prevented from escaping the estate by the deflection barrier Sutekh has ordered to be generated to secure the perimeter. Once Scarman has finished placing the generators, he finds Warlock and questions him about the other people within the barrier. Clements hears Warlock's death scream and tracks Marcus Scarman to the house.
While in hiding, the Doctor realises that he will be able to stop Sutekh controlling his Servant and the mummies by using Namin's ring and Laurence Scarman's scientific apparatus. Marcus Scarman is prevented from finding them by the sudden appearance of Clements. Clements fires his shotgun at Marcus Scarman's back and is amazed to see the explosion reverse and all damage healed. Clements panics and retreats, pursued by the robots.
The Doctor locates Namin's corpse and retrieves the ring. All three proceed into the TARDIS to avoid detection. Laurence is amazed by the dimensionally transcendental nature of the TARDIS. Sarah suggests they should just leave in the TARDIS, because they know that the world did not end in 1911. The Doctor demonstrates otherwise by moving the TARDIS forward in time to 1980. There, the TARDIS doors open onto a blasted wilderness, with thunder, rain and lightning hammering down on to ash fields. Sarah understands that they have no choice but to return to 1911 and stop Sutekh, or the future will be lost.
The TARDIS returns to 1911, and the three retreat to the hunting lodge in order to jury-rig a jamming unit to prevent Sutekh controlling his servants. Laurence finds it too hard to deal with the Doctor's assertion that Marcus Scarman is dead and that the being with his appearance is just a puppet. Laurence overhears the Doctor telling Sarah that, when the jamming device is activated, all of Sutekh's servants will stop, Marcus Scarman included.
At the crucial moment when the device is activated, Laurence attempts to stop it from happening. The robots overrun the hunting lodge after finding and killing Clements. They knock Laurence out and throw the Doctor to the floor. One reaches out to kill Sarah...
One of the robots attacks the jamming device and is disabled by a sudden discharge of power. Sarah is threatened by a robot, but the Doctor tells Sarah to grab the ring that they took from Namin and order the robots to return to Control. Sarah does so, and the robots obey.
Surveying the ruined equipment, the Doctor decides that the only thing that he can do is to blow up the partially-assembled rocket in the stable courtyard of the priory. Laurence suggests using blasting gelignite, a supply of which Clements kept in his hut on the estate. The Doctor and Sarah leave to locate the gelignite, ordering Laurence to strip the bindings from the now deactivated robot left in the hunting lodge.
The Doctor finds the energy barrier and, with Sarah's help, deactivates a generator loop in order to get through. The deactivation is detected by Sutekh, who orders Marcus Scarman to investigate. Marcus finds Laurence in the hunting lodge. Laurence tries to make Marcus remember his childhood in order to revive his humanity but fails, and Marcus tortures Laurence in order to find out more about the Doctor.
The Doctor and Sarah find the gelignite. The Doctor says Sutekh was pursued across the galaxy by his brother Horus and was finally defeated on Earth by the combined might of 740 Osirans. The Doctor and Sarah hide the gelignite near the rocket before returning to the lodge. There they find Laurence in a rocking chair, strangled, and a robot stripped of its bindings. The Doctor asks Sarah to disguise him in the bindings in order for him to place the gelignite on the rocket without being detected.
However, when Sarah detonates the gelignite by shooting it with a hunting rifle, they see the explosion pause, then retreat back upon itself. The Doctor realises that Sutekh is holding back the detonation using mental power alone and that the only way to destroy the missile is travel to Sutekh's prison using the space-time tunnel and distract him. As he enters the chamber and calls out Sutekh's name, the last of the Osirans turns in response. On Earth, the explosion consumes the rocket. Angered, Sutekh paralyses the Doctor with a blast of mental force.
Sutekh interrogates the Doctor and discovers that he is a Time Lord from Gallifrey. He then locates the TARDIS and decides to use it to transport Scarman to the pyramid of Mars in order to deactivate the Eye of Horus, the force that is trapping him. The Doctor avoids being killed by claiming that the TARDIS controls are isomorphic, meaning they respond to him alone. Sutekh subjects the Doctor to mind control and returns him to the priory as another of his servants. He then orders Scarman to bring a robot and Sarah into the TARDIS to travel to Mars.
On Mars, Sutekh orders Scarman to dispose of the Doctor, and the robot strangles him. Scarman and the robot then find the way out of the first chamber beneath the pyramid and leave Sarah weeping over the Doctor. The Doctor then wakes up, revealing that his respiratory bypass system allowed him to avoid death, and they then set off in search of Scarman.
The Eye of Horus is located at the end of a corridor beneath the pyramid. The corridor is divided into a series of chambers, and progress through the chambers is dependent upon solving logical and philosophical problems. Sutekh navigates Scarman and the robot through each problem with no deliberation, but the Doctor and Sarah are slower. At the last puzzle, a transparent cylinder materialises around Sarah. The voice of Horus tells the Doctor that the chamber has two switches and that he is allowed to ask one question of one Guardian of Horus. The Guardians materialise at the same moment as the Crucible and are mummy robots swathed in gold bindings. There is not much time, as Sarah has a limited air supply within the chamber and will suffocate unless the Doctor can find out from them which is the right switch to activate. One robot will always tell the truth and the other always lie, but which is which?
Since the Guardians are contra-programmed so that one will always give a false answer, the Doctor asks one Guardian, if he were to ask the other Guardian which was the life switch, which would the other indicate? The Doctor reasons that if the Guardian he asks tells the truth then it must indicate the death switch; if it is the liar, then it would still indicate the death switch. The Doctor presses the other switch and the chamber and Guardians disappear, freeing Sarah.
Scarman and the robot reach the chamber containing the Eye of Horus. Another Guardian of Horus appears and does battle with Sutekh's robot. Sutekh realises that he is moments away from freedom and channels all of his power through Scarman in order to destroy the Eye of Horus. Scarman momentarily transforms into the jackal creature Sarah saw earlier in the TARDIS and destroys the Eye before falling to the floor and decaying to dust in an instant. Arriving too late, the Doctor looks back and sees the bulkhead doors open one by one, revealing the TARDIS at the end of the corridor. He realises that the time factor can still save them.
Back in the priory, the Doctor exits the TARDIS at a run, holding a piece of the TARDIS console. He runs to the main room of the priory and attaches the device to the space-time tunnel. Sutekh appears in the tunnel, travelling towards the exit, but he cannot seem to reach it. He pleads with the Doctor to release him, offering to spare the Earth as a plaything for the Doctor, but the Doctor simply turns the dial and Sutekh recedes screaming. The Doctor declares that Sutekh lived for about 7000 years. The Doctor explains that the time control from the TARDIS shifted the mouth of the space-time tunnel into the far future, which Sutekh could never hope to reach. They had two minutes to return to Earth from Mars and set the trap because this is the amount of time that it takes for radio waves to propagate between the two planets.
As the Doctor and Sarah pack up and prepare to leave, a thermal imbalance in the time tunnel causes it to catch fire. The Doctor remembers that the UNIT headquarters was built on the remains of a burnt priory and the two decide to leave, re-entering the TARDIS and dematerialising. Outside, the priory is seen consumed in flames.
- Doctor Who - Tom Baker
- Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
- Marcus Scarman – Bernard Archard
- Laurence Scarman – Michael Sheard
- Dr. Warlock – Peter Copley
- Namin – Peter Mayock
- Collins – Michael Bilton
- Ahmed - Vik Tablian
- Mummies - Nick Burnell, Melvyn Bedford, Kevin Selway
- Ernie Clements - George Tovey
- Sutekh – Gabriel Woolf
- Writer - Stephen Harris
- Production Unit Manager - George Gallaccio
- Production Assistant - Peter Grimwade
- Title Music - Ron Grainer & BBC Radiophonic Workshop
- Title Sequence - Bernard Lodge
- Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
- Special Sound - Dick Mills
- Costume Designer - Barbara Kidd
- Make-up - Jean Steward
- Visual Effects Designer - Ian Scoones
- Studio Lighting - Ron Koplick
- Studio Sound - Brian Hiles
- Film Cameraman - John McGlashan
- Film Sound - Andrew Boulton
- Film Editor - M.A.C. Adams
- Script Editor - Robert Holmes
- Designer - Christine Ruscoe
- Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe
- Director - Paddy Russell
- The Doctor mentions Marie Antoinette.
Companions of the Doctor
- The Doctor notes that the dress Sarah wears in this story belonged to a former companion, Victoria.
- The Doctor says that Osirans have dome shaped heads and cerebrums "like spiral staircases".
- The TARDIS is compared to something made by H. G. Wells.
- The Doctor carefully uses his sonic screwdriver to deactivate the generator loop.
- The story was originally written by Lewis Greifer but was considered unworkable. As Greifer was unavailable to do rewrites, the scripts were completely rewritten by Robert Holmes. The pseudonym used on transmission was Stephen Harris.
- Christopher Benjamin, Maurice Kaufmann, Leonard Sachs and Peter Welch were considered for the role of Marcus Scarman; Maurice Kaufmann and Reg Pritchard were considered for Laurence Scarman; John Wentworth and Martin Dempsey were considered for Dr Warlock; Arthur Hewlett and Jeffrey Segal were considered for Collins; Chubby Oates, Mostyn Evans and Freddie Earlle were considered for Ernie Clements; Gabor Vernon and Malcolm Rennie were considered for Sutekh; and Renu Setna and Mike Lewin were considered for Ibrahim Namin. (TCH 24)
- Elisabeth Sladen is credited as "Sarah" in Radio Times for parts one, three and four.
- Although the name of Sutekh's race is pronounced "Osiran" throughout the serial, the scripts and publicity material spell it as "Osirian" in some places and as "Osiran" in others. Many fans use the "Osirian" spelling, as do some reference works such as The Discontinuity Guide.
- Pyramids of Mars has the unfortunate distinction of contributing to one of the biggest and most widely discussed contradictions in the Doctor Who universe: the "UNIT dating controversy". For full details, please see that page.
- The new TARDIS console which debuted in the preceding story, Planet of Evil, does not appear again until The Invisible Enemy. Due to the cost of setting up the TARDIS console room for the filming of only a handful of scenes, a new and far less expensive set and console were designed for the following season.
- All the stories from this season were tributes to classic horror and science fiction films. This one was an obvious tribute to, and was influenced by, the original "Mummy" films produced by Universal Studios during the 1930s and 1940s, which in turn were partly inspired by the legends about the supposed "King Tut's Curse".
- This is one of several stories in which everyone the Doctor and his companion meet are dead by the end of the story. Another such story is Horror of Fang Rock. The only character who does not die is Ahmed, who is not present for anything except the opening scene in Egypt and never meets the Doctor. According to Terrance Dicks' novelisation of the story, he and the other Egyptian labourers are killed by Namin's men on fleeing the tomb. This was not derived from any information given in the televised version.
- This is the only serial in the classic series to depict Mars. To date, the only other televised stories to feature the planet are The Christmas Invasion, The Waters of Mars, The Vault of Secrets, and Empress of Mars.
- The story was chosen by BBC America to represent the Tom Baker era during their 50th anniversary programming. Edited into an omnibus format, it was aired by BBCA on 28 April 2013, after the debut of their homegrown special called The Doctors Revisited - The Fourth Doctor. It also aired in the United Kingdom later in the year on 20 October, along with the Revisited special, on the Watch channel.
- This story was chosen by fans to represent the Tom Baker era by fans to be rebroadcast for Doctor Who @40.
- Part one - 10.5 million viewers
- Part two - 11.3 million viewers
- Part three - 9.4 million viewers
- Part four - 11.7 million viewers
- Stargroves estate, Berkshire
- When Sutekh stands for the first time, the hand of a stagehand can be seen on the seat of the throne.
- Marcus' tie design changes all the time, with the stripes going from left to right and vice versa.
- The Doctor's tie changes from orange to brown, depending on the studio recording block and/or whether the scene is on location.
- Just before Marcus Scarman is shot by the poacher, as he approaches the priest hole, the square outline of the metal plate (to protect the actor from the explosive squib) can be seen underneath his jacket.
- As the Doctor taps on Sarah Jane's head while she is weeping over him, the following shot reveals the edge of a camera quickly pulling back out of view from the upper left hand corner, as a startled Sarah Jane looks in the other direction.
- When attacking Sarah Jane in the lodge, a mummy smashes the Marconiscope to pieces and an explosion ensues, yet the telescope is all in one piece in the very next shot.
- Despite being supposedly dead, Laurence Scarman manages to roll himself back over as he falls from the chair (in the opposite direction to which gravity should pull him).
- In part four, at 12.22, there is a man standing in the darkness behind the door.
- Right before the end of part four, as the Doctor and Sarah enter the TARDIS, the actors can be seen through the windows of the TARDIS prop as shadows.
- Sarah refers to the Exxilon City. (TV: Death to the Daleks)
- PROSE: Scarab of Death is set immediately after this story and has the Doctor and Sarah visiting the ruins of Phaester Osiris in the future.
- PROSE: The Sands of Time is a prequel and sequel to this story.
- A powerful alien again influenced the technical development and mythologies of humans. (TV: The Dæmons, Image of the Fendahl, City of Death)
- The Doctor alludes to having been wrongly accused of having started the Great Fire of London on 2 September 1666. (PROSE: The Republican's Story) Ironically, it was actually started when a Terileptil weapon overloaded in a bakery on Pudding Lane, the Fifth Doctor playing a major role in causing the conflagration. (TV: The Visitation) His involvement in the fire remained a source of embarrassment for the Doctor in his sixth incarnation. (AUDIO: Point of Entry, The Marian Conspiracy, Doctor Who and the Pirates) During the Doctor's first incarnation, the TARDIS materialised in London, shortly after the Great Fire began. (PROSE: Doctor Who and the Invasion from Space)
- Sarah refers to the Mummies during her comparison with Rose Tyler about her travels with the Doctor. (TV: School Reunion)
- When the Doctor opens a hidden door using hand gestures, Sarah says, "Tribophysics!" The Doctor would later add a Tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator to the TARDIS. (TV: Boom Town)
Home video and audio releases
Released as Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars, the DVD had topped a DWM poll in 2003 as the most wanted DVD release at that point in time.
- PAL - BBC DVD BBCDVD1350
- NTSC - Warner Video E2023
- Howard da Silva Intros
- Osiran Gothic Documentary - A nostalgic look back at the making of the story.
- Serial Thrillers Documentary - A look back as the Philip Hinchcliffe era and what made it one of the most successful and popular periods in Doctor Who's history.
- Deleted Scenes
- Now and Then - The locations of the story revisited.
- Oh Mummy! - A tongue-in-cheek look at Sutekh the Destroyer's varied career after Pyramids of Mars
- Photo Gallery
- Production Subtitles
- Easter Egg - Original BBC continuity announcements. To access this hidden feature, press left at Osiran Gothic on the Special Features menu.
- Commentary: Elisabeth Sladen, Michael Sheard, Philip Hinchcliffe, and Paddy Russell
- Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.
- Some Region 4 pressings of this release have a problem with the blurb on the back. The last sentence should read 'and no power in the universe can stand in his way.' However, it reads 'and no power in the universe can.'
The Sarah Jane Adventures release
This story was released as Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars.
- First Release:
Notes: The video was edited into movie-format.
Excerpts from Dudley Simpson's score, arranged by Heathcliff Blair, were released by Silva Screen in the early 1990s on their compilation CD Pyramids of Mars: Classic Music from the Tom Baker Era (FILMCD 134)
- Pyramids of Mars at the BBC's official site
- Pyramids of Mars at BroaDWcast
- Pyramids of Mars at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- Pyramids of Mars at The Locations Guide
- The Tardis Library: Book release information for Pyramids of Mars