13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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THE PYRAMIDS OF MARS
This is a classic which fully deserves its reputation. Watching Pyramids of Mars is like watching the best of Who rolled into four episodes.
Firstly, the premise is an interesting one. An ancient Egyptian god, really an alien, trapped beneath a pyramid for thousands of years is Robert Holmes at his best. Sutekh himself is brilliantly realised with a blistering vocal performance from Gabriel Woolf, whose line readings consistently eschew the obvious to produce a real character rather than a cardboard villain. And Sutekh's influence produces an almost palpable sense of evil which is present right from the outset.
Secondary characters, too, are remarkably well realised. Particularly touching is Laurence Scarman's inability to accept that his brother is lost to him, his brave attempts to contact the brother he once knew leading only to his tragic death. Laurence Scarman's focus on his brother is also a fantastic foil to the Doctor's concern for the universe. Dr Warlock and the poacher Clements are also real characters, and we care about their deaths. The mummy robots provide the requisite monster content more than adequately, and their presence also allows the wonderful scenes of the Doctor dressed as one of them.
The Edwardian sets and costumes produce a very nice sense of place, and Sutekh joins the ranks of chillingly masked villains. The fakey pyramid sets and the movement of the TARDIS key on strings strike the only discordant notes. The plot is complex and consistently interesting and cracks along, let down only by the cliched and unlikely puzzles in the pyramid and the tacked-on deus ex machina resolution.
So there's lots of excellent stuff in Pyramids Of Mars. But the best bit of all is the way it shows the incredible range and depth of the Fourth Doctor's character. From the brilliant "I walk in eternity" speech to his showing Sarah the consequences of not intervening to his explanation of why he isn't weeping over Scarman's corpse, the Doctor has never seemed more alien. And thank God for that, because that's exactly what he is. We're in no doubt that he has compassion for the individual, but his sphere of interest is more than one life and even more than one planet, and that changes his focus.
It's not surprising, then, that he sometimes seems to have the cares of the universe weighing on his shoulders, because he does. But we also get to see the other side of his character: the delight he takes in all life forms and his zest for living in general. These two aspects of the Doctor are caused by and balance one another, and it's the tension between them that defines his character.
It's also interesting to see in this story the limitations of the Doctor's power: although as a Time Lord he has certain abilities beyond the human, he's no match for Sutekh. Seeing the Doctor taken over by Sutekh is a horrible sight, although it makes the Doctor's eventual victory even more impressive.
This is also a great adventure for Sarah, both on her own account ("Don't worry. I know what I'm doing") and in her interactions with the Doctor. It's the Doctor's relationship with Sarah that does more than anything else to delineate who he is. There has never been or will be a better relationship between a Doctor and a companion than there is between these two. Compared to a Time Lord, a human being is an ephemeral creature, with a brief lifespan and a limited focus. But that's not to say humans have nothing to offer, and the Doctor's great affection and respect for Sarah makes this clear. Despite their obvious discrepancies in skills and experience, they treat each other as equals, and the Doctor derives at least as much from the relationship as Sarah does.
In The Pyramids of Mars, they play off each other to perfection. The Doctor can sometimes seem forbidding and abrupt, and he rarely vocalises his feelings for Sarah (his only response to her tears at his supposed death here is a cool "You're soaking my shirt"). But Sarah is totally unfazed: she doesn't need the Doctor to gush to know how he feels, and she's not afraid to tease him, to question him or to give back as good as she gets.
There's no doubt about it. All in all, it's a cracker.
MORAL: Do nothing today, and you will be faced with a howling wasteland tomorrow. (This also applies to gardening.)
HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
In a hideously obvious continuity error, Sarah's hair clips disappear after the TARDIS is jostled around.
THE PHAAAAAAN-TOM OF THE OPERA IS HERE
What's with all the ludicrous organ bits? It's probably supposed to be atmospheric, but it's just silly.
GROUND CONTROL TO MAJOR TOM
Why does the Doctor assume the message from Mars will be in English? And why is it?
IT DEPENDS WHAT YOU MEAN BY NEVER
The Doctor actually comes right out with it in this one and says "I never carry firearms". Frankly, Doctor, you lie like a rug.
Killing a bad guy's not exactly a nail-biting cliffhanger, is it?
TROMPE L'OEIL. NOT
When the Doctor et al climb out of the window, you can see the cloth backdrop swaying gently in the breeze.
AND I HOPE YOU LIKE JAMMIN' 2
The Doctor says he can't stop Sutekh once Scarman destroys the jamming equipment he's using. Surely there's enough stuff in the TARDIS to build another one? He's put it together only out of very basic early 20th century equipment, after all.
It's a horrible moment when Clements is killed by the robots, but nevertheless, the way they squish him between them is rather unfortunately gigglesome.
The Doctor's eavesdropping as Sutekh sends Scarman off to do stuff. There aren't any robots around. Why doesn't he just nip up and thwack Scarman on the head?
SUIT YOU, SUTEKH
Sutekh in the mask is tremendously effective, so itís a shame that they couldnít resist unmasking him, as it definitely diminishes his impact.
COME ON, LEAVE ME BREATHLESS
Oh, he suddenly has a respiratory bypass system, does he? You'd think that would have come in handy in the decompression chamber in Terror of the Zygons.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
That's a lovely Marx Brothers shot where the Doctor and Sarah round the corner in the pyramid, see the robot, and spin round and shoot off again in unison. Tom Baker's idea, apparently, and it works like a charm.
STOP ME IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE
That twin guardians of Horus conundrum was an old chestnut even when Horus was alive. (In fact, we've even got the vague feeling we've seen it before in Who, although we're willing to be corrected on that one.) And it's a bit weird putting in a puzzle that relies on two or more people being there. But why would Horus put in all those doors and puzzles anyway? It's not as if the pyramid needs maintenance.