Pyramids of Mars

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082 – Pyramids of Mars
Doctor Who serial
Pyramids of Mars.jpg

"Kneel before the might of Sutekh!"
Writer "Stephen Harris" (Robert Holmes and Lewis Greifer)
Director Paddy Russell
Script editor Robert Holmes
Producer Philip Hinchcliffe
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Dudley Simpson
Production code 4G
Series Season 13
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast 25 October – 15 November 1975
← Preceded by Followed by →
Planet of Evil The Android Invasion

Pyramids of Mars is the third serial of the 13th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 25 October to 15 November 1975.


In Egypt in 1911, Marcus Scarman excavates a pyramid and finds that the door to the burial chamber is inscribed with the Eye of Horus. Scarman's Egyptian assistants panic and flee at the sight of the glowing hieroglyph, leaving the Professor to enter the chamber alone. As he holds a light up to see the undisturbed tomb, he is blasted by a ray that emanates from a seated and cowled figure.

The TARDIS is forced out of its flight path and Sarah sees an apparition of a jackal-like face in the console room. The Doctor follows its energy source back to its point of origin and lands the TARDIS in the Scarman family home in England, which is filled with Egyptian artefacts. Discovered by the butler, they are told that the house has been taken over by a mysterious Egyptian gentleman by the name of Ibrahim Namin. In another part of the priory, Namin is confronted by Dr. Warlock, an old friend of Professor Scarman. The Doctor, Sarah and Warlock make their escape into 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 by Namin. The three make their way to a hunting lodge used by Laurence Scarman, Professor Scarman's brother. Laurence is an amateur scientist whose marconiscope has intercepted a signal from Mars. The Doctor uses a more portable device to decode the signal as "Beware Sutekh". He explains that Sutekh is the last of a powerful alien race called the Osirians, a megalomaniac who came to believe that all life was his enemy. He was pursued across the galaxy by his brother Horus and was finally defeated on Earth by the combined might of 740 Osirians. The Doctor returns to the house 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 spacetime tunnel, the portal of which is disguised as an upright sarcophagus. The Servant ignores Namin's pleas for his life and kills him, declaring that Sutekh needs no other servant. He is revealed to be Marcus Scarman, although he appears to be an animated corpse. Scarman uses the spacetime tunnel to communicate with Sutekh, who orders Scarman to secure the perimeter of the estate and to construct an Osirian war missile. After Scarman and the robots leave to execute their orders, the Doctor, Sarah and Laurence Scarman enter the main room. The Doctor disrupts the tunnel using the TARDIS key. Laurence hides the three of them in a priest hole for fear of being discovered by his brother.

In another part of the estate, a poacher, Clements, finds a mummy trapped in one of his snares. He retreats but is prevented from escaping the estate by a deflection barrier. Meanwhile, Marcus Scarman finds Warlock and questions him about the other people within the barrier and kills him. Clements fires his shotgun at Marcus Scarman to no effect and is pursued by the mummy-shaped robots. The Doctor realises that he can stop Sutekh controlling his Servant and the mummies by using Namin's ring and Laurence Scarman's scientific apparatus. He retrieves the ring from Namin's corpse and hide in the TARDIS to avoid detection; 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 to 1980, where it is a blasted wilderness. They have no choice but to return to 1911 and stop Sutekh or the future will be lost.

Back in 1911 the Doctor makes a jamming unit to prevent Sutekh from 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. He overhears the Doctor telling Sarah that when the jamming device is activated, all of Sutekh's servants will stop, Marcus 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. Sarah, using the ring they took from Namin, orders the robots to return to Control.

Surveying the equipment ruined by the mummies, the Doctor decides to blow up the partially assembled rocket in the stable courtyard of the priory. Laurence suggests using blasting gelignite, which Clements kept in his hut. The Doctor and Sarah leave to obtain the gelignite, ordering Laurence to strip the bindings from a deactivated robot. The Doctor deactivates the energy barrier; his doing so is detected by Sutekh, who orders Marcus Scarman to investigate. Marcus finds Laurence, who tries to make his brother remember their childhood in order to revive his humanity. The conditioning proves too strong, and Marcus kills Laurence.

The Doctor and Sarah successfully ignite the explosives, but Sutekh telepathically suppresses the combustion reaction. The Doctor uses the spacetime tunnel to travel to and distract Sutekh, allowing the rocket to be destroyed but trapping himself. Sutekh interrogates the Doctor and discovers he is a Time Lord from Gallifrey. He locates the TARDIS and decides to use it to transport Scarman to the Pyramids of Mars in order to deactivate the Eye of Horus, the force that is trapping him. Sutekh subjects the Doctor to mind control and returns him to the priory as another of his servants. He orders Scarman to bring a robot and Sarah into the TARDIS to travel to 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, though he regains consciousness, revealing that his respiratory bypass system allowed him to avoid death. They set off in search of Scarman through a series of chambers which are dependent upon solving logical and philosophical problems.

Reaching the chamber first, Scarman destroys the Eye before falling to the floor and decaying to dust. Arriving too late, the Doctor realises that the loss of the imprisoning force will not be felt on Earth for two minutes, that being the time that radio signals take to travel from the pyramid on Mars to the prison chamber in Egypt, and they return to Earth. Sutekh begins his journey through the time tunnel; at the same time the Doctor removes a module from the TARDIS and attaches it to the other end of the tunnel springing a "temporal trap," immobilizing Sutekh in the timestream, and instead forcing him to a point 10,000 years in the future, ageing him to death. The Doctor and Sarah leave in the TARDIS as the priory is consumed in flames.


Sarah wears a dress which the Doctor says belonged to Victoria.[1] She remarks that the puzzles are similar to those in the Exxilon City in Death to the Daleks, although she personally never entered the City.[1]


The story as originally written by Lewis Greifer 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. Pyramids of Mars contributes to one of the contradictions in the Doctor Who universe: the UNIT dating controversy.

The exterior scenes were shot on the Stargroves estate in Hampshire, which was owned by Mick Jagger at the time. The same location would be used during the filming of Image of the Fendahl. The new TARDIS console, which debuted in the preceding story Planet of Evil, does not appear again until The Invisible Enemy. Owing to the cost of setting up the TARDIS console room for the filming of only a handful of scenes, a new console set was designed for the following season. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen improvised a number of moments in this story, most notably a scene in Part Four where the Doctor and Sarah start to walk out of their hiding place and then when they see a mummy, quickly dart back into it. Baker based the scene on a Marx Brothers routine.

Several scenes were deleted from the final broadcast. A model shot of the TARDIS landing in the landscape of a barren, alternative 1980 Earth was to be used in Part Two, but director Paddy Russell decided viewers would feel more impact if the first scene of the new Earth was Sarah's reaction as the TARDIS doors opened. Three scenes of effects such as doors opening and the Doctor materializing from the sarcophagus were removed from the final edit of Part Four because Russell felt the mixes were not good enough. These scenes were included on the DVD, along with an alternate version of the poacher being hunted down in Part Two, and a full version of the Osirian rocket explosion.

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.[2] Many fans use the "Osirian" spelling, as do some reference works such as the Battles in Time collectable card game and the Virgin Missing Adventures sequel novel The Sands of Time. Another member of the Osirian race also appears in the Big Finish Productions audio drama The Bride of Peladon.

Cast notes[edit]

Features a guest appearance by Michael Sheard; he was cast by director Paddy Russell without any audition, purely on the recommendation of production assistant Peter Grimwade. Sheard previously featured in The Ark and The Mind of Evil and would later appear in The Invisible Enemy, Castrovalva and Remembrance of the Daleks. Bernard Archard previously played Bragen in The Power of the Daleks. Michael Bilton previously played Teligny in The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve. George Tovey was the father of Roberta Tovey, who appeared as Susan in the films Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD.

Gabriel Woolf reprised his role as Sutekh in the Faction Paradox audio dramas Coming to Dust (2005), The Ship of a Billion Years (2006), Body Politic (2008), Words from Nine Divinities (2008), Ozymandias (2009) and The Judgment of Sutekh (2009), from Magic Bullet Productions. He also provided the voice of Sutekh for the comedy sketch Oh Mummy: Sutekh's Story, included on the DVD release of Pyramids of Mars. Woolf would go on to provide the voice of The Beast in the 2006 episodes "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit". He also provided the voice of Governor Rossitor in the Big Finish Productions audio plays Arrangements for War and Thicker than Water.

Outside references[edit]

The Doctor, Sarah and Laurence Scarman hide in a priest hole in the priory. This is an anachronism that even the Doctor comments on, since priest holes were a feature of the Elizabethan era and earlier, and not of Victorian architecture ("A priest hole? In a Victorian Gothic folly? Nonsense!"). The puzzle in which Sarah is imprisoned in a tube is a variation of the classic logic puzzle, Knights and Knaves.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewers
(in millions)
"Part One" 25 October 1975 (1975-10-25) 25:22 10.5
"Part Two" 1 November 1975 (1975-11-01) 23:53 11.3
"Part Three" 8 November 1975 (1975-11-08) 24:32 9.4
"Part Four" 15 November 1975 (1975-11-15) 24:52 11.7

Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping gave the serial a positive review in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), praising the "chilling" adversary and some of the conversations.[1] In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker described the first episode as "an excellent scene-setter" and the story as "near-flawless". They wrote that Pyramids of Mars gave the "fullest expression" of the Gothic horror era and had high production values and a good guest cast.[2] In 2010, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times called it "a bona fide classic" with "arguably the most polished production to date", and praised the powerful plot. However, he disliked how UNIT was dismissed in the season, and found "minor, amusing quibbles" with the plot.[5] Charlie Jane Anders of io9 described Pyramids of Mars as "just a lovely, solid adventure story", highlighting the way the Doctor seemed outmatched, the pace, and Sarah Jane.[6] In a 2010 article, Anders also listed the cliffhanger to the third episode — in which the Doctor is forced to confront Sutekh — as one of the greatest Doctor Who cliffhangers ever.[7]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who book
Book cover
Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars
Series Target novelisations
Release number 50
Writer Terrance Dicks
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist Chris Achilleos
ISBN 0-426-11666-6
Release date 16 December 1976

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in December 1976. The novelisation contains a substantial prologue giving the history of Sutekh and the Osirians and features an epilogue in which a future Sarah researches the destruction of the Priory and how it was explained. An unabridged reading of the novelisation by actor Tom Baker was released on CD in August 2008 by BBC Audiobooks.

Home media[edit]

The story first came out on VHS and Betamax in an omnibus format in February 1985. It was subsequently released in episodic format in February 1994. It was released on DVD in the United Kingdom on 1 March 2004. It was also released on 31 October 2011 as an extra on The Sarah Jane Adventures Series 4 DVD and Blu-Ray boxset as a tribute to Elisabeth Sladen who had died earlier in the year.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "Pyramids of Mars". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5. 
  2. ^ a b Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (2003). The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to DOCTOR WHO (2nd ed.). Surrey, UK: Telos Publishing Ltd. p. 387. ISBN 1-903889-51-0. 
  3. ^ "Pyramids of Mars". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 30 August 2008. 
  4. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (7 August 2007). "Pyramids of Mars". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 30 August 2008. 
  5. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (14 July 2010). "Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars". Radio Times. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (30 August 2012). "Old-School Doctor Who Episodes That Everyone Should Watch". io9. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  7. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (31 August 2010). "Greatest Doctor Who Cliffhangers Of All Time!". io9. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  8. ^ Martin, Will (20 September 2011). "The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 4 DVD artwork revealed". Cult Box. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 

External links[edit]

Target novelisation