Running Time: 97 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR
Format: Standard 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Languages: English
Subtitles: English
Region: 1
MSRP: $24.98

Own It!
Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars (1975)

I'm not truly qualified to give you a Doctor-Who -in-a-nutshell lesson; suffice it to say that the BBC's long-running series featuring a slumming Time Lord with a fondness for Earth seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for most people, combining as it does cheapjack science-fiction and serial cliffhangers, with a pinch of droll humor for seasoning.

As with most long-lived series, there have been changes in the personnel line-up; somewhere around twenty-seven seasons and eight Doctors. A fan's favorite Doctor usually seems to depend on which one they saw first, so mine is the eccentric Tom Baker, whose iteration of the role was released to commercial American TV by Time/Life Television in 1978. The BBC's style (lacking interruption for advertisements) proved more than a little problematic for the Yank stations; in my neck of the woods, like Monty Python's Flying Circus, it was finally relegated to late Saturday nights, where it wasn't necessary for shows to end on the half-hour.

This particular story arc, a fan favorite, comes from what is generally regarded as a Golden Age for the series; under producer Phillip Hinchcliffe, the stories moved away from the standard Who alien invasion stories to mine ideas from the gothic horror of the Hammer films; Pyramids of Mars takes off from 1959's The Mummy, when a 1911 Egyptologist discovers the tomb of Sutekh, the ancient God of Evil. Unfortunately for him, Sutekh is actually an alien of unimaginable power, sealed in the tomb by his fellow Osirans to prevent him destroying all life in the universe. Using the spellbound Egyptologist and a task force of robots disguised as mummies, Sutekh sets about constructing a space missile to destroy the device keeping him imprisoned - the Eye of Horus, supposedly safely concealed in an enormous pyramid on Mars. Naturally, something like that will draw the attention of the Doctor and his traveling companion, Sarah Jane Smith.

Laid out like that, it all sounds rather simplistic and not a little stupid; the fun is in watching the story unfold, and seeing familiar horror tropes dissected by The Doctor and the BBC production unit. If one can't see the charm of a fez-wearing villain playing a pipe organ to open a time-space gateway in a mummy sarcophagus (a gateway which is patently a disco color-wheel) - well, don't even bother with a rental.

But you don't know what you're missing.

The Beeb certainly takes care of its material. The elements on display here (both video and film), over a quarter of a century old, are astoundingly crisp and clear. The sound is... well, mono. That was what we had in those days, and that's how we liked it, by cracky!

BBC Video has loaded this disc up with a startling slate of extras. There are two featurettes of the interview- and-clip variety, both quite interesting for fans of the show: Osirian Gothic is about the production of this particular storyline, and Serial Thrillers is about the difficulties of the series in general.

Now and Then compares footage of the manor setting in 1975 (when it was owned by Mick Jagger!) and its present-day, completely refurbished appearance. Oh Mummy is a joke reel, an interview with Sutekh himself, which begins with the God of Evil blasting a make-up girl because she "missed a spot". There is also a Picture Gallery, Bios for each of the speaking roles, Deleted Scenes (though not many - Who had a tight shooting schedule), and - most disposably - a series of voiceovers done by Howard Da Silva. These were inserted by Time-Life at the beginning and end of each episode, because heaven knows, we Yanks couldn't have followed what was going on without them.

There is also an audio commentary track featuring director Paddy Russell, but most of the talking is handled by Hinchcliffe, and actors Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane) and Michael Sheard (the doomed brother of the Egyptologist). The commentary is typically well-mannered and informative. But even better is the Information Text option, which displays a constant barrage of type at the bottom of the screen, supplying the Radio Times blurb for each episode, ratings, pointing out continuity gaffes, script changes, and generally supplying info not covered in any of the other extras. Very nicely done, and a delightful way to enjoy the story a second time.

Dr. Freex, 9/22/2004