Companion: Sarah Jane Smith
Written by: Stephen Harris (a.k.a. Robert Holmes and Lewis Greifer)
Directed by: Paddy Russell
Background & Significance: Robert Holmes wanted Mummies.
If you trace this whole story back to where it started, Robert Holmes wanted a Doctor Who story with mummies in the vein of some god damn old school horror movies. He contracted Lewis Greifer to give him a story with Mummies and gods and stuff, but it wasn't enough and the Mummies weren't real mummies and the gods weren't real gods and The Doctor was written all weird, and Holmes didn't like it, so he kept the concept and rewrote the whole thing from scratch, keeping very little except the title.
Granted, that's a gimme, as this one comes in the middle of the very popular Gothic era. But still. It's not like everything in the era gets a pass. All that really matters is that great Doctor Who is great Doctor Who. When we get down to it, the eras don't really matter except to follow the path of tonal shifts over the life of an almost-fifty-year long television story. Eras themselves boil down to a particular producer's vision and how well they seemed to work in harmony with their script editor.
It's also totally, totally classic Holmesian Doctor Who. It's got the similar themes, recurring tropes, undeniable horror, bits of humour. It also establishes a new precedent in Doctor Who history and the moment where Sarah Jane urges The Doctor to pimp the frak out of there and just forget it because the world still exists in 1980 is a game changer, to say the least.
War Games". And that's saying something cuz for the longest time War Games was the one to beat. But yeah. Now it's Pyramids. And the best part? Anyone who's a fan of the new series will love it. And anyone who's a fan of the classic series will love it. It's really got something for everyone. So good.
Seriously, go find it on Netflix or whatever and watch it before checking it out here. It's super awesome and it holds up, man. Totally totally. You'll love it.
Watched it yet? I can wait...
No really. I can.
So let's get to it!
Again,this just goes back to the whole "if it's done well I will like it" mantra that I keep living by. More often than not I'm not one for Tom Baker. Granted, most of what we've seen from him on this blog so far is nothing short of Looney Tunes. But then I come back to his first three seasons and he just kills it and knocks it out of the park constantly. It's very Holmesian, his Doctor. Holmes just GETS it and Hinchcliffe has the wherewithal to rein him in. Give Tom Baker both of these things and he excels. And excel he does.
And that's why him dealing with Laurence Scarman is aewsome. He’s attempting compassion but he doesn't know how. It speaks wonders about his character and his portrayal. And it makes that scene with him and Sarah about the Sutekh-ravaged 1980 so much more powerful. He understood this about an hour ago, and now he connects it to her. Sarah Jane is the one he connects to, and that's why she's really his best companion. No one else gets The 4th Doctor like Sarah Jane does and he never really got anyone as much like he got her.
That, I think, makes this story particularly strong. It's not often that The Doctor is so consistently the underdog in a story, but it makes this episode completely compelling. From the second this episode starts until The Doctor confronts Sutekh in the time corridor, he's nothing but losing. He fails to stop Sutekh from taking over his mind. He fails to stop Scarman from entering the Pyramid of Horus. He fails to ever catch up to Scarman as Scarman moves through the tomb with his mummies. He fails to stop Scarman from destroying the Eye of Horus. He fails to stop Sutekh from standing and breaking free from his tomb. He fails to stop Sutekh from entering the time corridor and heading for Earth.
It really gives this entire episode a very ominous and dark feel. He's doing nothing but losing every step of the way and it's only through quick thinking that he manages to pull it around. Were but could every episode be as perilous as this one, but don't tell me that just for a second you don't see how The Doctor can possibly win once Sutekh has taken over his mind. More stakes! More tension! What more do you want?
It’s tensiony and ultimately ridiculously satisfying, which, with a story this strong three episodes in is totally saying something.
Final Thoughts?: It's a mark to a Doctor Who story when I don't really have any criticisms to level against it.
Everything about it just works. The writing is top-notch Robert Holmes. Tom Baker is on a level that's nothing short of ridiculous awesome. Sarah Jane is running around and not being your typical useless companion. The villain is insanely memorable, powerfully strong, and utterly defeated. The tone and direction is just magnificent. The production design is gorgeous. The pace is incredibly strong.
As a behind-the-scenes of what's going on right now, after watching each story, I plug it into a list I'm making where I rank all the classic stories based on enjoyment (I've added a widget on the side where you can see that list and I'll update it as new stories come in). Up until this one, the story to beat was Patrick Troughton's "The War Games", which is just a masterful Doctor Who story, one of the best ever. I don't even care that it's ten parts, because once the ball starts rolling, it just gets ridiculous.
A triumph, to be sure. Wonderfully classic. Truly epic. Horribly memorable. There's nothing not to love and it's nothing but a fantastic time. Five stars. Praise deserved. Were but all of the show could be this good.
Next Time!: 6th Doctor! An Enigmatic Prosecutor! Time Lords! Political intrigue! Memorable Characters! And More Robert Holmes! We kick off our two-week, four-part, year-end celebration with our look at the much-debated Trial of a Time Lord with Act 1: "The Mysterious Planet". Coming next Monday!