BBC/Roadshow Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 96 mins .
G . PAL
In a recent Doctor Who Magazine poll, fans were asked to nominate the story they would most like to see on DVD. The overwhelming choice was Doctor Who – Pyramids of Mars. For once, the powers that be actually listened to public opinion, and this latest Doctor Who DVD release is sure to be a popular choice.
One of these things is not like the others.
The Doctor (Tom Baker – scarf, hat, curly hair) and Sarah Jane are heading back to Earth when a mysterious force knocks the TARDIS off course. Managing to stabilise and land, the Doctor deduces that they have arrived at UNIT Headquarters, or at least where UNIT Headquarters will one day be. However, it is 1911, and the TARDIS has materialised in a sealed off section of a large priory owned by Egyptologist, Marcus Scarman (Bernard Archard). Surrounded by Egyptian sarcophagi and other antiquities, they are soon discovered, but make a shrewd getaway only to witness a shooting elsewhere in the house. Rescuing the man who was shot, they flee the priory into the grounds, while back at the house we are witness to some strange goings on. Scarman’s house sitter, Ibrahim Namin (Peter Maycock), is convinced ancient forces are at work and that the mighty Sutekh (Gabriel Woolf) is about to return.
Look beind you!
As Sarah Jane and the Doctor scramble to safety in the priory grounds, Sarah is surprised to stumble across an Egyptian mummy roaming about. Evading the mummy, she finds the Lodge, where she enlists the help of the priory owner’s brother, Laurence (Michael Sheard). The Doctor by now has deduced that someone, or something, is interfering with time. Sneaking back into the house, they are witness to Ahmed’s death at the hands of a black masked villain of unknown origin.
The masked villain turns out to be none other than the priory owner, Laurence Scarman, but something is wrong. He has become the servant of Sutekh. With a little more snooping around, the Doctor discovers a time corridor, no doubt leading to Sutekh. Further snooping allows the Doctor to uncover pieces of a rocket that are being assembled to be fired at a target unknown.
Back at the Lodge, the Doctor hatches a plan to destroy Sutekh’s attempt to escape from his prison. Discovering the rocket being assembled, the Doctor realises he is running out of time and resources if he is stop Sutekh before he escapes and wreaks eternal havoc and damnation on Earth and every other planet.
Insert your favourite 'I want my Mummy' joke here.
This really is a near perfect Doctor Who story, combining some great acting for a change, interesting and colourful sets, subtle but effective special effects and a well-paced and linear storyline. There are some typical gags from Baker, and the chemistry between the two leads is almost tangible. There is a consistent look to the whole thing with much of the action being filmed on location.
This story, written by veteran Who writer Robert Holmes under a pseudonym and produced by Phillip Hinchcliffe, is recognised by critics as being one of the highpoints of a three-year period from ’74-’77 when it seemed Doctor Who could do no wrong. Fans certainly agree, and many will be well pleased to see the most popular of the Doctors once again on DVD format.
Filmed in 1975, the original recordings of this story have been afforded a great deal of love and attention to restore them to DVD quality. Most of the attention has gone into restoring the colours and cleaning up numerous film artefacts that are all but removed now. The full frame image looks as good as it ever will and is really quite good, and while there is still some grain and the filmed sequences are a little softer than we are used to on DVD, whining and bitching is, quite frankly, being ungrateful. The BBC Restoration Team is to be congratulated.
With most of the original film inserts no longer in existence, the Team was forced to resort to the original telecine transfers. There was a great deal of videotape dropout that has been removed, as has most of the dirt and speckles. The result is damned fine.
Colours look good, black levels are also pretty spot on and even shadow detail is good. You can read all about the Restoration Team’s labour of love for all Doctor Who DVDs at www.restoration-team.co.uk, or trust in this review that you will not be disappointed.
Of course a nicely restored image is not much chop without a restored audio track, and this too has been lovingly cleaned up. There is now little to no background hiss, all dialogue is perfectly clear, audible and synchronised, and the incidental music is loud and clear but never intrusive.
The only option is as it was broadcast all those years ago, and is a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. As such, there is nothing particularly brilliant about it, other than to add it is solid, clean and quite acceptable.
Some good extras are once again on offer, with a mix of the informative, interesting and amusing. But there's nothing from Tom Baker. Damn!
Kicking off with the now standard audio commentary, this one comes from actress Elisabeth Sladen, producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and actor Michael Sheard, with pre-recorded input from director Paddy Russell. It offers the usual mix of studio and location filming anecdotes, plenty of “Oh, I remember him, he was so much fun to work with...” blah, blah, blah, and plenty of snippets about the storyline and the final product. It’s all very informative, but not quite as flippant and amusing as some of the previous commentaries.
Osirian Gothic is a 22-minute featurette with input from the Phillip Hinchcliffe and Paddy Russell that affords some insight into the creation of the story from the writing, the production values, the casting and filming. It is based around cast and crew interviews.
As mentioned, this period in the show’s history turned out to be the most popular and Serial Thrillers spends 40 minutes examining why. It critiques the cast, the writing, the show’s creative crew, the direction the show was heading and the blatant homage to the Hammer Horrors, borrowing heavily from the horror classics featuring mummies, Frankenstein, vampires, and other infamous nasties as it does.
Of definite interest is Now and Then, which takes us on an eight-minute tour of the house and grounds where the location filming took place and shows how the building has been restored, modernised and redesigned. There are segues from the actual story to film of the location as it stands today that provides a great chance to compare. It is narrated by Michael Sheard (Marcus Sharman).
Never taking themselves too seriously, Oh Mummy is a very funny piece featuring Sutekh (voiced again by Gabriel Woolf) which brings us up to date with what Sutekh has been doing since he was defeated by the Doctor. Fans will truly enjoy this.
Watched with the commentary, the production subtitles provide an extended chance to learn even more trivial information about this particular story. This one provides more than its share of gaffs and quirks to look for, cast biographies, and broadcast dates and audience figures.
The photo gallery has numerous previously unpublished stills from the show.
Don’t be too lulled into raptures with the promise of deleted scenes, as they are very brief, most unenlightening and, frankly, barely distinguishable given that some of them are simply unused takes that, to the untrained eye (mine included), look just the same as the final takes.
Lastly there are some BBC programme links included as an Easter Egg that struggle to rise above boring.
This is the Doctor Who DVD that many fans have been waiting for with a well-constructed story featuring a memorable and talented supporting cast, good sets and effects, memorable and threatening villains, Egyptology, curses, Sarah Jane Smith, a scarf, a mop of curly hair and a floppy hat. May the ancient Gods smile upon us.