The article about this season on the Doctor Who Wiki notes that it was “voted the Best All-Round Series in DWM 413‘s Mighty 200 Poll,” and Pyramids of Mars was widely recommended by fans everywhere I went when researching what to watch, but I was disappointed by two of the three stories I watched from it. As I’m now on the treacherous ground of being a Nu Who fan criticising classic episodes, I must in my own defense point out that I’ve enjoyed many other classic episodes I’ve watched, favorites so far being An Unearthly Child, Tomb of the Cybermen, Spearhead from Space, The Mind of Evil, The Three Doctors, The Time Warrior, Genesis of the Daleks, The Deadly Assassin, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, City of Death, and Arc of Infinity. I just didn’t find Pyramids engaging.
Story 1: Terror of the Zygons
This was the one that did not disappoint; I almost put it on my favorites list above. My only complaint is that unfortunately it continues the trope, common in Who, of alien refugees plotting the conquest of Earth, and therefore needing to be exterminated. Why can’t Who’s alien refugees ever be weak and peaceful, like the ones in the film District 9?
The Zygons are a marine life form, humanoid, but apparently intended to remind people of octopuses. However, their impressive costumes are covered in useless suckers in places no octopus has them – the head, the body, and the upper sides of the arms – making them look more like walking sea sponges than highly evolved sci-fi cephalopods such as squibbons. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. They are able to make themselves look like the humans they have taken captive in their underwater spacecraft, and the episode invites guesses about which people are actually Zygons in disguise. In revival series 7 episode The Power of Three, Eleven took Rory and Amy to the Savoy hotel for their anniversary, only to discover that there was another Zygon ship under the hotel, which had taken half of the hotel staff captive and replaced them with disguised Zygons. Having already seen Terror of the Zygons by that point, I was absolutely delighted.
I should also mention that the Zygons control a giant cyborg aquatic dinosaur. (HOW COOL IS THAT?) Check out 33 Stupid Things About “Terror of the Zygons” (And 17 Cool Ones), by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore (the Stevens & Moore from my Inferno diatribe).
38. Yet again, refugees are presented as evil, grasping invaders, as Doctor Who shamelessly courts the Daily Mail political demographic.
I also absolutely agree with them that “any sequence involving the Zygon spaceship model” is “guaranteed to be awesome.” N.B. either they or the article’s transcriber misspelled the episode’s composer’s name as “Geoffrey Burgan” – it’s actually Burgon, okay? Composer of the BBC Narnia soundtracks.
Don’t not watch this episode.
Story 3: Pyramids of Mars
England, 1910, a countryside mansion containing a number of Egyptian sarcophaguses. They turn out to be artifacts of the great ancient Osiran (sometimes spelled Osirian) alien race, who were (obviously) worshiped by the Egyptians, but were apparently unwilling or unable to protect their followers from the ten plagues. Some of the mummies turn out to be lumbering robots which kill people with hugs, while one is a portal to Sutekh, the evil Osiran who has been imprisoned on Mars for millennia, bound to a chair by some guy’s hand. (Disappointingly, we never see the surface of Mars or the exterior of any pyramid there.) The Doctor must prevent Sutekh from escaping.
I think my favorite thing about this episode is that it opens with Sarah Jane finding one of Victoria‘s Victorian frocks, which she then wears throughout the episode. Everything else is denouement! Well, that’s not quite true; there was an awesome part in which the Doctor shows Sarah Jane the devastated Earth of 1980 that must result if they don’t carry out their mission.
This era of Who is called the “gothic” era, intended to mean a similarity to classic gothic horror literature such as Dracula and Frankenstein. Well, I’ve never really been partial to that sort of film, which might explain why this story felt mostly pointless to me, with a quick and meaningless resolution. (CAN YOU HEAR IT? THE DRUMS… IN THE DEEP? THE CLASSIC WHO FANS ARE COMING, WE CANNOT GET OUT THEY ARE COMING)
Some sources indicate that I ought to have watched stories 4 and 5, The Android Invasion and The Brain of Morbius, but I already had far more Tom Baker stories on my plate than I’d intended to watch, so I’ll catch them next time.
Story 6: The Seeds of Doom
I really didn’t want to watch this story, but it was #16 in the Mighty 200 Poll, and it sounded somewhat interesting as a mix of The Thing from Another World and other sources, so I rented it. Ancient alien seeds found in Antarctic ice infect humans with a parasitic form of sentient plant life, which gradually destroys and replaces them. There were two truly ingratiating characters: a sadistic henchman who just won’t die and turns up again about forty too many times; and the villain, a millionaire who truly hates humanity and identifies with plants. He initially complains of abuse to plants that are eaten, only later revealing his intention that all human and animal life be destroyed and replaced by a “peaceful” world of nothing but plants. (Presumably only plants which don’t need insects for pollination, which narrows the field… a lot.) Even more frustratingly, he doesn’t meet the usual clichéd poetic end of villains who court evil; his giant plant monster never turns on him. That monster was more impressive than I was expecting, but aside from it this story was a pain.
But no worries; I watched 5 of the 6 stories in Season 14, and I thought they were all great!