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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars


Author: Terrance Dicks
Read by: Tom Baker
BBC Audio
RRP: £17.99 (CD), £10.80 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 405 68767 6 (CD), 978 1 405 60959 3 (download)
Available 14 August 2008

The mind of Sutekh the Destroyer is consumed with jealousy and hatred. Convinced that all living things are his mortal enemy, he is determined to annihilate all forms of life throughout the universe. Imprisoned at the heart of an Egyptian pyramid, the force of his maniacal evil has been paralysed for centuries. But now, after thousands upon thousands of years of long captivity, the moment of deliverance has arrived. Sutekh’s vicious megalomania is about to be unleashed upon the world - unless the Doctor succeeds in outwitting a mind so powerful it can force him to his knees and torture him at a glance...

The credits for this story are rather complicated! This is Tom Baker’s reading of Terrance Dicks’s 1976 novelisation of Stephen Harris’s (a pen name of script editor Robert Holmes) 1975 television script, which was itself based upon an idea by Lewis Greifer, whose initial draft was deemed unworkable by Holmes.

Given its problematic genesis, it’s hardly surprising that the television serial contains a few inconsistencies. For example, why does Horus imprison Sutekh with everything that he needs to escape? Why does Sarah say that the puzzles inside the Martian pyramid remind her of the City of the Exxilons, when she never entered the city in Death to the Daleks? Why are Marcus Scarman and the co-ordinate selector hot when they arrive through the space-time tunnel, burning everything they touch? If it’s an effect of the tunnel, why doesn’t it affect the Doctor when he travels through it? If it’s an effect of being controlled by the will of Sutekh, why does Marcus’s touch stop producing smoke shortly after his arrival and why isn’t the Doctor thus affected when he is possessed by Sutekh?

Dicks smoothes over many of these issues. His prologue explains that Horus refused to leave his brother Sutekh entirely without hope. Sarah’s line is amended to: “Didn’t you run into something like this in the City of the Exxilons?” Marcus Scarman retains his high temperature (his brother Laurence feels it when Marcus attacks him), indicating that this is an effect of Sutekh’s mental control rather than of passage through the space-time tunnel, though the author fails to explain why the Doctor is not similarly affected (perhaps the crucial difference is that Marcus is already dead when he is possessed by the mind of Sutekh: maybe inanimate objects such as Marcus and the co-ordinate selector require more mental control and therefore generate more heat). And, of course, in the book there’s no stage hand holding down Sutekh’s cushion!

Uncle Terrance also clarifies numerous dialogue references such as explaining what sweaty gelignite is and how you can fish with it, adds background details to the characters of Namin and Ernie the poacher, and tacks on an epilogue in which Sarah, having returned to Earth in her own time, looks up reports on the mysterious priory fire.

Tom Baker brings the narrative to life as never before, even though too many of the characters sound like his version of Solon from Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius and he puts in some, erm, unique pronunciations of certain words, including the name Thutmose. The music, by Simon E Power, also adds tremendous drama.

Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars is not one of the longer novelisations, so this reading lasts for just three and a quarter hours. It would, therefore, have fit onto three CDs, though it has been spread out over four. It’s a bit cheeky that the asking price is the same as for much lengthier releases in this series.

While I’m whinging, the cover illustration is rather poor. One of Chris Achilleos’s less successful efforts, it shows an unflattering depiction of Elisabeth Sladen looking as undead as the mummy.

Nevertheless, this is a powerful narrative. In its presence, many other audio books are as ants, termites, grovelling insects! Kneel before the might of Pyramids of Mars!


Richard McGinlay

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