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More about this serial
This is a four-part series, first broadcast between 25th October - 15th November 1975. A brief and somewhat spoiler-ish summary of the plot: when the Tardis lands the Doctor and Sarah Jane find themselves in the headquarters of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, as planned - at the time of queen Victoria, which wasn't quite what they had intended even if Sarah Jane did happen to be dressed for the occasion. The cast of characters that they encounter includes a possessed Egyptologist, a mysterious Arab and various Victorian gentlemen, none of whom make it to the end of episode four. At one point even the Doctor seems ready for his next regeneration - though, as it turns out, Peter Davison would be waiting in the wings for another five years or so.
I find this series hard to critique, as I'm simply very fond of it. Let's start with the weak points. The series has a couple of plot points that I haven't been able to make sense of, even after repeated viewing. There are also some weak visual effects, most notably the masked villain's remarkably unthreatening 'true form' and a floating Tardis key that is clearly held aloft by bits of string. These flaws are minor, however, when compared to the series' strong points. The sets and costumes are excellent, and so is the acting. The script is well-written and tension is nicely maintained throughout all four episodes.
There's something about this story that seems typical of Doctor Who in the Tom Baker era. On the surface, what we have here is a 'Hammer House of Horror' style 'Curse of the Pharaohs' tale, complete with sarcophagus lids covering dark secrets and mummies lurching about killing innocent bystanders. Digging deeper we find ourselves watching a science fiction story, with a mad scientist building a rocket to free an ancient evil that has been imprisoned on Mars, and mummies that are automata rather than walking dead. And yet the series is neither, as the conventions of both genres are continually being subverted by the presence of the Doctor with his 1950's police box, his scarf and his jelly-babies.
One of those Doctor Who stories that I love beyond reason.
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Original version of this review:
Behind the sofa
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