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With the occasion that this month Big Finish will continue the story of Robert Holmes and Lewis Greifer with the box-set known as The Triumph of Sutekh, i decided to watch the serial that in a few months will comply nothing more nor less than four decades since its TV birth. Life is like this ... Tom Baker is still with us at 81 (even still portraying his 4th Doctor with 8 audios every year), but we lost the lovely Elisabeth Sladen 4 years ago. This review is for you Liz.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane travel back to the present to the headquarters of UNIT; but a strange interference displaces them 70 years before the time where they intended to aarive, landing in the priory that once stood where nowadays sit the headquarters of the organization lead by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. There lives Professor Marcus Scarman, archaeologist who in one of his expeditions to Egypt, found during a tomb excavation Sutekh, the Egyptian god of destruction. And unfortunately for him, this discovery causes him to get possessed with mind control and become the tool of the deity on Earth, with one goal to achive: release him from the eternal confinement to which he was sentenced by Horus. In order to achieve this, its neccesary to turn off the pyramid on Mars that generates the energy that keeps Sutekh trapped. The journalist knows that the world did not end in 1911, but escape in the TARDIS is not an option: they are in a variable point of time; which gets demonstrated when The Doctor shows her the potential 1980 if they just leave: a desolate planet with a dead sun.
Sutekh is presented (like the rest of Egyptian gods) as a member of the Osirian alien race. He utilises his almost unlimited power to destroy all life in his path for fear that someone one day might be able to stop him. And his cruelty takes little time to surface when people start dying, trapped within the force field surrounding the house. No one is safe ... Even his Egyptian servant,from a family that for generations has venerated this God, and that until then had served him with complete loyalty, suffers a terrible death strangled by Sutekhs new puppet, Professor Scarman ,aided by a squadron of robo-service mummies.
I always say that these stories develop better secondary characters, as they have just over twice as long as a New Who episode : this way its much easier to empathize with them through more dialogue and scenes. In my opinion this formula works so much better than taking 6-8 supporting characters/extras and kill five to six of them (that just say one or two sentences in the whole episode) to see how dangerous the bad guy truly is. Like this, dramatic effect is doubled when get killed.
In this essence, an interesting sub-dynamic is generated for the Fourth Doctor. He is not all smiles and jelly babies: trying to stop the greater evil for the universe causes the loss of a number of lifes during the 4 episodes. Professor Warlock, Scarman's best friend is killed by the mummies (after also being shot and almost bledding out). Laurence Scarman, the younger brother of the archaeologist confronts The Doctor a couple of times, who insist to him that the man inside the house is no longer his brother, only a corpse moved by Sutekh. The poor devil, incredulous when he learns that Marcus has killed his best friends goes face to face with him, thinking there might be something left of the person who he was once, and that he can bring him back. His naiveness and blind brotherly love, and eventually Laurence becomes the next victim. Even Sarah ends up reproaching the TimeLord about his partial coldness towards what is going on: -They just kill a man- To which the Doctor replies: -Five. But they will be millions if Sutekh is released ...-
The final part takes place in the style of The Last Crusade with a chase through doors and corridors filled with puzzles of the pyramid on Mars, when the Doctor is subjected to Sutekhs mind control, and is coerced to carry Scarman in the TARDIS there to turn off the power source. Despite reaching his goal the Doctor, now released from this influence, at the eleventh hour manages to lock the Osiran within the Space-Time corridor that Sutekh is going through to come back, giving him a much more durable sentence than the life expectancy of their race. The last shot shows the mansion on fire, turning history to its original course ...
I dare say that is one of the most original dramatic scripts of the Holmes-Hinchcliffe era and Tom Baker was so comfortable within his Doctor like a fish inside water; but I also like those stories where the companion does leave his side for a bit, becoming are our eyes to see other sides of the plot.