Considered, as it was intended, as the opening episode of Season 13, the TARDIS scene makes a lot of sense – the Doctor is unveiled in his new coat, inside the TARDIS for the first time. Sarah Jane is reintroduced, giving us a twirl in Victoria’s dress. She makes a few facetious jokes while the Doctor broods because he’s fed up of being a galactic yo-yo. He mentions his age for the first time since, coincidentally, he told Victoria at the start of The Tomb of the Cybermen (maybe the dress really has thrown him) and delivers the poster quote ‘I walk in eternity.’
Instead of opening the new season, though, it’s dropped in the middle where it inadvertently becomes less a statement of intent and more a synthesis of everything the new production team has been pitching for over the past 10 months. The roots in classic horror films has never been so obvious: the start, an Edwardian archaeological expedition, is lifted straight out of the Hammer mummy films, as is the very Hammeresque idea of a respectable British home invaded by something foreign and exotic (or at least Peter Maycock playing Egyptian). While there are nods to scientific principles – Laurence Scarman’s proto-SETI machine, for example – this is pretty much played as straight horror.
Partly this is because the Doctor seems to know more than he’s letting on, dropping loaded hints about ‘something interfering with time’ and ‘The world is facing the greatest peril in its history.’ After his special abilities to commune with a truly alien entity in Planet of Evil, this is starting to look like a concerted effort to make him seem powerful and mysterious. Coupled with the collection of jigsaw pieces of plot that don’t yet fit together in a way that makes sense, this definitely feels like an inspiration for the McCoy years.
I think this is very strong: Baker and Sladen, who shared relatively little screen time in Season 12, have become a hugely likeable and watchable partnership: I love their business of ducking down as they go past the windows outside Scarman’s house. The direction is great: there’s a shot of Sarah hiding under a bank from a searching mummy that Peter Jackson replicates almost exactly when the Ringwraiths are hunting the Hobbits in The Fellowship of the Ring. And then there’s that notorious cliffhanger, which is utterly brilliant – the smoke rising from Scarman’s feet as he pads down from the sarcophagus, Gabriel Woolf’s gently menacing voice, and ‘I bring Sutekh’s gift of death to all humanity.’ That gift appears to be the patented Hinchcliffe-era shoulder rub, previously offered by the Cybermen and Zygons presumably as a kiddie-friendly substitute to strangulation.
Next episode: Pyramids of Mars – Part Two