What's it about: Professor Bernice Summerfield, archaeologist and adventurer, has discovered a Pyramid on Mars. Inside she finds her old friend the Doctor is fighting a battle with the Osiran God Sutekh. One he is losing.
Archaeological Adventurer: I do wonder if in this case it might not be wise to drop Benny's glib nature and have her act in a genuinely scared manner for once. This time she is facing the God of Death animating the Doctor, who is attempting to kill her. I know listeners who find Bernice unbearable because of her 'laugh in the face of danger' attitude (hey Tim) and usually it works wonders but sometimes, sometimes it would be nice if she could drop the sarcasm and just be very, very afraid (think Just War or The Draconian Rage). By the end of the story she reaches that point and even sheds a few tears but anybody who was expecting Bernice Summerfield Takes the Piss out of Sutekh might have all their fears met in the first half an hour. There was a moment when Benny mentioned Jason and remembered the vast, sprawling range that spawned these box sets. I do miss those days when Bernice existed in her own world, regardless of whether a Doctor Who influence increases sales of her appearances or not. Lisa Bowerman really goes for it during the scene where she is trying to convince the Doctor that he is a good man, it took me back to that wonderfully powerful moment in Shadow of the Scourge where the two characters dwell on the best things about being alive. Bowerman has that same kind of manic energy. Bernice is absolutely selfless in her desire to destroy the pyramid and Sutekh within it, even at the cost of her life and the Doctor's She understands the consequences to the universe if she fails. The Doctor would understand, it's just the sort of theatrical, self sacrificing tosh he loves.
The Real McCoy: Remember that funny scene in Crime of the Century when the Doctor dashes out of a party and opens a safe only to discover Raine inside? This story subverts that amusingly but this time it is Bernice opening up a sarcophagus on Mars and discovering the Doctor inside. 'I bring Sutekh's death to all humanity' coming from the Doctor should be rather frightening, but McCoy does rather mumble the line. McCoy often (as in always) struggles with bringing hysterical lines to pass and so I fail to understand why anybody with even a passing knowledge of his Big Finish performances would offer him up such lines as 'SUTEKH WANTS ME TO KIIIIILLLLLYOOOOOOOU!' It beggars belief. Sutekh belittles everything about the Doctor, his lifestyle, his home, his companions, the very universe he lives in. McCoy can be quite frightening on audio, go an listen to Master again or A Thousand Tiny Wings. Sometimes he makes it sound effortless. And sometimes he adopts a bizarre sing-song voice that makes it sound as if he cocking his head from side to side as he says the dialogue. Like he is taking the piss. It's a weird delivery, oddly off kilter and distracting. Not scary, just off-putting. Take the Doctor out of the story and replace him with a plaything of Sutekh and it leaves you with a Bernice Summerfield story with a gurning Sylvester McCoy villain. Make of that what you will.
Oh Wicked: One and half lines only. Bliss. It's as though Handcock is as bored of the character as I am.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Doctor, I think this is beyond me. A pyramid of dead Gods...'
'The best entertainment conjure horror as well as awe.'
Great Ideas: For once we have two established elements that go together like fish and chips - Bernice's archaeology credentials are beyond repute and Sutekh hanging out in a tomb in Mars is his raison d'etre. What's odd is how it has taken this long to bring these two plot elements together, not that it has been done in the first place. Bernice is trapped in the most powerful tomb in the universe with dead Osirans - a potent image which is hauntingly portrayed by Lisa Bowerman. Death nourishes Sutekh and so near to warfare he can gain strength with every life that is taken. He's one of the most grandiose villains the Doctor has ever faced and if big, melodramatic lines didn't form on his lips it would be terribly disappointing. Anybody that can remember how terrifying the Servicer robots were in Pyramids of Mars will shudder at the thought of an entire army of the buggers coming to life. The Doctor thought he had killed Sutekh long ago but he had only destroyed his physical body, his consciousness survived and with the activation of the pyramid the flesh looms can spin him a new body to free him and bring forth carnage. At his height he can snuff out a world with one breath.
Audio Landscape: Force walls, the power coming on, booby traps, gunfire, marching Servicer robots, mummies sparking and fizzing, the TARDIS cloister bell, firing on the pyramid, the time/space tunnel, emerging from water.
Musical Cues: More magic from Steve Foxon, who has been on Big Finish's payroll for many years now and is still providing very exciting scores. What The Pyramid of Sutekh needs is a crushing, oppressive, menacing score that enhances the feeling of the walls closing in on Bernice and Foxon achieves that admirably. I especially liked the cue when the mummies come to life. Very chilling. It's a minimalist score but I don't mind those when it adds to the disquiet.
Standout Scene: The very idea of Sutekh manifesting himself a body to tread dust and darkness in the worlds of the universe is terrifying and Scott Handcock directs this scene with absolute precision, stressing it's importance.