"The one who waits, waits no more." In this moment, Doctor Who became the scariest show on television once again.


The last few minutes of The Legend of Ruby Sunday were filled with out-and-out horror. The image of the crumbling Susan Triad (played by Susan Twist), a character so heavily speculated over these past few months, omnipresent and then transformed in an instant into a mummified puppet by the almighty God of Death.

That is his infinite power, Sutekh’s time is now. But, why is it now? Some are asking why not Omega? Or the Trickster? Or Fenric? Or a brand new big bad?!

To find out why it had to be this adversary above all others, we go back, almost 50 years, to 1975. It was Doctor Who’s 13th season and Tom Baker’s second as the Doctor. With the iconic Sarah Jane Smith (played by the late, great Elisabeth Sladen) at his side, the Fourth Doctor (intending to travel to UNIT’s base) is thrown off course by a projection that has infiltrated the TARDIS itself.

Sarah Jane sees the apparition of a Typhonian Beast, foreshadowing the arrival of an Egyptian god. Trapped beneath a pyramid and powerless to move, imprisoned by the ancient god Horus, Sutekh lies in wait. The Doctor and Sarah Jane find themselves pulled into a race against time to stop Sutekh from freeing himself from his prison and destroying the entire world.

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The Fourth Doctor faces Sutekh in Pyramids of Mars
Pyramids of Mars.

Sutekh, once the last of the Osirans and now part of the Pantheon of Discord (that includes Maestro and the Toymaker), lived in fear of any and all life forms that could challenge him, so he simply set out to destroy them. For his crimes, he was imprisoned in a tomb on Earth, one that was uncovered by the unfortunate archaeologist Marcus Scarman (Bernard Archard).

Voiced by Gabriel Woolf (who now returns to the character aged 91), Sutekh’s timbre drips with malice and all are powerless to his sway.

Despite the fact that many think of the famous "Do I Have the right?" speech from Genesis of the Daleks as Tom Baker’s defining moment as the Doctor, the Fourth Doctor’s resolute character was defined in his fearless confrontation with Sutekh the Destroyer.

Baker is at his best and most dramatic in a performance that brings gravitas to the Time Lord - making it all the more shocking when he’s ruthlessly tortured and brought to his knees by this fallen god.

The Tom Baker years were vast, moving from the light-hearted hijinks of the Douglas Adams classic City of Death to the ominous debut of the Cloister Bell in Baker’s final story as the Doctor, Logopolis. There was no tone too ambitious for the Fourth Doctor, and Pyramids of Mars was one of the first stories to lay that claim.

Susan Twist as Susan Triad after being controlled by Sutekh in Doctor Who episode The Legend of Ruby Sunday.
Susan Twist as Susan Triad in The Legend of Ruby Sunday. BBC

For a villain only ever seen in one television serial, Sutekh is perhaps the one with the richest backstory. Penned by series script editor Robert Holmes and writer Lewis Greifer (using the joint pseudonym Stephen Harris), their tight script, inspired by 1932 film The Mummy, neatly fused real Egyptian mythology with an ingenious use of time travel.

The intricate nature of this story is a testament to the classic era, with stories often running for four weeks or longer, Doctor Who serials could build highly complex worlds worthy of elaborate novels. This story is a perfect jumping-on point for anyone unfamiliar with Doctor Who, opening with something of an introduction to the Doctor himself.

What better story to return to at a time when Doctor Who is being introduced to new audiences around the world?

"The Earth isn’t my home, Sarah, I’m a Time Lord," he tells Sarah Jane, and when she teases him, he rebukes her seriously. "You don’t understand the implications. I’m not a human being, I walk in eternity."

Sarah Jane, perhaps the first companion to challenge the Doctor directly in his choices, asks a question that others might not have asked, but one which we at home might: "Why don’t you just tune up 1980 and we can… well, leave?"

The Doctor eventually relents, "Alright, if we leave now, let’s see what the world will look like in 1980." He opens the doors inside the TARDIS to reveal a desolate planet circling a dead Sun - Sutekh can and will destroy the future.

We should have known that he would be back - all the clues were there. During The Devil’s Chord, Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor opened the TARDIS doors to reveal to Ruby Sunday a decimated London. And we’ve all seen the image that greets us on the front page of BBC iPlayer, a distinctive kaleidoscope of bright lights frames the Doctor and Ruby - these are the lights signifying the return of the God of Death.

Some fans say: "Why bring back a one-off classic villain? Won’t that confuse new audiences?" But were new viewers really all that confused the first time they saw the Sontarans or the Sea Devils as opposed to the more familiar Daleks and Cybermen?

With Doctor Who’s rich tapestry of enemies now well represented, it is finally time to turn to something that has always been present and lurking in the shadows (especially during Sylvester McCoy’s tenure) - a fight with the mythical Elder Gods.

As we turn the page on Doctor Who, we find that Sutekh was the right villain brought back at the right time. He’s a universal foe, the familiarity of an Egyptian god made unfamiliar and alien, first appearing during a time that defines the classic era as we know it.

The full horror of Sutekh was realised on a tight budget in 1975, but now, in 2024, it can be realised on a whole new level. In cinemas up and down the country, people will experience Sutekh in all his high-definition terror. It’s a dream that Russell T Davies perhaps always held, inserting a clip from Pyramids of Mars into his Channel 4 series Queer as Folk back in 1999.

That is the gift of Doctor Who: everybody has their own favourite adversary, favourite story and their own Doctor. The 60th anniversary offered us a chance to love all aspects of the series in a way never quite seen before. With every episode now available at the press of a button, there’s only one question - after Pyramids of Mars, where will you go next?

Doctor Who continues on Saturday 22nd June on BBC iPlayer and BBC One. Previous seasons are available to stream on BBC iPlayer with episodes of the classic series also available on BritBox – you can sign up for a 7-day free trial here.


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