(Classic) Doctor Who Historical Costumes: Pyramids of Mars (1975)


Way back in 2014, I wrote a series of posts about the historical costumes in the (reboot) Doctor Who serials with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi (one season of the later, anyway). As I noted back then, the British science-fiction/fantasy TV show had started over 50 years ago with a goal of teaching children about science and history. The main character, the Doctor, traveled through space and time, often landing in different points of Earth’s history to illustrate historical points. Early shows visited with Marco Polo, the Aztecs, the French revolution, the reign of Nero, Palestine during the Third Crusade, the St. Bartholomew’s Eve Massacre, and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Off and on throughout Doctor Who seasons, the show would have more historical episodes depending on BBC mandate, ratings, and budget.

Some of the oldest serials have been lost entirely, but many year’s worth of extant episodes are available on BritBox in the U.S., and I love nothing more than kicking back with some Who after a long day. So I’m going to revisit some of the historical episodes, starting with my favorite Doctor, the Fourth, portrayed by Tom Baker. In his second season, Baker had his first historical episode, “Pyramids of Mars” (1975).

Set in 1911 England, the Doctor and his companion, reporter Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elisabeth Sladen), become embroiled in a mystery surrounding an archaeology professor Marcus Scarman and an alien superpower that’s manifested as the Egyptian god of chaos, Sutekh. This exteriors were filmed at the gothic Victorian mansion of the Stargroves estate in Hampshire, U.K., owned by Mick Jagger at the time.

Unlike many of the later episodes where companions dress up to fit the historical period where the Doctor lands, Sarah finds a period dress in the TARDIS’ wardrobe and comes out to the control room wearing this 1910s day dress.

Doctor Who, Pyramids of Mars (1975)

The Doctor comments that ‘Victoria wore that,’ which is a reference, not to Queen Victoria (as Sarah jokes), but to Victoria Waterfield (played by Deborah Watling). She had been the Doctor’s companion during his second regeneration (played by Patrick Troughton), and Victoria was the daughter of a Victorian scientist.

Doctor Who, Evil of the Daleks (1967)

Victoria is introduced in “Evil of the Daleks” (1967).

However, the Doctor met her in 1866, and what Sarah Jane wears is definitely 1910s, not 1860s. Unfortunately, the original video for many of the seven stories Victoria Waterfield was in have been lost, but looking at the few photos I could find, it doesn’t appear that she wore the most historically accurate of costumes anyway!

Doctor Who, Evil of the Daleks (1967)

A very 1960s version of 1860s, that’s for sure.

Doctor Who, Victoria Wakefield, 1968

This promo image is a little better, but still.

Well, let’s see how much Doctor Who historical costuming improved from Victoria’s era of 1967 to Sarah Jane’s era in 1975…

Doctor Who, Pyramids of Mars (1975)

Sarah Jane is obviously not wearing 1910s undergarments — no corset or petticoats — and when she and the Doctor run around the estate, hopping through windows and such, Sarah Jane hikes up her skirt revealing nothing but white tights and shoes of indiscriminate era. She makes no attempt to blend into the period with her hair or mannerisms either.

Doctor Who, Pyramids of Mars (1975), "we travel in time - I'm really from 1980'

But it’s not a bad look. IMO — it’s very much a ‘modern person dressing up in historical clothes as a costume’ effect. Comparing to period imagery, you can easily see that she’s just missing the structural silhouette and accessories.

1906 fashion plate

1906 fashion plate showing a similar gown in blue, and the related blouses emphasize the pigeon-front shape created with an S-bend corset plus the blouson-cut of the bodice.

1906 photo by Edward Linley Sambourne

1906 photo by Edward Linley Sambourne of a working-class girl on the street shows a less exaggerated shape than the fashion plate, but she has the corset and petticoat that Sarah Jane doesn’t.

Sarah Jane’s dress is genearlly appropriate for 1911. She doesn’t need to be super fashionable, just of the era, and if put her hair up, she’d blend in fine. Though, spoiler, she only meets a couple people of this period and they all die before the end of the story, so I guess it doesn’t matter :-/

Doctor Who, Pyramids of Mars (1975)

Fair amount of detail for a notoriously low-budget SF/F children’s show here.

I do wonder if this gown was made for the show by costume designer Barbara Kidd or pulled from the BBC’s historical stock. Victoria’s ruffled and princess-seamed 1860s gown was recycled from a 1960s Victorian show on the Beeb, so who knows? Besides, Kidd had all those mummy-robots and the evil Sutekh to design for this serial.

See, when I was looking at the back of the gown checking for zippers (nope, looks like buttons!), I noticed the closure was rather bunchy. Could it be because this gown didn’t quite fit Elizabeth Sladen and was pinned or tucked in?

Doctor Who, Pyramids of Mars (1975)

Or am I overthinking it? If you’ve seen this gown in another BBC show before 1976, shout out! And drop a line to Recycled Movie Costumes too :)

Doctor Who, Pyramids of Mars (1975)



Are you a fan of Doctor Who historical episodes, classic or reboot? Who’s your favorite?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Facebook Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

11 Responses

  1. thedementedfairy.wordpress.com

    I grew up watching Doctor Who, and scaring my little bruv by making monster noises outside his bedroom door…terrible behaviour! I don’t recall ever thinking of it as historical, as I got all my historical input from watching PROPER dramas with my mum on a Sunday…I do remember always thinking daleks were rubbish as a threat though, all you needed to do was run upstairs…

  2. Bea

    Bless you. Sarah was my first companion, though Pertwee was my first Doctor <3, and I saw all of 3, 4 and 5 on my local PBS station.
    I can’t WAIT til you get to Leela’s episodes :D

  3. Susan Pola Staples

    My favourite Dr Who historical costume was the Sophie Myles as Madame de Pompadour.

  4. Allison

    This was always one of my favorite of Sarah Jane’s costumes, probably because of my love for Edwardian fashion. Yeah, it’s like you say, she’s dressing up for fun rather than trying to blend in with the time period. Once Victoria got onto the TARDIS, she went full 60s fashion very quickly, miniskirts and all. I guess that was cheaper than trying to make hybrid Victorian/mod clothes just for her. Though if she were a companion today, she’d probably be very comfortable in lolita fashion!

  5. Mitzy G

    Tom Baker is MY Doctor. I came to Dr Who very late, in the last 15 years or so, as I don’t remember ever seeing it on US tv. I didn’t start watching until I moved to Australia in 2004 and I started with Tom Baker sometime after that. I love Sarah Jane and so does/did my husband. I suspect he liked her for different reasons than I did. I’ve never really paid attention to the historical fashion. I’ll have to do that now.

  6. Katie Writes Stuff

    I love a bit of classic Who and Pyramids of Mars is one of my favourites. The mummies were fabulous baddies! I’d like to see your take on Leela’s costumes in the infamous Talons of Weng Chiang – I haven’t seen that one for a while, but I seem to remember the outfits being rather fabulous.

  7. Heidi Cochran

    My grandpa used to watch this. I never got into it, but I think it would have been fun to watch it with him. :) He also taped episodes off of PBS–he had dozens of VHS tapes of Doctor Who when he died. I kind of wish now that we’d kept them all.

  8. Roxana

    The costumes in ‘Talons of Weng-Chiang are very nice. The Doctor wears an Inverness cloak with big checks, and Leela starts off in a cute knickerbocker suit, graduates to a nice period dress and ends up in her period undies. Wet undies.