Egyptian mummies building rockets? That’s crazy!
Only Doctor Who could get away with the title “Pyramids of Mars” (Story Production Code 4G) for a story set primarily in southern England, but series script editor Robert Holmes and Lewis Griefer (collaborating as Stephen Harris) nevertheless keep the Egyptian theme paramount. Just as “Terror of the Zygons” incorporated the Loch Ness monster into the Doctor Who universe, this story explains the Egyptian pantheon as the super powerful Osirians, a race known throughout the galaxy for their intellect and longevity. And of all those Osirians, only Sutekh, also known as Set, the god of death and destruction, remains, trapped beneath an Egyptian pyramid by Horus and the rest of the long-dead deities.
Trapped, that is, until a doughty English archeologist, Marcus Scarman, cracks open Sutekh’s earthly tomb and discovers a sarcophagus that also functions as a time and space tunnel to Sutekh’s subterranean prison, as tends to happen. Indeed, right from the start of this four episode story, the technobabble comes on strong and unceasing, with copious references to psytronic energy and various other plot-propelling scientific terms, culminating in an unsatisfying deus ex machina ending. Still, much is forgiven by having mummies turn out to be bandage-wrapped robots which do, in fact, attempt to build a rocket—pyramid shaped, of course.
Sutekh intends to use the rocket to destroy the Osirian devices in a pyramid on Mars that keep him paralyzed beneath the Egyptian pyramid housing his tomb. Handily, his tomb contains all the necessary components for said rocket, along with servitor robots to construct it. Once Scarman triggers the sarcophagus, he falls under Sutekh’s mental domination and brings all of the rocket parts and mummy robots to a house that stands on the exact ground that will eventually become UNIT headquarters. While this change of setting makes sense in production terms, it being far easier (and cheaper) to film in an English country house rather than building several Egyptian-themed sets, from a plot sense there’s little to recommend it.
The initial pystronic energy released by Sutekh’s contact with the outside world affects the TARDIS, causing the “relative continuum stabilizer” to fail, drawing the Doctor and Sarah to Scarman’s house in 1911. The Doctor realizes that inconceivable mental energy would be required to break the TARDIS’ barriers, and the thought both frightens and fascinates him. “Something’s going on contrary to the laws of the universe. I must find out what,” he declares, to Sarah’s dismay. Though often faced with overwhelming odds, it’s rare that the Doctor encounters a foe he considers far more powerful than he is, one capable of destroying the universe: Sutekh.