I can usually tell when a good story is about to unfold, and this is the case with Pyramids of Mars, too. In an immediately refreshing change, the scene is set in 1900s Egypt, with an excavation of a pyramid tomb releasing an ancient power from its sleep. Shortly thereafter, we join the Doctor, who pilots the Tardis towards an energy reading that takes them to UNIT HQ… only decades before the present day when it was the site of an old mansion.
The Egyptian theme makes for an interesting change, and this is another story that uses aliens as legends and gods, this time the Osirans, who were an ancient and powerful race of aliens who imprisoned Sutekh away millennia ago.
Sutekh, the “devil”, god of destruction, the most powerful creature in the known universe, must never be released. For much of the story, he communicates from his ‘prison’, while he uses the body of archeologist Marcus Scarman as a puppet. His dead-eyed expression and convincing performance are put to very good effect. In fact, a lot is done with very little, very few sets, a small cast, and a seemingly small budget, despite a visit to Mars in the final episode, and an excellent peek at a (possible) desolate future through the doors of the Tardis.
I am enjoying these shorter four-part stories a lot. This one doesn’t drag at all and the storytelling is well-paced and makes sense. If I have one complaint, it’s that the ending is somewhat sudden and contrived, with the Doctor able to trap Sutekh forever in a timey-wimey portal. This seems unnecessary, as Sutekh could have been defeated by beating Scarman to the Eye of Horus at the end (through the temple of riddles), but instead Scarman gets there first and destroys it. The mansion burning down at the end nicely sets history back on track.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable serial. The plot is interesting, the robot mummies are good, and the dialogue between the Doctor and Sarah is more natural and witty than normal. They also have a good team dynamic, working together well. Success!
A couple of noteworthy mentions. Firstly, Sarah confirms that she is from 1980, which is the first time UNIT has been been given a definite date in time. (This would put the Third Doctor’s adventures in the late 1970s.) Secondly, after Sarah tries on some different clothes, the Doctor distractedly calls her Victoria, remembering his former travelling companion. A nice touch. There’s also a moment where the Doctor admits to being tired of being a UNIT employee, tied down to one place. This is perhaps the start of a breakaway from Earth, or at least the end of the Brigadier as a regular.