Written By: Iain McLaughlin
Directed By: Gary Russell
Featuring: Fifth Doctor and Peri
Release Date: September 2001
Big Finish Summary:
1400 BC. Egypt is in mourning. Pharaoh, the great God-King, is dead. The future of the Two Kingdoms of Egypt is shrouded in uncertainty as the Council of Priests debates the claim to the throne of Pharaoh’s only heir.
Out in the deserts around Thebes, Egypt’s capital, a warlord chief is assembling an army of mercenaries, waiting for just the right moment to strike at Egypt’s heart.
But not all of Egypt’s enemies are outside the city. What is the secret of the strange box discovered in the desert?
When the TARDIS arrives nearby, it has apparently been hijacked…by the Doctor?
With writing that emphasises the danger and threat that the Doctor and Peri are facing, and great character development among the supporting cast, ‘The Eye of the Scorpion’ is a trip to Ancient Egypt that never feels like a dull history lesson, and a surprise new addition to the TARDIS crew provides great promise for future stories.
The Doctor (Peter Davison) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) arrive in Ancient Egypt, during its transition to a new Pharaoh. The narrative, concerning the legitimacy of the female Erimem (Caroline Morris) to the throne, and the plotting of her demise from all corners of court and beyond, could have easily been standard Doctor Who-fare. However, the writers constantly keep the TARDIS team in a battle from the start, from the Doctor getting badly poisoned by a blade meant for Erimem and being in a coma for a whole episode, to Peri and Erimem battling to escape from unnaturally intelligent and organised groups of scorpions whilst investigating the underground passages of the palace at Thebes. The Doctor in a coma and separated from Peri allows listeners to become acquainted with the Pharaoh-to-be Erimem, her overly protective palace commander Antranak (Jonathan Owen), the slimy and scheming high priest Horemshep (Stephen Perring) and the blood-thirsty and tyrannical mercenary Yanis (Harry Myers). All are played well by their respective voice actors and, whilst they do fit into a certain ‘type’ of character, none are tiresome or feel like a parody.
This story is definitely elevated by choosing a darker tone than other historic Who stories in the Classic TV series. Ancient Egypt can sometimes be overly romanticised and made into an ancient Utopia, but the writer and production team choose to highlight how, away from the wealth and spectacle, it is a dangerous and suspicious society. Swayed easily by rumours, dedicated to its Gods to the point of being blind to all other possibilities, and insensitive to torture and other forms of violence to defeat their enemies, this story poses real danger to both the Doctor and Peri, especially with enemies of Egypt gathering their forces and assassins targeting the soon to be Pharaoh, Erimem. Like the writing, the use of incidental sound and music could have been too on-the-nose to feel like a caricature of Ancient Egypt, but Big Finish continue to utilise these elements well in their audio books, and the end result is one more aimed at tone rather than place. The darker tones in this writing allow for the narrative and characterisation to feel more realised and, subsequently, provides a greater sense of peril for the Doctor and Peri.
The second half of the story maintains the strength of the first, even though the true power scheming to remove Erimem from the line of succession is revealed to be something that feels played out, even in the context of the story’s 2001 release date. The pure psychic being who fell to Earth in a prison stasis box until its release does not feel like something which adds to the tension. Yes, it does take possession of the scorpions which threaten Peri and Erimem in Part 2, and then of various individuals, including Yanis, his armed forces, Horemshep and lastly Peri. But it strikes me that the writer could easily have created a scenario without this creature that leads to the Yanis & Horemshep / Erimem & Antranak battle in Part 4, so for me, the alien power is the weakest aspect of this story. On the other hand, I loved the inclusion of a mass battle scene in an audio book; the incidental sounds, script and voice acting really captured the chaos that such a scene deserved. I only wish that the scene had gone on for longer than the 2-3 minutes it was given, before switching to a quieter climax between the Doctor and the psychic being under the Sphinx.
Prior to the final part of this story, I was intrigued to see which path the writer would take the character of Pharaoh-to-be Erimemushinteperem (Erimem for short) down. Whilst the Doctor was in his coma it was arguably Erimem, rather than established character Peri, who was driving the plot forward, from her investigations in the passages beneath the palace, to her confrontation with the council in Part 3. As the character or voice actor was not mentioned on the cover, as had been the case with new audio book companions Evelyn and Charley in their first appearances, Erimem would be destined to either join the TARDIS, or to fall in the final moments, saving the Doctor and Peri from their demise. However, Erimem and voice actor Caroline Morris are both brilliant in the battle scene, with Erimem leading Egypt’s forces into battle with the bravery and strength that only a Pharaoh could possess. Combining this with hints that she has never truly desired to be Pharaoh and be in awe at her every moment, and the reveal that she would prefer to spend her days studying and gaining knowledge away from Egypt, her ultimate fate becomes clear. So, Erimem (with her cat in tow) becomes the latest companion of this audio book series, and I honestly am looking forward to seeing her react to the fantastical elements of travelling with the Doctor and Peri in time and space – it is a shame that the modern TV series has shied away from writing in companions from the past, as there is so much potential in having a character with a different perspective from the audience.
‘The Eye of the Scorpion’ could have easily been a middle-of-the-road Doctor Who historic adventure. However, the darker tones and themes explored in the writing and characterisation allow the narrative to flourish, and I am looking forward to seeing how Erimem develops with her travels with the Doctor. In short, this trip to the past is a fresh and exciting listen.
Star Rating: 4/5
‘The Eye of the Scorpion’ is available to download from the Big Finish site for just £2.99 – the link is below:
The next audio book in this series sees the Seventh Doctor and Ace land in a dark courtyard and being quickly captured by Nazis. This is no ordinary courtyard; this is part of Colditz prison, one of the most secure Nazi-held prisons in the Second World War, and the Doctor and Ace have stumbled right into its heart!
My review of Audio Book #25 in this Doctor Who Big Finish series – ‘Colditz’ – is coming soon!
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