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?
Peter Davison as the Doctor in The Eye of the Scorpion.
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown)
Caroline Morris (Erimem)
Harry Myers (Yanis)
Jack Galagher (Fayum)
Jonathan Owen (Antranak)
Daniel Brennan (Kishik)
Stephen Perring (Horemshep)
Mark Wright (Slave)
Alistair Lock (Priest)
Gary Russell (Ebren)
Written By: Iain McLaughlin
Directed By: Gary Russell
X X X X X
For a show that often finds itself in historical settings, the crew of the TARDIS often find themselves in Egypt, one of the most utilized and most well-known lands in the world of fiction. Among the television series, Pyramids of Mars and The Dalek’s Master Plan were set in Egypt, and an Egyptian Queen tagged along with the Doctor in the episode Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. A variety of novels and short stories also set the Doctor and his companions amidst the sand dunes and lush fields that run alongside the Nile. The Eye of the Scorpion is the first Big Finish story set in Egypt, and it will not be the last. This serial finds Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant in top form after the lackluster Red Dawn with a script that could have come out of the “sword and sandal” era of 1950’s Hollywood, a sound crew at the top of its game, and the addition of a new face to the TARDIS crew once all is said and done.
It’s 1400 BC, and Egypt is mourning the passing of its Pharaoh. But the new Pharaoh cannot yet be crowned, as the Council of Priests is divided. Can a woman become Pharaoh and a living god? That doesn’t matter much to the army of mercenaries waiting just outside the city of Thebes; after all, the leader of the mercenaries can simply take her as his bride and become Pharaoh himself! And he can do it with the help of a strange box that he’s found deep in the desert…
The sound direction is the first thing I want to comment on, because the sound crew deserve recognition for some incredible work. The sound crew puts the listener smack dab in the middle of Egypt from the very beginning. As soon as the Doctor and Peri step out of the TARDIS, the listener is immersed in the sounds of chariots racing through the desert and clay pots being broken. The sounds of Ancient Egypt are fully brought to life in this audio, from a banquet at high court, to the crowds in the marketplace, all the to the chaotic battle at the end as arrows fly and columns crumble. All this with a low-key wind instrument score that adds to the ambience.
The sounds the listener is most invested in, however, is the sounds of the dialogue. After a solid performance in Loups-Garoux, Peter Davison delivers once again as the dashing, heroic Doctor. He immediately saves a girl from a runaway chariot, deflects the blows of the Pharaoh’s would-be assassin, scouts the enemy camp, plays military advisor, and comes up with a cunning plan to save the day. Davison has a great scene in the third episode that could have come right out of his television run, where he accuses the Council of being misled and pokes holes in one of the devious plots of the villain. You can just see the young cricketer pointing and accusing, walking around the council chamber, in fine form. It’s one of the more “action packed” performances so far, and Davison relishes it for all its worth. There’s even a neat little scene involving an eclipse that shows how the Doctor can use time travel and being in two places at once to great effect that reminds the listener of just how clever the Doctor can be.
But…in fine old form, the Doctor spends much of the second serial out of the picture as he’s suffering from the poison of an assassin. This puts the focus squarely on the shoulders of Peri Brown. And Nicola Bryant, much like Mark Strickson did in Loups-Garoux, runs with it and delivers a stellar performance. It seems that this serial takes place immediately after Planet of Fire, Peri’s first appearance, as the Doctor is giving her a grand tour of the TARDIS. This is a Peri who immediately clicks with Erimem, the young would-be-Pharaoh of Egypt, after keeping a mercenary down by smashing clay pots over and over his head. This is a Peri who suggests penicillin when the Doctor is poisoned, until realizing she doesn’t have the mosses and molds handy to make it. This is the Peri who suggests searching the secret tunnel and saves Erimem and herself from a swarm of angry scorpions. And, perhaps most of all, this is a Peri whose American accent has gotten MUCH better. The Doctor’s absence allows Brown to shine in the second episode, and when they’re together, their chemistry is that of two people who like each other, but are still getting to know each other as well. Peri is strong, smart, enthusiastic…and witty as well, as she’s a fish out of water (her reaction to the topless dancers and “entertainment” at the banquet is one that brings a smile) who still knows what’s going on. This is the Peri I wish we had seen on TV during her run with Colin Baker.
The supporting cast does its job well. You have Jonathan Owen as Antanak, Erimem’s longtime friend and head bodyguard who is suspicious of the Doctor, but supports the Pharaoh and her decisions. You have Jack Galagher as Fayum, a young priest who turns out to have a much bigger part to play, as well as Stephen Perring as the High Priest Horemshep who has his own plans for young Fayum. Harry Myers grows and chews his way through the script as the mercenary leader Yanis, threatening his men even as he whips them into a battle frenzy. The villain of the piece, who isn’t given an official name, deserves mention, specifically the sound effect used to alter and portray its voice.
But the stand out is easily Caroline Morris as Erimemushinteperem, or just Erimem. The young would-be-Pharaoh if she only hadn’t been born a woman, Erimem is strong, bold, brave, and immediately becomes curious about the Doctor. She stands up for what she believes in…and what she doesn’t believe in is the Egyptian Gods. Her chemistry with Peri, pestering her immediately with questions even as they explore a dark tunnel, is superb. When the Doctor lets slip that he knows history states she will not rule Egypt, her response is to…suggest to come with him and see the universe, or at least attend a well-known galactic university of some sort (after all, the Doctor is the kind of man who might have an admissions board owe him a favor or two). Coming off as one part Xena and one part Disney Princess, Morris plays Erimem as young, but raised to be a living god. Though the accent is a bit off putting (blame it on the TARDIS’ translation program), Erimem comes off as interesting, not annoying; brave, not not stupid; intelligent, but not niave. She will accompany Peri and the Doctor on over a dozen adventures…along with her cat.
Yes, the end of this serial sees a cat in the TARDIS. And knowing the Fifth Doctor, we can guess how that plays out…
Synopsis – The Eye of the Scorpion is easily recommended. A high Egyptian adventure that gives the Doctor and Peri a chance to shine, it has drama, it has action, it has intrigue, and it has all the ingredients of a great audio – strong sound, strong performances, and strong ambience. 4/5.
Next up – The Pinehill Crest Hotel in Kent is host to three very different events: a cross-stitch convention, an experiment in time travel and… the summoning of the Scourge.
Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor in…The Shadow of the Scourge.