I am coming to the end of my initial subscription of Big Finish’s Doctor Who (main range) audios. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Big Finish made their first 50 stories available very cheaply, so I went ahead and bought 12 so that I could get one of their free bonus stories (in this case, The Five Companions, featuring, amongst others, William Russell as Ian Chesterton). The results of been a mixture of hits and misses, with a fair number falling in the broad area in between. The biggest misses have been the first Peter Davison story I listened to (The Mutant Phase featuring the Daleks at their most irritating) and the most recent Colin Baker story I’ve heard (Project: Twilight).
I am happy to say that amongst the biggest hits I have heard is this little gem – The Eye of the Scorpion, featuring Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant as Peri, and introducing new companion Erinem, an Egyptian princess, played by Caroline Morris.
This is a solid story with good pacing. Twists and turns happen at the right rate, and keep us engaged and interested. The story is filled with a number of creative obstacles that our stars must overcome, and equally inventive solutions. Both the Doctor and Peri have excellent roles, with lots of action and dramatic situations that allow them to be heroic. The audio-induced images of the Doctor felling an enemy chariot rider, seizing his vehicle and then using it to save a princess from an out-of-control chariot is quite the thing to imagine, and brings to mind some of the best parts of adventures like The Caves of Androzani. The Doctor is largely absent from the second episode, which was a point of concern when you don’t know for sure if this is going to end up as some sort of “Doctor-lite” story, but it does allow Peri to take the lead with moments like the one where she figures out how to get past a room filled with an army of malicious and deadly scorpions.
The ancient Egypt setting is an interesting one, as well, and we get a good feeling for the local culture through the story. Of course, I have no idea how accurate it all is, but for me, in this sort of situation, the sense of authenticity triumphs over actual historical accuracy every time. Princess Erinem is a welcome expansion to the series, even as she greatly expands the scope of Peri’s initial stories by inserting a whole series of adventures in there. Erinem is a fun character who I look forward to hearing more of (assuming I go ahead and buy more of these stories), even if her comment about not believing in any of Egypt’s gods is perhaps a little too convenient.
The biggest weak spot of the story lies in the ineffectiveness of the stasis-box entity to take over Egypt, considering how powerful it is. We learn that it is a sentient energy creature that can pass from person to person, multiplying its existence, simply by physical touch. We even hear how it “possesses” both Peri and the priest Fayum almost immediately after an infected person touches them. Given the ease with we hear it taking over both Peri and the priest Fayum, it’s hard to imagine why it hasn’t already infected all of Pharaoh’s court by the time the Doctor discovers it. A few choice lines about some limits in its abilities would not have come amiss.
It also seems strange in the earlier parts of the episode that the creatures expansion somehow involves the new hosts screaming in terror, rather than just being quietly taken over like all the later people.
I’m also not completely sure I buy the ending, in which the entity is defeated by the Doctor and Erinem confusing it to a standstill by trying to get Peri’s body to interact with multiple memories at once. It’s not terrible, but maybe a bit too reminiscent of classic Star Trek and Kirk defeating evil computers by confusing them with illogic.
But these plot points aside, The Eye of the Scorpion is a winner, telling an exciting and rousing adventure in an interesting setting with well-drawn characters.