Released February 2003
Following two very successful and effective releases in ‘The Eye of the Scorpion’ and ‘The Church and the Crown,’ it seemed as if the newfound TARDIS trio of the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem was going to be bound for instant greatness regardless of the stories or situations they experienced. Unfortunately, ‘Nekromanteia’ can’t be saved by the strong performances of its affluent leads, failing to thoroughly explore its intriguing concepts and making poor characterization choices, especially for the Doctor and Peri.
The Doctor, in particular, is very unimpressive in this script. After spending a significant amount of time calming Harlon in order not to be shot and attempting to get Erimem medical attention after she gets shot, he then- despite plenty of warnings from Harlon- without reason walks into Witches of Talderun’s temple and promptly gets beheaded and eaten after failing to reason with them. The premise is an interesting cliffhanger to be sure, but the events leading up to it paint the Doctor in a very negative and foolish light. Even afterwards, despite a pleasant initial cricket scene in the afterlife, his resurrection following a lengthy diatribe of technobabble is a little muddled.
It is during these post-death that the Doctor meets Shara, a Talderun scientist of old who had built a power converter to achieve a sort of immortality after death and who is worshipped by the Witches. Yet after Shara’s corpse, the foundation for control of the power converter, is stolen and destroyed, it’s up to the Doctor to provide a new body. This is the one spot where the characterization of the Fifth Doctor is spot-on as he plans to sacrifice himself to save the masses, but it’s first almost Erimen claiming density and then properly her cat as Antranak who end up taking the heroic fall. Ultimately, while he’s essential in progressing the plot, the Doctor actually achieves very little throughout the story.
Peri fares little better, showing the bravery and spunk she is known for, especially when standing up to Jal Dor Kal, but also written very inconsistently as if nothing has any consequences or repercussions. After accepting that both the Doctor and Erimem are dead, she is very forcibly captured, drugged, and stripped by the Witches, forced to watch a man have his tongue and heart excised. This is undoubtedly a very trying experience for her, quite possibly the most brutal she has experienced in Doctor Who, but by the story’s end she is still laughing and cracking jokes as if nothing had happened.
In fact, Erimem is the only character who comes off well in ‘Nekromanteia’ even though she suffers through the most shocking of experiences as she is forced to deal with an attempted rape from Harlon. This is inherently uncomfortable to listen to, and it certainly goes a long way in adding to the grim and dark atmosphere that pervades the story, but the fact that it is so quickly dismissed after it occurs, never gaining further mention, seems to suggest more of a gratuitous reason for addition rather than a narrative reason. Still, Erimem’s strength of character is unquestionable, her training to become a Pharaoh certainly shining through, and this meshed with the wonder she is still able to express as she experiences the world and universe for the first time as well as her willingness to sacrifice herself in place of the Doctor absolutely continue to make for an enjoyable character.
Harlon, then, fails as a character for much the same reason that the story as a whole fails. ‘Nekromateia’ seems to want to create an air of ambiguity and moral greyness for everything, and while Harlon’s children being threatened with death if he doesn’t obey adds a certain degree of depth to his character, the pure heartlessness he displays throughout events make him totally unsympathetic. The lack of remorse he shows for what he attempts to do to Erimem, just as the action itself, is completely unforgivable, and unfortunately the script fails to add anything else remotely interesting or more congenial to his character.
While the supporting performances are generally strong as always, none of the characters as written are anything more than melodramatic stereotypes, the two best (or worse) offenders being Jal Dor Kal and Wendel Marr. Shara entrusted Jal Dor Kal and the Witches to guard the energy converter in order to keep it from being tampered with, thereby keeping the universe safe, but the over-the-top cackling as they brutally tout their beliefs is just too much. Marr, on the other hand, is used as an overt example of corporations and capitalism gone bad, controlling the population through the use of drugs and killing anyone he feels is necessary for whatever whim he is feeling. No person or plot point in the story has any sense of nuance, tact, or refinement, leading to a messy and brazen experience overall.
‘Nekromanteia’ features the typical strong production values that Big Finish always brings to the table, and it certainly evokes a very dark atmosphere, but the gratuitous inclusion of violence, the over-the-top scripting of the supporting cast, and poor characterization of two of the three leads makes for an otherwise forgettable experience.