Released September 2001
‘The Eye of the Scorpion’ features the return of Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor alongside Nicola Bryant as Peri, a duo that unfortunately didn’t have much time on screen together but clearly has great chemistry and great potential for untold stories. However, as strong as this story is as a whole, it will best be remembered for the surprise inclusion of a new companion in Erimem ush Inteperem, or Ermimem as she comes to be known.
The story centres around the court of Thebes as Erimem’s coronation as the new pharaoh approaches and the Priest of Horus Horemshep attempts to keep her from achieving that right. To realize his goals, he tries to frame Erimem’s loyal guard Antranak for murder while his ally Yanis waits outside the city with a band of mercenaries, ready to forcefully invade Thebes when needed. As an added threat, Horemshep and Yanis are both under the influence of an alien parasite. So, while the plot itself isn’t groundbreaking in any major fashion, it’s the characterization and atmosphere that really elevate the tale.
Whereas the classic television series was rather constrained with what it could show due to budget and its usual family time slot, often having characters speak about violent acts that occur off-screen, Big Finish has a much greater degree of freedom and is able to show the more realistically grim side of historical settings. As such, this release does not shy away from the presence of prostitutes and torture, and even the protagonists of the story in Erimem and Antranak are not afraid to see an enemy through to death. ‘The Eye of the Scorpion’ is by no means gratuitously violent, but it does a good job in presenting its historical setting in both its natural positive and negative light.
The villains of ‘The Eye of the Scorpion’ are exceedingly well-written. Harry Myers is superb as the brutal Yanis, a character so obsessed with violence that even the parasite has trouble keeping him under control. Likewise, Stephen Perring is fantastic as Horemshep, played as a conniving and ruthless puppeteer who undoubtedly would have succeeded in his ploy to get Fayum on the throne had the Doctor not interceded. There is an inherent danger of Horemshep crossing the line into pantomime territory given his success and gloating, but Perring does a magnificent job in keeping the delivery of his lines restrained.
Antranak and Fayum are both well-written as well, Antranak proving to be a loyal soldier and friend and Fayum going on a believable personal journey to become a man worthy of becoming Pharaoh. However, the most important character in the script is, of course, Erimem herself. Big Finish did a great job in keeping her ultimate fate under wraps prior to the release, and even during the script her fate seems destined for a doomed outcome as the Doctor mentions that there was never a female Pharaoh and as she leads soldiers into battle herself, fully expecting to die in the process. She is introduced as a very wise and brave character, far ahead of her peers in terms of what she accepts and is capable of, and she very quickly befriends Peri and the Doctor, trusting them and treating them as equals rather than as deity-like figures. She is uncomfortable with her own deification, making her desire to leave Egypt understandable. While all signs point to her becoming a very strong and proactive addition to the TARDIS team, her joining also dispels the notion that nothing new can be done with some of the past Doctors due to continuity constraints, opening up almost limitless pathways and storytelling opportunities going forward.
However, the regulars fare very well in ‘The Eye of the Scorpion’ as well. Davison in particular is able to presume a much more demanding presence than usual and his intrinsic understanding of the situation and alien technology leads to the standout scene of the story as he nonchalanatly disregards and breaks apart Horemshep’s carefully laid plans in front of him. While it’s no surprise that it’s the Doctor who defeats the alien foe, turning its powers against it beneath the Sphinx, this is a very strong outing from beginning to end for him. At the same time, Peri is given quite a lot to do, and he characterization fits in well with where she is in her personal timeline, thoroughly enjoying her newfound adventures with the Doctor and showing a vivaciousness and sense of humour that were all too fleeting on screen.
‘The Eye of the Scorpion’ can only be classified as a success, expertly bringing aboard a brave new companion for the Fifth Doctor and masterfully evoking the sound and fell of Ancient Egypt. The storyline itself may not be the most creative, but the performances and introduction of Erimem will assure it a lasting place in Big Finish’s catalogue.