Doctor Who
The Eye of the Scorpion

Starring: Peter Davison
Big Finish Productions
ISBN 1 903654 49 1, BFPDWCD6QB
Available now

The Doctor and Peri arrive in Egypt, 1400 BC, a time of social unrest. The only heir to the throne is a woman, Erimem, but female pharaohs are rare and controversial. Curiously, the Doctor cannot recall there ever having been a pharaoh called Erimem...

Incredibly, the Doctor Who television series never produced an adventure that was set entirely in ancient Egypt. The First Doctor's visit to Egypt in the epic Daleks' Master Plan was little more than a brief excursion for a couple of episodes, while the Fourth Doctor spent only a few minutes there during Pyramids of Mars, which was set in 1911.

Writer Iain McLaughlin has sought to redress the balance with this drama, although it has to be said that the setting has little direct bearing upon the structure of the plot. Aside from a pivotal visit to the Sphinx during the final episode, this tale of political turmoil being manipulated by an outside influence could have been set on practically any planet in any time period. Had he been writing for television, McLaughlin might have got away with it, because then at least we would have been able to see the sand dunes, the pyramids and the Nile, but here we only hear about them. That said, the oddly organised activities of scorpions and flies tie in nicely with the appeal of the recent blockbuster Mummy movies.

To his credit, McLaughlin does touch upon certain aspects of ancient Egyptian culture that the television show would probably have been forced to shy away from. Topless exotic dancers and royal concubines would, of course, have been impossible to depict in a family show in a visual medium, even though their inclusion here represents some good historical realism. Similarly, the routine practice of incestuous marriage may seem shocking to our own moral outlook - as it does to Peri (Nicola Bryant) - but at the time this was seen as the norm for the supposedly divine pharaohs.

In an interesting stylistic flashback to the show's '60s serials, the Doctor (Peter Davison) is totally absent from episode two, leaving Peri with plenty of opportunity to interact with Erimem (Caroline Morris) and discuss their differing views. It almost goes without saying that the subject of female emancipation is raised - Sarah Jane Smith would have been proud! Morris is enthusiastic and endearing as Erimem, although her character, with her belief in the possibility of the Earth being round and orbiting the sun, does seem a little too far ahead of its time to be entirely believable.

Other performances range from good to very good, with the unfortunate exception of Harry Myers as the villainous warlord, Yanis, who overacts dreadfully.

This is a decent enough adventure, although it doesn't deliver everything I might have expected from such an alluring setting.

Richard McGinlay