Pathfinder Legends: Review: Big Finish Audio 2.6: Pyramid of the Sky Pharaoh

plmm106_pyramidoftheskypharaoh_1417_cover_largeStarring: Stewart Alexander, Trevor Littledale, Ian Brooker, and Kerry Skinner, with Ramon Tikaram, Abi Harris, Rebecca Grant, John Rayment, Walles Hammonde, Tamina Davar, and Wraith Johnson

Written by: Mark Wright (from a story by Mike Shel), Directed by John Ainsworth

In which our heroes have successfully grounded the Pyramid of the Sky Pharaoh, but must still penetrate its many defences to destroy the threat to Osirion once and for all. Will they survive the trials along the Twofold Path that must be journeyed before they can confront Hakotep and his Dread Queen, Neferuset?

Pyramid of the Sky Pharaoh has all the elements for an epic showdown between its quartet of protagonists and Hakotep’s forces of evil. So why does it end up feeling rather anti-climactic?

For one thing, having Harsk, Ezren, Merisiel and Valeros walk the Twofold Path feels like a needless delaying tactic. Yes, it represents a good chunk of the adventure module on which this audio drama is based, but strictly speaking, is it necessary? Instead of whetting the listener’s appetite for the final confrontation, it’s frustrating. This is not helped by the constant shifts back to Hakotep and his entourage remotely viewing the travails, commenting on the adventurers’ prowess and expressing disbelief at their continued success/survival.

For another thing, the more the listener experiences Hakotep, the weaker he seems. It turns out that he’s something of a hen-pecked hubby, with his newly-risen wife continually mocking his minions’ failures and setbacks. Ostensibly this is meant to rile the pharaoh into behaving like the man she married millennia ago, but in my opinion it diminishes the character to the point where you just want the good guys to wipe the floor with him and be done with it.

It doesn’t help that the actress playing Neferuset makes the odd choice to voice the Dread Queen with a cod-Transylvanian accent rather than the vaguely Egyptian ones most of the rest of the Osirian characters’ actors have employed. Yes, she’s a powerful oracle of the Dark Tapestry and arguably both more powerful and evil than her husband, but that’s still no reason to deliver a performance like Patricia Quinn’s from The Rocky Horror Picture Show

By the time the Twofold Path has been successfully traversed and its guardians defeated, barely ten minutes remain for the big showdown. Despite everyone’s best efforts, it ends up feeling like a diluted borrowing of several set pieces from Return of the Jedi, I’m sorry to say.

So – overall, is Mummy’s Mask a greater success than Rise of the Runelords? Yes, but it still has some inherent weaknesses compared to Big Finish’s other audio ranges. The installments’ longer running times are a strength when they focus on character interactions, but occasionally a drawback when strictly adhering to source materials that could’ve done with some pruning (see Secrets of the Sphinx). When compared to Doctor Who, Dark Shadows, Dorian Gray and so on, Pathfinder Legends almost always seems stronger on atmosphere and setting over plot and character development, with most (but not all) guest actors tending to over-egg the pudding in an effort to convey their characters’ monstrous/villainous natures.

The path parts of Mummy’s Mask have concentrated on character conflict – think Ezren and Harsk fighting over using the titular Mask, and the enmity turned personal between Hakotep and Ezren through the wizard’s use of the artefact containing part of the Sky Pharaoh’s soul – and I’d like to see more of this in future releases. More expansion and development of the main characters beyond their initial remit would be welcome too.

Although it may not seem like it at times, I genuinely like and enjoy the Pathfinder Legends line, and wish to thank everyone involved for their hard work in bringing these adventures to life. You’re on the right path!

Verdict: A well-acted – but frustratingly paced – conclusion to this sprawling tale. 7/10

John S. Hall

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