THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
The Roof of the World

Written by Adrian Rigelsford Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2004
Continuity Between Planet of Fire and
The Caves of Androzani.

Starring Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and Caroline Morris

Synopsis: Tibet, 1917. It's a time of great exploration, with intrepid teams of adventurers heading blindly into uncharted territory, determined to beat inexplicable odds and overcome any challenge they encounter. But some things are not necessarily that easy to defeat.


Reviews

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 25/8/04

I love cricket! There it is, I've confessed. Any story that mentions my favourite sport automatically draws me in - and I find it difficult to dislike. Thus the teaser, with its possibility of a cricket match drew me in, and made me anticipate this story more than most.

Cricket is like Doctor Who too. It's fine to watch, excellent even. It also works magnificently well on audio, thanks to the vocal talents of Radio 5 Live team - make of that what you will!

With its Marco Polo title, and Abominable Snowmen locale, it's tempting to compare this to other Who - but it stands far too alone for that. The central idea of the explorers coming together is unique. Also the story is very much about Erimem's past - and for this relatively new companion that can't be a rehash of anything.

It's a rather panoramic premise - befitting the majesty of the Tibetan landscape. It's rather ironic then that this story has such a small cast! Joining the Doctor, Peri and Erimem we have just 4 supporting characters - a lord, a general, a journalist and a pharoah. All credit to Big Finish and Adrian Rigelsford then for successfully juggling these 7, and still making the whole thing sound expansive, rather than restrictive. Only the promise of a cricket match, and its subsequent no play, was disappointing.

As an Erimem background story it works pretty well - that's where the Pharoah's involvement comes in. As the entity that is terrorizing our heroes takes on various forms, so we learn of her regal, yet uncertain background. The audio switches to this netherworld quite often - all of episode 2 is set there. I found the mind segments not as interesting as the story Roof of the World was telling - but they are still not lacking in interest about this fascinating Egyptian companion.

Peter Davison continues to excel in Big Finsh audio dramas. The youthful exuberance that his TV portrayal represented has evolved nicely into an older, wiser Time Lord. He still seems to rush more than any other, and I still imagine him as an early 30 year old - but I really think Peter Davison is better at playing the Doctor now. For my money he's a brilliant Doctor, audio especially.

Peri has reached an interesting juncture. Not overexposed like Ace, she still has been used rather a lot over the years. A fan favourite despite her whinging on TV, audio Peri is more adult, more likeable. Roof isn't a great Peri story, but her concern and rescue of Erimem, and her friendship with Matthews are touching and well presented.

I enjoyed the interplay of General Bruce and Matthews the journalist. It was an unlikely alliance, yet one that I warmed to. Alan Cox just shaded it in fact as top supporting player here. Lord Davey as a character was a bit hazy. Terrific villainous voice definitely, but we learnt little about the real Davey, before the possession. I didn't really rate the actor who played Amenhotep - but I suppose he was in keeping with the previous Egyptian story Eye of the Scorpion, in sounding not remotely Egyptian.

Looking back at Roof of the World raises an interesting dilemma for me. The conclusion was standard - the usual mass of noise as the alien force makes its last stand. Meanwhile the Doctor finds some way of defeating the enemy, and we move on. This arquably is standard Doctor Who fare, and to dislike that means to dislike much of Who. The scenes set in the alien mind concerning Erimem bring her character to the fore, but I am never very keen on this kind of exposition. These two form the bulk of the story, and therefore I can't really give Roof of the World the score I would like to.

The fact is, the rest of it was glorious. The travel of the Doctor and his Companions by train in Tibet to the cricket match, the Matthews and Bruce double-act, Peri and Doctor striving to rescue their friend. All excellent and deserving of praise for all concerned. The whole just about comes out pretty well then - a qualified success, but still a success. 7/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 17/9/04

There are some nice moments in The Roof Of The World, such as the Doctor,Peri and Erimem stopping for cricket en route to Everest and the idea (not too dissimilair to Season 5 of Buffy in many ways) of Erimem being the key that unleashes all sorts of powerful things upon the world. Unfortunately such moments occur largely within the first episode, so while things get off to a potentially good start, Adrian Rigelsford`s script doesn`t ultimately deliver on its early promise. The second episode is very much Erimem centred filling in gaps in her past, addressing issues with her father. In the same vein the third episode while centred on Peri and The Doctor takes place within the same timeframe.This is fine in terms of character development and a nice idea structurally, but by this point we still haven`t even discovered the villains. As a result,the middle episodes just come across as mixed up and confused.

The revelation of the villains as simply Old Ones isn't much of a payoff either, as they could be any race akin to the likes of the Daemons or Osirians. Storylining issues aside, The Roof Of The World does boast great performances, particularky from Edward De Souza who is terrifying as Lord Davey and Peter Davison brings a new dynamic to the Doctor (especially towards the tale`s conclusion.) This aside a more coherent plot would`ve greatly benfited the story as strong performances alone don`t save it.


Familiar themes... by Joe Ford 27/9/04

When I came home from work this evening I had an uncontrollable urge to watch The Twin Dilemma (it's been that sort of a day) and I gobbled all four episodes up in one sitting. It was about three episodes in when I realised why Peter Davison would never, ever capture the sense of awe and magic of the Doctor like Colin Baker did... because he's too much of an apologist in his performance and this is never more apparent than in The Roof of the World. He's just too quiet and unassuming, giving a performance that would fit in with any straight drama as though he is embarrassed to be involved with a science-fiction show. The fifth Doctor is a pretty normal sort of chap and for me that is why he is so boring... and it is only when you escape for almost the whole of episode two of this story do you realise just how modest and inconspicuous his behaviour is because the story becomes a damn sight more interesting. Stories like The Axis of Insanity and Spare Parts go some way to convincing you he is rather interesting but any gold to be found in those stories are how the plot copes with him rather than how he copes with the plot. His friendly uncle persona is set in concrete these days and it is a shame that breaking him from that mould seems a perversion of his character (his dramatic speeches at the end of this and Axis are genuinely compelling but Davison never, ever approached this level of hysteria... it was usually reserved for Baker who was much better at this sort of thing). Don't get me wrong Davison can be relied on to give a decent performance and he is much more consistent and believable than McCoy; it's just that his static character cannot explore any new angles. And if that is the case... why bother to continue using his character?

I have rarely encountered an episode one that is so deceptive of the story's intentions and for much of its duration you are tied to much character filler and plot avoidance. The setting is revealed and the cliffhanger proves vital to the story but aside from some fun interplay between the regulars and the introduction of some reasonably interesting (but hardly riveting) characters. I'm not saying that it isn't atmospheric, indeed the sound FX creates a real sense of location, train tracks, sheep, birdsong... and you can transplant yourself easily into the story. It's pleasant but not gripping, much like the protagonist really.

I am in two minds about how the story deals with Erimem because Adrian Ridgelsford seems unaware of the progress she has made in her last few stories. The Axis of Insanity finally saw her emerging from Peri's shadow taking charge of herself, taking on a psychotic Time Lord from a forgotten timeline. Annoyingly, she has hidden away back inside her shell again and is asking the sort of naive question you would expect a newcomer to ask. It seems bizarre that Gary Russell should miss this inconsistent character development considering he directs every story these days and it perhaps would have made more sense to release this before Axis.

However, the writer fully makes up for this by taking us on a psychological tour de force into Erimem's past and we discover more about her own time and her family situation than her debut story did. Episode two was a huge improvement, just one long winded attempt to convince the Egyptian to submit to the evils tucked away in her mind but better written and acted than Tegan's similarly surreal experience in Kinda. There is a compelling performance from Caroline Morris who once again is asked to convey a striking array of emotions, grief, disbelief, anger, betrayal... scene upon scene sees her friends (the Doctor and Peri) and her family (her father and the High Priest) beating her down with their words, forcing her to question her life to a point where she finally gives in, a hopeless, worthless spit of a girl. And Erimem's death proves dramatically satisfying thanks to Peri's angry reaction, a thankful contrast to her chirpy optimism that is almost as irritating as her whininess.

Gotta love that brilliantly angry scene between friends Peri and Erimem where the American lies in a pool of blood and condemns her as a weak, pathetic woman who nobody remembers and cares about. Who knew Nicola Bryant could be so vicious?

Evil since the dawn of time... yadda yadda yadda... can't anybody think of anything more interesting for the Doctor to fight against. There's much grandiose dialogue to suggest that this is the horriblest, evilest, evil ever but in the end there is little to distinguish it from Fenric or the Great Intelligence or the Mara... just another trapped intelligence that wants to be unleashed into the cosmos. The Old Ones aren't even very scary... a dying race clinging onto distant legends of what they once were, alive thanks to the DNA of races they have obliterated and the Doctor is coldly certain that there will always be something more frightening than the current evil he is fighting. The worst the do in this story is take over Erimem and give her an embarrassing evil voice, the sort of gravelley nasal whine we all put on when we are pretending to be baaad. It's a huge anti-climax to discover after all the build up this all they can achieve... that and some mild telepathy which allows them to have a barney with the hysterical Doctor.

There is a bizarre subplot featuring a pair of historical characters, one reporter and an ex-military officer who get all chummy as the shit hits the fan which seems entirely unconnected to anything and just there to pad out the story. There's a bunch of cliched guff about General Bruce wanting to recapture his glory days and have his exploits written with a certain flair but I didn't really give a toss about any of it. Extraneous characters who add little but offer the Doctor someone to explain the plot to, you could at least make them a bit interesting.

I feel I have been a bit too harsh on The Roof of the World because there is nothing insulting or boring about it at all but it is clearly the work of a Doctor Who fan who has little interest in adding anything to the series and grouping together a bunch of familiar plot threads and passing them off as an original work. The dialogue is snappy and the production is typically lush (especially the evocative Russell Stone score) but don't let any of this fool you into thinking it's anything new.


Been There, Done That by Mekel Rogers 3/4/05

Here we go again. An ancient evil from the dawn of time was asleep and now has awakened, and the universe will be sorry, etc etc etc. The Roof of the World tries to be a new twist on an old idea but ends up being just an old idea with different window dressing.

The first episode resembles Black Orchid: Doctor and crew take a holiday in the early 1900s so he can play some cricket. The companions are confused by the game and wonder what they are doing there in the first place. The second episode resembles Kinda in that the entire 25 minutes is a character exploration of Erimem in a nether dimension very similar to Tegan's experience with the Mara. Morris and Sousa are great on the acting front, but after hearing the episode on repeated listenings, I find myself wanting to skip over to part three and get on with the rest of the story.

The last two episodes play out a lot like The Daemons or Image of the Fendahl with the Doctor and company trying to stop an ancient evil awakening which also just happens to be responsible for a race memory in humanity leading to cultural superstitions and beliefs. Oh yes, and what's with the cliffhanger to episode three?!? It sounds a lot like the rooftop scene in Ghostbusters... listen to it and you'll see what I mean.

On the positive side, the acting is rather good. Poor Peter Davison does his best in having to speed read speech after speech explaining what is going on (proof, if proof be needed on how inexplicable the plot is). Nicola Bryant gets some really snappy lines which she handles very well, and Edward de Sousa's unique portrayal of Lord Davey keeps things interesting as we plod through the story.

The climax tries to be big, but succeeds only in irritating the listener with a lot of special effects noise and shouted dialogue. The story ends with a good scene between Davison and Morris though.

Bottom Line: Nice try, but not quite.


A Review by Ron Mallett 7/9/07

The Roof of the World by Adrian Rigelsford - as far as quality is concerned - is very much a mixed bag. Featuring the now-regular BF combination of Davison, Bryant and Morris, it follows a few very strong stories, has an excellent cast and is blessed with superb production values... so why am I not just waxing lyrical about it all? I believe any problem with the story lies at the scripting level as it is a highly derivative work drawing on elements of The Abominable Snowmen (although the adversary is not the same, the setting and type of threat are very similar) and even Big Finish's Nekromanteia and much in between.

Pretending for a moment I know nothing of the notoriety of the author, the script reeks of fan-wank, written by a man who clearly does fancy himself as a world expert and someone who clearly thinks he knows what Doctor Who is and what it isn't. The tendency of the now-early-middle-aged fan (who was an older child/adolescent in the sixties and seventies) to romanticise the Troughton era and to be fixated with the Pertwee/Tom Baker eras as litmus tests for quality, is very evident here. There are even echoes of Martin and Baker's preoccupation with catch-phrases: "I am the key..." etc. etc. While the casual fan might not detect this, it makes any serious fan of any age squirm, except of course the Russell/Briggs generation, who clearly feel that homage to the middle-of-the-classic-run is all important and originality is less so.

Even the structure of the play comes across as very convoluted: the second part being the worst. This mental seduction of Erimem may allow Davison and Bryant to experiment with darker interpretations of their characters but I doubt anyone was ever convinced they were anything other than disguised aspects of the real adversary and to devote a whole episode to it just seems like padding to me and it is very, very tedious. I think anyone who wasn't a fan would just lose patience with the entire exercise. So we've alienated informed fans who, despite popular myth, can actually detect fan-wank and we've also alienated non-fans who might be listening for the sake of listening to something alternative... doesn't leave us with much of an audience does it?

I find it difficult to believe that Russell and co. weren't able to commission a more original script. At the same time, there are some strong performances here; Edward de Souza is particularly impressively menacing as Lord Davey. Alan Cox as Matthews is particularly believable as the frustrated journalist. Wasn't it nice of Rigelsford to muck in and play one of the characters himself?! Isn't he just larger than life?!!! Don't you know from sarcasm?

In short, this is clearly the weakest link in an otherwise strong line of stories produced with the Davison/Bryant/Morris so far. Listen if nothing better to do!