Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Roof of the World written by Adrian Rigelsford and directed by Gary Russell

What's it about: 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. An ancient evil, perhaps older than time itself, is stirring deep within the heart of the Himalayas. It has always known it will return and finish off what it started so many centuries before. But the time has to be right. As the TARDIS materialises, with the Doctor determined to take full advantage of an invite to a cricket match, the catalyst that the dark forces need unwittingly arrives.

An English Gentleman: Is possible to over characterise your regulars? I have frequently balked at writers who fail to add anything to the characters they are using to tell their story but in this case I had the impression that Rigelsford wanted to squeeze every last bit of information about them. It feels like an over egged cake, early scenes see the Doctor, Peri and Erimem stressing their English, American and Egyptian roots as though that is who they are. It’s a shame because the quieter moments in this story prove that Rigelsford actually has a good grasp of dialogue and this trio of adventurers. But by emphasising out that the Doctor likes cricket and has to play the Edwardian sportsman it kind of ruins what is actually should remain an unspoken character quirk. Plus there are so many faux fifth Doctor’s wandering about in this story it is hard to get a grip on which one is supposed to be expressing genuine feelings.

He is a superb batsman but rarely has time to practice. Even if it is a fake the idea of the Doctor having to deal with the death and funeral of one of his companions is a nice idea. Episode two portrays the Doctor as something more akin to the manipulative seventh Doctor, with schemes and plans that his companions no nothing about. It doesn’t really suit him. Another fake Doctor wonders if he has misjudged Peri by confiding in her as she (once again) overreacts to everything. He worries about several things a minute, forgets an equal amount every hour, figures out the solution to a problem before he knows what the question is and only realises things when its too late and when he knows he has time to fix them.

American Attitude (Problem): Howard always roped Peri into helping out on his digs and she remembers many a miserable hour up to her elbows in plaster of Paris! She states that she does not do hatchways in impractical skirts…hah, that’ll soon change when you switch Doctor’s! Why does Peri object to everything all the time? I’d rather take the acidic barbs between her and Sixie than this constant disapproval to anything that is asked of her. Her tears to Erimem’s graveside feel very real, she is inconsolable.
If you thought you had seen Nicola Bryant playing angry before wait until you see Erimem’s nightmarish version of her, she is positively vicious, claws out ready to blame her friend for letting her die. She is shocked when the Doctor reveals his fallibility and finds it hard to trust the Doctor. Using Peri as bait is as good a use of her as I have ever seen. She is surprisingly good at rallying the troops so perhaps her ‘Scourge of Sylvania’ guerrilla persona from Warmonger wasn’t so far from the truth as we all thought!

Dusky Babe: Wow, after some ropey moments with the Doctor and Peri Rigelsford scores a massive bonus with his portrayal of Erimem who once again steals the show. Cricket eludes her and she cannot see the point of it, you and me too, babe. Her reaction to rolling countryside is one of total awe since she is used to glowing sands. She still has something of a military mind and comments that the Doctor is going into battle with his cricket bat (there’s something pleasantly Leela-ish about that line). The Doctor has promised to show her other worlds at their height. When she was a child she was told about the white pyramid where the greatest evil was meant to sleep and if you see it it will take your soul. How awful would it be to be faced with your own funeral, to see the people you love grieving and not be able to touch them? Erimem expects that once she dies she would ascend above to be with the Gods, as is a Pharaoh’s right. Instead she is confronted with some of the most important moments of her life and we learn lots of interesting things about her time before she met the Doctor. Cleverly the Great Old Ones take her for a stroll through her insecurities and insidiously manoeuvre her into revealing her fathers secrets. Her father loved her but she is shown a scene where he wanted her cast out, that the Gods were angered by the birth of a girl as heir to the throne. She is told that he died before he could kill her. History has forgotten about her. She believes in the Doctor and Peri and trusts in Peri as though she was a member of her own family. It is haunting to see how the Doctor and Peri are used to convince her to surrender herself. In a desperate moment when she thinks all of her friends have turned on her poor Erimem agrees to death to be free of her damnation. This is actually some fine development of her character, exposing her self-doubt and how far she has become reliant on her relationship with her companions.

Standout Performance: Once again Caroline Morris knocks spots of the rest of the cast. Why did they write her out again? The only exception is when she is asked to do a silly voice to suggest she has been taken over by the Great Old Ones. Why can’t anybody act being taken over convincingly (or subtly)?

Great Ideas: The Great Old Ones are a part of the same pantheon as the Great Intelligence. They are stranded on Earth and annoyed at being outwitted. Dying, they are the last vestiges of their kind and being held together by the ravaged DNA of species they have obliterated, clinging onto the distant legends of what they once were.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Keep it up man!’
‘Since when have you heard of a storm cloud trying to book a room?’

Audio Landscape: I love crunchy, crusty, blowy snowy landscapes and this is one of the best realised yet. Whispering voices proceed to attack Erimem. The TARDIS materialises on a steam train full of goats and chickens! One character batters away at a typewriter. I tell you the Indian cricket pitches are certainly a lot rowdier than the English ones! I love the sound of the early morning birds crying out and twittering. There is much clinking of glasses and glugging of lemonade. Erimem is haunted by chanting in the decaying labyrinth. The Cloister Bell tolls the death of the universe. We’ve heard wind whipping up in Big Finish stories before but up the top of the Himalayas I was practically getting vertigo with the punishing gales!

Isn’t it Odd: Unfortunately Adrian Rigelsford work screams of a fan turned writer and there are so many kisses to the past there wasn’t really any room for anything original aside the characterisation of Erimem. We’ve got wartime psychic projections (The Awakening), a disembodied entity in the Himalayas (The Abominable Snowmen), taking all and sundry into the TARDIS (pick a Davison story), the title (Marco Polo)…the list goes on. Basically it is a story of conquest and domination, so far so clich├ęd, but you would be hard pressed to find that story because everything is mired in dreamscapes and conceptual nightmares. To be fair I still don’t have a clue what happened at the end. They were up the mountain, something was frozen and then they were in the TARDIS.

Standout Moment: The whole of episode two. It feels like a completely different story to the other three episodes and probably can be seen as a Erimem companion chronicle in its own right.

Result: Halfway through I wondered if I had been too harsh on The Roof of the World since the story seemed to be progressing quite nicely but honestly nothing happens in the second half! As an exercise in prevarication and running on the spot whilst filling the story with pointless character moments those two episodes are second to none. That might be an ignominious reaction to this story, especially since the production itself is very strong and the performances are all quite subtle and nuanced but when the script lets you down there really is nothing that can salvage a story. I would recommend that any fan of Big Finish gives episode two a listen, a touch of atmosphere and insanity in all this blandness but otherwise there is nothing new to discover here. Inconsequential: 5/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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