Released July 2004
After penning non-fiction books about Doctor Who, Adrian Rigelsford makes his Big Finish debut- during a time of quite public personal troubles- with ‘The Roof of the World.’ The plot is steeped in familiar themes and aspects, but it still manages to tell a rather enjoyable tale.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the Great Intelligence would make a return given that the story focuses on an ancient threat in Tibet, but Rigelsford instead dips into The New Adventures territory and brings back the Old Ones, an ancient race of pure evil that remains as a sort of godlike race memory within humanity. Their extreme power and destructive nature poses an interesting but derivative threat as old as time itself, and so Rigelsford injects another layer into the Old Ones’ backstory by revealing that they have interbred with other species to become more dynamic threats. Unfortunately, their motivation of causing mayhem and destruction essentially because of being frustrated about be their imprisonment on Earth fails to resonate, and the relative ease with which they are defeated undermines how much work went into building up their threat.
Had the story focused solely on the Old Ones, it would have been a spectacularly uninspiring tale, but fortunately their presence serves a great narrative purpose in allowing Erimem to develop and to become a more well-rounded character while exploring her personal history in detail. Her father, Pharaoh Amenhotep II, discovered scrolls stating the existence of the Old Ones (or old gods), scrolls that Erimem herself took. It transpires that the Pharaoh was their jailer, Erimem thus gaining more importance because of her bloodline. Lord Davey is, in fact, a physical manifestation of the Old Ones’ memories of the Pharaoh, and he ruthlessly subjects Erimem to severe emotional trauma in order to trigger the catalyst within her and to get her to do serve his masters’ will.
Caroline Morris puts in her most riveting performance as Erimem yet, unwaveringly conveying that fear, confusion, and trauma as needed throughout the story. The scenes in which Davey convinces her she is good are particularly strong, and the bewilderment allows Davey to make her question her very core as she hears her father consider sacrificing her because of her gender. Added to Davey’s persuasiveness in which he gets her to believe that Peri is dead with her ghost blaming Erimem and that the Doctor wants her to release the Old Ones to gain some semblance of redemption, it’s unsurprising that Erimem ultimate gives in to the emotional pressure.
A lot of effort has been put into developing and fostering the friendship between Erimem and Peri in previous releases, and it’s immensely satisfying that it is ultimately Peri who breaks through Davey’s control and is able to convince Erimem of reality by drawing on recent experiences and their companionship. In fact, the entire script makes very good use of Peri, allowing her some lighter and more comedic moments in the opening scenes but then also showing her courageous and resourceful nature in later scenes. Even though the Doctor plans to use her as bait for his own plan, it’s ultimately Peri who comes up with the plan to use liquid nitrogen from the TARDIS to resolve the problem permanently. It’s always pleasing when Peri is written as a competent and useful companion, and Big Finish is continuing to do wonders with her character.
Despite the heavy focus on his companions, Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor is also on top of his game and gets several meaningful scenes that he completely controls. Full of an adventuring spirit that fits the colonial era well, he travels to Tibet to take part in a cricket match between rival exploration groups, drawing on his robust knowledge in order to gain the explorers’ confidence. The Doctor is extremely proactive in this story, taking several steps to get Erimem back once the cloud captures her. Interestingly, Davison again gets to play false versions of his Doctor due to Davey’s influences, and the haunting scene in which he visits Peri and tries to break her confidence in the real Doctor is particularly engaging.
The supporting cast is quite strong throughout as well, the menace of Marc Cory’s Lord Davey being a certain highlight. Alan Cox’s Matthews and Sylvester Morand’s General Bruce form a nice double act as the events of the story cause them to put aside their differences and form a mutual respect for each other, each bringing the absolute best out of the other man.
In the end, ‘The Roof of the World’ is not a perfect story, and its central antagonists in the Old Ones fails to deliver on their overall potential. Fortunately their creation in Lord Davey is supremely more effective and his menace along with the fantastic characterization of all of the leads elevates the end result to a surprisingly strong level.