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The Roof of the World

Doctor Who: The Big Finish Audio Adventures #59
Richard Radcliffe

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, its 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 Erimems 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 a Erimem background story it works pretty well - that's where the Pharoahs 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 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 too. 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 2 form the bulk of the story, and therefore I can't really give Roof of the World I would like too.

Fact is the rest of it was glorious. The travel of the Doctor and his Companions by train in Tibet to the Cricket Match, 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

Paul Clarke

Fate has not been kind to Adrian Rigelsford; having come close to being proclaimed the saviour of Doctor Who with the thirtieth anniversary multi-Doctor extravaganza ‘The Dark Dimension’ both he and fans alike were dealt a serious blow when it fell through and we got ‘Dimensions in Time’ instead. Since then, he’s written several poorly-received factual books on the series, including The Doctors: 30 Years of Time Travel, which suffered from such trivial omissions as the whole of Season Eighteen, and when he was finally commissioned to write an audio story for Big Finish it was overshadowed on the eve of its release by certain well-reported personal difficulties. Which is a shame, as despite being, at first glance, rather derivative, ‘The Roof of the World’ is actually quite good.

The plot of ‘The Roof of the World’ suffers from a certain amount of cliché and over-familiarity. When the back cover blurb was published on the Internet, references to an ancient evil in Tibet understandably led many fans to assume that the Great Intelligence would be making an appearance, despite assertions to the contrary by Gary Russell. In fact, it might as well have done, since we instead get another Lovecraftian evil from the dawn of the time in the shape of the Old Ones, a term familiar to fans of the Virgin Doctor Who novels. The Old Ones are a generic threat, an ancient menace that has seeped into the race memory of mankind to embody them as gods and monsters, and we are insistently told that they are pure evil and left “nothing but carnage and fear” in their wake. We are also informed that if they are released from their ancient prison, “Everyone would die, there would be nothing but death!”, all of which can be summed up by the Doctor’s line, “I’ve heard this so often before, plans for conquest, domination, death on a scale that few can comprehend.” So have I. Rigelsford attempts to make them more interesting by adding such background details as the fact that they have interbred with other species to become multi-form monsters with mixtures of feathers, claws and scales, and interestingly they become extremely agitated when they realize that he doesn’t fear them, because his knowledge of what they are is placed in his mind by their telepathy, and that there is always something more terrible out there. We learn that they are “Technically speaking, some kind of parasitic life form” but their motivation and intentions are rubbish (“You’re simply stranded on the earth and annoyed at being outwitted”) and ultimately, the answer to the Doctor’s question, “The Old Ones, the Old Gods, is that the best you can do?” is sadly yes. It’s also worth noting that despite Rigelsford’s attempts to portray them as formidable menace, they are rather easily dispatched with liquid nitrogen and a big explosion.

However, ‘The Roof of the World’ works because the Old Ones serve a greater purpose, which is to flesh out Erimem’s background. It transpires that her father Pharoah Amenhotep II discovered scrolls detailing the existence of the old gods, but Erimem, believing that they were for her, took them. The Doctor realises that “Lord Davey” is in fact the Old Ones’ memory of the Pharaoh given shape and form and that the real Amenhotep was not their servant but their jailer. As such, they need Erimem because of her bloodline, the Doctor explaining, “They needed a catalyst, someone who would fear them, would draw them back into existence.” Having read the scrolls, she shrieks when she sees “the White Pyramid… where the greatest evil was meant to sleep” and this proves only the starting point for the emotional trauma that “Davey” subjects her to here, with Episode two entirely dedicated to his mission to make her agree to do his masters’ bidding by piling emotional pressure on her until she cracks. Caroline Morris puts in her best performance to date as she conveys Erimem’s fear and confusion; from the moment that Davey tries to convince Erimem she’s dead, she’s at her most vulnerable. Terrified, she asks, “Can this be death? Who do I answer to? How to ascend to my place amongst the gods?” and Davey makes capitalizes on her disorientation to make her question her past. Under his influence, she hears her father say, “My gods spoke against me having a daughter. It was insanity not to sacrifice her as soon as she was born” and thus, her faith in her love for her father is shattered. On top of this she is convinced that Peri is dead, and that her friend’s ghost blames her for it, and then Davey delivers the coup de grace as the fake Doctor persuades her that she needs to release the Old Ones to achieve redemption. It is therefore no surprise that she caves in to this astonishing pressure, but the Old Ones are ultimately undone when Peri is able to get through to the possessed Erimem in Episode Four by drawing on recent memories of their friendship. And indeed the companionship she feels on board the TARDIS shines through, as Peri continues to reach her to read (more bloody Lewis Carroll) and she and her friend gently poke fun at the Doctor, Erimem asking of cricket, “What’s the point of it?” prompting the weary answer “Don’t get me started!” from Peri. Even after her experiences in ‘Nekromanteia’ she still has a sense of wonder as she travels, breathlessly exclaiming, “I never dreamt there could be so many colours across one land!” when she steps out of the TARDIS into Tibet. Ultimately, she realises that life is for living, but that it will be difficult at times, all of which is beautifully summed up at the end as she tells the Doctor, “What is life if you do not take on adventure… Doctor? You can put the lights back on.”

Rigelsford also makes good use of Peri, including an early scene in which the Doctor berates her using liquid nitrogen to freeze the TARDIS swimming pool to make ice cubes; it’s nice reminder that travelling with the Doctor can be, despite the danger, fun, and the implication that she and Erimem have become drinking buddies is rather nice. This is also the spiky, more independent Peri that Big Finish have been slowly crafting, such as when, to her indignation, Peri is mistaken for the Doctor’s secretary. She’s brave and resourceful, especially in Episodes Three and Four, when she determines to save the possessed Erimem and angrily tells the Doctor, “This is me talking now, and I’m going to get her away from there!” The Doctor exploits this to use her as a distraction (he tells General Bruce, “Promise me you’ll never repeat this analogy to her General, but in strict hunting terms I’m using Peri as bait”) but Peri proves successful anyway, using her sessions teaching Erimem to read to get through to her and trigger a memory. When the Doctor is confronting the Old Ones, Peri takes charge of Bruce and Matthews, and warns them “You can’t even rationalize how dangerous this situation is, so don’t even try!” but adds, “We are the only chance we have, don’t forget it!” Overall, she’s extremely useful here, rather than being a perpetual moaner who always needs rescuing, and this is demonstrated well when she shows that she has the brains to realize that cold traps the Old Ones, and uses liquid nitrogen from the TARDIS to attack the cloud.

Despite focusing on the companions, Rigelsford also captures the Fifth Doctor extremely well. Whilst Doctor Who writers often use a British Empire setting to question the ethics of colonialism (and often to great effect), Rigelsford refreshingly exploits the “Spirit of adventure” also associated with the era, and this fits the Doctor like a glove, as he travels to Tibet to take part in a cricket match between rival groups of explorers. The Doctor bluffs his way into Bruce’s confidence by quoting his work and notes, “I used to quote a lot in a past life” and says that it’s a useful trick. We also get to see him at his most proactive when the cloud kidnaps Erimem; despite Davey’s attempts to trick Erimem, the Doctor of course doesn’t really assume that Erimem is dead, but sets out to find the cloud’s base and takes a plaster cast of one of the prints it left. Peter Davison is on fine form again, yet again gets to play an ersatz Doctor, firstly during Erimem’s dream sequence in Episode Two, and again in Episode Three when the fake Doctor visits Peri. This later scene is impressively subtle; the “Doctor” only gradually reveals itself as it tries to break Peri’s faith in the Doctor by showing the Doctor doubting and worrying that Erimem is already dead. The ersatz Doctor also gets the wittiest line in the story, as it says to Peri, “I take it you can’t sleep either.” She replies, “How did you guess?” prompting the magnificent response, “Well, you’re reading a textbook on the basics of agriculture and industry.”

Rigelsford’s supporting characters work very well too, and an extremely fine cast aids him. Alan Cox’s long-suffering Matthews is very cynical about General Bruce and tells Peri that he’s no war hero, whatever stories he may tell, just a boorish old eccentric relic whose shelf life is almost up. But despite this early sign of discontent with his role as Bruce’s biographer, Matthews gains respect for him and also brings out the best in the General, especially during the great scene in Episode Three where he tells him that he can succeed in leading the expedition, insisting, “There’s a matter of restoring honour here, not only towards the expedition, but towards yourself.” And indeed, Sylvester Morand’s hoary, likeable Bruce does get to show off his heroism. He’s a noble old bugger, worried about the civilians and despite his initial dismissal of Matthews, clearly values his role, and asks, “Please make my last words heroic.” Matthews swears, “You have my word” and towards the end their newfound mutual respect is summarized in a splendid scene in which Bruce rather touchingly, passes over the honour of blowing up the pyramid and lets Matthews do it instead, so that he has something to write about. Mention must also be made of Edward de Souza, returning to Doctor Who for the first time since he played Marc Cory in ‘Mission to the Unknown’, whose voice drips with urbane menace as he plays Lord Davey.

Overall, ‘The Roof of the World’ is thoroughly enjoyable, and director Gary Russell helps to bring out the best of the script, partly due to some exemplary sound design, which effectively evokes the location. Whether or not Rigelsford will write another Doctor Who story remains to be seen, but he finally managed at least one and it turned out to be something of a minor gem.

Lawrence Conquest

From a storytelling point of view, The Rood of the World opens in the foothills of Tibet before rising to a climax amidst the Himalayan Mountains, but from a dramatic point of view the story starts on a high, and gets less impressive with every succeeding episode. The first episode is certainly good, promising stuff, with the gloriously anglophile 5th Doctor dragging his companions all the way to Tibet for a cricket match, while a dormant evil appears to be waking in the Himalayan heights. Waiting for the Doctor is the pompous figure of General Alexander Bruce and his reluctant biographer John Matthews, and surprisingly the Doctor seems to get on with General Bruce, as throughout the play the character transforms from a braggart to a more genuinely heroic figure.

While there are no standout performances from the guest cast, all are competent players, while the regulars put in their usual sterling performances – in fact, of all the companions Big Finish have introduced, I think Caroline Morris’s Erimem may well be the best.

This story claims to fill in some back-story for Erimem, with some flashbacks to her father Amenhotep II, but unfortunately this is where the story starts sliding off track. Following a pacy opening episode, which sets the scene and introduces the characters, and ends with Erimem being captured by the evil force, episode two is wholly comprised of this beings attempts to turn Erimem ‘to the dark side’ by showing visions of her father and TARDIS crewmates. Not only does this slow the pacing of the story down to a crawl, but as the visions of the Doctor and Peri are so obviously false, one wonders how much of Erimem's father’s story is true, which makes it’s supposed character enhancing properties somewhat questionable.

Much of the following episode is also taken up with rather flabby filler material and, having wasted a couple of episodes with padding, the expected scenes of the Doctor and Peri trekking up the Himalayas to rescue Erimem are jettisoned in favour of a very anti-climatic short hop up the mountain in the TARDIS. It’s a real waste of the story’s location, and males one long for the days when the Doctor couldn’t control the TARDIS with pinpoint accuracy.

I expect given the location and the hints of a returning evil, most listeners will have been expecting the return of the Great Intelligence, but in fact the story’s evil entity turns out be an amalgamation of H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old One’s, though disappointingly these turn out to be a rather more feeble bunch than the ones in Lovecraft’s fiction, being defeated rather easily by a method that is highlighted early on in true Warriors of the Deep style. For such an apocalyptic force as the Great Old Ones, the climax just doesn’t seem to bring about any sense of threat, while the possessed Erimem’s habit of talking in a clichéd ‘evil possessed voice’ is a poor directorial decision, seeing as the similarly possessed Lord Davey doesn’t stoop to such depths.

All in all The Roof of the World isn’t sloppy enough to be a truly poor story, but neither does it fully deliver on its promise. In the final analysis this is a very average adventure – not only are there better Doctor Who stories featuring the Great Old Ones, but it’s not even the best story set in the Himalayas…

Joe Ford

When I came home from work this evening I had an uncontrollable urge to watch The Twin Dilemma (its 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 its 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 stories 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 naïve 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 Erimems 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 clichéd 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 its anything new.

Sarah Hadley

What an unbelievable load of rubbish! I'm beginning to think that Big Finish's "year of new writers" wasn't such a good idea. After all, what is Adrian Rigelsford actually known for in fandom? A few light and fluffy non-fiction books, a lamentable documentary, and - oh yes - the legendary 30th anniversary special that never was (and perhaps just as well). Compared to that line-up, "The Roof of the World" might just qualify as a revelation. Compared to anything else, I'd rather watch paint dry.

To say that this adventure is boring and badly-written is not enough; worse - far worse, in fact - this story has been done before, and done much better. Thirty-five years ago it was called "The Abominable Snowmen," and despite a different backdrop (a cricket match, as opposed to a monastery), most listeners will quickly pick up on the similarities. When a character has his mind taken over by a mysterious power, you will think, "Ah ha! The Great Intelligence!" When the Doctor discovers monsters with claws like dinosaurs, you will think, "Ah ha! The Yeti!" I'll go ahead and kill the suspense: it's not them, but it should be. Every sign points so obviously in their direction, it's a wonder Rigelsford didn't go with it. Then again, I thought the fifth Doctor and Peri were supposed to be in this one, too. Huh. Odd, that.

No, they're not here, despite the cover illustration. I believe Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant were asked, probably against their will, to play strange alternate universe versions of the seventh Doctor and Benny. This Doctor is a stubborn, sometimes obnoxious man who knows more than he's saying, leaves his companions in danger, and always manages to get the TARDIS exactly where he wants it to go. Peri, for her part, is less a plucky young American than a world-weary companion more experienced than "The Caves of Androzani" suggests (which is a huge flaw in the idea of an extended fifth Doctor/Peri partnership to begin with). Joining these two charming anomalies is Erimem. Dear old Erimem. Dear, old, boring Erimem. Dear, old, boring, useless, irritating...you get the idea, yes?

It's sad to think that in six audio adventures in three years, Erimem has only really worked in her debut, shuffling around as the stock generic companion ever since. I'm not quite sure what went wrong. Evelyn and Frobisher were great from the very start, and though it took two or three stories, Charley soon became unforgettable. Erimem, though, is just a cipher, and even in part 2 of "Roof" - which is almost entirely centered around her - I found I just couldn't care less.

Ah yes, let's talk about part 2 for a moment. They should call it "Erimem Cutaway," or even better, "Erimem Throwaway." Rigelsford decides to abandon the plot for an episode and take a little sidestep into Erimem's psyche, all for no readily discernable reason. It's not a bad idea, but in no way does it sustain 25 minutes. With part 3 we're back to the main storyline again, so...what was the point? Hasn't he heard of cross-cutting? Did he need to make the padding in his story so obvious it hurt?

There are a couple of nice speeches in parts 2 and 3, but other than those, by the start of part 4 you'll be wondering why you ever bought this thing in the first place. When the villains finally come to light, Rigelsford goes so far as to connect them in with the Virgin New and Missing Adventure novels - and then contradicts everything ever said about them. They aren't even that interesting as enemies; instead, they feel stale and borrowed, right up there with the story, the secondary characters, the title (borrowed from "Marco Polo"!), and the incredibly overdone "Alice in Wonderland" references. It's all just far, far, far too much like a bad piece of fan fiction.

You can tell I genuinely disliked this one. It's not worth two dollars, let alone ten times that much, and it's made me regret the fifth Doctor/Peri/Erimem team even more than I already did. What a waste of perfectly good talent. Adrian Rigelsford needs to stick to writing outlandish proposals for things that never get made, and leave Big Finish - and us - alone. Please. For the love of God, please...

Steve Manfred

Part One

In a strange way, I kinda lived through this story one month ago. When I went on my little road trip, it included a stop in Milwaukee where I went to a massive travelling exhibit at the museum there of genuine (and in some cases quite large) Egyptian relics. This was followed by my viewing of several Imax films at the museum, the first was more about Egyptology and the last was about Mount Everest. And as I drove close to the museum, to put myself in the mood, I relistened to part 1 of "The Eye of the Scorpion." I think it therefore more than a little odd that this new Fifth Doctor/Peri/Erimem story I'm listening to should be combining Egypt and Everest! :)

So, what of the episode? Well, I like this mix of elements to be sure, and I very much like the characters we've met so far (there's only 3), in particular the long-suffering journalist John Matthews played by Alan Cox. (and in another bit of strange coincidence, just like him I spent much of last week developing film prints) I can't help but think there's more than a bit of the author himself written into Matthews' character.

I also like the set-up of the explorers' club cricket match on the way to Everest, and the deliberate call-backs to the last match we saw the Doctor at in "Black Orchid." I do wonder, however, at Peri's familiarity with the sport.... most of my fellow Americans wouldn't know a cricket ball if it came up and hit them in the wickets. Still, I suppose she's heard all about it from the Doctor by now.

I'm a little mixed on the menace as presented so far. I like the imagery of the dark cloud slowly moving down the mountainside in the photos that Matthews took (reminiscent of the film "The Crawling Eye" aka "The Trollenberg Terror"), but I'm a little less thrilled with the dead man popping up and being enigmatic towards Erimem and whispering sweet nothing-anyone-else-can-hears in her ears. Had the Mara been more of a gentleman I'd say we'd seen this before in a Fifth Doctor story. As it is, we've only kinda seen it before. I'm not really irked by it, but I'm not very impressed either.

I'm also a bit mixed on the idea of Erimem being some sort of key to bringing powerful things back to the world.... I know Gary Russell has said he wanted the Peri / Erimem relationship to be like that of Buffy and Dawn's, but surely he didn't mean it quite so literally, did he?

Music, sound design, editing, and direction all seem on their "A" game so far... particularly where they remembered that typewriters when in use have to be returned to the start of their lines periodically... not all typewriter sound effects people remember that detail.

A pretty good start then...

Part Two

I come away from today's episode, "It's a Terrible Life," choking on some things I'm being asked to swallow. Did anyone else find it a bit incredible that the Egyptians not only got people out all the way to Tibet but also built a full-scale pyramid inside Mt. Everest while they were there? And that until this point, it remained completely forgotten about and hidden? (and has remained so since this?)

More important than that though was the inconsistency with what we know of Erimem's character. In a very poignant scene back in "The Eye of the Scorpion," she told the Doctor that she didn't believe in any of the Egyptian gods. Why then is she so surprised that, when apparently dead, she doesn't meet any of these gods and that the afterlife is so different to what she was told it was going to be? I could accept her fleeing back to the traditions of her youth for shelter at this sudden change in her circumstances if she would at least say something like "I'm sorry I ever doubted you, gods," but that never happens.

Her skepticism of her own religion should also lead to skepticism of the entire scenario she's presented with, and while there is some, I think she caves in far too easily to the illusiory Doctor and Peri's exhortations for her to give in to the dark forces that want to use her as a key to their release. Heck, she should probably even doubt that the dark force things are godlike things at all.

There's no concrete I.D. on the mystery entombed ones today except that we're told (in an illusion, so it could be lies) that they're very old and nasty and they've been around before. They also seem to be things outside the traditional Egyptian religion, so that probably rules out the most likely candidates of some other Osirans. It's pretty hard to top Sutekh, so whatever they turn out to be it better be good.

Ignoring my story problems for a few moments, there was some outstanding acting today from Caroline Morris and Nicola Bryant during all the funeral and death scenes. Peri's crying over Erimem's death brought a little lump to my throat in fact. Peter Davison was not at all bad during these scenes either, nor in the late scenes where he's the not-the-Doctor telling Erimem to help out the prisoners. Erimem's reactions to seeing her father condemn her to death and so on were also very moving from an acting point of view. From the story POV, they were rather undermined by the fact that we the audience know it's all illusion to get something they need from Erimem.

So, what could've been an interesting character study today was let down, not by the acting or direction, but rather I think by some sloppy scripting. How disappointing.

Part Three

You may have noticed the different structure to this story. Events-wise, it's like a three-parter in that Parts Two and Three both take place over the same timeframe, only focusing on different characters... Erimem in Part Two and the Doctor and Peri today in Part Three. I quite like this structure, and it's perhaps a bit surprising it hasn't been done in a dramatised "Doctor Who" story before. Plus points for that.

I have to take away some points, however, for this Part Three still falling into the same stalling trap that so many other Part Threes do in "Doctor Who." We already know where the Doctor and Peri have to get to by the end of this episode, and they come to the same conclusion in pretty short order, but then they get bogged down and held back by a wholly expected ruse on the villain's part (where he/they impersonates the Doctor to try and scare Peri) and then an attack that turns out to be useless.

The story also teased us and then didn't pay off. We get all excited by the prospect of the Doctor and Peri charging up the mountain the old-fashioned way, by climbing it with imperial explorers and servants, but then that attack comes along and wipes out all their gear, and we're left with the Doctor just hurrying the TARDIS along and him using that to get there instead. I don't object to the use of the TARDIS itself, especially as it's something the Fifth Doctor did all the time in the TV series (and he also took along lots of historical characters as happens here), but it makes for a disappointing end to the episode. One also wonders why he didn't just do this in the first place when the time it took for him to get the TARDIS was a lot less than the time it would've taken them to climb the mountain.

Fortunately, there is a lot of good character work going on among the regulars and guest cast while all this circular plotting and padding is happening. I particularly like the ways in which both the General and Matthews prepare in advance for what might be their final expedition...

Matthews writing to his family and giving the letter to Peri (though the letter perhaps would've been more effective had he left it with someone who wasn't going on the same dangerous mission!) and the General making out his will (but why does Matthews question why the General's writing it when he's just expressed his own doubts to Peri?). Peri has good moments opposite both the real Doctor and the fake one, and I also liked that her archaelogy training with her father was thought of and put to good use in making that caste of the monster's foot.

So, another mixed episode. Will things look up in Part Four? And just who are the mysterious villains anyway?

Part Four

We had the big unveiling of the villains in this episode, and on the first go-around I almost missed it. "Ah, so you're the infamous Old Ones" just didn't sound like a great big surprise reveal, more the start of a longer spiel about who it really is. When nothing else came after that I kept thinking for a while, "er, so who are these Old Ones really then?" But apparently that was it. They're just your run-of-the-mill generic planet-hopping villains that get engrained into human myth because of how awful they were, rather like the Daemons, or the Nimon, or the Osirans, or the.... you get the idea. Except this time, they don't even bother with a name for them. They're just Old Ones. How very disappointing.

And not only are they just Old Ones, but they've completely copped the Mara's modus operandi, where the key to their release from the bunch of mirrors they're trapped inside is to recreate fear of themselves in the mind of someone, who happens to be the Doctor's companion, who they then possess and escape from. The only real difference between the two was that the Mara just got on with the job whereas these Old Ones stop and have a cozy chat in an illusory cricket club to try and get the Doctor to fear them too. Wait... there is another difference... the way to beat them. Whereas the Mara's death required the interruption of it's transference from mental to physical state via a perfectly still thought pattern transmitted through a perfect crystal created in a zero gravity environment, the Old Ones are beaten by a poetry slam. Oh, and some liquid nitrogen and TNT too. But the poetry slam was the really crucial bit. (oh, and Erimem must have been a very slow learner for she and Peri to have memorized all of that poem word for word along with just trying to read it.)

Back in Part Two, Erimem protested how unlikely a coincidence it was that she, the only person who could release the Old Ones, should turn up at Mt. Everest with the Doctor so that they could use her to get released, and the illusory Doctor told her that it wasn't coincidence but that he'd brought her there specifically to deal with the Old Ones. Yet from the reactions of the real Doctor in the rest of the story it looks like he didn't know the Old Ones were here at all.... so it was an amazing coincidence all the time!

There is, however, one really great moment in amongst all this turgidness of the script, and that's the speech the Doctor delivers towards the end about evil and how there's always something nastier than the evil he's currently up against. It's not so much the speech itself that's great, but Peter Davison's fantastic delivery of it. This section is one of his best performances I've heard him give, and to hear him do it almost made this whole silly story worthwhile.

So... this is the third Fifth Doctor/Peri/Erimem story in a row that I've really disliked. I hope this losing streak doesn't continue when we pick up with them again sometime next year. Still, "The Harvest" seemed to turn around a similar streak pretty quickly, and I have hope that something similar will happen with this team.

Note: Steven Manfred's reviews were written for an internet mailing list shortly after re-listening to each episode on consecutive days.