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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who

The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield
Volume Four
Ruler of the Universe


Starring: Lisa Bowerman, David Warner and Sam Kisgart
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £30.00 (CD), £25.00 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78703 250 7 (CD), 978 1 78703 251 4 (download)
Release Date: 30 September 2017

Bernice Summerfield is still trapped in a dying universe with the wrong Doctor. Things have taken a turn for the worse – the Doctor has become President of the Universe and, it turns out, he’s a controversial choice for the job. While Bernice works to unearth the mythical Apocalypse Clock, the Doctor is immersed in the murky world of politics and the dark forces that are working against him. As battle fleets fight and terrible deals are done, the peoples of the universe wonder if they’ve made a terrible decision. Is the Doctor up to the job of ruling them? Watching from the sidelines, the Master is quick to reassure everyone that he has no ambitions in that direction. And, meanwhile, the stars are going out…

On paper, the notion of taking a companion originally created for licensed novels and teaming her up with an incarnation of the Doctor who first appeared in a series of ‘what if’ audio dramas set in an alternate universe seems like a silly idea, the ultimate in niche nerdiness. However, as soon as you bear in mind that the companion is Bernice Summerfield, a character given a whole new lease of life on audio by Big Finish Productions and actress Lisa Bowerman, and that the alternate Doctor is played by the legendary David Warner, the prospect suddenly becomes more enticing. Ruler of the Universe is the second box set to feature this particular Doctor / companion combo.

Though he debuted back in 2003 in the Doctor Who Unbound play Sympathy for the Devil, Warner’s Doctor has ended up developing along similar lines to the most recent television incarnation of the Time Lord (not counting the incoming Jodie Whittaker – at the time of writing, it’s too early to comment upon her character development). Like Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, Warner’s incarnation is a grumpy old man with (on the surface at least) poor people skills and an apparent lack of empathy. Like Twelve with his vault at the start of Series 10, he is foregoing his customary wandering through time and space in order to fulfil a daunting responsibility. By way of contrast, though, the Unbound Doctor has lost his people in a war, whereas the television Doctor found them again in recent years.

The task facing Warner’s Doctor is a much bigger chore than guarding a vault. He has become the president of his universe, because doing so seemed like the best way of saving it from destruction, though he doesn’t care at all for the diplomacy and bureaucracy that go with the role. As a result, this collection of four dramas plays out somewhat like the concurrent Fifth Doctor release Time in Office (not great timing, it has to be said), but on a far grander scale. The writing duties are shared by Guy Adams and producer / script editor James Goss on an alternating basis, beginning with Adams and his opening episode, The City and the Clock

Bernice Summerfield is on an archaeological dig for the mythical Apocalypse Clock. Can it really be the key to saving the universe? The ghosts of the planet have other ideas…

The extent to which the Doctor’s responsibilities are weighing upon him is made clear from the outset in The City and the Clock, as he confesses to Bernice how he feels suffocated by the endless paperwork, meetings and other demands upon his time. Guy Adams also gives him a spine-chilling speech about how we in the here and now might feel as though what we are doing is important, but ultimately we are destined to become tomorrow’s archaeological discoveries – if we are remembered at all.

However, in this opening episode the Doctor is very much the supporting character to Bernice, who takes the lead in a tale about an ancient artefact that could save the universe – or destroy a significant portion of it. While the Doctor is out of his comfort zone, she is very much in her element, supervising an archaeological dig. She stands up to the Time Lord as few other companions could, verbally giving him what for when she feels he is not giving her discovery the serious attention it deserves.

The ghosts that are inadvertently unleashed are properly creepy. They would not seem out of place in a Steven Moffat episode of the television series with their sinister, drawn-out whispers of, “I hear you… I see you…” The monsters are rather abruptly put away at the end of the play, though the events do have consequences, and The City and the Clock closes with an effective and unusual cliffhanger.



Vast wars are raging across the stars, planets are dying, and the President of the Universe is sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch. What’s it like to be the Doctor’s therapist…?

The Doctor steps into the spotlight in James Goss’s Asking for a Friend. However, though Bernice takes more of a back seat in this instalment, the Time Lord still has a formidable female sparring partner, in the form of his shrink, Guilana, played by Annette Badland.

I’m going to mention Steven Moffat again now, because Goss’s plot borrows heavily from the short story Continuity Errors, Moffat’s first ever piece of Doctor Who fiction, which was originally published in the 1996 anthology Decalog 3. As in the short story, the Doctor meddles with the timeline of his interviewer, popping back in the TARDIS to make ‘improvements’ to her personal life in the hope of making her more compliant. This is not a coincidence – the writer acknowledges his inspiration in the bonus behind-the-scenes disc in this box set. Bernice is horrified to learn that the Doctor has been exploiting time travel to similarly ‘cheat’ with many more of his meetings, using the TARDIS to multi-task and literally do two (or more) things at once.

However, this Doctor’s motivations aren’t quite as Machiavellian as those of the Seventh (Bernice’s usual Doctor) in Continuity Errors. He is also trying to salve his conscience by doing some good. As he tells Guilana in an impassioned speech, it troubles him greatly that in his present situation he is not able to save everyone under his care. At least, that’s what he says. One is never entirely certain where one stands with Asking for a Friend.



The President has run away. Bernice has to hunt him down, but he’s too busy having fun. Evil warlords! Impossible escapes! Sinister plans! The Doctor’s on an adventure…

The Doctor and Bernice share the limelight in Truant, by Guy Adams. And, to contrast the darker notes of Asking for a Friend, we have some welcome light relief as this adventure gets underway. The Doctor is desperately in need of some excitement, but wherever he tries to find it, the victories prove ridiculously easy – the villains just surrender straight away, because the Doctor’s reputation precedes him. Emphasising the Time Lord’s might, while also quietly spoofing how the hero on screen has become so powerful that it can get in the way of generating genuine jeopardy, he quotes the Seventh and the new series Doctors by declaring that “There will be no battle here,” and that “This planet is under my protection.”

However, even as he takes on a bunch of effete ‘invaders’ – represented by Jonathan Bailey and Catrin (Jenny Flint) Stewart – a deeper and more complex problem emerges. This planet might not be so easy to protect, and the tone gradually changes as this becomes apparent.

Throughout this collection, Hattie Hayridge (Red Dwarf’s Hilly and Holly) is splendid as the President’s spin doctor Ebbis, who manages to downplay every crisis and turn any journalist’s question back upon the interrogator. In this episode, she also plays Morlick, an unfriendly elderly local who is far less pleasant than the supposed villains of the piece.



Bernice Summerfield finds that time has run out for the Doctor – and for the universe. Can this really be the end of everything? Help is on hand from an unlikely quarter…

As the Master returns in The True Saviour of the Universe, writer James Goss and actor Mark Gatiss (here credited as Sam Kisgart, his anagrammatic pseudonym from Sympathy for the Devil) recall several previous stories featuring the Doctor’s arch enemy. As in The Dæmons, the Master utters a diabolical incantation and, as in practically every Roger Delgado story, forms an alliance that proves to be more than he can handle. Similarities to Logopolis are evident throughout this box set, with its dying universe and talk of creating a stable safe zone to preserve as much of it as possible, but here the icing on the cake is the Doctor doing a deal with his adversary, who calls upon the “Peoples of the universe” to “please attend carefully…” As in The Sound of Drums, the Master harnesses the power of political rhetoric to manipulate his way to the top. The more he protests that he has no desire to wrest control from the Doctor, the more the populace want him to do just that.

Gatiss is superbly sneering as the Master. Amusingly, he stays in character as ‘Sam Kisgart’ during an interview on the bonus CD, portraying the performer as an old luvvie who doesn’t own a television set and only saw Doctor Who the once. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth!

But who is the true saviour of the universe? Ah, that would be telling. Goss keeps us guessing, and both the Doctor and the Master manage to surprise Bernice – and the listener – along the way. As to who is the master of the Unbound universe, that’s easier to answer. It’s the productive coalition of James Goss and Guy Adams.


Richard McGinlay

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