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

Posted in Audio by - April 24, 2018
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume Four: Ruler of the Universe

Released September 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following a superb set of four stories featuring Lisa Bowerman and David Warner in The Unbound Universe, Bernice Summerfield still finds herself trapped in the dying cosmos alongside the wrong Doctor who has somewhat controversially assumed the position of President of the Universe. As battle fleets fight and terrible deals are made, the people of this universe have begun to wonder if perhaps they’ve made the wrong decision in placing their faith in the Doctor while the Master assures everyone that he has no political ambitions and the stars continue to go out in the night sky.

The fourth volume, Ruler of the Universe, begins with ‘The City and the Clock’ by Guy Adams with Bernice on an archaeological dig for the mythical Apocalypse Clock that purportedly holds the power over life and death. Bernice so rarely gets to take part in activities related to her chosen profession these days that she naturally throws herself at the dig with gusto, reporting her every finding and emotion to the Doctor who is decidedly less interested in the hunt as he morosely navigates the sound bites and public appearances that pervade his very public existence and tries to deal with the ambassadorial suite plumbing that has suddenly become such a pressing problem. The Doctor very clearly hates this life he is leading, a facet of the character that David Warner plays expertly, and the fascinating suggestion that the Doctor is trying to be the man he needs to be even if that means he is no longer the man of magic he has always been to Bernice perfectly sets up the burgeoning dynamic between these two leads within this new context.

The Apocalypse Clock is a captivating concept even if the Doctor never truly believed Bernice’s search for it would amount to much. Located on the planet of Merin that was once home to a powerful race that inspired awe and fear and that had a ferocity and knowledge untouched by any other, the clock represents at least a chance to save this universe, but conservationists and visions of the long dead make the dig anything but straightforward, evocatively tapping into the past of this civilisation and planet from multiple angles. Interestingly, as the Doctor makes plans to use the power to create an entropy shield to protect a portion of the universe from its imminent collapse, the truth behind these visions represents yet another harrowing attempt at survival that presents this particular Doctor with his own moment where he questions his right to interfere, this time with Bernice by his side who shows rather less concern with consequences given what needs to be done. Again, Warner and Bowerman dominate the proceedings as their engaging relationship is re-established and refined through lengthy sequences, and though this does mean that some of the events relating to Merin aren’t quite as developed as they may have been in a later story, the end result is another very engaging tale that continues to make the most of the unbound universe setting.

In ‘Asking for a Friend’ by James Goss, vast wars rage across the stars as planets die, and the Doctor is sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch. This is a remarkably simple concept that opens up so many intriguing pathways for exploration of the Doctor in his many forms across the many universes, and it’s quite surprising that it’s never really been used before. Nonetheless, as more and more people begin to think that the Doctor’s approach to problems has gone beyond different to simply wrong, David Warner absolutely excels as a man who has begrudgingly accepted this position of power despite spending so much of his life running in the opposite direction, knowing he alone can save the universe but unsure just how he should go about doing it. It becomes quite clear that the Doctor needs Bernice as support and as a conscience even if he doesn’t have the best way of showing his respect for her, and he fittingly does not consider Bernice a friend because he can’t bear to let her down despite being in therapy because of her. He believes that the only thing people are good at is working against him, and the conversations continue to circle back to the integral question of whether he is lonely, resulting in a lovely bit of introspection as the Doctor openly admits that he misses the long-dead Time Lords while gloating to them that he was right about the Master’s intentions and fuming at them for unfairly leaving him to fix everything by himself.

While the Doctor tries to come to terms with all of the lives lost during his attempts to do good and save even more, he slowly opens up more and more to his therapist Guilana so expertly played by Annette Badland. She is not afraid to call the Doctor out on his apparent willingness to skip ahead in time and tailor his responses to hasten the therapy process to which there are no simple answeres, but she’s also smart enough to piece together when his responses and reactions aren’t quite right. Indeed, between stories of difficult policy changes and the safe zone becoming more ironically named as more people move into it is interspersed subtle imagery that hints at the truly fearsome power of a Time Lord on a remarkably intimate level even if the Doctor only ever set out to be friendly and make things better, inadvertently showing just how disconnected from humanity he still remains after all of this time. With Bernice squarely at the centre of events even if not actively at the Doctor’s therapy sessions before amusingly evading one of her own, ‘Asking for a Friend’ is an emotional and understated classic that superbly looks far deeper into the mindset of the Doctor than most stories would ever dare go, allowing David Warner an immense opportunity that he seizes with aplomb.

As the volume continues with ‘Truant’ by Guy Adams, the President of the Universe has run away, and it’s up to Bernice to find the Doctor who has taken to finally having fun on a grand adventure after his mere presence stopped so many skirmishes and battles he looked to join. It seems only natural for someone like the Doctor who so enjoys being a lone operator that he would eventually find the monotony and tedium of politics and public appearances too much to handle without a break, and he seems to relish being captured and interrogated as he tries to piece together the intriguing mystery before him. Fittingly, his standards are extraordinarily high, and with Bernice at his side he’s all too eager to admit his disappointment with how forthcoming with information about an invasion his captor is and the fact that he had five escape plans formulated before the alien before him even opened his mouth. A conveniently found piece of currency hints at a race of parasitic replicators and shapeshifters not heard from in generations, and his boastful proclamation to his interrogator earlier that he already knows everything is instantly tested as Bernice and he split up to discover the truth about what atrocity is about to occur.

Surprisingly, what initially sets up to be a fairly classic Doctor Who tale with the Doctor coming out of retirement of sorts to put right one final wrong turns into something wholly unexpected as his intent to question General Lakis after escaping results in a confession and the revelation that the Doctor has been working under entirely the wrong premise. A scan of the planet Kellor reveals a hidden truth dating back some sixty years, a truth completely horrific in its scope and execution but one which has nonetheless come to pass and one for which Lakis and his people are willing to do whatever they can in the present to make amends by helping as many offworlders reach the safe zone as possible. Although this past atrocity isn’t mined for the emotion it could have been with Hattie Hayridge’s Morlick used more for comic relief than an insightful exploration of the devastation and loss, it does allow for a superb moment for David Warner when the Doctor is consumed by the guilt of knowing that this tragedy occurred at a time when he consciously decided to stay on the sidelines and not interfere with the universe at large, making him all the more determined to do right in the present but again miscalculating how to handle and talk to individuals in a successful and helpful manner like that which Bernice quickly reveals to him. ‘Truant’ may not have the deep internal exploration of the Doctor or the universe-ending stakes that other stories in this unbound universe have held, but it confidently tells a clever story that upends expectations at various points and sets the scene nicely for the finale.

‘The True Saviour of the Universe’ by James Goss concludes this set as time has finally run out for the Doctor and the universe and as an offer of help comes from an unlikely source. Much like the last set, the appearance of the Master is anything but shrouded in secrecy, and the still-anagrammed Sam Kisgart returns with one of the most well-spoken, even-tempered, and suave incarnations of the famed Time Lord since Roger Delgado’s original. Oozing charm and charisma as he says all of the right things even with his past actions and reputation fully in the public domain, this Master is all the more dangerous given just how he can subtly sway opinions against the Doctor while appearing to fully support him and his many momentous achievements. As the Doctor faces impeachment charges and the threat of removal from office for past actions that demand explanations, the Doctor proclaims that everything facing him is simply the result of fear. He has solved the Apocalypse Clock equations and can use them to save at least a part of this universe, but the monumental release of energy that would result would likely destroy the universe just as quickly, or at the very least another universe should they choose to use the Emporium gateway and channel the energy elsewhere. His proclamation that fear sits at the heart of these proceedings is remarkably profound, and the fears of the Doctor succeeding, of the Doctor failing, and of a new life not living up to expectations all speak to certain segments of the remaining population exceptionally well.

As a cloaked figure seeks to sway the vote against the Doctor, both Lisa Bowerman and David Warner again deliver remarkably strong performances as Bernice must firmly decide if she believes in the Doctor and the Doctor must confront the possibility of not emerging victorious and succeeding with his ultimate goal of finding a means for peace and salvation for the universe he still loves. Of course, this Doctor is still relatively unexplored in terms of the actions he might take when not tethered to a public role of leadership, and Goss makes the most of that fact by highlighting just how cunning this incarnation truly is with a long-standing and complex plan that would make Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor proud. Accounting for what the Apocalypse Clock truly represents, public opinion, and the Master’s penchant for taking advantage of momentous situations, Warner imbues just the right amount of pride and compassion to his voice as the Doctor reveals his cunning plan to Bernice and apologises for not letting her know earlier in order to lend authenticity to the protracted events. This turn of events is delivered with the requisite gravity and poignancy to succeed, and the Doctor ultimately following through on his promise to create the safe zone and placing his faith in the Master to rule it benevolently with no chance of escape provides a fitting closure to this arc as the Doctor and Bernice escape to her home, fulfilling the Doctor’s long-standing promise to her as well.

The unbound universe and David Warner’s Doctor once more provide the perfect backdrop for Bernice Summerfield to excel and continue to develop in new and exciting ways as she tries to stay the course during a tumultuous presidency in which the Doctor is continually subjected to harrowing and impactful internal exploration. With another strong appearance from the Master and expert imagination once more on display throughout this dying universe, Ruler of the Universe is another excellent addition to Bernice’s adventures that excels on all fronts and boldly upends the new status quo once more by its end.

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