August sees two Big Finish favourites collide as Bernice Summerfield gets pulled into the Unbound Universe for a new box-set of adventures alongside that reality’s version of the Doctor.
On their travels, the pair meet the last inhabitants of this war-ravaged, dying universe trying to evade inevitable oblivion.
Who’s Bernice Summerfield?
Professor Bernice Summerfield was a companion of the Seventh Doctor in the Virgin New Adventures series of novels. She was created by Paul Cornell and made her debut in 1992’s ‘Love and War’. Benny became a fan favourite character and has since appeared in countless novels and audio plays, voiced by Lisa Bowerman. Last year, she caught up with the Twelfth Doctor in ‘Big Bang Generation’ written by Gary Russell.
What’s The Unbound Universe?
Back in 2003, to celebrate Doctor Who’s fourtieth anniversary, Big Finish produced a series called ‘Doctor Who Unbound’. Each episode posed different “What if?” questions to launch a story free from TV continuity. What if the Doctor never left Gallifrey? What if the Valeyard had won? What if the Second Doctor escaped the justice of the Time Lords? It’s an imaginative series and well worth checking out. But one of the best things to come out of Unbound series was an alternate Doctor played by legendary character actor David Warner.
David Warner as the Doctor
In ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, Warner plays a Doctor who arrives too late to become UNIT’s scientific advisor. Landing instead on an Earth that has weathered three unaided decades of alien invasions. He reprised the role in 2008 for ‘Masters of War’ alongside the Brigadier and now returns once again to hook up with Benny. You might remember him as the Ultravox-loving Professor Grisenko in the 2013 Doctor Who episode ‘Cold War’.
Back to the Present
This is the third release in ‘The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield’. Which sees Benny (Lisa Bowerman) yanked into the Unbound Universe and faced with a whole new type of Doctor. Will she be able to get home again? Can she trust this all-new Doctor? What part did he play in the war that is slowly shattering this universe?
The Library in the Body by James Goss – 9/10
The first chapter of this series wastes no time in throwing Benny and the Unbound Doctor together and straight to the action. Benny finds herself pulled into a dying universe, with the wrong Doctor, at a library preserving the last remnants of knowledge in their reality. Meanwhile, a gang of anti-knowledge zealots wants to destroy the place and an unknown force is at work among the shelves. At the same time, she has to unite a mob of library patrons who seem to have a grudge with the Time Lord.
This story moves at a brisk pace and demonstrates a lot of imagination in the supporting characters. A series of reveals hits all the right beats in terms of escalating the plot and gives David Warner some great opportunities to add range to his take on the Doctor. His mostly affable incarnation is given a seldom-seen weariness.
Planet X by Guy Adams – 7/10
Another strong opening for the second chapter with an excellent twist. This story takes us to the eponymous Planet X – a world so dull they didn’t waste a name on it. The idea of a society that pursues tedium is fantastic and Adams’ script weaves excellent world-building into a breakneck adventure. Warner finds his feet as the Doctor and both he and the script come together to showcase his sense of humour beautifully. This is probably the funniest the Doctor has ever been.
The Doctor comes across invincible, escaping death numerous times without an escape plan. It just so happens he can survive whatever’s being thrown at him.
The Very Dark Thing by Una McCormack – 8/10
In a world of deadly unicorns and humming rivers, unspeakable guilt haunts the people of war-ravaged Tramatz. Retribution is about to rain down on them and all they have to do to survive is say the magic word. So why aren’t they? It’s a heavy story that explores feelings of guilt and regret in times of conflict in a much darker and mature way than the TV show could. This is a good change of pace from the previous two lighter stories.
Kerry Gooderson gives a strong performance as Megatz. The final choice she’s faced with and the emotional stress she’s going through comes across powerfully in Gooderson’s voice. Every actor brings their all to this script, which was vital for a character-driven story.
The Emporium at the End by Emma Reeves – 10/10
A superb finale caps off the breadth of imagination in this series. The universe may be ending, but there will always be those out to make a profit. That’s where the Emporium comes in. Everything you need for surviving the collapse of reality, like the portal to another if you’re feeling spendthrift. All run by the Manager. This is definitely the most exciting story of the lot with rich supporting characters, a carefully-paced plot. The gripping climax will have you guessing until the last second.
I can’t talk about the star of this story without running the risk of spoilers. Suffice to say that this is the most charming version we’ve ever heard. The great thing about this alternate universe is that our usual assumptions are challenged.
Whilst this isn’t David Warner’s first outing as the Doctor, the Unbound incarnation is still something of an unknown quantity. The four stories work together to showcase both the similarities and the differences between this universe’s Doctor and the Time Lord we know. Warner’s Doctor has the twinkle and the ingenuity that characterises the Doctor. The moment you think you’ve got a handle on him, he turns around and does something distinctly un-Doctor-like. It’s a terrific direction to take the character.
The dynamic between Benny and the Doctor could have been explored a little more. By the second episode, Benny seems to have forgotten that she’s been trapped in a dying universe, on a limping TARDIS with her best friend.
Overall, it’s an excellent box-set and easily one of Big Finish’s most varied and imaginative releases this year. The Unbound Universe now feels like a living, breathing (albeit dying) place and, hopefully, more adventures in this Universe await.
Blogtor Rating – 9/10
Written By: Guy Adams, James Goss, Una McCormack, Emma Reeves
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Lisa Bowerman (Professor Bernice Summerfield), David Warner (The Doctor), Zeb Soanes (The Librarian), Guy Adams (The Sage of Sardner), Tom Webster (Acolyte Farnsworth), Rowena Cooper (Mother Superior), Alex Jordan (Mandeville/Kareem Chief/Acolyte), Sophie Wu (Millie), Julie Graham (Prime Minister 470), Damian Lynch (Ego), Kerry Gooderson (Megatz), Deirdre Mullins (Fleet Admiral Effenish), George Blagden (Colonel Neave), Richard Earl (Gallario), Aaron Neil (Aramatz), Laura Doddington (Idratz), Lizzie Hopley (Sister Christie), Shvorne Marls (Ampz), Gus Brown (Forz), Scott Handcock (Elevator) and Sam Kisgart as the Master. Other parts portrayed by the cast.
Producer and Script Editor: James Goss
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume 03: The Unbound Universe is available to pre-order now from Big Finish.