Doctor Who New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Vol 4: Ruler of the Universe review

A one-time companion of the Seventh Doctor in prose, who has gone on to meet other incarnations across various formats (and enjoyed her own successful audio series), archaeology Professor Bernice Summerfield is a seasoned time-traveller.

Following on from her last set of New Adventures, trapped in a parallel, dying universe in the company of an alternate Doctor (David Warner), she continues to aid him while he has reluctantly resumed his responsibilities as the President of the Universe.

Across four episodes, the writing duties are split between producer James Goss and Guy Adams. ‘The City and the Clock’ begins with Bernice employing her archaeology skills, seeking to uncover an ancient device which puportedly held power over life and death. As the Doctor reluctantly visits the dig, they fall out over his lack of interest – a situation soon remedied when ancient creatures rise to stalk the site.

In ‘Asking for a Friend’, the Doctor finds himself under analysis. Led by a glorious performance from Annette Badland, we get to scratch the surface of the Warner Doctor and find out more of what makes him tick – and how he views those around him, including Bernice.

‘Truant’ begins with a chase; Benny on the trail of the Doctor when he goes absent from his Presidential desk. Out chasing trouble, he is gleefully thrill-seeking and trying to pick a fight. Naturally, despite providing a hilarious pre-credits tease in which he is thrilled to be gassed, they soon uncover something far more complicated, dealing with the difficult implications of an unusual alien invasion.

Finally, the set concludes with ‘The True Saviour of the Universe’ which sees the fate of this universe hand in the balance and Sam Kisgart’s Master back on the scene at his duplicitous best.

This set spends some time looking at the relationship between the two leads; Warner is wonderfully irascible as the reluctant politician, who chafes at the restrictions of his position, while Lisa Bowerman’s Bernice struggles to handle the temperamental Time Lord, so alike and yet so different from her old friend.

As with all the best stories, the imminent universal destruction is faced with humour as well as heroics; the Doctor’s description of Bernice as a “trowel wielder and bothered of the long dead” was one of many zingers.

Among the supporting cast, which includes Catrin Stewart (Doctor Who’s Jenny Flint) and Jonathan Bailey (Psi from ‘Time Heist’), we particularly enjoyed Hattie Hayridge (Red Dwarf‘s female Holly) playing The Doctor’s presidential press spokesperson – a hilarious, Sean Spicer-style character seemingly able to spin anything. Rowena Cooper also returns as the glorious Mother Superior from Volume 3.

Smart and funny, with both Bowerman and Warner clearly having a ball, it feels like there are plenty of stories left to tell with this pairing. While it might be spin-off Doctor Who, with a non-television companion and a reimagined Doctor, these stories and ideas are as strong as anything Big Finish are producing, with production up to their usual polished standard.

For us, the highlight of this box set however was the quieter second story with the Doctor in therapy – a tremendous idea executed with a clever and insightful script. More please!

 ‘Bernice Summerfield: True Stories’

Supporting this volume of New Adventures is a short story collection which chronicles some of Bernice Summerfield’s Doctorless adventures in this alternate universe.

Cleverly brought together by a framing device which sees Benny forced to tell six of her adventures to a computer jury, we enjoy time travel, archaeological speed dating on alien worlds, royal protection duties, modular alien monsters and even a rather comfortable spell in a retirement home! For those not so familiar with her back catalogue, it is a chance to see the quick witted Professor at work, dealing with problems in her own inimitable style (usually with a glass in hand!)

Edited by Xanna Eve Chown, who writes both the framing device and the final tale ‘Bliss’, contributors include some familiar Doctor Who prose names, such as Kate Orman and Jonathan Bloom, as well as a few newer voices.

‘True Stories’ is available as both a physical novel and an eBook, or as an audiobook narrated with animated relish by Lisa Bowerman.