Written by James Goss, Guy Adams, Una McCormack, Emma Reeves
Directed by Scott Handcock
Cast: 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
Big Finish Productions – Released August 2016
The concept of teaming up Big Finish’s longest serving lead character Bernice Summerfield withDavid Warner’s alternative Third Doctor (first introduced the 2003 Unbound story Sympathy for the Devil and last heard in the 2008 sequel MastersofWar) sounds like the sort of idea that the Big Finish execs might have come up with out of desperation to think of something “new” to do with Benny. However, with the news that Warner’s Doctor would be coming out of retirement alongside the infamous ‘Sam Kisgart’* reprising his rather unique take on The Master, this box set has become one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of the year, even with the ongoing excitement of Big Finish’s new series tie-ins. This reviewer is therefore pleased to say that for the most part, this box set does not disappoint. Teaming upLisa Bowerman’s universe-weary Bernice with David Warner's Doctor and a different universe where she’s completely cut off from everything familiar proves to be just the innovation this range needed and definitely an improvement over the previous two volumes of “New Adventures”.
The box set opens with Bernice being totally unsurprised by the TARDIS’ appearance and commenting that the Doctor’s frequent reappearances in her life are like a “lazy Suzy” before realising that she’s facing an unfamiliar Doctor who has used her as part of a failed attempt to escape from his own dying universe. There is an instant chemistry between the two leads with Warner's Doctor showing a twinkle in his grumpiness that occasionally reminds of Capaldi. James Goss’ opening story The Library In The Body takes a concept from the early 1970s and puts a wholly unique twist on it, although the constantly singing nuns are a bit irritating. There are however nice turns from Radio 4 announcer Zeb Soanes as the Librarian and Rowena Cooper as the Mother Superior.
Planet X by Guy Adams sees the Doctor and Bernice arrive on a planet supposedly so boring that no one could be bothered to name it properly. What they instead discover is a totalitarian society ruled over by none other than Julie Graham in wonderfully sinister form as Prime Minister 470. As the Doctor takes it upon himself to bring the Prime Minister’s regime to an end, Bernice is teamed up with ‘Millie’, an ordinary citizen who learns to experience genuine emotions for the first time, very believably played by Sophie Wu.
Una McCormack’s The Very Dark Thing picks up the story sometime later with the Doctor apparently sat by a river doing nothing on the idyllic world of Tramatz which is apparently being terrorised by unicorns. At the heart of this story is the revelation that the unbound universe is suffering from the aftermath of a cataclysmic event not entirely dissimilar to the Time War, except this time there are no Daleks involved.
This box set concludes with Emma Reeves’ The Emporium At The End, in which Bernice and the Doctor find themselves apparently facing the very end of existence as everyone attempts to escape with the apparent help of a sinister individual known only as “the manager”. Rather frustratingly, the Doctor never quite manages to fully recognise his old enemy and as Bernice has never encountered the Master before she is unable to provide enlightenment. However, it is to be hoped that we’ve not heard the last of Sam Kisgart’s memorable incarnation. Bernice shares some great scenes with the manager and the Mother Superior returning from the first story in this set.
This is a very enjoyable box set with excellent music composed by Jamie Robertson. Particular kudos should also go to Blair Mowat for his unique arrangement of the Doctor Who theme tune which genuinely sounds as if it might have been composed in an alternative version of the 1970s. Lisa Bowerman and David Warner make a fun team and it is rather pleasing that the door has been left open for them to have more adventures in the unbound universe before Bernice returns home. Yet another reason to look forward with eager anticipation to Big Finish’s output for 2017.
*The behind the scenes disc includes a lengthy discussion on Kisgart's career, for listeners who haven't tired of the joke by this stage an extended version of the interview with Kisgart was featured in a recent Big Finish podcast.