Following the events of the third Bernice Summerfield set, Benny is stranded with the David Warner unbound Third Doctor in the unbound universe. It’s a new beginning with singing nuns, the Doctor now made Ruler of the Universe and the Sam Kisgart Master apparently disposed of (thought note the cover!). It all bodes well, apart from, that is, the impending end of the universe! Welcome to The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume Four: The Ruler of the Universe.
The Ruler of the Universe stories
As before, this set consists of four stories, this time it’s two by each of Guy Adams and James Goss, both of whom appear on the fifth interview disc.
Guy Adams leads off with The City and the Clock, and it’s back to archaeology for Benny as she seeks something called the Apocalypse Clock while the Doctor focuses on the all so tedious job of running the universe. It’s great to have Benny back digging, but the planet’s ghosts also want to get involved. It’s a good story and ends with both an insight into how the relationship between the protagonists has evolved, and sets out a theme for the rest of the set.
While Benny and the Doctor dominate the tale, there’s plenty of local colour and the story is far less one-dimensional than my snap summary suggests. The chemistry is as strong as ever, and Guy’s story reminds us just what this universe is about, and is self-contained enough to work for a new listener.
Next up is James Goss’s Asking for a Friend and it’s almost a three-hander between Lisa Bowerman’s Benny, David Warner’s Doctor and Annette Badland’s therapist Guilana. It starts off as a two-hander and is inevitably somewhat introverted as Guilana gets to know the Doctor and get him to talk about his past, his motives and his role as President of the Universe.
As the story moves forward, Benny gets her own encounter with Guilana, and it’s one of the more amusing scenes as Benny tries not to be analysed and immediately starts to unload on the therapist.
While entertaining, the story really takes off when the listener realises just what is going on as the Doctor attends his therapy, and it raises some very interesting ethical issues.
Guy Adams’s second story is Truant, and it has a simple central idea. The Doctor has gone AWOL due to boredom and Benny is sent to find him. After all there’s a universe to save! Guy gives us a quick run of amusing encounters with various threats, before settling down to deal with what he assumes will be a familiar problem, easily solved by being brilliant. How wrong he is!
Instead there’s another massive ethical challenge disguised as an amusing story of not very threatening aliens, nice people and the relentless pressure of running the universe. It’s a Bernice Summerfield set, not a Doctor set, so it’s to Benny to find what resolution there can be, before things take a turn for the worse. And not just because the Mother Superior has reappeared (Rowena Cooper).
James Goss winds up proceedings in The True Saviour of the Universe, and it’s about the role of President, saving the universe, and the latest killer robot themed mystery. As Benny and the Master (played by Sam Kisgart) find a mutual connection, it’s time for the universe to be saved, or not. The Master is back, despite having seemed defeated and killed (but of course), and alien technology brings it’s own threat and promise of salvation.
There’s an ending, a resolution, and also some surprises.
First let’s take it as read that Lisa Bowerman, David Warner and Sam Kisgart are wonderful in this, and Scott Handcock’s direction is as spot on as ever. There are great parts galore, from Samantha Béart (who is now in several titles), through Hattie Hayridge and just about every one else. Even characters only present for one story feel vibrant, and the set is packed full of great moments.
Roll on the next set!