We’re going Unbound this week, as we go into a totally different and anarchic universe; luckily we’re not alone, as Bernice Summerfield, an archaeologist in space and arguably a version of River Song before River Song is also hurled into the unknown. Even though the universe has no rules, I do, so as normal, we’re starting with the first story in the box set, The Library In The Body.
In a dying reality knowledge is the only thing left of value – and the Kareem have come to destroy it. Can Bernice, the Doctor save the last library?
Considering it’s a long running science fiction show, Doctor Who doesn’t normally do parallel universes all that much. Sure, we had Inferno and Rise of The Cybermen and Age of Steel, but really, that’s about it. This week though, Big Finish is whisking us away to the Unbound Universe, last visited in 2008, where David Warner is an alternate version of the third incarnation of the Doctor. This Third Doctor has a fully operational TARDIS, hasn’t been exiled to Earth and is free to roam the cosmos. What will happen when he meets a brilliant archeologist in the form of Bernice Summerfield? We’re about to find out…
The story starts with Bernice giving a lecture about an old pot, when the Doctor shows up, materialising in his TARDIS like the Doctor does. Of course, because Benny and the Doctor have an extremely long history with one another, she’s grown accustomed to this kind of behaviour. The Doctor that exits the TARDIS isn’t a face that she’s familiar with, and he quickly explains that he’s the “wrong one”. Within 90 seconds of the story, Bernice has already been whisked away by the Doctor meaning that an adventure can begin. I love it when we don’t spend too long getting introduced before the meat of the story is given to us.
The Unbound Doctor’s universe is dying; an effect of ‘The Great War’ (which is probably the Unbound universes version of the Time War) and the Doctor was hoping that Bernice could anchor him to her very much still alive universe. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to tell you that it didn’t work, and now both the Doctor and Benny are trapped in a dying reality…
After the amazing alternate version of the titles, we get a bit of backstory of the Doctor’s involvement in the Great War, or lack thereof. I can’t help but wonder if the whole idea of a Doctor who was too reluctant to fight came about as a parallel to John Hurt’s War Doctor. The Doctor explains to Benny that the whole of this universe is suffering from a galactic hangover from the Great War; everyone’s minds are fuzzy and nobody can quite remember what exactly happened or how it happened.
One of the character traits of our universes Doctor is that he isn’t afraid of stepping into situations and trying to make them better where he can; the Unbound Doctor on the other hand admits that he’s much more cautious and likes to stay on the sidelines as much as possible. Having a character like Bernice Summerfield paired up with a Doctor who isn’t particularly fond of getting involved is absolute genius.
It’s not long before the Doctor and Bernice ‘Adventure’ Summerfield are headed towards the most interesting thing in the universe; a library. The last beacon of knowledge and now a very popular destination. Once the Doctor and Benny arrive at the library, they’re rubbing shoulders with a great mix of species from across the universe, all wanting books and knowledge, from works of classic literature to repair manuals; the library seems to have it all.
Of course, it’s not really a Doctor Who story unless you have a group of rather unique nuns, and The Library In The Body is no exception. The nuns are part of the Sisterhood of Beadlix and are looking for a copy of their hymns; the Mother Superior, played by Rowena Cooper (who also played Queen Victoria in The Victorian Age) is by far one of the most over the top and brilliant performances that I’ve heard in any Big Finish release.
After we’ve been introduced to some space nuns and a modest librarian, we’re introduced to the baddies of this story, the Kareem, a race that believes that knowledge is evil and it’s what triggered the Great War so wishes to irradiate anything that will help you learn. I knew a few people at school who could have quite easily been part of the Kareem.
Not all is as it seems in the library though, as even then the nuns have offered to take the entire collection to one of their vaults to keep it safe from Kareem attack, the librarian is adamant that the collection of books must stay in the library, no matter what the cost. Someone is pricing up all of the books ready for sale and there’s been a murder (if you imagine that last line in a Scottish accent, it’s much better.)
Something that I didn’t really consider before listening to The Library In The Body was that, in this Unbound universe the traditional roles of the Doctor and the companion have been somewhat switched. The Doctor is now far more inclined to not get involved and stay out of trouble, whereas Bernice is the one coming up with all of the plans and executing them. It’s really nice for Bernice to be partnered with a Doctor where she’s arguably more in control of a situation than he is.
We learn about the Doctor’s promotion, and why it seems that everyone in the universe knows who he is; the only thing is, this promotion only came about because he acted so un-Doctorlike. It really makes you wonder if you should like this version of the Doctor or not, which is an absolutely stellar moral dilemma to have.
I must admit that the Kareem really reminded me of the Judoon, in the sense that they are a collective of people with a common belief, and nothing will get in their way to ensure that they’re point of view is treated as truth. I just hope that they’re used throughout the box set, otherwise their sense of menace will sadly be depleted .
Even though this story really sets up how different the Unbound Doctor is to this universes, the ending really reminds you that, as his hearts, he’s the same man; giving as many people as he can a happy ending. How Doctor-like is that?
Overall, I rather enjoyed this story, it seems to set up this new dynamic of Bernice and the Unbound Doctor really well; introduces the fundamental backbone of this dying universe and really showcases how silly Doctor Who can be. The Library In The Body is a great script from James Goss, which when performed exceptionally well and with brilliant sound design from Richard Fox and Lauren Yelson, and an exceptional musical accompaniment from Jamie Robertson, it’s hard not to enjoy this story.
Should you want to purchase The Library In The Body, it’s currently available as part of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume 3: The Unbound Universe box set from Big Finish which can be purchased here for £20.00 for either the CD or the download.