Bernice Summerfield is still trapped in a dying universe with the wrong Doctor. Things have taken a turn for the worse – the Doctor has become President Of The Universe and, it turns out, he’s a controversial choice for the job. While Bernice works to unearth the mythical Apocalypse Clock, the Doctor’s immersed in the murky world of politics and the dark forces that are working against him… Today I’ll be reviewing the second story, Asking For A Friend.
Vast wars are raging across the stars, planets are dying, and the Doctor is sat on a psychiatrist’s couch. What’s it like to be the Doctor’s therapist?
The Doctor has gone to see a psychiatrist. Or, more accurately, a psychiatrist has gone to see the Doctor. And she wants his muffins. That’s not even a pun or a double-entendre. This is the Unbound universe, after all.
Now, I’ve never personally been counselled by a psychiatrist, so I’m not sure how accurate this portrayal is; but if it is accurate whatsoever, I’m glad I don’t go. I think I’d act like the Doctor if put into that scenario.
So, this story is quite timey-wimey in it’s nature. We start with the Doctor laid on a couch, and we’re quickly whisked into the heart of a raging war that the Doctor could have, but chose not to, prevent. Bernice, understandably is annoyed at the Doctor for his reckless actions.
…And back to the psychiatrist, and there’s a great psychoanalysis of the Doctor’s actions in that war. It’s really interesting to hear what the Doctor’s actions mean for his psyche. I’m only ten minutes into Asking For A Friend, and I can honestly say that this may be the best character assessment of the Doctor in Big Finish. Possibly ever. It’s not often that within the first act of a story I feel the compulsion to place a cap on my head so I can take it off, but James Goss may have taken the biscuit here. This is phenomenal.
Back to the Doctor ruling the universe, and he’s giving a press conference. Yet again, Big Finish seem to be making political statements in their work; and, to be honest, it’s hard not to with the political climate the way it is, especially in the UK and the US. A press conference with the Unbound Doctor could easily be a parody of the likes of Sean Spicer or Donald Trump himself, and, whilst there are certainly a few parallels, I think Goss managed to restrain himself just the right amount for it to still appear Doctorlike.
What I love about this release is that we get to see the Doctor at his most vulnerable and at his most powerful. We see him act like a God and like an infant. We see him be compassionate and be cold. It’s great that an actor with a calibre like David Warner is able to flex his muscles in a release like this.
Around halfway into Asking For A Friend, Bernice gets the chance to meet up with the psychiatrist, and as you can probably imagine, that opens up a whole other can of worms.
I know earlier in the review I talked about giving David Warner something to sink his teeth into, and I have to say, the scene when the Doctor has had a few too many “tonic waters” is absolutely hilarious, and works as an audio amuse bouche in this story. A little bit of something different to cleanse your pallet.
One thing I’d never really thought about before was the Unbound universes version of the Time War, whatever that may have been, and Asking For A Friend answers that unasked question somewhat. You can’t help but wonder if the Unbound Doctor is suffering from PTSD or something similar after you hear about it, and it really makes you empathise with this colder, alternate incarnation.
The final seven minutes of Asking For A Friend are brutally beautiful; James Goss manages to boil down what the Doctor is, who he represents and all he stands for in these final scenes. The Unbound Doctor seems to be most like the Ninth Doctor in the earliest adventures; he’s what I imagine the War Doctor would be like in the last day of the Time War. This is a well and truly broken man who’s attempting to do his best with the worst possible situation.
Overall, Asking For A Friend is really a character study of the Unbound Doctor, a look into his psychological state, into who he truly is, and I absolutely love it. David Warner may have given his best Big Finish performance in this release, and I genuinely believe that this story will go down as one of the greats, alongside Spare Parts, The Chimes of Midnight and How To Win Planets And Influence People. James Goss has written a beautifully simple and raw piece of drama, and I cannot commend him enough.
Should you want to purchase The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield 4: The Ruler of The Universe , it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £23 on CD or £20 for a digital download for a limited time.