This is a slightly unexpected box set in many ways: I’d thought the New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield were going to try to emulate the Virgin New Adventures from their heyday in the 1990s, with the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice adventuring side by side. I’d also thought that the long-delayed Masters of War would sadly be the last time we heard David Warner’s alternate Third Doctor, introduced in the Unbound range’s Sympathy for the Devil. However, neither is the case: switching away from the McCoy/Aldred/Bowerman trio has put Bowerman’s Benny firmly back at the centre of her own series, particularly given the reworking that’s been given to Warner’s Doctor.
This isn’t quite the Doctor we heard in the earlier two stories – in the same way that the McCoy of the TV Movie isn’t the man of Time and the Rani or the Tom Baker of Logopolis isn’t the same as the one in Robot. A great deal of time has elapsed and there’s been a terrible war, in which Warner’s Doctor played an important part so this Time Lord’s natural caution that was shown earlier has been magnified, and makes a good contrast to Benny. That becomes clearer the further we go into the set, with very different outlooks dictating their actions, particularly in the two middle, standalone tales.
The set starts with James Goss’s The Library in the Body, and concludes with Emma Reeves’ The Emporium at the End, which form an effective two-parter with many of the same characters appearing. Both are twists on familiar Doctor Who tropes (for the inspiration, listen to Goss’ comments in the extras – there was something nagging at me during his story that didn’t click until he started discussing the overall idea), and Goss continues the clever use of language that characterised his Seventh Doctor/Sycorax story a few weeks back. Reeves captures Benny’s many different moods well, alongside providing a good return for Sam Kisgart – a reunion of Kisgart’s Manager, this Doctor and Benny is hopefully on the cards.
Guy Adams’ Planet X and Una McCormack’s The Very Dark Thing fill in some of the backstory to this universe, and again twist ideas from Doctor Who’s history. There’s plenty of humour in both – black in places – with great scenes between Warner and Julie Graham in Adams’, and astute flipping of moods in McCormack’s – as well as one of the more bizarre images to come out of the range ever!
Scott Handcock ensures the lunacy of some of the concepts never overwhelms the drama, aided by fine sound design by Richard Fox and Lauren Yason (although just occasionally Jamie Robertson’s enjoyable score is just a bit too high in the mix – something that’s happened enough times recently for it not to be a blip!).
Warner and Bowerman make a great pairing and I’m looking forward to seeing where producer Goss and the team take them next.
Verdict: All bets are off, which leads to a very enjoyable set of adventures. 8/10