Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield volume 4
Ruler of the Universe: Asking for a Friend
written by James Goss
I do like a good psychiatrist's couch story. One of my favourite Spider-Man stories ever is that Ultimate Spider-Man issue with Aunt May going to therapy. Genuinely, one of the best stories in that entire run. Anyway, this time its David Warner's Doctor (aka President of the Universe) on the couch.
This is also one of those box set stories that does the mini-episodes thing to give you an idea of the status quo before, presumably, blowing it all to hell. Its not quite as good as having the actual room to craft a status quo but its probably as good as the box set format is ever going to give us. BF no longer have the freedom (whether by choice or commercial reality) to spend season after season crafting a setting like the Braxiatel Collection so here we are with the Doctor's therapy sessions interspersed with mini-adventures as he holds passive-aggressive press conferences, gets drunk with Benny and foils robot invasions.
Now those ones, those are the fun ones, the ones that feel like the Doctor and Benny having adventures like the old days. There are other ones, of course, darker ones that get to the heart of what the last story began to hint at: the slow erosion of the Doctor's character under the pressures of ruling a dying universe. He's in a position where he has to deal with dictators diplomatically instead of just toppling them and letting others deal with the consequences. As the Doctor says himself he's never been one for consequences or sequels but that's all he has to think about as president.
Speaking of which, I liked (and this is MAJOR SPOILERS TERRITORY) that as the story goes along the therapist seems more and more sinister but that gets turned entirely on its head. In fact the therapist even has a chance to reinforce some actual (albeit brief) insight into how this should go if the Doctor were actually serious about the whole therapy thing: he can't cheat. He uses the TARDIS to go to his sessions out of order, to try to skip to the end and his therapist calls him on it.
Speaking of consequences, we get a small glimpse of whatever passed for the Time War in the Warner continuity, one that proves even more terminal to the Time Lords than the television one. Walking through the ruins of Gallifrey we get perhaps the best glimpse into this Doctor's psychology we've had to date as he yells to the heavens the one thing he's wanted to say to the Time Lords since “the Great War” broke out:
“I TOLD YOU SO!”
Its a bleak story, all told. There's hope in there and wins for the Doctor but at the end it the impression that he's lost his way, always a running theme of the Unbound stories, is stronger than its ever been. He seems less to mourn the Time Lords than resent their absence because of how it puts responsibility on him. He interferes in a woman's life without her consent as a “nice gesture” and utterly destroys her sense of self.
Ultimately the therapy storyline calls out a lot of problems with this Doctor (and the Doctor as a larger entity, Warner has never been a better stand-in for “Benny's” Doctor than he is here) and even some of the issues Benny has been wrestling with. Halfway through a box set isn't the time for answers and I hope some of this gets addressed as we hurtle towards The End.
Next Episode: Ruler of the Universe: Truant