Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield volume 4
Ruler of the Universe: Truant
written by Guy Adams
(Okay, there's no way around it, this one is ALL SPOILERS ALL THE TIME. The only way to address anything that's interesting about this story is to talk about the high concept revelation at the centre of it and the conclusion so be thee warned...)
I think this story pretty much had to be a comedy because if it were played totally straight it would just be horrible. That said, its an idea that I've always wanted to see some sort of take on and maybe some day someone will have a chance to do it seriously but it sure as hell isn't going to be as a one hour audio story in the middle of a quite comedic box set.
You see, the big revelation of the story is that the planet the Doctor thinks is being invaded was actually invaded decades ago by shapeshifters who long ago replaced the native population and their descendants are now living perfectly normal, peaceful lives with office jobs, families and the like.
This is the story about the aftermath of an almost one hundred percent successful genocide.
Its also a comedy. The whole format of the story is the Doctor skipping through the collapsing universe looking for an enemy to fight, an invasion to stop, a war to prevent, something fun to do instead of endless meetings and politics. He storms in on potential confrontations only to be disappointed by the fact that now everyone knows who he is no one wants to take the chance of trying to fight him. When he finally does find someone who wants to lock him up he even heckles them, wondering “Whatever happened to death threats as art?” and insisting they don't deserve his A game.
Could this subject be handled seriously? Absolutely, just not here where the writers are pressed for time and don't really have the chance to go into all the messy details of the situation.
The ending is at least satisfying with the Doctor failing to bring the situation to any real resolution and Benny offering what little redemption she can to the current inhabitants of the world. It would perhaps have worked a little better if the invasion were further in the past, instead the planet's governor says these are the crimes of their “parents and grandparents” so, logically, people who are still alive to punish.
I don't mean to sound down on this one, its a lot of fun. The comedy works right up to and including the darker ending and the theme of the Doctor trying to evade his responsibilities to do something meeaningful works. Benny is, as ever, a delight as she first chases the Doctor across the universe and then ends up dragged into his little joyride.
I just can't help but wonder at what the straight version of this story would be and hope we get to find out some day.