Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 9/25/17 8:59 pm
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In the second story of The Ruler of the Universe, the Doctor (David Warner) is in therapy. Sent by his friend Benny (Lisa Bowerman), the Doctor has acquired the services of Guilana (Annette Badland) to help him get to the bottom of his issues. The Doctor is giving it a go, because he wants his friend back, but before his time in therapy is up, the Doctor and Guilana's lives will be forever changed. Asking for a Friend is a rare, brilliant, emotional story. Much of the story is brilliant, but it's the latter parts of the story that really drive this story home as one of the most emotional stories for a Doctor, in any realty, and really sells Warner as the Doctor. Daivd Warner is perfect as the Doctor here, while his companion Bernice takes more of a side role here, compared to the previous story. Annette Badland is more of a companion here as therapist Guilana, bouncing off the Doctor very well here. By far, the best part of this release is the extremely tragic story by James Goss, one that gives some insight into the Doctor's character, showing both the good and the bad of his character.
David Warner stars in this release as his Unbound Version of the Doctor. Warner has been around for ages, appearing in any number of stories, including many Doctor Who stories over the years for Big Finish. When Big Finish gave him a starring role as a jaded, self-absorbed version of the Doctor all those years ago in Sympathy for the Devil, his performance there is what sold it. Warner shares a lot in common with Pertwee's performance, and even now, 14 years on, Warner is still as brilliant as he was when he first appeared as the Doctor. This story, more than any other with this Doctor, really touches upon the core of this Doctor, and indeed all Doctors. There are two scenes in this story that really make this story so great, and one of them is Warner's Doctor talking about how he ignores the voice in his head telling him he could do more and save more people, because if he did, he'd go insane. Warner sells the hell out of this moment, with shades of 12's speech about the Time War and the horrors of it from The Zygon Inversion in his performance. It's a brilliant, tragic moment, and Warner is able to convey the horror and loss of his Doctor, and the constant, drumming guilt he feels at every turn from his actions. It's a rare moment of candor from the Warner Doctor, and Warner sells the absolute hell out of it.
Joining Warner in this set is guest star Annette Badland, as the Doctor's therapist, Guilana. Badland is a joy as the Guilana, especially the arc she travels with her character. Early on in the play, Guilana is jovial, prone to puns and annoying jokes, and seems at ease with the Doctor. It's really only when the Doctor surprises her, and asks her about her past when her facade slips a bit, and you get to see hints that she has scars, much like the Doctor. Badland mimics that with her performance, creating a character who is almost trying a little too hard to make sure everyone sees how happy she is, and seems unsure when someone calls her out and shows her she's not. But by far, the best part is her journey of sneaking suspicion towards the Doctor; while her character starts suspecting that the Doctor might be interfering with her life, Badland is able to inject little hints at her character's feelings into her performance as the story goes on, but not enough to spoil anything about her suspicions. It's a nuanced, careful performance, and Badland does a phenomenal job with it throughout.
James Goss' story is absolutely fantastic, marrying a rather tragic insight into the Doctor's inner workings with an insight to the more sinister side of the Doctor's inner workings. Much of this story is a framing device for an adventure between Benny and the Doctor, where they go to try and convince the ruler of that planet that they are in grave danger from the end of the universe, and that they will be completely wiped out if they don't escape their planet. I quite like this story, as it goes hand-in-hand with the story the Doctor is going through with his therapist, and it really works to enhance the story. But the best parts from this story come from two sources. One I mentioned above, which is the insight into the Doctor's tragedy, and thus his character. The other aspect is a similar insight, but this time into a darker, more sinister aspect of the Doctor's personality. The story ends with Badland's Guilana confronting the Doctor over his tampering with her timeline; turns out, the Doctor, wishing to help her out as repayment for her kindness, has been slowly tweaking her timeline to help her. He saves her lover, and then he gives her the life she deserved. But the issue is, Guilana recognizes this, and begins to question her life, only to install temporal protection units in her office, and then confronts the Doctor. Her timeline has been manipulated by the Doctor without her knowledge, to make her life better yes. But she recognizes that these aren't the real things; in a particularly brutal moment, she cries that she has kids that don't belong to her. The Doctor's attitude to this is flippant and gruff, almost asserting that she doesn't have any agency of her own to make this choice. It's a dark ending to the story, though Goss does try and make up for it by having the Doctor eventually save the entire planet before it can be destroyed by the death of the universe. But that dark moment stands in contrast to everything the Doctor is, making me question what kind of brilliant arc Goss and Adams have planned out for this set.
Overall, Asking for a Friend is so far the highlight of the set, with a tragic and twisted look at the psyche of the Doctor. Warner is on top form throughout the set, giving a perfect, brilliant, and, at times, tragic performance that matches the story from top to bottom so well. His costar Annette Badland too does a fantastic job, especially towards the latter half of the story. Goss' story is a brilliant tale that gives a lot of insight into the tragic and the twisted aspects of the Doctor's personality, handling both effortlessly, and giving a lot more character to Warner's Doctor. If this trend of excellent stories continues, this could be the best The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield box set yet.