When last we saw Bernice Summerfield…things and stuff had happened. I don’t know what, exactly, because I haven’t listened to those stories yet (though I did just get them the other day). See, there’s a gap in my Bernice learning. I’ve listened to her first two stories (here and here), and read Love and War way back in the day. I’ve also heard her in three stories in Big Finish’s Doctor Who line (here, here and here). So basically I jumped from her very earliest stuff to some of the middle, and now to the most recent.
But that’s ok, because Big Finish is just good enough that I was able to keep up with what was going on without any problem. For example, I learned from listening here that she has a son who is part dog…alien…thingy. That’s him on the cover. The one with the puppy eyes and dogged look on his face (u c what i did there). I also learned that she’s traveling with someone named Ruth, about whom I know very little, but I’m willing to bet it’s not the same Ruth I’ve written about before.
Anyhow, this boxed set contains what I think of as two-and-one-quarter Bernice stories. You see, there’s the first one, which is clearly a Bernice Summerfield story and oodles of fun. The third one is also a Bernice story. But the second…well, we’ll get to that in due time. Let’s take each of these in turn.
1. VESUVIUS FALLING
Written by Tony Lee
Directed by Gary Russell
Featuring Andrew Hayden-Smith, Kai Owen and Jennie Stoller
Things aren’t going great for Bernice Summerfield. Her one time comrade-cum-adversary, Irving Braxiatel, isn’t the man she knew; her long-lost teenage son, Peter, isn’t exactly pleased to see her; and she’s woken up with one hell of a hangover…
But when an ancient and dormant spacecraft threatens the safety of Legion City, Bernice and Peter have to put their differences aside in order to investigate an inexplicable mystery involving time-travelling scientists, corporate espionage and simple, cold-blooded murder…
Can Benny discover the true killer before a warp core breach destroys them all? Can a five thousand-year-old body solve a murder yet to happen? And will the Vesuvius fall to the planet below…?
So this was a great story! It really had everything I wanted. It established Bernice and Ruth on Legion, established the planet of Legion itself, gave us a bit of a look at what ole Irving Braxiatel is up to these days, and introduced us to Bernice’s son, Peter. It also gave us a great murder mystery story and a wonderful sci-fi story about a spaceship that’s going to crash into a planet and wreak massive havoc. This is all good and wonderful.
This story is made even better by guest stars Kai Owen, best known for playing Rhys on Torchwood and Andrew Hayden-Smith, best known for looking like this:
I really liked this story, and if Peter’s occasionally whinny, “I’m a rebellious teenager who doesn’t get along with his mum!” shtick got a bit old at times, and certainly wasn’t original, it was at least entertaining thanks to Thomas Grant’s acting skills. I also liked that the plot resolution didn’t feel at all rushed or cheap.
2. SHADES OF GRAY
Written and Directed by Scott Handcock
Featuring Richard Franklin and Alexander Vlahos
‘They used to say this house attracts nothing but evil… What are we all doing here, I wonder?’
Many years ago, in an old and dilapidated house, a priceless and powerful artefact was hidden: an item that has long since been forgotten… at least until Bernice, Ruth and Jack were sent to collect it.
In the depths of Triptic House, Bernice and her friends find themselves at the mercy of an ancient and ruthless entity, one that has been yearning for escape, biding its time and going mad…
It has lived so very long now, with so many stories to share – tales of haunted mental institutions; tormented tapestries; living nightmares – and through each of them now, its stories shall be told. They shall be told, lived, suffered, shared… and ultimately, concluded.
Did you know that Big Finish has a line of stories featuring Oscar Wilde’s creation, Dorian Grey, coming up soon? If you didn’t know it, you’d certainly wonder why there’s an entire Bernice Summerfield story that’s actually a set of stories about him. If you did know it, you’d likely be somewhat annoyed that out of only three Bernice stories in this set, pretty much 1/3 is taken up by stories about Dorian Grey.
That said, as a taste of things to come with the Dorian Grey line, this was quite interesting. Alexander Vlahos does a very good job with the character and the stories themselves were entertaining. Plus it’s always nice to have Richard Franklin (best known for playing Mike Yate during the Third Doctor’s era), doing things with Big Finish.
I really haven’t any other thoughts about this story, other than the fact that I found the title somewhat amusing, since my mind kept inserting the number 50 before it.
3. EVERYBODY LOVES IRVING
Written by Miles Richardson
Directed by Gary Russell
Featuring Cameron Blakely, Matt Butcher and Andrew Macklin
Bernice and Braxiatel have never quite seen eye-to-eye… but now he wants to make amends. He’s taking her on a leisure drive across Legion’s deadly surface to an Ikerian settlement not far from Legion City. Their mission: shopping.
The Ikerians are renowned traders, dealing in everything from the finest art to cut-price battlecruisers. They’re willing to do a good deal too. After all, they know Irving Braxiatel of old… and better than this Brax knows himself.
Everywhere they go and everyone they deal with, Braxiatel’s reputation precedes him. He has good friends and even better enemies… but one thing’s for certain. Everybody loves Irving.
Written By: Tony Lee, Scott Handcock, Miles Richardson
Directed By: Gary Russell and Scott Handcock
This final story was less of a story than it was a setup for greater things. There were a lot of things happening here, but it was mostly pieces being moved around for the next stage of the game. Without giving too much away, I did find the revelation about Peter’s love interest to be a little cliche, but still intriguing, especially if my guess about what’s going on proves to be accurate. I also enjoyed Miles Richardson playing Braxiatel, whom I’ve also enjoyed hearing in the Gallifrey line of Big Finish audios.
But really, aside from a lot of character development, which is, mind you, never a bad thing, there just wasn’t a lot of plot. I’m ok with that, though. I don’t mind an extensive amount of setup provided that the payoff is good, and given that this is Big Finish, I’m sure the payoff will be great indeed.
How do I rate this set overall? That’s a tough one. The first story was 5 stars, no doubt. The third was probably more like 3.5. I liked it fine, but given that it was mostly setup, the quality of it will be influenced by the payoff down the line. As for the second…
Here we have a problem. I liked “Shades of Grey”. But it wasn’t a Bernice story, not really. It arguably did not belong in this set. Big Finish should have released it as a stand-alone title for, say, five bucks, rather than taking up precious space in this set. Like I said, I did enjoy it, but its presence here does have to subtract from the overall score.
So in the final analysis, I’ll have to give this one four stars. It’s a solid four, mind you, and that’s certainly better than what a lot of other things out there in the world have earned (looking squarely at you, Prometheus…what a stupidly portentous name for that ship. Why didn’t they just call it the USS Hubris and be done with it?). I feel that I can easily recommend it even to people who are new to the Bernice line, though listening to some of her earlier stuff would help. If you don’t mind a 60 minute advert for the Dorian Grey line, this is a wonderful set and one that I very much liked.