Big Finish Review – Doctor Who – “The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield”


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A new five-disc box set featuring the adventures of archaeologist Bernice Summerfield and her friends the Doctor and Ace!

The Revolution by Nev Fountain

On the planet of Arviem 2, Bernice Summerfield has a lot of problems. Pursued by robots, maniacs and miracles, she has another issue to contend with. The Doctor’s come looking for her – and he’s not feeling himself.

Good Night, Sweet Ladies by Una McCormack

Bernice has come to the Moon of Adolin on a desperate mission. Instead, she finds an abandoned labyrinth, two confused survivors, and something ancient that needs her help.

Random Ghosts by Guy Adams

Welcome to the Forbidden World. This world has a secret. The problem is that no-one can remember what it is. Time is broken here. Those trapped here must live the same day over and over – forming alliances, lying to each other, trying to escape. Welcome to the Forbidden World.

The Lights of Skaro by James Goss

Bernice Summerfield is on Skaro, and she’s very much on her own. The Doctor can’t get to her, not this time. All Benny can do is stay alive for as long as possible. And, in a city full of Daleks, that’s not going to be very long.

Cast

Lisa Bowerman (Bernice Summerfield), Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks), Terry Molloy (Davros), John Finnemore(Steven), Miles Jupp (Inquisitor Xavier), Matthew Gravelle (Klinus), Colin MacFarlane (Foster), Sheila Reid (Claire), Nicola Bryant (Professor Geller), Alex Jordan (Renk Van Magnastein), Amber Revah (Varna), Matthew Woodcock(Robots)

(special thanks to Big Finish for providing me with a review copy!)

Well, here we have the latest boxed set for Bernice Summerfield. If you don’t already know Bernice, you’re really missing out. She’s an intelligent, funny, enjoyable character. She’s an archaeologist, created in 1992 by Paul Cornell for his book Love and War. Since then, she proved popular enough to get her own series of books, and her own series of audios. And now here she is, back where she started, having adventures with the Seventh Doctor and Ace.

Of the four stories in this set, I feel that the first was the best. Nev Fountain turned in one of the funniest audios I’ve  heard in a long time, with McCoy taking every opportunity to ham it up, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s quite obvious that he hand a grand old time playing what is basically a stoned version of the Doctor. But he isn’t exactly the focus here. No, what we basically have is a Bernice Summerfield story, with her special companion, the Doctor! And I’m fine with that. It’s right that she should be at the forefront, as after all, the set is called The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.

The story also gives us a look at what militant atheists might be like, if such creatures existed. As an atheist myself, I found this vastly amusing. We also got an entertaining bartender, and those are always fun. We didn’t get much of Ace, but that’s ok, because she turns up again later.

The second story in the set is also good, largely because of John Finnemore (best known from Cabin Pressure), who turns in another amusing performance here. The story itself isn’t all that great, but there is one scene that must get special attention, and that’s a beautiful scene with Bernice and…another entity that I can’t identify because spoilers. But it’s a wonderful moment not only for the character of Bernice, but also for Lisa Bowerman, who proves that she really should be getting more work as an actress. She makes the scene entirely compelling and fascinating, and handles the emotional content of it extremely well.

The third story in the set was…well, it was what it was. Call it Groundhog Day in Space. I really didn’t get into this story. The whole “repeating timelines and non-linear story flow” doesn’t always work as well in audio as it does in more visual mediums. I’m not saying it was bad here, but it didn’t work as well as it could have. Also, while I liked the character of Klinus well enough, I didn’t quite get how it was that Bernice developed such strong feelings for him instantly. It seemed like a bit of a stretch that kind of reminded me of Love and War, where Ace fell in love with someone in pretty much the same unconvincing fashion.

This story was very much the weak point of the set, and I’d almost suggest skipping it, except that it sets us up for the fourth story. And that fourth story is…well, a bit confusing at times. Again, it features some non-linear flow, and jumping of time, but not nearly as much as the previous story. It also has a slow build, and while the payoff in the third act is totally worth it, that payoff feels like its a long time coming.

Now that said, the story does do some impressive work. It ties together the history of the Daleks from several different stories, including The Daleks, The Evil of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks and other sources. It gives us a real hard look at the Emperor Dalek, shows us how the Doctor might have been the cause of the Daleks spreading out among the universe, and does something I’d have never thought possible: it actually humanizes the Daleks a bit. Oh, they’re still a horrible race of horrible creatures, but we get the impression it didn’t have to be that way.

The story also follows up on one of the more interesting elements of the Cartmel Masterplan, and shows us a bit of Ace’s life after the Doctor left her on Gallifrey to become a Time Lord. I liked that, but the way it was handled here almost didn’t work. It did in the end, but it came very close to not.

Overall this was a very good set. A solid B, a great four out of five stars. The performances by everyone, especially Lisa Bowerman, were very good. I really did love that first story, and I hope Fountain (who also wrote the excellent Mervyn Stone audio story, The Axeman Cometh), gets more work from Big Finish. It is those performances and that writing that really pushes this set up a notch, because to be honest, the third story was incredibly weak, the second was kind of “meh”, and all be the third act of the last story kind of dragged. But because of those performances and that writing, I don’t hesitate to recommend this set. It is well-worth your time and money.

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