Written by Nev Fountain, Una McCormack, Guy Adams, and James Goss
Directed by Scott Handcock
Starring: Lisa Bowerman (Professor Bernice Summerfield), Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks), Sheila Reid (Claire), and Terry Molloy (Davros)
Big Finish Productions – June 2014
The release of the box set Missing Persons in December 2013 seemed to bring the long-running audio adventures of former Virgin New Adventures companion Professor Bernice Summerfield to something of a conclusion, albeit a not entirely satisfying one for this listener. However this new boxset of four episodes which each dovetail neatly to form a very satisfying overall arc is very much a start of a new phase for Bernice or Benny as she prefers her friends to call her. Unlike the previous range of Boxsets which still carried a large amount of continuity baggage which Benny had accumulated over the course of the previous decade of audios, this set has dumped the other regular characters and presents us simply with an older version of Bernice who we are occasionally reminded has a family and friends. Unlike 2011’s Epoch, this really can be recommended as an ideal jumping on point for anyone who hasn’t heard any of the previous audio adventures. This set also sees her reunited with the Seventh Doctor and Ace with whom she travelled in the Virgin New Adventures novels two decades ago. However, it is Bernice who is the main protagonist throughout this box set with her erstwhile companions only making their presence felt at key intervals. Kudos then is due to Lisa Bowerman, who has been playing Benny on audio for 16 years now for making her such a continued joy to listen to.
The set opens with The Revolution by Nev Fountain. This is very much a comedic piece in the mould of some of the more whimsical of Benny’s past adventures opening with her getting drunk in a bar on the planet Arviem 2. The introduction into the preceedings of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, who has apparently lost track of both his TARDIS and mind leads to a number of comic mishaps which may grate a little on first hearing. Fountain later observes in the CD extras that even the Doctor has the capability to just be an annoying man in a hat sometimes although those who are not fans of McCoy’s more season 24-esque performances are duly warned to expect occasional over the top silliness. However the conclusion to the story seems to justify the means to which it is arrived at and so Benny is duly dispatched to search for Ace.
Goodnight Sweet Ladies by Una McCormack is possibly the highlight of this whole boxset. Pitching Benny into a situation where she ought to be at home and yet the reality of what’s really going on reminds just out of sight until it’s too late. The two guest stars for this story add to the atmosphere. John Finnemore is a genuinely likeable if somewhat useless companion but just as she has done on TV as Clara Oswald’s Gran, Sheila Reid steals every scene she’s in as the mysterious Claire whose role is central to this story.
Next up is Random Ghosts by Guy Adams. This changes the pace quite dramatically as Benny is reunited with Ace on the Forbidden World where time is not running correctly. The device of events jumping around in time is not a new one for audio plays but it certainly seems some time since Big Finish last produced a play that did so this memorably (The examples of 2003’s Creatures of Beauty and 2004’s The Natural History of Fear come to mind). Some listeners may find the continual jump cuts between scenes and varying outcomes of conversations slightly hard work but the conclusion is a worthwhile one and despite seeming obvious given the clues we’ve had previously still manages to seem surprising at the same time.
The set concludes with The Lights of Skaro by James Goss. Whilst this set has been very much centred on Benny, this final story pitches her firmly back into the world of Doctor Who with Daleks around every corner and even a fleeting cameo from Davros. There are some clever revelations and if you’ve survived some of the topsy-turvier moments of the first three stories you’ll be well rewarded in this finale. Possibly the best thing about this set is that is has allowed some fresh storytelling from writers who are not regulars at the Big Finish stable. It is to be hoped that this new phase of Benny’s return to the worlds of Doctor Who will continue for the foreseeable future under new range producer James Goss (whose track record includes having produced some great audios for the BBC Doctor Who and Torchwood ranges). This listener is very much looking forward to The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume 2: The Triumph of Sutekh.