Doctor Who - The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield - Vol 4: Ruler of the UniverseBookmark and Share

Sunday, 16 September 2018 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Doctor Who - The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield - Vol 4: Ruler of the Universe
Director: Scott Handcock

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: September 2017

Running Time: 5 hours

 “Well, you did find something! So what’s the problem?”

“You are, Mr President! You are!”

“Don’t call me that – you know I hate being called that! I’m the Doctor ...”

“No, that’s the problem, you’re not – not anymore!”

The “Unbound” Doctor and Bernice Summerfield


As this month marks 20 years since Professor Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) made her audio debut with Big Finish, it seems only fitting ahead of BF’s birthday celebrations for Benny later this month to review her most recent set of adventures which occurred in a parallel, “Unbound” universe.

In Volume 3 of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, Benny found herself stranded in another universe with a completely different version of her (and our favourite) Time Lord – one of the “Unbound” Doctors (brilliantly portrayed by veteran David Warner). To compound matters, this variation on the Doctor Who universe (or Whoniverse) was on the brink of total collapse.

When Volume 4 opens, Bernice has returned to her roots and is undertaking an archaeological dig on an ancient world, hoping to uncover evidence of the Apocalypse Clock, a mythical device that could halt this universe’s imminent demise. The Doctor, meanwhile, has resumed his role as president of the universe (after initially shunning the responsibility) and is finding himself increasingly burdened in the day to day affairs of state – much to his and Summerfield’s chagrin. He is therefore happy to visit Benny to inspect her progress on the dig as a little bit of PR and to escape the trappings of office.

The City and the Clock, the opening instalment in this quadrilogy, is the straightest and most conventional of the four serials which are, for the most part, quite satirical and madcap. Unfortunately, it’s also a quite plain drama, lacking the tension and suspense that you would associate with a tale about mummified, undead creatures stalking the ruins of their ancient city at night. Indeed, if it weren’t for the introduction of the infamous clock that is a recurring theme in the box set, the story would be redundant.

It’s saying something when the memorable moments of this play are the cleverly written dialogue, exchanges and interplay between Benny and the Doctor (“What possible interpretation of the words ‘first’ and ‘class’ include having Karfel’s Next Top Model played at you? I wanted to confess five minutes in and I hadn’t done anything!”). A balloon ride over the ancient ruins also has Warner’s Doctor waxing philosophically:

The Doctor: It puts things in perspective, rather doesn’t it? Seeing it from up here – a whole ancient town, once a thriving community, people living lives, sleeping, eating, loving and dying under all those roofs and then …

Benny: The dust of ages, layer by layer, burying it from sight …

The Doctor: You’d think travelling in time, I’d get used to it – the idea that we’re all nothing more than temporary fixtures, walking bones, but I don’t! Everything we’re doing at the moment – all the plans, all the panic, all the meetings, everyone thinks it’s important because nothing’s ever more real than now. The people that lived down there thought the same thing – look where it’s got them! Nothing matters, not really. We’re all just waiting for the dust to bury us!

Benny: Well, I’m so glad you popped by – you’ve cheered me up no end!

Otherwise, aside from terrific dialogue, the plotline of The City and the Clock – and the premise behind the clock – is entirely forgettable. It’s a pity because writer Guy Adams clearly devises the story to put Benny back into her element – yet the tale, which is slow from the get-go, never builds to a dramatic crescendo, and Benny doesn’t get to employ the smarts that make her such a terrific archaeologist.

Strangely, after the “drama” of the first instalment, Asking for a Friend is a more character-based and pensive piece, as Benny and the Doctor grapple with the dilemmas of having to make compromises in a dying universe to save the hundreds of civilisations that fall outside the clock’s sphere of influence. This includes diplomacy with tyrants and zealots, and false promises to the needy. Indeed, Benny’s disappointment in the Doctor is apparently so great that at her suggestion the Time Lord ends up seeing a therapist (played by the wonderfully ebullient Annette Badland, famous for her portrayal in the first season of the modern TV series as the Slitheen Margaret Blaine). Of course, conducting therapy sessions with someone as complicated and self-absorbed as the Doctor is never going to be easy (he himself remarks it’s like “a mosquito scratching at a continent”!) – and that’s before you factor in time travel as well!

James Goss, the other writer of this boxset, provides a quite compelling tête-à-tête between Guilana the therapist and the Time Lord, as they verbally spar to pry sensitive information from the other. Attention to detail is required of the listener, as each new session between the two hints at subtle, new elements from the last scene between them (in the CD extras, Goss admits that he has “borrowed” an idea from former executive producer Steven Moffat that he used not just once but twice – notably in the TV serial A Christmas Carol, and a short story called Continuity Errors from way back in 1996!). When the consequences of these sessions finally come to a head, it is only then that you perhaps fully appreciate just how alone and isolated – and hopelessly disconnected – the Doctor must be in this – and in any other – universe.

In turn, put a solitary character like the Doctor in charge of executive government, and it’s little wonder that in the next serial Truant, he returns to his adventuring of old. The pre-titles sequence to this third instalment is highly amusing, as the Doctor’s attempts at heroics against amateurish evildoers and ne’er-do-wells are thwarted by their cowardice and his own reputation for being a champion (“Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Is there nobody with a backbone in this stupid universe?” he moans at one point).

Even when the Doctor eventually encounters a conspiracy he can get his teeth into, much to his frustration he realises he has arrived too late to overturn the appalling wrong that has been inflicted. Nevertheless, Truant is one of the highlights of the set, mixing the right levels of drama and humour, as the Doctor and Benny evade unprofessional and sloppy villains in the Silvans, who are as much incidental victims of the conspiracy historically as their purported victims. Only in Doctor Who could the titular hero convincingly pull off a getaway by stealing not only a vehicle but its effusive driver as well – or “interrogate” the chief villain over coffee and chocolate biscuits! Guy Adams’ script is probably still a little too wacky for TV, but it suits the BF audio format perfectly.

The boxset closes with The True Saviour of the Universe, as the Doctor upon his return to parliament is arrested and thrust into impeachment proceedings. Much to Benny’s suspicion, the arrest coincides with the sudden arrival of this universe’s incarnation of the Master (Sam Kisgart, aka Mark Gatiss) and the emergence of a hooded figure which has been offering parliamentarians incentives to oust the Doctor from office since the events of The City and the Clock. Are they connected? Does the Master have designs on the presidency, so he can hijack the Apocalypse Clock? James Goss’s clever script challenges and upturns all the listener’s expectations while poking fun at all of Doctor Who’s conventions.

Goss jokes that The True Saviour of the Universe is “a remake of Logopolis involving Cthulu and singing nuns” – which, despite sounding far-fetched, is an apt description. The Sisterhood of Beedlix, like the Logopolitans, can influence the fabric of the universe through songs and prayer that recite the power of numbers. The appearance of the “old ones” at the gateway to another universe at the climax is an old riff on the nineties New Adventures novels, which regularly pitted the Doctor and his companions, including Benny, against “ancient evils from the dawn of time” – to the point of overkill.

Further, Goss has fun challenging the many clichés that fans have come to associate with the Doctor and the Master over many decades. For example, when Benny asks the Master how he survived his execution at the Emporium in the closing chapter of the Vol 3 boxset, his response is simple yet curt - “Don’t be boring!” – a subtle nod to eighties Doctor Who, in which no explanation was ever given for the Master cheating death or escaping from tight scrapes. Other quotations and dialogue subtly homage Logopolis and The Daemons, as the Master seeks to harness the power of the “old ones” to seize control of the universe. Of course, the joke is very much on the Master – and in the most unexpected way …

The production qualities of this boxset, like next to all of BF’s input, is first class – as are the performances of the first tier and supporting casts. Warner and Bowerman are a fantastic Doctor/companion combo and Kisgart/Gatiss is charming, urbane and oily as the Master (although Gatiss has far too much fun as his Kisgart persona in the CD extras for my taste). The flirtatiousness of the Benny/Master combo also puts an unusual spin on the usual antagonism between Master and companion.

As mentioned above, Badland is outstanding as the Doctor’s therapist, while Catrin Stewart (Jenny Flint of the Paternoster Gang) puts in an understated appearance as the aide-de-camp to the wimpy Silvan leader (Jonathan Bailey). Most notably, Hattie Hayridge (better known as the female Holly in Red Dwarf) delivers a terrific performance as the Doctor’s press secretary, deftly diverting and deflecting the tough questions about her President’s leadership in exchanges with Guy Adams’ hard-hitting journalist.

Volume 4 of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield is an entertaining boxset which isn’t afraid to be tongue-in-cheek about Doctor Who’s conventions and show a strong sense of humour and fun. It isn’t constrained by the continuity of the regular series, so it can afford to be more audacious and satirical. This means it won’t necessarily be for every fan who prefers the more no-nonsense style of the TV series adventures, or even some of BF’s regular Doctor Who output – but if you’re a long-term fan of Benny (who as a character herself isn’t above taking the piss), then you’re in for a treat.

Indeed, the set ends on an upbeat note and with a paradox to boot. I won’t say what that paradox is (spoilers!) but if BF isn’t already sorely tempted to exploit the potential for a run-in with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor in the future, then clearly the company’s heart isn’t in the right place! We’ll perhaps have a better idea of how this oxymoron may be addressed later this month in Volumes 1 and 2 of the next Benny series The Story So Far.


GUIDE: Ruler Of The Universe - FILTER: - Doctor Who - Bernice Summerfield - Big Finish - Audio

Class: Vol 2 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 13 September 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Class - Volume Two (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish

First Released:  August 2018

Running Time: 3 hours

Like the first volume, Class vol 2 contains three stories each concentrating on a small number of the leads from the series, again set during the original television run.

Everybody Loves Reagan

Unfortunately this opening story I found to be the weakest in the set. Now it’s worth saying that every single one of these Class audios is a GEM and even a slightly weaker story such as this one is still of an incredibly high quality. In this particular tale, it’s Sophie Hopkins and her character of April who really gets to shine. The story tackles a lot of the traits of her character, introducing a figure who essentially usurps what April feels her position is, but seemingly more successfully. Whilst April believes this ‘Reagan’ is a genuine threat, the others think that she’s just being jealous. The problem with this story is that it falls victim to a lot of the pitfalls stories in this mold usually do. Namely, there’s a lot of people denying anything strange whilst April insists. After a while, it does admittedly get a little dull, though the resolution is interesting.

Now You Know…

Once again it is the second story that wins my affections. Now you Know is an incredibly touching little story that chooses to tackle, in some depth I might add, the issue of bullying. Tim Lengs script is incredibly powerful, mostly putting the alien machinations in the background, though not to the point that it no longer feels like an episode of class. His character of Peter Dillard (brought perfectly to life in a show-stealing performance by Anson Boon) is an incredibly touching piece of script writing and a wonderful piece of tragedy.  The two leads in this one are Tanya and Matteusz, an excellent choice to lead such a powerful tale given that they are arguably the two most underdeveloped in the entire series (not at all due to the excellent performances of Vivian Oparah and Jordan Renzo) and the characters interactions are a highlight.

In Remembrance

The third story is eagerly the most highly awaited being, as the name suggests, a sequel to Remembrance of the Daleks. For the most part, this is an adventurous romp, with plenty of Dalek action and lots of nods to the classic 1988 story that inspired it. On the other hand, this (far more than the previous sets Don’t Tell me you Love Me) is Quills story, and explores her character in a number of interesting dialogue sequences with the Dalek. Katherine Kelley is superb in these sequences, utilising the wonderful dialogue by Guy Adams to really get to the heart of who Quill is and what makes her tick. At the end, she still remains a mystery, but we’ve had one more privileged scratch beneath the surface. Greg Austin, on the other hand, is given far less to do, a shame, primarily as I thought he was astounding in the original series and without a doubt the highlight. Here he’s given a few amusing interactions but is mostly left to running up and down Coal Hill corridors. What of the stories two guest stars? Sophie Aldred and Nicholas Briggs? Well as always they are excellent, Aldred, in particular, relishing exploring her character a little more it seems. The score is also excellent, evoking the score of Remembrance at appropriate points. Unfortunately, the story itself is a little sluggish at points with a bit too much running around, though on the whole this is an excellent finale.


Following on from an excellent first box set, this second series has been another al round success. Featuring clever and inventive scripts, Class must rank among the best BF releases this year. Not only that but these new Class audios have demonstrated without a doubt that the show still has a lot of life left in it, bring on a BF continuation series is all I say!

Associated Products

GUIDE: Class - Volume Two - FILTER: - Class - Big Finish

Class: Vol 1 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Class - Volume One (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Roy Gill, Jenny T Colgan, Scott HandcockDirected By: Scott Handcock


Katherine Kelly (Miss Quill), Greg Austin (Charlie Smith), Fady Elsayed (Ram Singh), Sophie Hopkins (April MacLean), Vivian Oparah (Tanya Adeola), Jordan Renzo (Matteusz Andrzejewski), Rhys Isaac-Jones (Thomas Laneford), Deirdre Mullins (Mab), Lu Corfield (Marta Vanderburgh), Scott Haran (Jason Campbell), Joe Shire (Aubrey Khan), Jasmine M Stewart (The Mayor), Liz Sutherland-Lim (Alicia Yan), Gavin Swift (Boris). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer Scott HandcockScript Editor Scott Handcock, James GossExecutive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

The brainchild of celebrated young-adult author, Patrick Ness; Class is certainly one of the more unfortunate Doctor Who spin-offs. Something which I found to be a great shame as the series was full of solid ideas and the potential was clearly evident from the start. When Big Finish got the rights to do Class, I’m not sure if anyone was actually surprised but this reviewer was certainly pleased. I enjoyed Class upon first viewing it and although it was certainly flawed, the cast, characters and general aesthetic clearly had a lot more to give. This first series of two-box sets features individual stories, each concentrating on 2 or 3 characters. It’s an interesting but ultimately fruitful technique that results in some highly interesting character based material. 


The opener sets the tone for the series in style, concentrating on the characters of Ram Singh and April Maclean and taking many of its story beats from their character traits. So, the threat in this story is drawn from folk legends and stories (a particular passion of Aprils) but one that preys on a character’s ambition and manipulates them (Ram and his desire to be a football star). It’s clearly a well thought through story that manages to emphasise both of these characters weak spots and ambitions. Wonderfully it gives expansion to elements in the series, Ram and his robotic leg and his and Aprils relationship as a whole. The latter felt a little too quick in series and an element that perhaps more than any other needed a little bit more air-time. The two leads (Fady Elsayed and Sophie Hopkins) are wonderful here and recapture their characters as if they’d never been away. It also captures the same level of darkness as the show, namely in the character of Thomas Lainford played wonderfully Ryhs Isaac-Jones, who is as tragic as they come.

Life Experience

Easily the highlight of the series, Life Experience is a non-stop romp. Taking the scenario of a secret lab experimenting on creatures falling from the ‘tears’, when one gets loose and Ram and Tanya are amongst those trapped inside. There’s plenty of laughs and plenty of wonderful horror moments with dashing’s of gore and nastiness.  It may not provide the same level of character depth and exploration as the first and third story in this set but it’s a welcome break that demonstrates the versatility of the series. This story also features the largest guest cast in the entire set and it’s a superb collection of characters, all likable and amusing. I do hope that those who are able to return do in future installments, it would be a shame to waste such excellent characters and performers. A highlight was the performance of Lu Corfield, who puts in a wonderful guest appearance as the villainous Marta Vanderburgh. Her character makes an imposing but incredibly funny antagonist, delivering many of the wonderful moments of black humour that assist in making this story so enjoyable.

Don’t Tell me you Love me

Concentrating on the characters of Charlie, Matteusz and Miss Quill, Don’t Tell me you love me is easily the darkest and deepest story in the set. Scott Hancock has managed to create a multi-layered tale built around the simple premise of a parasite that enters a person’s mind and makes them unable to stop talking. The parasite then gets them to say things which may or may not be truths, resulting in interesting dynamics between Charlie and Matteusz when they start discussing aspects of their relationship. Throw into this mix the in dominatable Miss Quill played as always by Katherine Kelly and the result is a story that manages to explore all three characters, treat them equally and deliver an emotional packed punch in its ending. Unfortunately, the idea of a creature that makes its victims unable to stop talking does have…. some problems in the audio medium with characters talking on top of each other or without a break for minutes at a time sometimes getting a bit much through the headphones. Katherine Kelley, Greg Austin and Jordan Renzo are all excellent in this story and I’m intrigued to see more of them in vol 02.

The first volume of Class manages to be incredibly successful at telling one-off individual stories within the run of the original series. In choosing to do this by concentrating on only a small number of the leads at a time, they have been able to further these characters in a way the television series was never able too. What’s more, the stories chosen wonderfully exploit character traits and expand series plot points further. Not only this but the atmosphere of the television series is captured seamlessly. Highly recommended.

Associated Products

GUIDE: Class - Volume One - FILTER: - Class - Big Finish

Lady Christina: Series One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 5 September 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Lady Christina (Credit: Big Finish)
Director: Helen Goldwyn

Big Finish

First Released: August 2018
Running Time: 5 hours

I've always been indifferent about the character of Lady Christina De Souza, the one-off guest star from Planet of the Dead (the 2009 Easter Special) starring David Tennant.  I was never fond of that story, which to me always came off as a run of the mill average episode being touted as a big special in a year with a lot less Who.  I am often more forgiving of average Who stories when they are in the middle of a full year...but if you only get a few in a year, they all have to up their game.  The character of Lady Christina was definitely tied to this.  Michelle Ryan is charming, but the character always felt like someone overwritten to be the coolest person in town. Flawless and fun and witty and can do all sorts of cool things.  She is the thief with a heart of gold...but it always felt very forced. I failed to connect with the character.  But that didn't matter in the long run. It was just one episode.

But with Big Finish no having the rights to almost all things New Series, every one off character and their mother can get their own series! So Lady Christina gets her very on Audio Spin-off series.  It isn't a bad series, in fact, it has plenty of moments of fun, but it didn't really move the needle on this character for me.  The character only got one shot on TV, so if you are going to build a series around her, you need to flesh out her character.  Beyond the all too fleeting moments with her father in one episode, this set definitely failed to do that. 

So she ends up being written as a bargain bin version of River Song, a sassy witty adventurer with a bad girl side. That's the biggest flaw for me.  I didn't hear anything in this character that didn't end up sounding like it could've been just as well coming from River. The difference being River had a ton of on screen adventures that fleshed out her character, and the boxsets I've so far heard from her also added onto her character.  This is just some light adventures featuring a character that lacks much depth.  Again, Michelle Ryan is charming and she is playing the part with some gusto...but the lack of any real character development hurts this set immensely for me. 

The opening story is actually fun and showed promise.  It weaved a fun tale of adventure, robbery, and a hint of alien tech, and made me think that maybe this series could work, despite my utter indifference to the lead character.  A bit of light Doctor Who alien stuff mixed in with some crimes?  Sure!  But then the second story felt like it was a riff on the plot of Partners in Crime...right down to the involvement of Sylvia Noble (which ends up being a practically random guest star).  Other than the involvement of Christina's father, which is too underwritten, the story left me somewhat cold.  I would've enjoyed it as a Tenth Doctor tale, but I was feeling that this series had the potential to do something new...a thief as the lead.  It should be a show about a thief stealing alien artifacts...and that should be the focus of the stories!

Though the third episode returns to that premise, I have to say it was sadly a bit of a mess. There were good ideas floating around, but it was too unfocused. The finale of the set also felt unfocused, though not nearly as muddled as the third episode.  The set just limps to a conclusion, and it didn't leave me frothing at the mouth for more adventures with Lady Christina.

Ultimately, the set didn't grab me. It is mostly serviceable light fun, but nothing I will remember a week from now.  I went into this with a total neutral feelings on the character and the whole idea of her getting her own series.  Sadly, the set has me walking away feeling exactly the same.  I am no offended by it's existence, now do I care if it continues or dies right here.  There were nuggets of fun, and certainly, some will find it a good time. Give me River Song any day. 

Associated Products


GUIDE: Lady Christina - FILTER: - Big Finish - New Series - Lady Christina