Bernice Summerfield: Treasury audio review

This year, audio producers Big Finish celebrate two decades of stories starring Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, the futuristic archaeologist and sometime companion of the Doctor. As well as releasing The Story So Far, two volumes of full-cast dramas set in Benny’s various eras, Treasury draws together short stories from all over her timeline which have been previously published in prose anthologies.

In Doctor Who terms, the line-up of authors for this collection is impressive featuring script editors, television writers, novelists and, naturally, Benny’s creator Paul Cornell.

Treasury features a broad bunch of styles and it is fair to say that the character has been approached in various ways across the years; Bernice in prose can be markedly different to the way she is presented in audio drama. We move from her childhood to the work on archaeological digs and even allude to travels with the Doctor, though he does not directly feature at any point. Along with plenty of Benny’s trademark wit, some more adult themes are addressed in these stories – but in a couple of instances we found the approach rather immature, reminiscent of the try-hard style which dogged early Torchwood.

Highlights of the set include the opener, Ben Aaronovitch’s wonderfully titled The Evacuation Of Bernice Summerfield Considered As A Short Film By Terry Gilliam, which gives us Benny as a girl, recently orphaned, who meets a band of extraordinary characters while she is being transported away from the ruins of her young life.

As one might expect, Steven Moffat’s tale is typically temporal; The Least Important Man of the title is Gavin, a present-day human whose life has been watched over by Benny, thanks to the interaction of some innovative technology. It is clever, if rather blunt in its judgement on the object of Gavin’s affections!

The short closing tale is another highlight, from the pen of Terrance Dicks. A Mutual Friend feels as though it was torn from the pages of an early 1990’s Doctor Who Magazine, and provides a Brief Encounter style chance meeting for Benny and another of the Doctor’s former companions.

With only one exception, all the stories are narrated by Lisa Bowerman, who does an excellent job of bringing them to life, as well as providing her usual spirited performance in the title role. That exception is Andrew Cartmel’s tale Bernice Summerfield And The Library Of Books which he narrates himself; a lengthy piece with myriad characters, and without Lisa Bowerman’s enriching vocal talents, it ends up the poor relation.

With a duration of over four hours, this is a collection which will doubtless entertain and fascinate any Benny fan and while we are not entirely convinced that all the stories deserve to be considered treasures, their stellar authorship is certainly in no doubt.