Recently returned from a parallel universe, the latest box set release for Bernice Summerfield (Benny to her friends) provides her with four fresh adventures. Back on her own turf, Benny now accompanies the “Unbound” Doctor, freed from his responsibilities and able to return a life of freewheeling time and space travel.
Pride of the Lampian
Firmly back in the world of archaeology, Alyson Leeds’ story has Benny discovering a truly unusual relic. It is a statue from a race no one has ever heard of: the Lampian. Her story puts the two leads entertainingly at odds. Benny is desperate to validate her momentous find and her investigations soon bear fruit, suggesting an entire civilisation forgotten by history. Meanwhile, the Doctor becomes increasingly suspicious of the coincidences that surround the artefact and its provenance. He also questions Benny’s desire to believe.
A great opener for the set, we get a sense of Benny at work as well as the dynamic between her and this iteration of the Doctor.
Visiting the virtual world of Civitas-G as avatars, Benny finds it much changed; she studied the planet earlier in her career but remembers no mention of a shuttle disaster. At the same time, an unenthusiastic Doctor is hearing voices…
Doris V Sutherland’s story deals with the implications of changing and editing history, and how its narrative can impact society. That said, there is a satisfying sci-fi explanation for everything too – one we do not want to spoil.
Dead and Breakfast
With a terrific punning title, we jump straight into a story which finds our heroes undercover as a married couple. While Benny impersonates an amateur archaeologist at a dig, looking for the last resting place of the famed Queen Zilla, the Doctor attempts to befriend their intimidating cyborg landlady.
April McCaffrey’s tale is very funny, deriving lots of laughs from the mis-matched Dr & Mrs Summerfield. There’s much more here though, with plenty of heart as Benny forms friendships on this unusual, supremely intolerant world. April McCaffery clearly knows Benny inside out and it shines through in the way she writes for her. We also loved the way she made the Doctor is an expert at ironing too!
In the guest cast, Jacqueline Hill (best known as Sylvia Noble, but these days a BF regular) brings the frosty Flor to life. Her performance here is terrific, both intimidating and heart-breaking.
In the closing tale of the set, Lani Woodward brings a terrific concept to life: an alien underground train system. A relic from a bygone age, it is still running, attempting to deliver its final passenger to their destination.
The story makes clever use of time and technology in a way that put us in mind of early Steven Moffat Doctor Who scripts. Again, there is great mix of comedy and real emotion. We loved the Doctor’s thrill at getting to drive a train! In the supporting cast, Richard Lumsden is fun as the train-obsessive Professor Landren.
All four scripts are from writers new to Big Finish, drawn from the shortlist of last year’s Bernice Summerfield short-story competition. All were mentored by an established writer and is great to see such an effort to encourage fresh voices. Additionally, it is also pleasing to see greater diversity in the pool of writing talent!
Lisa Bowerman’s Bernice remains both funny and fallible, and we liked the focus on her archaeology. We particularly enjoyed when she was at odds with the Doctor, viewing his use of time travel as cheating!
Bringing David Warner’s Doctor into our universe has been a blast. His cynical manner puts us in mind of the War Doctor and he makes a terrific foil for Benny – whom he insists on calling Summerfield. Naturally, we cannot help but wonder if a confrontation with the genuine article is on the cards? Perhaps that is a bridge too far, but surely one will encounter the actions of other at least? Surely there must be ramifications for escaping into another universe…
‘The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume 5: Buried Memories’ is available on CD and download from BigFinish.com