As part of the continuing celebrations for her twentieth anniversary on audio, Big Finish have released two volumes of adventures drawn from the various periods of Bernice Summerfield’s life.
First up, Eddie Robson’s Every Dark Thought brings us the Valeyard, the distillation of his darker impulses who sought longevity at the Doctor’s expense in The Trial Of A Time Lord. Posing as a fresh incarnation, a change which Bernice accepts with characteristic indifference, he recruits her to gain entrance to ruins which hold a secret – one which can purportedly be used to defeat the Caragot, cybernetically enhanced gastropods who consume people and assimilate their knowledge.
Reprising his villainous role once again, Michael Jayston gives a delightfully restrained performance, with dark undercurrents of malice and desperation. We loved his manipulation of the archaeologists and his frustration at being plagued by the cloister bell. For her part, we enjoyed Bernice’s growing suspicions as she realises that this Doctor is quite different from those she is familiar with.
Set in her first run of boxsets, David Llewellyn’s tale brings the fun as Empress Of The Drahvins pairs Benny with Ruth (Ayesha Antoine), crash-landing on Dhrava, home to the ancestors of the all-female cloned warriors seen in Doctor Who’s mostly missing 1965 tale Galaxy 4. It is a niche reference to be sure, but the story providing some entertaining pre-history for the race when Ruth is taken for the reincarnated empress of their matriarchal society and settles into the role rather nicely. Meanwhile, Benny is on the trail of a crashed space ship which might just be their ticket out of there, if her friend can be persuaded to leave, that is!
Although most strongly associated with the Seventh Doctor, Benny’s recent adventures have been spent in the company of an “Unbound” incarnation from an alternate universe, played in gloriously grumpy fashion by David Warner. The pair are together in the concluding story, Una McCormack’s The Angel Of History, which to our mind is easily the strongest and most moving of the set. The premise is rather clever, so we will not spoil it here, but suffice to say it grants Bernice a unique perspective on one of her historical projects and the tale is both thought-provoking and incredibly relevant to the present day as it cleverly deals with the way society can demonises and marginalise a group; this is both compelling and uncomfortable listening, and a story which will stay with you.
The set also comes with extras which continue the look across the eras of Bernice Summerfield, with contributions from the cast and crew, as well an archive interview with Lisa Bowerman from the early days of the character.
Across the two volumes, this has been a terrific celebration of Big Finish’s first lady, whose remarkable longevity is due in no small part to Lisa Bowerman’s engaging central performance as she imbues Benny with a both likeable honesty, great humour and, on occasion, real emotional depth.
Next up, we are looking forward to Bernice meeting with that other time travelling archaeologist and sometime companion of the Doctor, River Song, in The Legacy Of Time box set… after that, who knows? This was just ‘the story so far’ and we hope there are plenty more to come.