Bernice Summerfield (Benny to her friends), the original time travelling archaeologist, as played by Lisa Bowerman, has now clocked up a sensational twenty years at Big Finish. To mark the occasion, there are two three-disc boxsets available, allowing fans to dip into various stages in Benny’s life. It’s a fan-pleaser, though new arrivals need only some sense of who Benny is to enjoy these stories. Volume 1 takes us on a journey through some of Benny’s personal relationships, and of course through time and space….
The first story gives us not one but two versions of Benny, with Emily Laing on great form as she deals with the mysterious gardener Wintergreen (Bowerman). In this James Goss story we get insight into the forces that helped formed Benny’s character from an early age, and a chance to defeat alien forces intent on undermining the military academy where Benny lives as an outsider. It’s a well-tempered start, with emotion, comedy and a chance for fans to tick off some favourites without damping down the action.
Things take a turn for the comic in Jacqueline Rayner’s quirky The Grel Invasion Of Earth. For those who don’t know, the Grel are data pirate villains with squid heads and a penchant for invasion. In this slightly tweaked history, there are no Daleks invading Earth, but as Benny and erstwhile boyfriend Jason (Stephen Fewell) land on the South Coast of England, the Grel are threatening havoc on not only Bournemouth, but possibly even Poole as well. It’s mad, inspired and sure to bring a smile to the lips.
The third story is Simon Guerrier’s Braxiatel In Love and what collection of Benny memories wouldn’t have Miles Richardson back as manipulative Time Lord Irving Braxiatel? To make it more interesting, Braxiatel is in love, and has a fiancée in the form of Veronica Bland (Gabrielle Glasiter in superb form). While the story treads the line of having Benny and Veronica opposed, with hints of a dark secret, the writing and performance is such the listener will never be quite sure where the story will end and the inevitable twist is well constructed.
The set captures the mood of various Benny eras, even down to each story having theme tunes from various Big Finish Bernice Summerfield ranges. It’s a must buy for any fan of Benny, and there are many.