Is that allowed? Can a review for a Doctor Who related story be summed up in just one word? The answer is most definitely yes, but you didn’t click on the link to this summation in order to be treated to just one word, you wanted lots of them, something to inform your decision on what your next Big Finish Doctor Who-related purchase should be.
Quite frankly, it should most assuredly be this box set, and if you’re not putting your precious credit card details into the Big Finish website and ordering this new set of adventures now, you’re missing out.
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield (with added Seventh Doctor and Ace action for proper value for money) is not only one of Big Finish’s strongest releases of 2014, it also happens to serve as an excellent and glowing tribute to some of Doctor Who’s bleakest and most experimental days: The Wilderness Years of the early 90’s
Fans that now have long beards and lower back pains will remember all too well those dark years where Doctor Who wasn’t on the telly, where Big Finish didn’t exist and where the Universe suddenly had to accept that the Doctor was lost to it-stuck in a bizarre temporal orbit or some such. But you can’t keep a good Time Lord down for long and whilst the medium of television had abandoned the Doctor, the printed book refused to. Virgin Publishing took the Seventh Doctor and Ace to new worlds and let readers experience fresh and groundbreaking new adventures, stories that were too broad and deep to show television audiences.
With the advent of the grittier and more adult tales came far more realistic companions for the Doctor to travel with, people who had backgrounds and issues and desires and faults: cue Bernice Summerfield. An archaeologist from the future with a penchant for trouble and a high tolerance to alcohol, a woman who knew her own mind, could not be bossed around by the Doctor and got around a bit as well, if you get the drift. Bernice was one of the quintessential companion’s that we never got to see on screen but with this newest Bernice box set, we get so very close indeed.
A full on epic sage for Bernice Summerfield to endure with the Seventh Doctor and Ace popping up at the correct moments!
And that’s what this is, not a Doctor Who story with Bernice in the mix but quite the reverse, a full on epic sage for Bernice Summerfield to endure with the Seventh Doctor and Ace popping up at the correct moments to keep the plot moving forward with enough momentum to expel it into a separate universe.
Spread out over four stories, Bernice finds herself helping the Doctor to find Ace, who has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. The trail leads her from space bars to haunted planets, from time locks to the remnants of Skaro and all the while, the lady is amazing. Brave, witty, full of banter and, above all, clever- really, really clever.
Nev Fountain’s The Revolution starts proceedings of with a hilarious romp for the Doctor and Benny which sets the scene for the rest of the set. This is the lightest of the four stories and serves the listener well as a strong and enjoyable start. Una McCormack takes Benny to a far more isolated environment with Good Night Sweet Ladies, featuring all the thrills of a haunted house story with a Dalek mixed in as well, by the end of this segment, if you’re not at least weeping, then you have no soul.
Events take a far more action packed and excellently twisted turn with Guy Adams’ Random Ghosts for the penultimate story, which has been hot on the trail of Ace and stuck on a planet in the middle of a one day time lock, which causes everyone to rest day after day. The story is told through the medium of sound recordings (think of the latest horror film fad of found footage and you get the idea) and serves as an excellently original way to tell a story set in the Doctor Who universe, even by Steven Moffat’s standards. The final tale takes place on Skaro, and offers cameo’s galore from the tombs of Dalek history. From the very beginning to the last second of the drama, you’re glued to your various audio output device, slobbering for more, James Goss certainly knows how to write a full on, no holds barred drama and even offers a fresh perspective on the Dalek’s raison d’être.
It goes without saying that all of the cast are superb. McCoy, Aldred, Briggs and every single supporting cast member make this an incredible experience but there has to be a special mention to Lisa Bowerman who simple excels as Professor Bernice Summerfield. Maybe excels isn’t even the correct word to use for this particular performance; exemplary might be a better one. From the delivery of some great one-liners to the tears of a broken woman right through to the anger of a righteous soul, Bowerman powers through as though nothing can faze her, which is handy because the character she’s playing here demands that.
Bernice Summerfield played a hugely important role in the Doctor’s life for a very long time, one that is never given the true admiration that it should have because she was in print format rather than visual for so long. There have been wonderful Bernice box sets from Big Finish in the pat but this one serves as a fitting tribute to a wonderful woman who truly earned her place as one of the Doctor’s true Children of Time.
Let’s hope that Big finish decide to keep the Bernice adventures in this format for a few more box sets yet, Bernice Summerfield has never burned brighter than in these stories and it would be wonderful to hear more from this incredibly strong team.
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield is available on CD or via download now from www.bigfinish.com now.