After sixteen years with Big Finish Bernice Summerfield gets a new jumping-on point which has been branded with a Doctor Who logo. This set consists of four stories, interviews and features not only Benny but also the Seventh Doctor and Ace.
I’ve only heard the odd Bernice Summerfield story so this is also a chance for me to join the fold of fans. Did this do the job?
The Revolution by Nev Fountain: this is an amusing romp set in and around a bar on the planet Arviem 2. Fortunately she is aided by barkeeper and entrepreneur Renk van Magnastein (Alex Jordan) as she tries to evade Inquisitor Xavier (Miles Jupp – Balmory and that dance to Firestarter for Comic Relief). If this weren’t enough there is the problem of a rather the worse for wear Seventh Doctor. Add to this plagues of frogs, robots and other mischiefs and there are all the ingredients for a cocktail of troubles.
The whole story is entirely tongue-in-cheek and could have been replaced with a simple message from the Doctor asking Benny to find Ace, but where’s the fun in that?
Good Night, Sweet Ladies by Una McCormack takes the story to the Moon of Adolin where she has to deal with the conflicting needs of two survivors in an abandoned labyrinth – Stephen Day (John Finnemore – comedy series Cabin Pressure) and Claire (Sheila Reid). Stephen thinks everything is an illusion and Claire has her own secrets. Add to the mix a familiar foe and something that needs help and this is a story that twists and turns like the maze in which it is set.
Benny has (to her knowledge) three tasks: find clues to where Ace has travelled, escape the labyrinth and stay alive. To this end she is aided by the others to a greater and lesser extent. Claire has an agenda that (spoilers later) will turn Benny’s emotions 360 degrees and provide a motif for the rest of the boxset.
Random Ghosts by Guy Adams is a surprise in that it is highly experimental in style; it finds a new way to do a Groundhog Day by virtue of a narrative device that allows people trapped in a repeating loop to leave video diaries for themselves to watch each morning. Guy Adams is new to Big Finish though has written several Life on Mars and Torhwood books and his quality shines through in this clever story.
The narrative needs to be heard to understand just how clever it is. Even in the confines of a single repeating day we have the story of Benny, Ace, Klinus (Matthew Gravelle – Broadchurch), Foster (Colin Macfarlance – various from Dark Knight to Bob the Builder) and Varna (Amber Revah – From Paris with Love). There is love, anger, frustration and a grim determination to explore a world full of ghosts whose touch can kill.
The setting is a Forbidden World and apart from Benny everyone else has an agenda, including Ace, as they try to make sense of what has happened to time and gain access to a powered down city to discover just what is going on.
This they will regret…
The Lights of Skaro by James Goss tells us what we should have realised, ie that they are on Skaro and the Daleks waste no time in laying waste to most of those that survived the previous story, included Klinus who Benny loves. Just what has happened to time, when will the Doctor be able to break through the time lock to rescue Benny and Ace and how will they survive until then?
[pullquote]everything that Asylum of the Daleks wasn’t[/pullquote]
As many have already remarked on the Big Finish forum this is everything that the TV episode Asylum of the Daleks wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed Asylum but this is a far more intelligent piece of writing.
James Goss (who is in a fine vein of form over the last few years) manages to link the tale of doomed Skaro through almost every major Doctor Who / Skaro story that has ever been and faces the key question at the heart of the show – has the Doctor in fact made the Daleks what they are? He also tackles the subject of Ace’s relationship to her mother (died of cancer) and Benny’s (killed by a Dalek). It also tackles the subjects of art in war, love for the enemy and Benny is put through the emotional wringer several times. Lisa Bowerman is tremendous and the listener is put in no doubt as to how painful this all is.
Of course it all ends well (-ish) but in this case it is the journey that is important not the destination.
Is this a good jumping-on point?
Absolutely – we learn key things about Benny’s story, we see her in various difficult situations and we only needed Doctor Who canon to understand it.
I recommend this not just as a good way to join the Benny faithful but also as a tremendous boxset of four excellent stories. I also prefer this mix of characters being separated as the main range stories seemed to me to be too crowded in that Ace and Benny are very strongly defined well-written and performed leaving me impatient for the story to find room to emerge in some cases.
I’m very pleased to have heard this and will definitely be considering further releases.