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Audio Drama Review
On the planet of Arviem 2, Bernice Summerfield has a lot of problems. Pursued by robots, maniacs and miracles, she has another issue to contend with. The Doctor has come looking for her – and he’s not feeling himself...
Though Bernice Summerfield’s ongoing adventures have come to an end, at least for now, this boxed set takes a very welcome step back to the archaeologist’s earlier days. However, this is not exactly a revisit to the time of the New Adventures novels featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice – as the product’s title might lead one to believe – but rather a reunion of older versions of those characters. At various points throughout the four stories in this collection, Bernice (Lisa Bowerman) indicates that she has “a family now”, “a young son”, with “friends… somewhere”, though she is feeling her age, all of which points to these adventures being set some time around her Season 9 wanderings (Beyond the Sea to The Diet of Worms). Meanwhile, Ace (Sophie Aldred) has been undergoing training on Gallifrey, which suggests that for her and the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) this boxed set takes place between UNIT: Dominion and Death Comes to Time.
Nev Fountain’s The Revolution is the lightest story of the quartet, featuring comedian Miles Jupp as a very arch villain, dim robots that sound not unlike the Foot Warriors from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a theoretical debate like the one between the Doctor and a guard in Dragonfire, and a drunken Bernice who passes out for a little while. It comes across as frivolous for much of the time, but by the end of the yarn you realise that Fountain has been setting up a complex chain of events right under our noses.
Bernice has come to the Moon of Adolin on a desperate mission for the Doctor. Instead of what she is looking for, she finds an abandoned labyrinth, two confused survivors, and something ancient that needs her help…
After the high spirits of The Revolution, we get spirits of quite another kind during the next three stories, all of which concern ghosts in some form or another. However, it would be repetitive to mention spooks in multiple story titles, so instead this one has the rather peculiar title of Good Night, Sweet Ladies.
Despite the presence of the Doctor Who logo on the box and the signature tune at either end of each instalment, Bernice Summerfield is very much the lead character throughout this collection, and never more so than in this story, written by Una McCormack. Whereas The Revolution featured the Doctor but no Ace, this one has neither of them, aside from brief vocal snippets. Bernice is the star of the show, and the writer sets up an intriguing mystery, which explores the character’s demons in a poignant fashion.
Welcome to the Forbidden World. This world has a secret. The problem is that no one can remember what it is. Time is broken here. Those trapped here must live the same day over and over – forming alliances, lying to each other, trying to escape. Welcome to the Forbidden World…
Random Ghosts, by newcomer Guy Adams, is like a cross between Memento and the “found footage” genre. Featuring Bernice and Ace, but not the Doctor, the story is told in disconnected excerpts, the conceit being that the characters’ memories get reset each day, owing to a localised time warp. The only way to retain information from one day to the next is to record it for playback later as a sort of “story so far”. However, the cloud-based data store is malfunctioning, and the confusion is compounded by certain individuals choosing to edit out their more painful recollections.
I must say that the stories in this boxed set are very well connected. Often with quest sagas such as this, you run into a lot of blind alleys, places visited or clues pursued that prove to be false trails or red herrings, leaving one with a sense of, “Oh well, on to the next story then…” By comparison, this collection builds really well, both thematically and in terms of the narrative arc – that is, what Bernice is looking for. Her quest leads her through a series of distinct adventures and settings, but each one builds on the previous one and effectively sets up the next. The ending of this one forms a particularly dramatic revelation, one that seems quite obvious in retrospect, which I should have seen coming had the writer not kept me thoroughly distracted with the fascinatingly fragmented nature of his story.
Bernice Summerfield is on Skaro, and she’s very much on her own. The Doctor can’t get to her, not this time. All Benny can do is stay alive for as long as possible. In a city full of Daleks, that’s not going to be for very long…
Things come to a head in James Goss’s The Lights of Skaro, which manages to find an inventive new angle on those oldest of old enemies, the Daleks. In between dramatic flashbacks to Dalek disasters from Doctor Who’s past – the destruction of Skaro’s sun; a deadly disease (the Movellan virus?); the Dalek civil war; the power drain at the end of the Doctor’s first visit to the planet – the writer highlights how the character and ambition of the Daleks have changed since their first appearance, and how the Doctor may have been an inadvertent driving force in this transformation.
Goss, who is also the producer and script editor of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, ties the whole thing up very well, with the promise of further adventures to come. I sincerely hope so…
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