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Audio Drama Review


Bernice Summerfield
The Story So Far
Volume One


Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £25.00 (CD), £20.00 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78703 586 7 (CD), 978 1 78703 587 4 (download)
Release Date: 31 October 2018

One remarkable archaeologist. Three remarkable adventures. Time travel! Earth invaded! A wedding! Celebrating 20 years of Bernice Summerfield at Big Finish with three new full-cast dramas from different periods of her life…

This is the first of two four-disc sets released to mark the 20th anniversary of audio dramas featuring Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield – which have now far outlasted her initial print adventures from Virgin Publishing. Each tale revisits a different time from Benny’s complex and diverse fictional history, beginning, sensibly enough, at the beginning…

Bernice Summerfield is a young rebel, living in the grounds of a military academy. The enemy fleet is looking for them, there are strange lights in the sky, and there’s a terrible new gardener called Wintergreen…

When I say “the beginning”, I don’t mean the character’s publishing point of origin as a Doctor Who companion in the New Adventures novels. None of the stories in this collection take place during Benny’s time with the Seventh Doctor – though the first two entries do occur on either side of it. The opening tale, Ever After Happy, by James Goss, takes us back to Benny’s younger days, when she was living as a recluse, a deserter from a military academy, as established in the character’s original back story.

The young Benny is passionately portrayed by Emily Laing – but don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that regular star Lisa Bowerman has been usurped. This is not simply a flashback story, but also a time-travel tale, and the older Bernice (played by Bowerman) is also present, operating under the highly inventive pseudonym of Wintergreen!

As the elder Summerfield questions her younger self, she and Goss remind us of certain character traits that have fallen by the wayside in more recent years, such as the heroine’s over-reliance on the oath “Goddess” (which Bowerman sought to minimise when she took on the role two decades ago), her redacted and revised diary (covered in sticky notes), and her ability to read body language (‘Wintergreen’ advises the student to keep such observations to herself, as they can be annoying).

To be honest, Emily Laing doesn’t sound much like a young Lisa Bowerman (to my ear, she sounds more like Ayesha Antoine as Ruth – who appears in the next volume). Nevertheless, Ever After Happy is an entertaining escapade, which tips its hat to the Doctor Who universe in a number of pleasing ways (including a quick impersonation of Sylvester McCoy from Bowerman) without ever directly deploying the “D” word.



Good fact: Jason Kane is still in love with Bernice Summerfield! Additional fact: he’s going to use their Time Rings to prove it! Bad fact: the year is 2164, or thereabouts, and the Grel have invaded the Earth…!

I’m even happier with the story that comes after Ever After Happy, which toys more mischievously with Doctor Who mythology. Written by Jacqueline Rayner (who has been contributing to the Bernice Summerfield audio range since its very beginning), The Grel Invasion of Earth is an ingenious pastiche of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, with the comically inept data pirates the Grel in lieu of the Daleks and Bournemouth standing in for London.

In the space of just one hour, Rayner manages to reference all the major plot elements of that sprawling six-part serial, including the dying Roboman at the start, a twisted ankle, a wheelchair, an untested bomb, an enormous mine and even a poignant shutting out of the hero’s (or in this case heroine’s) companion at the end. True, the time machine doesn’t get buried under debris like the TARDIS did in Dalek Invasion, because the travellers arrive by Time Ring, but this easily allows for the insertion of another Terry Nation trope: the loss of the Time Ring / Teleport Bracelet! However, the most amusing spin on Nation’s 1964 serial is the pub-quiz-style challenge that takes the place of the intelligence test in the second episode – you may well find yourself playing along to this game of “Good Fact or Bad Fact”!

At this point you might be thinking, “Now, hang on! Rayner’s already done a Bernice Summerfield Dalek spoof in the form of The Grel Escape, and that was based on a later Dalek serial, so she’s doing them in the wrong order.” Well, the beauty of The Grel Invasion of Earth is that it is set before The Grel Escape. Benny is residing on the planet Dellah (her home during her initial post-TARDIS adventures) before she is whisked away through time and space by her ex-husband Jason Kane (a welcome return by former regular Stephen Fewell – it’s hard to believe he was written out more than a decade ago).

Taking of welcome returns, the Bernice Summerfield series has had a number of signature tunes over the years. To reflect this diversity, a different version is used for each story in this collection. On this occasion, it’s great to once again hear Toby Richards and Emily Baker’s Series 2 theme song, “Adventure is My Name”, which is belted out like a classic James Bond number. My alternate lyrics for the song would be: Jac Rayner is her name / Adventure is her game / She wants to play with Who!



Irving Braxiatel likes to collect things, and when he gains a fiancée, Benny can’t help but be suspicious. What are her mysterious employer’s motives? It can’t just be love, can it? Nothing on the Braxiatel Collection is ever that simple – not even love…

Like The Grel Invasion of Earth, Simon Guerrier’s Braxiatel in Love reunites us with a major figure from Benny’s past. The clue’s in the title, of course – it’s Irving Braxiatel (Miles Richardson), founder of the Braxiatel Collection on asteroid KS-159, arch manipulator, brother of the Doctor (allegedly!) and arguably the most significant supporting character in the entire Bernice Summerfield range. This story takes place during Benny’s time on the Collection, specifically in the aftermath of its occupation by the Fifth Axis in Life During Wartime.

A “Dear diary” format sets up the narrative as though it were a standard romance, though suspicions are raised early on that someone is up to no good. The diary this time is not Bernice’s but that of Braxiatel’s fiancée, Veronica Bland (played by Gabrielle Glaister, alias ‘Bob’ from Blackadder), whose narration dominates the proceedings. Seen from Veronica’s point of view, Benny’s reaction to the affair, which under normal circumstances would probably seem entirely reasonable, comes across as possibly being the result of jealousy. Glaister’s performance is a perfectly pitched combination of naivety and cunning.

A downside of this production is that you can tell it was recorded while Lisa Bowerman was coming down with or recovering from a cold. This is particularly unfortunate because a key plot point is that many residents of the Collection are suffering from colds but Benny is not – indeed, she says she rarely gets ill. That bit of unintentional confusion aside, Braxiatel in Love should keep you guessing for quite a while.



Bernice Surprise Summerfield: archaeologist, adventurer, friend… cat lady. What makes her so remarkable? Does she deserve all the praise that’s heaped upon her? Find out in a rich collection of interviews with people involved. They take her life of surprises very seriously…

Braxiatel is not just in love, but also in charge, as Miles Richardson curates The Documentary So Far, a two-hour compilation of interviews spread across the final disc of each volume of The Story So Far. His wry narration introduces conversations with not only the people behind the scenes of this release (such as the main actors and the writers), but also those who were closely associated with the eras being revisited (like Benny’s creator Paul Cornell and various producers of the range).

Highlights include Cornell’s gracious acknowledgement of how his creation has grown under the guidance of other writers and script editors, outside of his influence, and discussions about certain aspects of the character in prose that you’d probably forgotten about – such as the (good) fact that in one book Bernice is said to have a South African accent! The reminiscences are rounded off by the inclusion of an archive radio feature from 1998 regarding the launch of the Big Finish series.

Along the way, we are reminded that this is not just the 20th anniversary of Bernice Summerfield at Big Finish, but also that of Big Finish itself – that there probably wouldn’t even be a Big Finish had it not been for the success of the company’s initial Benny releases, which led to the company being awarded licences to produce audio dramas based on Doctor Who and other properties. And the rest, as they say, is history…


Richard McGinlay

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