Volume 3 of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield is the ideal launching pad for anyone new to this fictional professor of archaeology from the 27th Century. The collection stands alone from the previous 18 ‘seasons’ and re-introduces acclaimed British actor David Warner as the time travelling Dr Who. Let’s start, however, by heading back in time ourselves…
Professor Bernice Summerfield, played by Lisa Bowerman, first appeared as a companion to the Seventh Doctor in Paul Cornell’s 1990s Doctor Who novelisations. While the character never appeared in the television show, the actress did, in the very final story of the classic Dr Who series.
In 1998, Big Finish began releasing full-cast audio plays about the character and, after 11 seasons, the Benny Summerfield stories moved to a boxset format with a further 7 sets released. Benny’s New Adventures, also released in boxsets, began two years ago.
Meanwhile, from 2003-2008, Big Finish also released a stand-alone series of “What if…?” Dr Who audio dramas featuring alternative actors playing the title role. The Doctor Who Unbound series, as it was known, starred six different actors, including Sir Derek Jacobi and David Warner.
Volume 3 of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield plants Benny in the alternative universe of David Warner’s Doctor. Dragged there against her will, she and the Doctor face four adventures although, make no mistake, these are Benny’s stories. The reintroduction of David Warner’s Doctor, not heard since 2008, proves to be a great introduction to both central characters as they get to know each other.
Where the Summerfield stories stand apart from most other Big Finish ranges is in their fearless comedy, leaping from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. Yet no matter how close they get to pantomime, they remain just as action-packed and well-orchestrated as any other Dr Who audio adventure. Director Scott Handcock plays it straight to keep the focus on the adventure, with the quirkiness adding humour without being a distraction.
The Library in the Body by James Goss begins the boxset with Benny’s kidnapping where she finds herself in the last library of a decimated alternative universe. As surviving races flock to the library, the Kareem arrive to destroy it but it seems like they may not be the only villains.
Planet X by Guy Adams takes Benny and the Doctor to a planet so tediously vanilla that they didn’t even bother to name it. Where Benny goes, adventure follows, but someone interesting is not welcome here.
The Very Dark Thing by Una McCormack is reminiscent, in some ways, of the modern TV series episode called Blink. On the idyllic planet of Tramatz, there’s humming rivers, emerald forests and even unicorns, and Benny seems to be the only one who can see something terrible from the corner of her eye.
The fourth and final story is The Emporium at The End by Emma Reeves which reunites the two travellers with the singing sisters of the first story who can no longer save the universe with their mathematical songs. It brings the boxset full circle with a fitting conclusion that promises more adventures to come.
The music of any Big Finish release is a highlight and it’s pleasing to have four of Ned Warren’s tracks included, comprising three instrumentals and one of the singing nuns. Extra features in the box set also include behind-the-scenes interviews with those involved, from producer James Goss to the stars.
Doctor Who – The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield 3: The Unbound Universe runs for approximately 300 minutes over 5 CDs and will be released late August 2016.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Special thanks to Leon V for the background information on Benny Summerfield.
Rating out of 10: 8
Publisher: Big Finish
Release Date: 25 August 2016
RRP: $34.75 CD boxset, $20 Digital Download