The first Bernice Summerfield series

Big Finish started with these six stories back in 1998, featuring Bernice Summerfield, a companion invented by Paul Cornell in 1992 for the Virgin series of New Adventures with the Seventh Doctor. It’s a much stronger start to the series than their early Doctor Who stories, possibly because they were adapting novels that had already been published, though I think that can’t be the whole story. I had only read one of the books, Kate Orman’s Walking to Babylon, so most of this was new to me. All good stuff, apart from the last one.

Oh, No It Isn’t! – very brave to start with a story that starts as a standard archaeological dig and then converts the cast into pantomime characters – but it works really well. And Nicholas Courtney as the cat is lovely too.

Beyond the Sun is another archaeological dig-goes-wrong story but introduces the character of Jason, Benny’s ex-husband, and lots of emotional angst as well as the actual plot. I was completely absorbed in it, and yet failed to spot the voices of Sophie Aldred and Anneke Wills until I read the sleeve notes afterwards.

Walking to Babylon has been quite heavily changed from the book, mainly to insert ex-husband Jason into the plot, though I was glad that Benny’s love affair with Lafayette survived. And Elisabeth Sladen returning as the High Priestess is gret too. A strong play based on a strong book, the Babylonian setting beautifully evoked.

Birthright brings back Colin Baker rather nicely as a Russian ally of Benny’s, and also evokes its Edwardian setting beautifully. Plus Jason seems a bit less shoe-horned in this time, and there’s a nice set of tensions between the various goodies and baddies.

I thought Just War was the peak of a good run, confronting Benny with the moral ambiguities of a Guernsey under German occupation. Apparently the Seventh Doctor was in the original novel and written out in favour of Jason, but I didn’t really see the gaps. I did spot Maggie Stables as Benny’s landlady. All generally well assembled.

Dragon’s Wrath, like Oh, No It Isn’t!, is detached from the narrative of the other four stories. It is, frankly, not as good; plot too obvious, guest star (Richard Franklin) not sufficiently engaged, sound recording rather poor in places, basically rather skippable.

Anyway, I’ll listen to more of these.

One thought on “The first Bernice Summerfield series

  1. I enjoyed all three books, but found the utterly dispassionate writing style a bit much. One might call it ‘bloodless’, were it not for the occasionally very bloody subject matter. By the third book I was reading for plot only, and in fact I skimmed the second half.

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