Friday, 10 June 2011

Bernice Summerfield Adventures (so far...)

Oh No It Isn't!: A delightful introduction to the world of Bernice Summerfield on audio. This is still one of my most listened to audios (along with The One Doctor, surprisingly…what do those two have in common?) because it cheers me up every time I listen to it. You have a fantastic cast who are clearly having the time of their lives with the witty, imaginative script and that enjoyment extends to the audience in waves. Paul Cornell has written a surprisingly thoughtful discourse on the nature of pantomime, looking at its conventions and (lack of) imaginative limitations whilst making us laugh until our sides hurt at the same time. Jac Rayner has cleverly taken all the best bits of the book and cut away all the flabby padding. The best fiction is clever, thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining and Oh No It Isn’t! scores on all three. At the heart of this play is Lisa Bowerman playing Bernice as we always imagined her to sound, funny and sweet, commanding and flawed, entertaining and easy on the ear. She has that Tom Baker ability of making any dialogue sound utterly convincing. Very few Doctor Who stories have given me as much pleasure as this one: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/oh-no-it-isnt-written-by-paul-cornell.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/11-Bernice-Summerfield-Oh-No-it-Isnt!

Beyond the Sun: A depressing and melancholic story that is badly paced and poorly executed. Beyond the Sun made for a self involved New Adventure, full of its own unusual and not terribly interesting ideas and focussing far too much on the Mary Sue characters of Emile and Tameka who sprang off the page as ciphers with false depth who were there to grow as characters. This all translates into the audio but is handled so ineptly by a freshman director the finished result is irritating, irredeemably twee or unconvincingly played depending on where you are in the play. Poor Bernice is saddled with these two awful kids and a plot which is so linear it could have been told in half an hour. There are no blinding revelations (aside from the fact that Benny still loves Jason but we all knew that), no moments that made me sit up and pay attention, it’s a story set on an uninteresting planet with uninteresting characters talking about uninteresting things and told in a really uninteresting way. Ouch: 1/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/beyond-sun-written-by-matt-jones-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/12-Bernice-Summerfield-Beyond-The-Sun

Walking to Babylon: Emotional, evocative and easy on the ear, Walking to Babylon lives up to the promise of Oh No It Isn’t and proves that this series can emote as well as making us laugh. Gary Russell creates a place of wonder in Babylon going for a real historical epic feel and aided by a fantastic musical score and some authentic sound FX. Lisa Bowerman gets her teeth into a fine romance story for Benny where she gets to be the more powerful character to John’s weaker moral bound academic. I love their scenes together; they have a relaxed chemistry that makes their feelings toward each other very believable. Add to that the fabulous Lis Sladen being given a chance to step out of Sarah Jane Smith and play a great new character, the introduction of the priceless Joseph and another strong performance by Stephen Fewell and you have a dedicated and interesting cast bringing this story to life. If only Kate Orman could get this odd sense of martyrdom out of her head this could have been flawless but because of the idiotic behaviour of her villains Walking to Babylon is award a: 9/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/walking-to-babylon-written-by-kate.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/13-Bernice-Summerfield-Walking-To-Babylon

Birthright: An atmospheric tale, Birthright translates onto audio with some panache. It is this story that I can see the most revision made to to fit into the Bernice audio world but none of the changes do any harm at all and swapping Ace for Jason adds a whole new element of danger to the off world plot. Lisa Bowerman proves once again why she was perfect for the part and enjoys a wonderfully relaxed chemistry with Colin Baker, a world apart from their friction in Whispers of Terror. The second half of the story is far more sluggish than the terrific first half but things definitely pick up for the conclusion. A nice story to listen to on a cold foggy night: 7/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/birthright-written-by-nigel-robinson.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/14-Bernice-Summerfield-Birthright

Just War: Hard-hitting and dramatic, if you have any doubt that the Bernice Summerfield series could not deliver the goods than go and listen to this story now. What you have here is a polished script written with drive and bursting with great character scenes and a director who allows the story room to breathe at a relaxed pace to bring out some extraordinary performances from his cast. Bowerman and Fewell do their best work from series one here, Benny and Jason have never felt more like real people and their reunion never more touching. The stifling atmosphere never lets up and the story manages to sell the idea that the Nazi’s might win the war, one of the most hackneyed ideas ever. On audio this is a superb production, never letting you forget where we are and what it means. I’ve heard this story ten times and every time I have come away astonished at how good it is. Extremely scary in places: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/just-war-written-by-lance-parkin.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/15-Bernice-Summerfield-Just-War

Dragon's Wrath: I’ve been cruel enough: 0/10 Worst audio ever (so far).

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/dragons-wrath-by-justin-richards.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/16-Bernice-Summerfield-Dragons-Wrath

The Secret of Cassandra: What a load of horrible, eventless noise! The sound design for The Secret of Cassandra is horrendous, not just the random sound effects that burst your ear drums but also the horrendously inappropriate music (can you call an attack on percussion instruments music?) and the overwhelming amount of noise that obscures the dialogue at the crucial moments so its hard to hear what this poor excuse for science fiction is all about! It’s the first of the small cast Bernice dramas and it really feels as though the budget has been cut, David Bailey is trying to tell a large-scale story through a handful of characters and it fails to capture the interest. You don’t give a fig for any of the cast, not even Benny (perish the thought!) and after the extraordinary quality of the season one stories this is a shocking plummet into something amateurish and unengaging. One of the worst Big Finish productions, expert sound design might have salvaged something but it really is the pits: 1/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/secret-of-cassandra-written-by-david.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/21-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Secret-Of-Cassandra

The Stone’s Lament: Better, but still lacking, The Stone’s Lament only scores a few points because it gives Bernice some characterful material and introduces the very fun Adrian to the series. As a story it runs on the spot throughout, it takes more than a few arbitrary miscommunications to make a decent horror and the onslaught of rain, thunder and crashing waves tries to conjure up a heady atmosphere that the script lacks. It’s an embarrassing love triangle between Bernice, a computer in her image and Braveen that could have claustrophobic but it’s all so unconvincingly written and brought to life it fails to generate any tension. The sudden last minute twist that the planet is alive and psychotic comes from nowhere with no time to explore it. Setting a story in a psychotic house is a great idea and could drive a fantastic story but unfortunately that story isn’t called The Stone’s Lament, its called Sick Building. Brilliant Adrian Salmon cover though: 4/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/stones-lament-written-by-mike-tucker.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/22-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Stones-Lament

The Extinction Event: Hooray for Lance Parkin who manages to drag this misbegotten season into shape. He’s the first writer to remember what Bernice does for a living and writes an intriguing morally ambiguous tale that introduces the wonderful Miles Richardson into the range. Whilst there are still a few issues with how these stories are realised (don’t worry Toby’n’Emily are off soon) the strength of the script and performances shine through. If the last story of the season can maintain this standard we will be well on our way to a halfway decent series: 8/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/extinction-event-written-by-lance.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/23-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Extinction-Event

The Skymines of Karthos: Ultimately this story is just a stroll into a mountain to retrieve one of Bernice’s never heard of before or since friends. There’s some talk of a spread of vicious Fireflies building an army out of the building blocks of the universe that doesn’t really get going until the climax where they are all wiped out. What Bailey gets right here that he fudged in The Secret of Cassandra is his dialogue and characterisation, which isn’t to the level of Parkin’s in the last story but has enough oomph to keep you vaguely interested. With David Darlington in control of the soundscapes and music it is a far more pleasurable listen on a purely aesthetic level. This is passable stuff, nothing like the standard that would come in the next season. The stuttering season two is over: 5/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/skymines-of-karthos-written-by-david.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/24-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Skymines-Of-Karthos

The Greatest Shop in the Galaxy: Deliriously enjoyable, after the lethargy of season two The Greatest Shop in the Galaxy is like a slap in the face with an LSD induced wet fish that takes you on trippy, imaginative, hysterical ride. Paul Ebbs is the perfect writer for the Bernice Summerfield range, his writing oozes with energy and inventiveness and he dismisses the standard narrative rules for something far wilder. In many ways it reminds me of a Dave Stone story, a whacky premise with lots of entertaining diversions and the odd moment of choking pathos. Bernice gets killed over and over and also gets to buy lots of fabulous shoes and the only story that climaxes with an alien climaxing and dying because he cannot stand the pleasure: 9/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/greatest-shop-in-galaxy-written-by-paul.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/31-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Greatest-Shop-In-The-Galaxy

The Green Eyed Monsters: Who would have thought that Bernice Summerfield would work so well as a soap opera? Benny taken over by an evil sorceress, humping overgrown gorilla Adrian Wall, heavily pregnant and winding up in prison, forced to give birth with her greatest enemy close by…and now leaving the two Dads holding the baby and Peter being kidnapped and held to ransom! It’s certainly not a quite life for Bernice! Green Eyed Monsters dips its toes into sitcom waters and continues series three’s magic touch, it’s funny and touching and reveals much about Bernice, Jason and Adrian. Dave Stone talks about how audio doesn’t have to be big blockbusting productions but the exploration of relations and the nuances of interaction and to his credit he goes ahead and proves that in superb style: 8/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/green-eyed-monsters-written-by-dave.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/32-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Green-Eyed-Monsters

The Dance of the Dead: Quietly intense and intoxicating, The Dance of the Dead flirts with a dramatic premise that allows a big budget story to take place with a small cast. The direction is superb, allowing the performances to come to the fore but still creating a dangerous atmosphere in the damaged ship. The story starts with a big explosion but everything slows down as the story progresses so we can focus on the frightening relationship between Musjana and Asnabi and Stephen Cole even manages to toss in a few good surprises from the small guest characters. This is precisely the sort of story we should have been enjoying last season; simple, emotional, atmospheric and hugely entertaining. Benny’s audio range is right back on track: 8/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/dance-of-dead-written-by-stephen-cole.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/33-Bernice-Summerfield-Dance-Of-The-Dead

The Mirror Effect: Revealing all of the things about the regulars characters that they would rather not admit to, The Mirror Effect is in turns confusing and startling. The performances of Lisa Bowerman, Miles Richardson, Stephen Fewell and Harry Myers are exceptional and they all get inside their characters heads with disturbing effect. It really is one of the strongest casts Big Finish flaunts. The first ten minutes might confuse you but stick with this one because it plunges into much darker waters than the series usually attempts. What I really like is how it quietly sows seeds for lots of the more dramatic revelations of later seasons, which the audience is privy to but the characters no nothing about. All is not as simple as it seems on the Braxiatel Collection and I cannot wait to find out what precisely is going on: 8/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/mirror-effect-written-by-stewart.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/34-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Mirror-Effect

The Bellotron Incident: The dullest slice of Bernice action since season two and what a surprise, its one of the season two writers in the driving seat! This could have been a fine introduction to Bev Tarrant, a brilliant meeting of minds to tackle the horrific and bloody Sontaran and Rutan conflict. However Mike Tucker chooses to write out Bernice, Bev and the Sontarans and basically tell a story of a bunch of Rutans trying to outwit each other. Its not Natural History of Fear style cleverness, it’s a bog standard run-around that pretends to be something more in the last few minutes and actually winds up proving it was about nothing. Production values are good and the performances reasonable but the material is so conventional nobody really gets the chance to excel: 4/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/bellotron-incident-written-by-mike.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/41-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Bellotron-Incident

The Draconian Rage: A beautifully crafted piece of theatre that explores galaxy wide implications through a small, well-characterised cast. It reminded me at times of the Gallifrey series with its political machinations and quality, almost Shakespearean dialogue. Trevor Baxendale has written his best audio script, taking the most interesting parts of his underwhelming Doctor Who script and working them into the Bernice range with some style and he explores Draconia both culturally and politically rather than being just the inclusion of an old Who alien race. The story twists and turns with surprising confidence and Vasar undergoes several brilliant character inversions. An atmospheric production of court intrigue and fantastic performances that proves you don’t need the main cast to make this series shine: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/42-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Draconian-Rage

Death and the Daleks: An epic, personal, unforgettable finale bringing together four seasons worth of audios, countless novels and assembling the impressive cast of the Bernice series and giving them all great material. The idea of kicking off this story with the gripping anthology Life During Wartime is inspired, giving the situation a great deal of depth as a novel before rounding off the story with numerous surprises as an exciting audio. There are lots of wonderful kisses to the past but Paul Cornell also manages to cement the latest develops in Bernice’s life as something that is unmissable. There is a wonderful drive to the story and no easy answers and lots of intriguing character threads to picked up in later stories. One of the highpoints in the Bernice Summerfield range: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/death-and-daleks-written-by-paul.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/44-Bernice-Summerfield-Death-And-The-Daleks

The Grel Escape: Fantastic fun but bristling with hints for the future and emotional undercurrents too, The Grel Escape kick starts the fifth series of Bernice Summerfield audios with a confident waltz through some of Doctor Who’s dodgier moments. There are some people out there (I know one or two) who find the very idea of a spin off series pointing and laughing affectionately at Doctor Who the ultimate insult but fortunately they aren’t writing this review! Jac Rayner is one of the most devoted Doctor Who fans there are and as such this is a delightful pastiche of The Chase (with a dash of Daleks’ Masterplan thrown in for good measure) with some rib tickling moments of silliness. She’s also a massive devotee and supporter of the Bernice Summerfield range and includes some healthy development of Benny and Jason, a frightening possible future of Peter and the return of Sofia who helped Bernice through her trials in The Glass Prison. David Darlington does a fine job of conjuring up a shopping list of locations and his music skilfully adjusts with each leap. All in all, more magic from this series: 8/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/grel-escape-written-by-jacqueline.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/51-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Grel-Escape

The Relics of Jegg-Sau: How on earth did Steve Cole pitch this story to Gary Russell? Bernice Summerfield takes on…the Giant Robot! What’s weird is this turns out to be a surprisingly gripping drama which plausibly re-introduces the creatures and even manages to explore them with some astonishing emotion. The script affords Ed Salt to show off his most imaginative direction yet, opening and closing in real style and plenty of action and emotion to inject into the story. It cannot be over emphasised how much realism Lisa Bowerman brings to these stories and without her faultless performance this adventure might not have worked at all, least of all as well as it does. There were a few moments I could have done without (mentioned above) but they are more than balanced by some very uncomfortable moments of drama and the thoughtful tone the story maintains. Goodness knows how The Relics of Jegg-Sau was made but I’m very pleased that it was: 8/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/bone-of-contention-written-by-simon.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/52-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Bone-Of-Contention

The Masquerade of Death: A unique audio production that brews an intoxicating taste of theatre. We haven’t had such an appetizingly inventive and hilarious script like this since the series kicked off with Oh No It Isn’t and it goes for the jugular deconstructing the series, its elements and its sense of theatre with real panache. John Ainsworth is one of the unsung Big Finish directors and he directs this story with a touch of magic, coaxing some incredibly entertaining performances from the cast and Jane Elphinstone scores the insane events to perfection. Great characterisation of Bernice too, revealing the strengths and weaknesses of her personality, taking a look at her appeal as a fictional character and showing her fight to hold onto her identity as a real person. Stewart Sheargold has written one of the best Big Finish scripts, its devilishly clever and thoughtful whilst being insanely pleasurable at the same time – only Rob Shearman could top this level of imagination and adroitness. A highly recommended touch of class from this extraordinary range: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/masquerade-of-death-written-by-stewart.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/54-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Masquerade-Of-Death

The Heart’s Desire: As irritating as lice that’s started nesting in your pubes because there is a fantastic premise at the heart of this story but it is squandered on terrible writing, abysmal direction and sloppy performances. Its one of those stories that is so badly directed that it either assaults you with a lot of incomprehensible noise to suggest action or chooses to make your eardrums melt with various screeching sounds (here you have elephants or at least their alien equivalent which sound just like elephants, birds, deerkats and of course Topsy Turve’s hideous screams). There isn’t a single moment of this that feels genuinely atmospheric or pretends to be dramatically satisfying, even after it is revealed that it was never supposed to be. It’s a parody of Benny’s adventures taken to the nth degree but Russell forgets that that was done last year with the Grel Escape and with all the wit and charm that is missing here. That’s three for three for David Bailey, three abysmal stories that show just how low the range can sink in the wrong hands but at least this is the last time he gets to write a script and that is something to be thankful for. It bothers me to see a character like Bernice wasted in a story this bad because she deserves better. It genuinely feels like whoever is behind this series has given up: 1/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/hearts-desire-written-by-david-bailey.html

The Kingdom of the Blind: Jacqueline Rayner is a very clever writer and she always manages to find a new way to explore writing for audio. In The Marian Conspiracy she focussed solely on the characters to superb dramatic effect, the Pirates is told as a story by the Doctor and Evelyn with all the comic exaggerations that come with it, The Suffering is a tale told in two halves by two difference narrators…and with The Kingdom of the Blind she is focusing on the senses (sight and sound) and exploits both the both comic and dramatic potential of such an approach. She takes what could have been a potentially ropey premise (Bernice Summerfield and the Monoid Menace) and turns out an interesting science fiction tale that utilises both Benny and Jason well and has some very entertaining moments. If the ending is wrapped up a little too quickly this is still a solid Bernice adventure that is well acted and directed with a firm hand which is exactly what the series needs after the last adventure: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/kingdom-of-blind-written-by-jacqueline.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/62-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Kingdom-Of-The-Blind

The Lost Museum: I really appreciate the intelligent angle that Simon Guerrier has taken with this story in trying to mix themes of warfare with Benny’s passion for the past. It’s exactly the same union of themes that made season twos The Extinction Event and season fours Death to the Daleks so effective. It pains me to say it but again it is Gary Russell’s tired direction that lets the side down because for the most part it feels like a cheap and clumsy production with discordant sound effects working against the script and some dodgy moments of action (the opening scene is an assault of noise with little explanation and there are various moments of gunplay that fail to convince). It’s a story that isn’t afraid to expose the true horrors of how far a regime will go to keep people subjugated and even manages a great shock when Benny’s arm is blown clean off her shoulder. If the direction and the musical score had been stronger (it is the oddest, most jarring score you have ever heard) this probably would have been an out and out classic. As it is I found it really interesting to follow but annoyed by the execution but at least it shows some real hope for Simon Guerrier taking over the reigns next year. I really think the series desperately needs a new creative hand and Guerrier clearly understands Benny’s character and the tone of series very well: 6/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/lost-museum-written-by-simon-guerrier.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/63-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Lost-Museum

The Goddess Quandary: I couldn’t quite get a handle on The Goddess Quandary because I found that the story unfolding just wasn’t interesting enough to justify keeping us away from the Collection again in a season that is starting to feel as though it is from a brand new spin off. We’ve seen no sight of Brax or Bev or Adrian and I really miss them – for some reason the anthologies focus squarely on the regulars and the audios are going in another direction. I know which I prefer. There has been some good writing this year but this is the fourth story of the same ilk now (Benny goes off to investigate/save/report on a lost civilisation) and it is getting a little wearying. Even Benny sighs wearily that this all turns out to be another ultimate weapon and it is little wonder that the universe has survived this long. I know plenty of religious people and I wonder if they get tired of fiction endlessly hashing up religious orders that want to cleanse people of their individuality – for a change I would love to see religion dealt with as a positive concept even if it is something I don’t subscribe to myself. Keri the Pakhar was the one shining beacon in this story, a genuinely fun and unpredictable character but when your favourite moment comes at the end of the tale with vague hints of answers to Braxiatel’s master plan in the next story you know there is a problem: 5/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/goddess-quandary-written-by-andy.html

The Crystal of Cantus: After one outright disaster, one tale of frippery, one nicely written but poorly executed thriller and one bland but well characterised filler adventure The Crystal of Cantus comes as a real shock to the system. The range has been cruising on autopilot for a while and this is a sudden reminder of how good it can be when firing on all cylinders. It promises massive changes to the range and delivers, it uses the Cybermen in an imaginative and chilling way and it re-integrates the Collection and all the pleasing continuity that comes with it and uses the horrors of the recent past to create some excellent twists. Joseph Lidster is exactly the sort of controversial writer to breathe some new life into the range and he takes hold of Braxiatel’s character and finally reveals him to be the villainous mastermind that we always suspected. Add in some terrific performances (Stephen Fewell has never been better) and a feeling that there is lots of drama ahead and they couldn’t have ended the season on a better note. A superb end to a duff season: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/crystal-of-cantus-written-by-joseph.html

The Tartarus Gate: A confident and cleverly written opening story for season seven, The Tartarus Gate is oddly one of the first Bernice Summerfield stories that feels less like an adventure tale and more like hard science fiction and its surprising how well it makes the transition. I remember the first time I listened to this story I was appalled that it was so different from how I expect this series to be but that turns out to be a real strength after last year saw the range flagging in its previous state. There a wealth of strong ideas in play and the strong dialogue and characterisation keeps them manageable, the ideas keep growing until there are two factions looking for the same God with Benny and Jason at either side of the conflict as their respective mouthpieces. There are moments of humour dotted about and the production is far more assured than anything last year (technically this is faultless) but what I enjoyed most was the evolving script bristling with intelligent imagination. If this is an indication of what the series is going to be like in new hands sign me up: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/tartarus-gate-written-by-stewart.html

Timeless Passages: Atmospheric and intelligent, this is a blisteringly good audio for the Bernice Summerfield range and raises the bar for how good a non-arc tale can be. The story is told on a tiny scale but much of the dialogue is transcendent and the discussion of knowledge and preserving culture really appealed to the bibliophile in me. However this isn’t all dry discussion; Bernice is at her desperate best, there is a psychotic android on the loose that is trying to kill everybody (he’s just vile but very funny with it) and there is the mystery of the Idolons to solve. It’s a massively evocative piece with Simon Robinson more than making up for some lacklustre productions last year and John Ainsworth giving the whole piece a very polished, stylish feel. Daniel O’Mahony brings a touch of class to the range with his faultless script and I hope it isn’t long before he returns to the series. The way he has of allowing his concepts to grow organically within the story revealing new facets all the time took my breath away. Quite my favourite story since The Masquerade of Death and it works for all the same reasons; its creative, surprising and hugely engaging. Lisa Bowerman said in my interview with her that this is one of her all time favourites and its easy to see why: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/timeless-passages-written-by-daniel.html

The Worst Thing in the World: ‘I think we could all do with a fun adventure that doesn’t really relate to anything else!’ A welcome change of pace from the first two adventures and a scathing commentary on the sheer tediousness of the television media as it stands that just happens to be hysterically funny in the bargain. The concept behind the Drome is frighteningly prescient (can anybody say Welsh Drama Village?) as well just plain frightening, the actors are clearly having a riot and the parodies of various shows (and Stone’s commentaries on them) had me laughing my head off! It’s the best kind of comedy because its smart and it all leads up to Bernice grabbing a microphone and singing an unforgettable number that subdues some zombies and turns them all into backing dancers! The basic moral of the story is that people should be people and not plot functions and within a fictional reality I cannot imagine a better moral than that! If this season continues with the sort of quality it has displayed so far it will be the strongest year for Bernice Summerfield yet. Go on, put yourself in a happy place filled with butterflies and cake: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/worst-thing-in-world-written-by-dave.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/73-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Worst-Thing-In-The-World

The Summer of Love: Gay sex, straight sex, lesbian sex, alien sex, multi-generational sex…there’s certainly plenty of sex in The Summer of Love! Its odd that I have been clamouring for a story on the Collection and as soon as I get one it happens to be the weakest of the season. This is like an episode of Are Being Served where the staff of the Ladies and Gents Departments actually are talking about sex and wind up having an orgy in the Grace Brothers canteen! Its all a bit sleazy and puerile and like deciding to swallow leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I can understand what Simon Guerrier was getting at in penning this script; he’s trying to make the Collection a fun place to be but I’m not sure if adopting the lowest possible tone was the best idea. What really works is the emergence of ongoing regular characters from the novels that have been completely ignored in the audios so it is terrific to see Bev and Adrian’s relationship brought to light and Doggles and Hass make memorable first appearances. And once again Guerrier characterises Benny herself really well. The Summer of Love is a tawdry affair but it does have its moments. Lets have something with a bit more depth next time: 5/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/summer-of-love-written-by-simon.html

The Oracle of Delphi: One thing that I am very much in favour of is diversity within a series – I don’t mind a formula that a series adheres to as long as they try out different styles along the way. Series seven of Bernice Summerfield has really made an effort to show how far the format of the range extends and attempted some hard SF, a gothic mystery, a riotous parody of itself, a bawdy sex comedy and now it is an apocalyptic historical drama! Coming after a season of stories that were heard to tell apart this is the most refreshing change. The Oracle of Delphi is massively endearing to listen to and the mixture of modern day storytelling in an ancient setting proves to be a recipe for success for newcomer Scott Handcock. The relationship between Bernice and Socrates is strikingly written and it is terrific to experience the meeting of two great philosophers of their respective times coming together to solve this latest adventure. I love how this entire story has been written to set up the next one but manages to be a thoughtful, engaging story in its own right. There is a real impetus to this season that is extremely appealing, the writing is of a very high standard, the productions buoyed by some strong direction and atmospheric soundscapes and a running story which is slowly eking its way to the surface. Whatever changes Simon Guerrier made worked a charm and one of his strengths has been to bring in new writers to the fold and Scott Handcock is a great example. His eye for quirky dialogue and memorable characters is a gift and I’m pleased to see he will be writing for the ranges 12th season: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/oracle-of-delphi-written-by-scott.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/75-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Oracle-Of-Delphi

The Empire State: Bad things are brewing on the Collection, war seems inevitable between the Draconians and the Mim and Bernice is off trying to find an artefact that could save them all – Simon Guerrier has taken a weakening series and given it such a fantastic shot of adrenalin. It was a chore to get through the last season but I raced through this one such was the quality of the individual stories and my addiction to the ominous running narratives. And looking at the writers on board the next season looks like it could be even better. Eddie Robson cleverly weaves in scenes of Maggie and Rand that seem to have no relevance to the plot until you discover who was responsible for the terrorist act and it makes you want to go back and start the story again. The story opens with Benny (with super powers) standing in the resurrected city that should be in ruins and manages to find a highly engaging way of explaining it all. In some ways this does remind me of the earlier series with its economical cast forcing the writer to find surprising things about each character. Even the bar is ultimately important to the plot. The Empire States is Eddie Robson tossing out creative ideas like an imaginative firework and it might get confusing for some before the end but this is another Big Finish tale that it is worth figuring out to reap its rewards. The true nature of the stone is a genuine surprise: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/empire-state-written-by-eddie-robson.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/76-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Empire-State

The Tub Full of Cats: Opening one of the strongest seasons of the Bernice Summerfield range with a story that confirms this series has become serialised and taking place in the heart if a war zone, A Tub Full of Cats sees Benny trying to circumnavigate the war in order to get Braxiatel back to the Collection. O’Mahony never quite gives you what you expect; he always glides his stories in unpredictable directions and plumps up the clever ideas with intelligent dialogue. This is a range that can make a journey home (surely one of the most dullest experiences in anybody’s life) a thoughtful and imaginative delight. The biggest strength that Simon Guerrier brought to the range was its coherence and dramatic potential – every story feels as though it is adding to the whole rather than simply telling standalone tales which wander aimlessly. This is a great time to be a fan of the Bernice Summerfield range and there are some real shocks and surprises just around the corner. A confident opening story and one that cements O’Mahony as one to look forward to: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/tub-full-of-cats-written-by-daniel.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/81-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Tub-Full-Of-Cats

The Judas Gift: Events on the Collection have not been this enthralling since Death and the Daleks and Nick Wallace taps it’s a rich seam of characterisation that sees Bev, Adrian, Brax and Benny getting some of their best ever moments. The Draconian/Mim conflict has been building for some time and now it explodes into warfare and the Collection finds itself in the middle trying to stay in one piece. We’ll be saying goodbye to the Collection at the end of the this season and it is fitting that its best storyline was saved for last. Everything that is great about this series comes into play – the regulars are on top form (Bev’s history allows the Draconians to gain a foothold on the Collection) and treated to some scorching dialogue, there is an intriguing archaeological mystery to solve, the universe building is first class and the running storyline is given some dramatic momentum with some heart-in-mouth twists forcing developments. If you are invested in these characters and this universe, The Judas Gift is about as riveting as it comes: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/judas-gift-written-by-nick-wallace-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/82-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Judas-Gift

The Freedom of Information: And with one sudden, devastating move the war is over before it ever really begun which should come as a disappointment to those expecting fireworks but the consequences of this act of genocide will act as a cornerstone for the series. Braxiatel continues to shine and his machiavellian plotting of this war to put him back in a position of power has been the work of a dark genius. The way he pulls everybody’s strings invisibly is quite unnerving and the moment you realise how he has achieved his greatest wish here is absolutely chilling. What can his endgame possibly be? Bernice is left completely in the dark and even more heartache is just around the corner – there are no two ways about it the Braxiatel Collection is no longer a safe place for her teach and the people she has considered her friends are abusing that trust and committing terrible acts. The Freedom of Information is a talky story that isn’t as carefully crafted as The Judas Gift but the consequences of this war leave so many interesting possibilities hanging it is a fascinating experience despite itself. Suddenly the range feels claustrophobic and dangerous and that is a great feeling: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/freedom-of-information-written-by-eddie.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/83-Bernice-Summerfield-Freedom-of-Information

Jason Kane: The End of the World: Dave Stone is another standout writer in the Bernice Summerfield range and here he does the audience a huge service by intelligently tying up years of plotting into Jason’s investigations of Braxiatel. It is entirely appropriate that the Jason’s creator should write his final story and tie in lots of continuity that has weaved in and out of his story over the years and remind us just how far he has come. This is the point of no return for Braxiatel – he has lied, manipulated and cheated his friends but murdering Jason because he has gotten to close to the truth is one kick in the gut too far for Bernice and Brax has stepped over the line from uneasy ally to enemy. And the fireworks haven’t even begun because she doesn’t know…yet. This is a beautifully written piece and that sees Jason at his intellectual and emotional best and allows Stephen Fewell to give one last, triumphant, performance. Lisa Bowerman’s direction is sublime because she understands that this piece needs to be all about Jason and so she strips away any sound effects during Fewell’s monologues to give them maximum impact. The last scene of this play is one of the most vital moments in any Big Finish production and I was slack jawed throughout as all the answers came spilling out of Braxiatel’s mouth. Spellbinding drama and the end of a very important chapter in Benny’s life: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/jason-kane-end-of-world-written-by-dave.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/84-Bernice-Summerfield-The-End-of-the-World

The Final Amendment: Joe Lidster is such a clever writer and he manages to snuggle in a compelling treatise on xenophobia whilst hilariously parodying the range. Its one of the most enjoyable stories in a season that has, on the whole, been quite serious (grippingly so) and fires some great gags at you whilst tell an energetic tale of a clone invasion and weaving in more New Adventures continuity by re-introducing Kadiatu. The tone is deceptively light and amusing but the dialogue remains thoughtful and handles a contemporary issue with some confidence. Its lovely to see Bernice return to Earth (something I don’t recall ever happening before in this time period) and investigating the dark manipulation the planet has undergone and the insane plan of the clones feels as though we have stepped back into a Doctor Who story. I thoroughly enjoyed this as an antidote to The End of the World’s striking dramatics and really hope Lidster doesn’t stay away from the range for too long because he really understands its playful and powerful tone. Ending with Bernice discovering about Jason’s death, I can’t wait to see where we go from here: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/final-amendment-written-by-joseph.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/85-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Final-Amendment

The Wake: What a fantastic job Simon Guerrier has done of whipping this range into shape, kicking off some dramatic storylines and bringing the tangled web of Braxiatel’s manipulations into a cohesive whole. Fans of the range have much to thank this incredible writer for, not least for giving us two of its strongest seasons to date. It seems very appropriate that he gets to write the final piece of his story and kick start a whole new chapter in Benny’s life. The Wake isn’t so much a story in its own right but a culmination of all of Bernice’s adventures (be it the Virgin New Adventures or Big Finish’s own spin on the character) to this point and taking the time to explore these characters one last time before she leaves the Braxiatel Collection forever. There is some stunning character work on display as everybody blames themselves for what happened to Jason except for the one man who truly is responsible. I was gripped throughout and as Bernice comes to terms with her need to leave we watch her family get torn apart knowing that this ending was always coming. Drunk on power, back in charge, Braxiatel has fulfilled his ambitions and it has never been more exciting to see the bad guy win. Bring on season nine! Triumphant: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/wake-written-by-simon-guerrier-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/86-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Wake

Beyond the Sea: Beyond the Sea feels an awful lot like the earlier seasons of the Bernice Summerfield range before the series became heavily serialised and Braxiatel obsessed. With an economic cast and a tight storyline (I still maintain the hour long Benny stories are the perfect length) it’s a fine listen and the biggest difference between this and a story that comes from season two is that the series is far more confident these days and its audio resources are much more atmospheric. However Toby Longworth’s direction isn’t quite as tight as the series has been of late and there are a few awkward moments where you will hear actors completely without direction…that reminds me of the early days of Benny Summerfield too. It’s a little too early to judge whether ditching the arc heavy storylines and larger cast for self contained stories again was a good idea but this new world weary Bernice struggles to make me smile in the same way that the more content one did. However struggling with a son who can turn to violence and forced to live on her wits again means that her personal situation is more interesting than it has been for a while. Its one of the few times when Benny’s lifestyle is actually more interesting than the story she is involved with and conversations regarding her life on the Collection and her fears about Peter are the highlight of the tale. Its going for A Waters of Mars style vibe with evil sentient booze infecting hosts but it is nowhere near as gripping as Tennant’s penultimate story because it lacks the urgency and depth of character. Its an odd one for sure with lots of good moments not amounting to a great production overall: 6/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/beyond-sea-written-by-eddie-robson-and_04.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/beyond-the-sea-84

The Adolescence of Time: Lawrence Miles has become something of a joke in later years with his abusive scratchings on his website attempting to criticise every nook and cranny of the new series that has exploited a wealth of talent from writers of the spin off media and that has singularly failed to include him. Its sad that to see him reduced to this level of banal back biting to get some attention because The Adolescence of Time proves that he is one of the greatest talents ever to touch the Doctor Who books and audios. He is never interested in doing things in a formulaic way and always looks at spanking new ways to explore long standing characters in fresh, imaginative situations. Frankly he would be a perfect fit for the TV show because his ideas are often ambitious and emotive but I fear he may have burnt all of his bridges behind him a long time ago. Having Bernice narrate this story at certain moments suggests this is her telling Peter a bedtime story but we get to experience the wonder of his adventures for real. There is some magical imagery that is buoyed by Lisa Bowerman’s strong direction (this is her sophomore effort in her own range and she is proving to be one of the best) and the resulting atmosphere is pure fairytale. Kudos too to Thomas Grant who the creators take a massive gamble with to give such a prominent role but it proves to be a gamble that pays off and his performance is mature and nuanced. Its not a story that drip feeds you answers all the way through and you have to work to make sense of it but everything comes together in the second half leading towards an extremely satisfying conclusion. For its top characterisation, intelligent detail and striking imagery this is another example of the Bernice range at its best and proof that even in its ninth year there are still great stories to be told: 9/10 

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/adolescence-of-time-written-by-lawrence.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-adolescence-of-time-85

The Adventure of the Diogenes Damsel: The Adventure of the Diogenes Damsel is a special one off Bernice Summerfield story that ties together so many strands of Doctor Who and literature it is worth listening to just to pick up on and bask in the references to other works. The eighth Doctor range (Straxus), Sapphire and Steel (Transuranic agents), the New Adventures (All Consuming Fire, Chris Cwej), Doctor Who mythology (with references to Ghost Light, The Time Lords, Vampires), Bernice’s own mythology (the Time Rings), the eighth Doctor novel range (Faction Paradox) and the Jago & Litefoot series (the foggy Victorian setting) are all alluded to the way the writer juggles these elements whilst still telling a riveting story is worthy of some praise. Jim Smith is not a name I recognise but given the quality of this script I am left wondering why not. He has a great ear of memorable dialogue and juggles Bernice’s continuing story with an eclectic mystery of his own (I love how this starts out as a typical Holmesian mystery and evolves into a typical Doctor Who adventure). With Lisa Bowerman as erudite as ever and David Warner and Peter Miles to support her, Diagnoses Damsel is beautifully cast too and allows for some delicious face offs during the stories second half. It’s a story that has an evocative atmosphere because of its setting and some attractive literary detail but also flaunts some clever science fiction ideas and climaxes on some very satisfying twists. I really wasn’t sure to expect from this season but after a dicey start with Zombie Titanic (otherwise known as Beyond the Sea) we have had a standout Lawrence Miles adventure followed up a standout literary piece. If they keep this standard up I might just fall in love with Bernice’s new aimless adventuring as much as I did with her time at the Collection! An exceptional standalone story with lots for long term fans and new ones to enjoy: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/adventure-of-diogenes-damsel-written-by.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-adventure-of-the-diogenes-damsel-86

The Diet of Worms
TO BE REVIEWED...

Glory Days: What a fantastic way to start a new season with a frivolously enjoyable heist story. The treats in Glory Days are manifold ranging from the much sought (and in no way a stunt) return of Adrian and Bev, the witty script that pokes fun at Bernice in rapturous style, a complex multi-performance from Miles Richardson, a plot that surprises by being so accessible and yet surprisingly complex and a fluid pace and frothy atmosphere. It feels more like the Bernice series of old before we got bogged down in all the domestic drama and could be used as a template for future stories. The story plays out like a cross between an episode of The Avengers (colourful characters and crazy ideas) and Hustle (don’t believe a single word of what you being told - this tale is constructed out of smoke and mirrors and will dazzle you with its numerous cons) and proves to be as addictive as that combination would suggest. The climax is practically impenetrable until you give it some hardcore dissection (I had to listen to it three times to get my head around it) but once you follow the insane line of logic it is highly imaginative and completely fruitloop. It’s as close to Braxiatel’s plans for the future as we have ever been able to get and its almost X-Files-esque in how it takes you within arms reach of the truth and then snatches it away. If she can find somebody with exceptional hard drive recovery skills that Braxiatel’s schemes are waiting to be exposed. That’s two for two with as far as Wallace scripts are concerned (The Judas Gift was similarly excellent) and with nothing listed in schedules for him over the next four seasons I hope it isn’t the last time that he and Bernice are teamed up. More like this please: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/glory-days-written-by-nick-wallace-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/glory-days-102

Absence: The Bernice Summerfield range has not felt this disquieting and haunting since Just War way back in series one and Daniel O’Mahony’s intelligent script it is every bit as gripping. Chunks of the story are told from the diary extracts of Bernice and Peter and how they are coping being separated; her agonising over the danger Peter is in and him desperate to be able to see his mother again. Maybe its because they are trapped inside spacesuits that force you to listen to dying screams of your comrades or maybe it is because the layers of Absence are so unknowable that you feel as though you are scrabbling about in the dark but the scenes below ground have a stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere that trap you down there with Peter and each death feels like a personal loss. Absence itself is a spellbinding setting which holds a mystery in its centre to be unearthed and I liked the fact that we didn’t quite get all the answers so it remains as enigmatic when we leave. The Bernice Summerfield range continues to sport some of the most intelligent writing and devastating performances (both Lisa Bowerman and Thomas Grant deliver their some of their best work as they are driven apart) and it breaks my heart to think of how many people are missing out simply because it isn’t Doctor Who. I hope we never have to experience Bernice in such pain again but as a chilling one-off Absence is unforgettable: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/absence-written-by-daniel-omahony-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/absence-103

Venus Mantrap:  Do you know I am not at all sure what Venus Mantrap was all about? Its one of those stories where the scenario and the tone of the piece are so at odds with each other that neither the drama nor the comedy works especially well. On the one hand you have a great big war looming on the horizon and on the other you have Bernice pretending (for the second time this season no less) to be an artificial version of herself and providing a pleasurable evening to the man who could stop it. It’s a massive leap forward for Bernice who hasn’t been with a man since Jason died but the deluge of smutty jokes robs these scenes of any emotional worth. After Glory Days and Absence I would have thought that anything that John Ainsworth touches in this range would turn to gold but the direction falters too with the tone far too quiet and the pace languid. For once it does feel like a minimalist cast in a studio rather than a fully immersive world on the brink of war. In its best stories this range can conjure up some epic storytelling very economically but there’s something about the small scale of Venus Mantrap that makes it feel like a Doctor Who story that is trying to convince that something ambitious is happening with a few sets and actors. There’s no reason why that should be the case on audio. Lisa Bowerman makes this as listenable as ever but this is probably the weakest story in the range for quite some time and one that tarnishes Jason’s (admittedly not very flattering) memory in a particularly sordid way: 4/10

Full Review Here: http://www.docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/venus-mantrap-written-by-mark-clapham.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/venus-mantrap-104

Secret Origins: Unnecessarily confusing, Secret Origins continues to unpleasantly remind the audience that things aren’t how they used to be in the Bernice Summerfield range. Once upon a time the range could climax a season with something as continuity encompassing as Death and the Daleks or as witty, warm and wonderful as The Masquerade of Death. Secret Origins in contrast is sophistic, dreary and lacking in much interest. The flashback structure is complex but that doesn’t have to be a problem (see The Rocket Men in the companion chronicles range) – what holds this back is the flashbacks Bernice is remembering are pretty mediocre tales featuring a new companion in Robyn with whom Bernice shares little chemistry. It all boils down to a terribly complicated way of explaining why Buenos Aires is in ruins in the first scene. When we were on the Collection I knew (roughly speaking) who to trust and who to care for but nowadays Bernice doesn’t have any of that support so each adventure has to stand up on its own merits. That might sound like a ridiculous thing to say but you would be surprised at how often a TV show will fall back on well liked elements when an episode falls below par – indeed some sitcoms rely on characters doing the same thing week in, week out to get their laughs. Bernice has headed out in the big scary universe without any of this support and whilst some of her adventures have been well done (with writers like Lawrence Miles and Daniel O’Mahony on board you can expect intelligent storytelling) the series has lost its joi de vivre! When the conclusion delivers its surprises they are pretty intriguing all told but that doesn’t excuse a generally humourless, unengaging previous 45 minutes. Benny needs a direction in life again and I think I hear the hissing servos of Braxiatel’s defensive Mechanoids just around the corner: 5/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/secret-origins-written-by-eddie-robson.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/secret-origins-105

Ressurecting the Past: ‘We’re changing the future…’ Exciting, epic and bringing so much of the last ten years of adventures up to date and relevant again, Resurrecting the Past had a massive amount to achieve and it succeeds in pretty much all of its goals. You might think that this would wind up being a box ticking exercise but this is anything but. We’re planet hopping, privy to Braxiatel’s machinations, dodging BPM’s, reunited with this ranges brilliant cast and introduced to a spanking new menace. It has that wonderfully dizzying Army of Ghosts/The Stolen Earth/The Pandorica Opens feel of pulling together many narrative threads into a cohesive and fulfilling opening act of a finale without any of the messy business of having to tie it all up at the end. The pace is relentless and its such a joy to be in the midst of adventure with Adrian, Bev, Hass, Joseph and all the others. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t missed them all. Robson very cleverly manuveres everybody into a position so the plot can finally be spelt out but via three different speakers so Brax, Doggles and Robyn it feels less like exposition and more like an exquisite masterplan that is reaching fruition. The story is also injected with real wit and creativity and the cliffhanger promises exciting things to come. On every level this is the Bernice Summerfield range firing on all cylinders, aiming high and shooting off into the stratosphere. I’m foaming at the mouth for the conclusion: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/resurrecting-past-written-by-eddie.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/resurrecting-the-past-88

Escaping the Future: ‘Bernice your brilliance has cleaned up my mess admirably. You have been remarkable…’ Unpredictable and seeded with great ideas, the conclusion to this two hour blockbuster wasn’t at all what I was expecting and is all the better for it. What’s great about Escaping the Future is that it doesn’t go down the obvious path of telling a war story (the anthology Present Danger has already filled a lot of the messy, violent blanks during the Deindum invasion plus we have already explored a war setting on the Collection in the Life During Wartime/Death and the Daleks double bill and it was hardly going to better that) but instead uses its time to spoil us with long overdue confrontations, the joy of seeing enemies turn into allies and experience this team working together to create a plan of monumental importance to defeat the Deindum. What I thought was going to be a depressingly shallow combat tale instead becomes a hugely imaginative and triumphant piece about these characters we have come to know and love triumphing against all the odds even at the cost of their lives. There’s exciting moments (missile alert!), performance pieces (the riveting Bernice/Braxiatel confrontation which sees Bowerman and Richardson at their best) and a real atmosphere of doom as the entire population of the Collection try and provoke a conflict between two evolutionary stages of the same race and manipulate the timelines. They are literally playing God. It’s a story where Bernice gets to scrub an entire war out of history (it might be one that could have been avoided but that is a moot point now since it has happened) and even as she puts her plan in motion she understands (as do we) that it will mean consequences. Consequences for her and consequences for the range. This two parter has been triumph in both re-igniting interest in the series and polishing off over ten seasons worth of storytelling. It has managed to be epic and intimate, exciting and involving, clever and creative. Its all the things I have come to expect from this range at its best with the added excitement of knocking down the house of cards once and for all. Who knows what the future will hold but at least we had the chance to play with all these wonderful toys one last time. The last scene is brilliantly climactic and unforgettable: 10/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/escaping-the-future-89

Year Zero: Its extremely refreshing to have Bernice so dislocated from everything she recognises, a real fish out of water in a universe that she doesn’t understand. Its precisely what they tried to achieve in the past two seasons with moderate success writ large. Jonathan Clements approaches the near impossible situation of having to reboot the entire Bernice Summerfield universe by having the character and the audience unravel the mystery at the same time. It’s an interrogative story, mostly constructed out of two hander scenes and flashbacks to Benny committing the crime that she is accused of. What I particularly enjoyed about this release is that it isn’t your standard Big Finish release that is buoyed up by a persistent musical score and wealth of soundscapes. Everything is cut right back to the bone and a lush production is replaced by intelligent dialogue and the discussion of some formidable ideas. Thus it might not be to everyone’s taste because you can’t just let it wash over you, you really have to concentrate to get the most from the accomplished examination of ideas. There’s a whopping great mystery at the heart of the story (Year Zero itself) and it’s a clever conceit to allow for some imaginative restructuring of the universe as we understand it. And the way that Bernice reveals her ability through something as innocuous as a can of drink is inspired, by the end of the story she has deconstructed this society through what little exposure she has had to it. Absolutely beguiling if you give it the attention it deserves and the third classic of the season: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2012/12/year-zero-written-by-jonathan-clements.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/year-zero-101

Dead Man's Switch: Dead Man’s Switch opens with Benny writing her diary and heading off to solve a mystery and for a moment you might think that the universe has returned to normal after its dramatic reformation at the end of Escaping the Future. However this is just to lull the unsuspecting listener into a false sense of security before the writers plunge Benny into a fascinating and intricate adventure that is based on a Phone Booth style ‘how the hell are they going to maintain that?’ scenario. Both Dorney and Dinnick were relative newcomers when this was released but its clear from the quality of the writing that they were going to go on to greater things. They have managed to tell an old style economical Bernice tale (like Year Zero it has to make up for the blockbusting cast of the opening two parter) that never feels like a cheap production because they are juggling some terrifyingly huge ideas and manage to give the few characters real depth by exploiting the motivations behind their actions (Otek trying to save a family that has forgotten him and Matka potentially bringing about the end of the universe to save her children). Both characters come to a sticky and leave behind loved ones that will suffer for their passing leaving Benny to clean up the mess. Bernice is once again written as a really smart character, stripping away her comfort zone has forced her to think on her feet and rely on her significant intelligence. Eddie Robson deserves massive kudos for pulling together four unforgettable stories to make the strongest (and a near flawless) season yet and John Ainsworth has directed each tale magnificently, proving equally adept at producing epic and diminutive stories to a very high standard. Bernice is more determined to find Peter than ever before, the series has been reshaped to make that her mission: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/dead-mans-switch-written-by-john-dorney.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/dead-man-s-switch-90

The Kraken's Lament: Paradoxically frustrating (because it is so far removed from anything that we might recognise as the Bernice Summerfield series) and innovative (what better way for a series to re-invent itself but to wipe away the old template and build itself up from scratch which is basically what this box set is setting out to achieve), The Kraken’s Lament is strong opening story for an arc that perhaps never should have happened. After two economical and dark plays set in this new universe it is a relief to take a breath and have something of a holiday experience and what better place to do that than an imaginatively conceived destination constructed out of vivid Greek mythology. Bernice gets a job, gets on the scent of a mystery, indulges in some light relief and solves a puzzle that has a profound effect on the planet. She might not be home but she is far more like her old self again, The Kraken’s Lament being extended therapy if you like. There is some dazzling imagery provoked (the palace standing proud atop a mountain, a Pegasus galloping into the sky, the Kraken attacking the harbour) which is refreshing in a series that often generates its imagination through a necessity of economy. Splitting four stories across a box set has afforded the director a chance to assemble an impressive cast and pour some real money into the post-production work. The mystery of the Kraken’s identity is predictable but the Queen’s story and her plight are only really a side issue. For now this is an effective re-branding of the series, giving Bernice a place in this universe and plenty to resolve and its a cinematic treat on the ears to boot: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-krakens-lament-written-by-mark.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/epoch-91

The Temple of Questions: Self consciously handing Benny a new family to hang with, The Temple of Questions works in that respect but is the narrative equivalent of running on the spot for an hour and refusing to develop the running story. After the cinematic ambition of The Kraken’s Lament, Jacqueline Rayner takes a very different approach (a breathless dip underwater in a chariot drawn by Hippocampi excepted) and stages the second half of the adventure like a piece of theatre. It is very brave to have a lengthy dialogue scene of this nature (its nearly half an hour long) and whilst the dialogue is snappy and keeps the momentum going it falls down at the climax where it doesn’t lead to anything even slightly revelatory. Payoff should have been a given after expecting the audience to pay attention to an exchange for this long. What we can take from this adventure is that Ruth and Leo can be trusted and Benny has her own pair of companions to rely on so I guess the journey is the important thing here rather than the destination. We’re fed a few scraps but considering most of that surrounds the name of the box set it doesn’t feel as though we are learning anything we didn’t already know. Jacqueline Rayner is too strong of a writer to produce anything truly duff but she really has been handed the hardest assignment of the Epoch story, capitalising on her talent for characterisation but giving her no space to innovate the plot (which is coming in the next installment). The chemistry between the three performers is apparent but The Temple of Questions treads water, proving that this set is perhaps one story too long: 6/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/dead-mans-switch-written-by-john-dorney.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/epoch-91

Private Enemy No.1: Just as Jac Rayner was handed the toughest assignment (the characterful time filler), Tony Lee is awarded the easiest slot of the ‘season’ (the exciting build up to the finale without the necessity of having to write a satisfying climax). There is something very clever going on within the Epoch box set and its only during this story that it starts to make itself apparent – Bernice is usually based in the future and features her unearthing the past but that cliché has been turned on its head. Now she’s been dumped in the (apparent) past and is attempting to unearth the future. The overlapping realities has been done to death in the books (Time Zero-Timeless, with particular reference to The Last Resort) and the audios (the godawful Divergents universe arc) but its an idea I find exciting and has much potential. Cleverly its as things start to shift around her that Bernice starts to put together all the mysteries that have amassed on Atlantis so far and builds a picture of what is taking place. By the end of the story she has found the future again (or rather the future has caught up with her) and Lee has dug up some character drama inherent in the premise when Benny loses her new lover to the Epoch. Its been a slow moving storyline but finally the Epoch arc is reaping its rewards, taking many of the elements from the first two stories and providing some coherence and explanations. Time has literally run out of for Benny as the Nothing sweeps across the city she has come to call home. It’s an abstract ending for a story that has excitingly taken this new setting to pieces and if there are similarities to the climactic scenes of Escaping the Future it has a very different tone to it for that. Stirring stuff, Private Enemy No.1 almost justifies the box set on its own: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/private-enemy-no1-written-by-tony-lee.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/epoch-91

Judgement Day: Massively entertaining, if a complete departure from what I was expecting. It’s the only Bernice Summerfield story where you will experience gay cavemen using GPS and mobiles, dinosaurs grazing in the background and verbal swordplay between our heroine and Springheel Jack. Answers do come but in the form of more questions (why is Benny the threat the Epoch are threatened by?) and the method of releasing them is to undo a conceptual puzzle concerning the identity of our heroes. Given the allergic reaction to the Epoch box set upon its release I wasn’t expecting a lot (you should never listen to reviews but it’s a curse) but I was quite surprised at the manifold of treats that were on offer. A massive planet wide mystery, big, bold concepts, a new family to help Benny acclimatise, an innovative menace with devastating powers and some fantastic imagery and set pieces. It might not always be the tightest of story arcs (Temple of Questions was largely irrelevant) but taken as a whole there is so much good material thrown in I found the overall story to be rather engaging. What I especially liked was how Bernice was dumped unceremoniously on this planet, friendless and depressed and over the course of the four stories we have seen the character be rebuilt from the ground up and reminded of everything about her that makes her special (her passion for life, her intelligence, her love of a good mystery and most of all her love for her son). The only disappointment in Judgement Day is that the ultimate showdown and solution consists of little more than Benny throwing a lever and bringing down a forcefield. Its hardly the climactic conclusion that has been promised after four hours worth of adventures. What does come out of this conclusion though is how well developed and established Ruth has been and her sacrifice to save Benny’s life gave me goosebumps all over. In plotting terms this isn’t a particularly clever ending (and its far from conclusive but I have a feeling that some of the hanging questions will be answered in the future) but switching the focus onto character and it is fantastic. I would suggest people give this entire story another listen without the caveat of this being a ‘bold new beginning’ for Bernice (because ultimately the purpose of the set is for her to re-discover her old life) and focus instead on the strength of epic storytelling, character and direction. Its not quite the best Benny has been but its very good all the same and much, much better than its reputation would suggest: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/judgement-day-written-by-scott-handcock.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/epoch-91

Brand Management: This is going to be one hell of a road trip!’ Strong ideas are tethered to a lacklustre plot, Brand Management is very entertaining for the most part without ever threatening to top any polls. My biggest problem was how much the plot floundered and took forever to explain what was going on but once it did the results were actually quite rewarding. The dialogue is top notch throughout with some very clever spoofing of the dangers of over commercialisation and the reunion of Benny and Ruth makes this more than worth listening to. There is so much to keep you distracted during this audio that its only as you reach the conclusion that you realise that not a great deal has actually happened. The way Bernice so casually brings down a powerful family that has kept a galaxy in check for so long is more than a little glib. If it was that easy then somebody would have done it years ago. It was during Brand Management, however, that I realised that the team of Gary Russell, Scott Handcock, Lisa Bowerman and Ayesha Antoine have successfully managed to reboot the Bernice Summerfield universe, to jettison the old order and replace it with something equally as engaging. This is frivolous first pit stop on the road trip to Legion (albeit with something serious to say at the heart of its humour) but the best is yet to come: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/road-trip-brand-management-written-by.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/road-trip-92

Bad Habits: With two fresh writers on the payroll the resulting script is clever, funny and rather perfectly formed. It doesn’t take you long to figure that this is a comic variety on an Agatha Christie adventure with all of the staples you would expect (plenty of suspects, lots of deceptive detail, an overcomplicated wrap up that explains everything with crystal clarity) but also injects a large dose of Carry On bawdy humour into the mix which makes it doubly delightful. Nobody is what they appear to be and the fun is ripping away everyone’s masks and finding who they really are. It’s a great mystery but also capitalises on the Lara Croft aspect of Benny’s adventures of uncovering myths and tombs making it one of the most fulsomely written of Benny adventures for some time. You’ve got a bawdy Bishop, a Mother Superior cum crime writer, psychotic nuns and a talpidae archaeologist. You could easily say that the range isn’t taking itself seriously by putting out something quite as daft as this but its precisely this sort of fun adventuring that put this range on the map in the first place. Bad Habits is intelligently written and superbly performed…it just happens to have a wealth of great gags too: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/bad-habits-written-by-simon-barnard.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/road-trip-92

Paradise Frost: ‘We had no business ever being here…’ After a satire and a comedy it is nice to get back to some serious storytelling and Paradise Frost has just about everything that I could possibly want from a Bernice Summerfield adventure. The location is evocative and has immediate narrative possibilities, the guest characters are all interesting and keeping dark secrets, the monsters are deadly and uncompromising, there’s plenty of mysteries to solve and Bernice gets another chance to show off her boundless intellect. The story is practically told in real time which really ups the danger levels and tension. Whilst I would never be too critical of Gary Russell’s direction (always competent, often exceptional) but Scott Handcock takes the reins here and there is a marked difference in the results. The set pieces feel more dangerous, the performances less heightened and more naturalistic and the piece gains real momentum as we race towards the climax. If this is where Handcock was flexing his muscles before getting to work on the Dorian Gray series it is clear that he already has an aptitude for bringing audio drama to life. I am very much looking forward to his work on the next three box sets. Paradise Frost reminded me of some of the earlier Bernice adventures told with an economic cast and a claustrophobic location with the only difference being the audio experience is so much more vivid these days. It’s a gripping end to a brawny box set that promises even better things for the future: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/paradise-frost-written-by-david.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/road-trip-92

Vesuvius Falling: I would hold up Vesuvius Falling as an example to other writers of how to model the ideal Bernice Summerfield adventure. It has everything that I want from this range; a memorable setting, a dramatic scenario, a race against time gathering of momentum, an intriguing mystery, terrific characters from the regulars to the guest cast, strong dialogue, punchy direction, twists and turns and a highly satisfying conclusion that wraps everything up very neatly. It is an arresting, constantly surprising and exciting tale. The set up on Legion shakes up the relationships between the regular characters in a very interesting way with Brax now acting as Benny's ally and Peter as an adversary. I'm looking forward to some tales being told in this new, seedy location now as the series tries to establish itself a new central setting. You should go into this story blind with no foreknowledge beyond the synopsis on the CD because much of the joy of it comes from the mystery and the twists in the plot. At this point it really feels as though the new Handcock/Russell branding of the Bernice range has taken hold and is delivering consistently excellent work: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/vesuvius-falling-written-by-tony-lee.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/legion-93

Shades of Gray: Genuinely unsettling in a way that these audios don't usually get to me, Shades of Gray is another sterling adventure in what turning out to be an extremely accomplished box set. I love a good horror but so many of the best ideas have been tried and tested and turned into cliché and there is a dearth of original notions that really get under your skin. Whilst Handcock does rely on some horror tropes (the haunted house, the séance, the imaginary friend), he exploits them masterfully and when it comes to the beating heart of the story it is the psychological horror of what Bernice, Ruth and Jack experience that really creeped me out. Astonishingly this works extremely well as a standout Bernice Summerfield in it's own right and an excellent backdoor pilot (although it was never intended as such at the time) for the Dorian Gray range, the two meeting effortlessly without either feeling as though it is being short changed. On the one hand you have the Bernice cast being exploited to the full, playing a range of roles that really challenges them and pushes them as far away from their regular roles as you can get. On the other you have all the required information about Dorian, his immortality and world weary attitude after so many years of living and the means in which he manages to stay so young and beautiful. It helps that the Bernice range has been able to turn its hand to pretty much any genre and tone and the skin crawling terror, layered storytelling and innovative ideas are enough to make any fan of the series sit up and pay attention. It is little wonder that Big Finish green lighted a Dorian Gray series on the strength of this tale. Compare Shades of Gray to The Stone's Lament (another horror story) from the second season of the Benny range and see just how far this series has matured over the years. My only complaint (and the only reason it doesn't get full marks) is that ends a little too abruptly, not giving the story the climax it deserved and never answering the question of what happened to Dorian once he was reunited with his portrait. But then perhaps we shouldn't know how this story ends before the range has even begun. Shades of Gray is a terrific achievement, but don't listen to this one alone in the dark: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/shades-of-gray-written-and-directed-by.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/legion-93

Everybody Loves Irving: Perhaps they should have included a laughter track. Everybody Loves Irving is pure sitcom Benny and very hard to take seriously. Everything is a comically exaggerated; the midget salesmen, the banter between Bernice and Braxiatel and the fact that they share a bed, Peter's imaginary lover, the Al Capone-style businessman to the plumbers that are presented as the new big bad. It's a strange place to leave the Legion box set, far more concerned with setting up a bolt hole for Brax and his new companions to settle into than pulling together any narrative threads that have been started in this box set. Having three stories doesn't really give the writers the opportunity to tell a larger story unless you are going to tell one long serial and so instead the choice was made to tell three completely diverse standalone tales. Everybody Loves Irving is far more interested in asking questions rather than answering them, whetting peoples appetites for Missing Persons. There isn't really a narrative to speak of, not a great deal seems to happen throughout and I was left waiting for a punchline that never came. The real saving grace was the chemistry between Bowerman and Richardson which is a continuing delight. It does feel a bit of a waste of an hour given the juicy threads that have been left dangling. I would rather invest my time in the continuing domestic drama between Peter and Benny or the mystery surrounding Ruth, Jack and Irving than wasting my time listening the to sitcom exploits of space plumbers. Given there is only eight more stories from this creative team left to be told it seems strange to waste any of the valuable spots in the schedule on something quite this vacuous. An odd release, one that defies justification and climaxes the Legion set (which has otherwise been dense and thrilling) on a strangely unfulfilling note: 5/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/everyone-loves-irving-written-by-miles.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/legion-93

A Handful of Dust written by Xanna Eve Chown and directed by Gary Russell

Result: I'm not sure what to make of A Handful of Dust. The keyword that seemed to leap out at me was 'adequate' and it was a story that I failed to feel any great passion towards. The trouble with the Bernice Summerfield range is that there have been so many stories now that unless you are creating something massively original it is difficult not to compare the adventures to similar ones in the past. There have been plenty of mysteries on alien planets and this isn't one of the more intriguing ones. I couldn't work out what was missing, the story seemed to be angling for something cerebral with its themes of religion and mythology but there didn't seem to be any great stakes involved in solving the riddle of Bel and Lud beyond not leaving any loose ends. None of the characters seemed personally involved with what was going on. The Paranormal Planetsangle is amusing for a minute or two but I didn't find the character of Vonna Byzantium especially funny and the whole reality TV angle would be utilised with far more skill in the first story of the Missing Persons box set. Even the realisation wasn't as gripping as I have come to expect from this range. The direction was sufficient but I felt it could have been spookier given the ideas (a haunted/dead planet) and an injection of pace would really have helped move things along. Ruth and Jack are present but for all we learn about them they are not essential to the story, this would have played out just as efficiently with Bernice travelling to Nemeqit alone. Balancing all of these negatives (or adequacies) was a strong cast who make the most of the material they are given (my pal Peter Sheward is really sweet as Lud). I want to be kinder to a story that is trying to make you think but it is a piece that seems torn between offering something intellectual and something amusing and falls a little short in both areas. Year Zero proved that this range can jettison the humour and really make you think but A Handful of Dust doesn't have anywhere near the same focus or shrewdness. Not one of my favourites: 5/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: 

HMS Surprise written by Alexander Vlahos and directed by Scott Handcock

Result: An atmospheric and creepy listen which relies on some sinister ideas to make you squirm before flourishing in the last ten minutes as a surprisingly thoughtful SF tale. You've got a great setting (a decaying shipyard), a great 'menace' (an intelligence birthed in a derelict ship) and Scott Handcock on hand to provide some lovely frights. He's by far the best of the Bernice Summerfield directors. That's not a slight to Gary Russell, who is the only other person working on the series at the moment, because I think Handcock is the best director to have ever worked on the series. He seems to have a terrific understanding of the audio medium and how to get you to feel something about the story is being told, especially if it is a chiller. Big Finish Towers would do well to assign him to some of the other ranges as his is an untapped talent that has scarcely been exploited. HMS Surprise really reminded of one of the old school Bernice Summerfield adventures with a tight mystery, a tiny cast and a rock solid plot that is surprisingly attention-grabbing given the economy of the cast and setting. Lucas is the only guest character but he's effective enough that you don't need anybody else, he provides the details of the mystery and the solution and is engagingly played by Geoffrey Breton. If you removed Peter and Jack you could happily slip this into seasons three to six and I mean that as the highest of compliments. I wouldn't mind finding more out about the Healers, they are ripe for further investigation and I can think of a number of tales that could spring from the charming idea. A second writing/directing combination of Alexander Vlahos and Scott Handcock is a must at some point in the future: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: 

The Curse of Fenman written and directed by Gary Russell

Result: More a series of long winded explanations than a piece of drama, The Curse of Fenman is trying to be a season finale full of exciting twists and turns but falls short in several key areas. One massive misstep is the casting of Georgia Moffett as Fenman, a performance that brings to mind every panto villainess and ice queen that has ever been depicted ('You are too late Irving! I have won! And I shall take my son! Cackle! Cackle! Cackle!'). Never once a genuine menace and always feeling as though she is winking at the audience, this part should have gone to an older actress with much more gravitas. As much as he understands these characters inside out and back to front, Gary Russell is not the man I would choose to script such an essential story because he doesn't quite know where to hold back. There are so many points where the audience is being blatantly manipulated; whether it is trying to be funny, poignant or cute. It is such a shame because the amount of character development that has been injected into the regulars because of this story is impressive (we learn Ruth and Jack's back story, Brax's history is explained and the whole Antonio thing is put to rest) but the presentation of the story, both in how it has been crafted and in how it has been directed has all the conviction of a daytime soap opera. Russell wants you to believe that this where the fates of all the characters has been heading the whole time but with no hints along the way it feels like a writer trying desperately to pull everything together at the last minute and explain everything away as being manipulated by Fenman. It is not in the least bit convincing because none of this has been developed in the stories leading up to it, it is just dropped on the audience at the last minute and wrapped up just as swiftly. This is how not to conduct an arc because it feels as though it is being made up on the hoof. If it wasn't and this was how it was always planned, well that's even more worrying. The Curse of Fenman has a worthy goal, to explain how everybody made it to Legion and where they came from. However these revelations would have been far more effectively spaced out over the past six releases rather than condensed into one great info dump of flashbacks and exposition. The whole thing left me rather cold, not least because Fenman's master plan amounts to absolutely nothing: 4/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: The Revolution written by Nev Fountain and directed by Scott Handcock


Result: I have never known so many Nev Fountain jokes fall so wide of the mark and I think it is due to the uncertain tone of the story. Whether that is due to the writing, directing or performances I don't think I ever quite put my finger on it but I was literally astonished to see the work of so many people I admire failing to gel in such a spectacular way. There were points where it was so ill judged that I was quite embarrassed listening to it and I don't think that has happened since the days of Bang Bang a Boom! which ironically enough featured another abysmal Sylvester McCoy performance. I fail to see the logic of bringing in the Doctor to generate some interest in the Bernice Summerfield range if he is going to be undermined and made a joke of like he is here. Laugh with him by all means but the characterisation and performance is so off kilter that I was mostly laughing at him and that isn't something I ever want to find myself doing. The story itself plays about with some tasty ideas (as you would expect from Nev Fountain) but it is squandered on a shallow run-around featuring too many characters that are facetious and self-righteous. Go and listen to the superlative range Dorian Gray and you have hours of evidence that Scott Handcock is one of the strongest directors Big Finish has ever employed. So what happened here? There are so many gags in this script, most of them need to be delicately handled but instead it is like watching an appalling Benny Hill sketch where he trips over his shoelaces, slips on a banana and falls face down into a cream pie. It lacks any subtlety or nuance. The biggest indignity, however, is Sylvester McCoy's performance. So bad it practically redefines the meaning of the word, it sounds like he has tripped off a plane after a flight back from New Zealand and picked up the script jetlagged. I've never heard anything quite like it. I always want to love what the Bernice Summerfield range is releasing because it is constantly innovating and surprising but this was an enormous step backwards in quality and realisation. Parts of this story are truly abominable so things can only get better: 2/10


Goodnight Sweet Ladies written by Una McCormack and directed by Scott Handcock


Result: 'Nothing this good is ever meant to happen!' Back to doing what Bernice Summerfield always did best, an isolated location, an economic number of characters, strong dialogue and a mystery to solve. It almost feels as though The Revolution never happened. The first half of Good Night Sweet Ladies is a quiet affair but that is something of a relief after the smug gaudiness of the previous story, it is a real back to basics approach with a Dalek thrown in to keep things spicy. There is a contemplative and haunting atmosphere to this story that makes it stand out from a crowd, the measured pace of the script complemented by some solemn sound design and music that helps to compel the listener to the plight of the dying Dalek ship. Lisa Bowerman is afforded some emotional opportunities in the last third that brings out the best in her performance, Bernice is afforded a touching reunion with a character that she never thought she would have the chance to talk to again. There's barely any intrusion by the Doctor and Ace either so it really does feel like old school Benny. The choice that Bernice has to make at the climax is an impossible one and those always make for the most compulsive listening. Good Night Sweet Ladies strips away all the bluster and action that plagues so many audios and focuses on characterisation, specifically Bernice who is always well served when women are putting dialogue in her mouth. I thought this was achingly sad in parts and refreshingly different in tone to anything I had heard before: 8/10


Random Ghosts written by Guy Adams and directed by Scott Handcock

Result: I have something a little embarrassing to admit. I was listening to music before I put Random Ghosts on and I had my iPhone set to shuffle and when I pressed play on this story I listened to four tracks before I realised that I wasn't hearing the narrative being told in the right order. And that's because for one time only that is the entire point of Random Ghosts. It is the ultimate puzzle book audio, told out of order in a very clever way to keep its secrets as long as possible. It's a story where the way it has been constructed is as important and as gripping as the content itself. The story as a whole is dramatically very satisfying but individual scenes had the ability to take my breath away, discussing intelligent points powerfully. Random Ghosts is near flawless in what it is trying to achieve...and that is to hold off from letting the audience know the name of the forbidden world for as long as possible. It achieves that by assaulting the audience with gripping relationship drama and unforgettable performances. The weak link (as in The Revolution where the Doctor Who elements ruined the party) is Ace, who is more like a stroppy kid than ever and as a result comes with a typically unconvincing performances from Sophie Aldred. However Random Ghosts compensates with another stunning examination of Benny and another powerhouse turn from Lisa Bowerman. Aside from The Jigsaw War I cannot think of another story that has taken such a scattershot approach to its storytelling and as such this is a unique story that takes a risk and succeeds. It's best to remain spoiler free so the final scene has the impact it is going for but even if you know the title of the next story Random Ghost still delivers magnificently:9/10


The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: The Lights of Skaro written by James Goss and directed by Scott Handcock


Result: It is a shame that the plot doesn't hang together better because there are certain sections of dialogue in The Lights of Skaro that might just be the single best examinations of the Daleks in the entirety of Big Finish. If nothing else this is definitely not simply a Dalek cash in like so many other audios. It's very existence is to explore Dalek history, to examine them psychologically and to come to some pretty dark conclusions about their blight on the universe. It is a tough story to listen to because it is unrelentingly serious but as a drama that encapsulates their menace and evil, it is practically faultless. Lisa Bowerman triumphs, she's absolutely riveting throughout playing a character whose life has been fundamentally changed by these creatures and is trying to understand them. The biggest downfall is the structure of the narrative, which does allow us an intriguing waltz through Dalek mythology but apes the construction of the previous story and makes the latter half of this box set feel a little repetitive. That and the cynical use of Davros in the trailers when he barely features in the story. Ultimately this box set of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield isn't at all what I thought it was going to be. I feared in the first story that Doctor Who would make an unwelcome intrusion to the universe of Bernice Summerfield which has enjoyed autonomous creativity for so many years. However the Doctor and Ace have barely made an impact and they are without a doubt the weakest aspects of the set. What this quartet of stories has achieved is to take hold of one of the most abused aspects of Doctor Who, the Daleks, and put a fascinating new spin on the creatures. It has made Skaro a terrifying, mysterious world again and has gone some way to encapsulating what made the creatures so successfully evil and addictive in the first place. The fact that the final three stories have handed Bernice Summerfield some riveting material and afforded Lisa Bowerman some striking performance opportunities feels like it is merely a bonus. The Lights of Skaro isn't perfect but it is exploring new avenues and I will always champion that: 8/10


3 comments:

Levi Cohen said...

Hey Joe,
I've been using the blog as a reference guide to what I want to get from Big Finish, and decided to make the leap into Benny's range. Just wondering: is Series 2 necessary, r can I skip over to Series 3 and the good stuff?

Joe Ford said...

Hi Levi,

I'm really glad you are finding the blog a useful aid, that's really gratifying to hear.

Unfortunately series two is when the books and audios were heavily combined and there is a massive development that would affect the entire range until the present day. However, it appears in the two books The Squires Crystal and The Glass Prison and not in any of the audios. So perhaps just get those (both books are rather good too). I would suggest checking out the Lance Parkin audio from season two as well.

I hope you have as much fun with the series as I have. It's one hell of a ride.

Have a good one

Joe :-)

tim abdellah said...

Hiya Joe - hope you're having a great 2014! I'm enjoying your recent run of 7th Doctor TV reviews! Wondering if you're planning to review the Legion, New Frontiers, and Missing Persons Benny box sets? I'd love to hear your take on them at some point.

Best wishes from California!