Review by Jacob Licklider
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield is one of the Big Finish ranges which I have been following since its inception, and each set has been a gift to me in the years since. ￼￼I was greatly disappointed when there wasn’t a set last year, but incredibly excited when it was announced Volume Five would not only feature the David Warner, but a big risk in four completely new writers.
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Buried Memories marks a step into bringing new talent into Big Finish and I can only thank IndieMacUser for choosing me to put my two cents on this release. As a set there is a greater degree of freedom to the stories that this one can tell as there aren’t the shackles of the ‘Unbound Universe’ story arc and the cynical Warner Doctor is let loose on the main universe.
Pride of the Lampian by Alyson Leeds opens the box set with what amounts to a character study of the character of Bernice Summerfield. Opening with Benny and the Doctor at an intergalactic car boot sale; Benny buys a “Lampian” artefact, referencing a race that she has never heard of and one she is quite certain is made up. Taking it to be analyzed the Lampian race starts to appear, building more and more until they physically burst into the reality. Leed’s script is quite good for a first script and Pride of the Lampian is all the better for it; but there is one large flaw running through it, and that’s the quite literal lamp-shading the silly naming of the Lampian early on.
Having Benny call out the potential existence of lampian and the fact that there is a lamp on Gariff the stall-keeper’s stall immediately gives away the main idea of the story that the race is fictional but becoming real. It also makes Benny look slightly less intelligent than she is, as she doesn’t question that something more conspiratorial could be going on with the Lampian.
The actual conclusion of the character study at the end acts as an excellent capstone for some of the desires Benny has had that never really came to light before. Leeds splits Benny and the Doctor up for the majority of the runtime, with the cynical and skeptical Warner Doctor berating Summerfield for believing Gariff. Lisa Bowerman and David Warner give excellent voices to their characters and build upon the previous two boxsets without the listener having to have heard those sets to enjoy it. Highlights of this story are the Doctor and Benny researching the ‘Lampian’ in their own way as slowly the stakes escalate and Benny has to make a choice at the end which is excellent. Leeds’ story is a good if flawed start to the box set and with some work she has the potential to be a great character writer. 7/10.
Doris V. Sutherland, winner of the Bernice Summerfield Short Story competition of 2018, provides her first full cast story for the second slot of Buried Memories in Clear History.
Clear History starts out like a standard dystopia in disguise as a utopia with some material rightly inspired by The Matrix. Yet, instead of a hostile machine takeover, the citizens of Civitas-G have put themselves in a simulation for leisure. Sutherland offers a more optimistic take on the question of “what if reality was a simulation?” as the villain isn’t some evil folly of man and the citizens are genuinely happy.
The villain of this piece is a very ‘human’ being who revises history to give himself power; mixing bits of 1984 with Brave New World. David Warner’s Doctor shows more of his skeptical and older side in a way to make his portrayal unique as he’s always asking these questions of what is going on. Of course, he’s suspicious of this utopia as he’s the Doctor and if something seems too good to be true it usually is. Benny on the other hand is incredibly intrigued as she has researched this civilisation in the past and Lisa Bowerman’s performance reflects this, knowing that everything could really be a utopia. It’s a type of Doctor Who story which as far as I can tell, has never been done before, and only not done because of science fiction’s adamant stance against stories with actual utopias. Clear History is script edited and mentored by Una McCormack who’s experience in Volume Three and Four really helped Sutherland’s script come to life. There are a few red herring twists about what is at the bottom of Civitas-G’s society and who the real villain of the piece is that gets in the way; but Clear History shines through as a compelling mystery as to what’s causing the problems on Civitas-G. It’s a story that manages to take on some pretty new subject matter and does it excellently. 9/10.
It takes a particular talent to take a story and halfway through change the tone without causing tonal whiplash. April McCaffrey’s debut Dead and Breakfast stands out from the rest of the set for showing just how one pulls this off in a swift moment with a revelation that had been subtly foreshadowed through the runtime about just what is causing this planet’s society to be the way it is. The planet’s gimmick here is that a strict moral code of normalcy and orthodoxy is adhered to by law; creating a totalitarian society where even deep friendships are unable to thrive. The Doctor and Benny have created a guise of orthodoxy, and by that of course, they’re married. The first half of the episode while there is still a dramatic undercurrent, there’s a lot of comedy with Lisa Bowerman and David Warner relish the banter between them as they have to and successfully maintain the image that they are a happy couple to fit in. Benny is also on an archeological dig as an amateur, again giving her another layer of character.
There’s also this touching emotional moment as Dead and Breakfast does give Benny and the Doctor some emotional resolution underlying the Doctor’s fears now that they are back in her universe. The Doctor has no idea how to process his emotions: he’s the one who knows how to fix everything but cannot find a way to show Benny just how much she means to him as a friend. Jacqueline King and Zaraah Abrahams stand out from the rest of the cast with two characters taken from stock characters which McCaffrey has evolved from their stocks into excellent version of themselves. McCaffrey was mentored by Simon Guerrier and once again it’s a match made in heaven as McCaffrey’s dialogue and emotional moments are incredibly well put. The story goes from comedy to horror excellently and has become a highlight of the box set. There is a sense of history with Dead and Breakfast, being the first to really come face to face with the implication of bringing Benny back to the universe and sets up a potential story arc. It is the highlight of the box set and can take its place amongst the best stories of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield range. 10/10.
From the truly horrific, the final story takes the listener to the truly absurd. Lani Woodward’s ‘Burrowed Time’ deals with temporal stasis on a sentient subway system. No seriously, this story takes place on a sentient subway system which Benny is investigating which acts almost like the Library in ‘Silence in the Library’; however, while the premise is the same Woodward includes several differences to that story to make this one her own. At the end of the day, Burrowed Time works well to demonstrate the overarching theme of the set; Buried Memories, time’s gone by that often hurt, but need to be confronted. While this may not be at the forefront, it makes this set standout coming off three sets with three very deep story arcs to something different.
Burrowed Time is absurd yes, but the world-building is fantastic. The sentient subway system went offline centuries ago and has tried to save its passengers by decomposing their bodies and reconstituting them with mud and clay leading to a story that feels straight out of the Graham Williams era of Doctor Who, comedic but with an incredibly dark edge. It’s essentially a comedic ghost story in the vein of Ghostbusters; a comedy but with genuinely frightening horror elements. Woodward’s script does have some minor pacing issues in the middle where all the characters get to the bottom of the mystery and there’s still a good seven minutes left in the story which is kind of filler. This doesn’t affect the story as much as it could as Woodward still plays around with the Doctor and Benny’s relationship building upon McCaffrey’s work in the previous episode, perhaps unintentionally. Burrowed Time is an excellent little slice of absurdism that encapsulates the major themes and ideas of the box set and caps off what is a great set. 8/10.
Four incredibly varied stories from four incredibly varied writers makes The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Buried Memories a different release in the range. Different, but in a good way showing that keeping Benny with the Unbound Doctor is great and there’s a sense of calm before the storm as it is confirmed there will be a Volume Six and something greater now that the story’s back in the main universe. 8.5/10.