Last year, Big Finish held a competition with the Time Ladies to find a new female writer for the Bernice Summerfield range, and they were so impressed with the finalists that they gave them each a slot in this year’s Benny boxset, titled Buried Memories. I was very much looking forward to hearing from this new talent, and I’m pleased to say that this set definitely didn’t disappoint!
Read on for my thoughts on the individual stories.
1. “Pride of the Lampian” by Alyson Leeds
Buried Memories opens with Pride of the Lampian, a story that follows Bernice’s investigations into the Lampian: a race that the Doctor doesn’t think exists. This is a tale all about discovery, both in terms of knowledge and self-knowledge, and is a great introduction to the main theme of the set: discovering hidden truths about the world and about oneself.
Bowerman and Warner are joined in this story by Jessica Hayles as Drolla: an archivist who helps them along the road to discovering the truth behind the Lampian. She’s well-characterised, stemming from author Alyson Leeds‘ profession as an archivist herself, and Hayles does a great job bringing her character fo life.
Benny gets a lot to do here, with her archaeological know-how coming to the fore. To someone who’s never encountered the character before, this story is the perfect introduction, acting as a kind of soft reboot after the two more arc-heavy Unbound boxsets of previous years.
All in all, a strong start to the boxset.
2. “Clear History” by Doris V Sutherland
In the second story of the set, Doris V Sutherland‘s Clear History, the Doctor and Benny visit Civitas-G, a world whose people live inside a simulation. Following a disembodied voice, they soon discover that the simulation is breaking down…
Josie White and Heider Ali play Zeta and Lloyd respectively: two denizens of Civitas-G who help the Doctor and Benny uncover the truth behind what’s happening to their world. Both characters well-performed, and Sutherland gives them strong backstories that make them incredible likable.
The villain of this story is the Administrator, who presides over the simulation. With a great backstory, and played wonderfully by Gavin Swift, the Administrator is a delightfully petulant character with believable motives behind his actions.
While the sound design and music are of a very high standard throughout the set, I was particularly impressed by Steve Foxon‘s work in this story. From the unique and punchy sound of people disappearing and reappearing inside the simulation to the fast-paced guitar music that underscores the action scenes, Clear History is full of fantastic aural cues that really add to the success of this episode.
3. “Dead and Breakfast” by April McCaffrey
Dead and Breakfast by April McCaffrey is a slower-paced story that sees the Doctor and Benny staying in a B&B on an alien world where unusual people are punished or even killed! With the Doctor solving a murder, and Benny joining an archeological dig
A self-professed Benny aficionado, McCaffrey has a strong grasp on the character, and writes some great dialogue for her, particularly during the scenes where she and the Doctor have to pretend to be married so as not to arouse suspicion. There are some powerful character moments for both characters as well, which are the highlight of the story.
Jacqueline King features here as Flor, a battle cyborg turned B&B owner. McCaffrey gives her some fantastic lines and a touching backstory, while King portrays the part with relish- a far cry from her more grounded role as Sylvia Noble!
Overall, Dead and Breakfast is another fantastic story in the set, succeeding mostly in the realm of character development, but with a sound plot too.
4. “Burrowed Time” by Lani Woodward
Burrowed Time is the final story in the set, and has one of the most unique plots I’ve heard in a long time. This script, written by Lani Woodward, focuses on a sentient train buried deep underground that’s under siege from monsters. There’s also ghosts, archaeology and a woman who’s both old and young at the same time. Great stuff!
The dialogue in this story sizzles. Benny is sarcastic, the Doctor is outrageous, and the sentient train is cooly sinister. The guest characters, such as Richard Lumsden‘s Professor Landren and Julia Deakin/Laura Aikman‘s Anita are also well-written and acted, bringing the world of the story to life and, in the case of the latter, bringing some great pathos.
My favourite story of the set, Burrowed Time is an almost-absurdist story that truly encapsulates the theme of this collection: Buried Memories. A fantastic debut from Lani Woodward!
This is a fantastic collection of four really unique stories, each with a strong thematic focus. Each and every one of these new writers has delivered a perfect first script, and I really hope we hear more from them all in the future. Director Scott Handcock delivers a tight production, there’s great sound design and music by Steve Foxon and both Bowerman and Warner are on top form. Thoroughly recommended!
And remember, Big Finish are currently running a competition for you to submit your own Bernice Summerfield script, with the winning story becoming part of next year’s Benny set! Check out the details here, and good luck to all those who are entering!
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Buried Memories is available as a CD or on download from http://www.bigfinish.com
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