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Starting today, I’ll be doing weekly capsule reviews of some older Big Finish releases, shedding light on forgotten gems and universally-acknowledged classics alike. This week’s capsule review is of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Volume 1, the first in a series of new boxsets for the Doctor’s faithful companion Benny.
Released in 2014, this set comprises four stories. Instead of going in-depth like I do with my usual reviews, I’ll devote a single paragraph to each story before giving it a rating out of five at the end.
The first story in this set is The Revolution by Nev Fountain. While definitely linked to the other three episodes, this one is much more of a prequel than a proper part of the overarching story. Set on the planet Arviem 2, where science and religion are in conflict, The Revolution follows Benny (Lisa Bowerman) as she reunites with the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) while being chased by the idiosyncratic Inquisitor Xavier (brought to life wonderfully by Miles Jupp). It’s a fun, sometimes even silly, adventure-based story with a couple of good twists, though compared to the rest of the set, it’s not quite as good. 3/5
On the trail of Ace, Benny arrives on the Moon of Adolin in Goodnight, Sweet Ladies by Una McCormack. Joining with the timid Steven Day (John Finnemore) and the mysterious Claire (Sheila Reid), she sets about investigating the ruins of a cathedral, and comes across a plethora of surprises… including a Dalek! The story starts out as an Indiana Jones-style archaeology piece, before developing into something rather more emotional, and concluding with a gut-punchingly tragic moment that serves as some of the best character development for Benny I’ve yet seen. 4.5/5
The story continues with Random Ghosts by Guy Adams, which takes place on the so-called Forbidden World. Here, every single day is repeated over and over again, which means that its inhabitants lose their memories every time they go to sleep. This is a really strong central conceit that we see play out very effectively throughout the piece, with the characters struggling to get their heads around the ephemerality of their memories. The character of Ace (Sophie Aldred) comes into play here, though the standout cast member has to be Matthew Gravelle as Klinus, Benny’s mysterious love interest. Overall, this is a great story with a brilliant (if a little obvious) cliffhanger that sets up the final instalment of the set. 4/5
The adventure concludes in The Lights of Skaro by James Goss, a story that takes us all throughout Dalek history as Benny explores a time distortion plagued Skaro. Though we dip into past Dalek episodes here, this definitely isn’t a retread of those stories… in fact, this is one of the most original and creative takes on the Daleks I’ve heard in a long time. Sure, this story has some issues: Davros (Terry Molloy) is in the cast list but only appears for about thirty seconds, and the Doctor and Ace are largely absent until the denouement, but there’s some great character moments throughout that mean these small gripes aren’t such a big deal. 4/5
While perhaps not quite as strong as some of the later New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield boxsets, this is definitely a very good boxset. Benny herself gets some great development, with a strong central performance from Lisa Bowerman, while Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred make welcome appearances throughout. Not only this, but the Daleks, one of the most tried and true Doctor Who monsters, get some of their most compelling material in many years here, brought to life brilliantly as always by Nicholas Briggs. Overall, this is highly recommended.
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Volume 1 is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
Join us next week for another Retro Review, where we’ll be reviewing Doctor Who: The Juggernauts!