Absence

Posted in Audio by - September 05, 2018
Absence

Released July 2009

Daniel O’Mahony, with only the two entries ‘Timeless Passages’ and ‘The Tub Full of Cats’ in the ongoing audio adventures of Bernice Summerfield, has made an indelible mark in the expanded world of Doctor Who in general due to his wonderful characterisation and macabre world-building abilities. Returning with ‘Absence’ and further developing the relationship between Bernice and Peter that has gained such prominence over recent adventures, O’Mahony brings the two to the cluster world of Absence as they run out of money on their way to Venus to collect Jason’s financial fortune, creating a dark and poignant story in the process that puts both characters through the emotional wringer like never before.

The world of Absence is undeniably one of the most captivating the series has yet offered, a planet-sized object that has resulted from the spontaneous fusion of flotsam and jetsam left behind by various alien species. With its interior layers a virtual unknown and its very existence almost beyond comprehension, there’s a tremendous amount of intrigue inherent to this location, and when Bernice is left behind as Peter is instead chosen to explore this world’s depths on the reclusive entrepreneur Lamarque Aslanides’s mission, she can do nothing but try to make a living for herself by flipping burgers as she struggles to cope with her anxiety.

Whereas some stories falter with a limited cast size and presenting a robust world, ‘Absence’ excels from beginning to end, and O’Mahoney clearly has a firm grasp on both leads to present their complicated but deepening bond in a believable light that benefits from two truly profound performances. Indeed, whereas Peter often came off as rather querulous and impetuous during his first solo outing in ‘The Adolescence of Time,’ he comes off as a wholly sympathetic figure here who has clearly learned from the very best of his mother but who also so dearly wants to make a name for himself. Peter understands how desperately they need the money and at the same time wants to prove himself to his mother, creating a complex motivation for this young man, and he experiences the conflicted feelings that result from a burgeoning crush and from seeing death in short order.

Living within a spacesuit that creates a symbiotic relationship to sustain them both, Peter is told only that there may be other colonists or survivors beneath the surface to explain away the presence of weaponry on their mission, but it’s clear from the start that Aslinides has a deeper secret he is not willing to divulge. When a group of robots attacks and the mission suddenly turns its focus to war, the rescue mission of the TechnoCult and this group’s association with the enigmatic Keep whom Bernice has developed a relationship with above are suddenly thrust into the spotlight, and the virus that has taken down so many worlds previously provides a dramatic core for this story and this world while putting Aslinides’s aims into an entirely different light. Indeed, as Cindy becomes a source of infatuation for Peter, she, too, is found to hold a far greater secret, and her relationship to the ISA and the lengths she goes to protect Peter and even Aslinides as the truth come hurtling towards him is an immense sequence following so much destruction that further ties together everything that has come before it in satisfying fashion.

The agonising of Bernice for her son is palpable, and though Bernice is not as prominently featured as in many other releases, Lisa Bowerman is at her absolute best throughout and imbues and incredible amount of emotion into each and every word she speaks that only further amplifies Thomas Grant’s own performance. Featuring a truly claustrophobic setting that refuses to reveal all of its secrets even by story’s end, ‘Absence’ delivers a dark, impactful, and intricately layered story that remains a testament to just how devastatingly effective this audio range can be even when the usual sarcasm is stripped away and the inner workings of these characters are laid bare for all to see as incredible danger continues to mount.

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