In Time

Posted in Audio by - January 05, 2019
In Time

Released December 2018

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

As one final celebration for Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield’s monumental twentieth anniversary at Big Finish, In Time presents eight short stories from throughout her incredible life that has spanned worlds, time, and even universes.

This long-standing series in its many formats has been anything but predictable, and Dave Stone’s ‘Oh No, Not Again’ certainly sets the bar high for this set with a surprisingly meta piece that details the profession of chronicling Bernice’s ongoing adventures that somehow enmeshes cat burglars, secret police, and State-sponsored concerts to magnificent effect. By giving just a taste of Bernice’s many adventures and even mentioning a certain presidential position she seems to have held as she is here sent to find facts about a humanoid plantlike race that has evolved without any outside influence, this is a brief but perfect introduction to the breadth and spirit of this series that culminates on a thrilling cliffhanger that adds a sense of the outlandish to the wave of emotions brimming throughout this unique love letter.

Doris V Sutherland’s ‘The Bunny’s Curse’ sees a young Bernice at Spacefleet Academy as she tries to find herself amongst her peers and the pressure of her surroundings. This is a story that quite aptly highlights Bernice’s trademark defiant confidence, charm, and sarcasm while mixing in the awkwardness and insecurity of youth, and the stunning world-building that occurs in such a short space of time gives this short mission an altogether grander scope. Again, this is a tale that never forgets the immense heart at the core of this lead character and series, and a surprising tonal swerve from slowly approaching horror to undying love as the truth of her surroundings slowly reveals itself by a surprising connection to her particular protective suit creates a formative moment for Bernice that assuredly stayed with her throughout her future adventures.

‘The Seventh Fanfic’ by Mark Clapham looks in at Bernice while at St Oscar’s University on the planet Dellah when she is given a most inauspicious task. Employed by an organisation she has never heard of to willingly accept the potential of being brainwashed while attending a seminar to find the so-called prime metatext and experience its effects on a living mind, Bernice quickly comes across an array of colourful characters and flippantly reacts to various seminars and narrations that intrigue or thoroughly bore her to varying extents. Presenting a nice allegory to the different emotional responses audience members will have to any story and discussing the importance of narrative structure, performance, and other facets to a story’s immediate and lasting success, this is a unique spectacle grounded in the tedium of academia with a fantastic means of resolution only Bernice could ever achieve.

No Bernice anthology could ever be complete without revisiting her time at the Braxiatel Collection, and Simon Guerrier’s ‘Benny and the Grieving Man’ manages to present a welcoming story to ardent and casual fans alike that offers plenty of allusions to the drama of the Fifth Axis and the all-too-constant presence of death that befell Bernice’s erstwhile home. Indeed, it’s the death of one particular student in this attempted haven of rebuilding and peace that has drawn the personal attention of a famed lawyer and added another level of distress to the Collection’s ongoing plight, but as other claimants step forward, slight irregularities lead Bernice to pursue a new line of questioning that reveals an altogether more surprising plan in motion. Bernice has never been one to suffer fools lightly, but this is a moment for her to truly show her shrewd and calculating nature as she pieces together vague pieces of a much grander puzzle before her, brilliantly highlighting her own conviction and character and showing just one small but important example of why she is so successful and renowned throughout time and space.

Flashing forward to Bernice’s time on Legion, Antonio Rastelli’s ‘Wurm Noir’ sees Jack looking to draw in new clientele to The White Rabbit with a new device that can shape worlds around the user based upon his or her thoughts. For the unwittingly affected Bernice, this means a rainy world filled with stereotypical gangsters that references the classic video she had watched the night before, but the hidden secret within this world reveals a darkness from millennia ago as the lone survivor of a race thought long extinct makes itself and its efforts known. Again, this is a story that refuses to adhere to an expected path of events, but the immensely visual world created that gives way to a tremendous danger looking to wreak havoc on the universe once more makes for an enthralling experience that- although not necessarily exploring the incredible relationship between Bernice, Irving, Peter, Jack, and Ruth- is sure to entertain from beginning to end.

In the first of two stories set in the dying Unbound universe, Victoria CW Simpson’s ‘Legacy Presence’ features Bernice inside a museum dedicated to past innovation that is situated at the far end of the safe zone. Fittingly for the character, she’s rather less than enthralled by her surroundings, but her own past as well as that of the museum soon come to affect her in a wholly unexpected fashion as she explores herself and her past just as much as the museum with her unique robotic companion. This setup offers a brief but fascinating look into the insecurities that Bernice still carries with her and just how much she has changed as a woman since her youth, but it’s ultimately the importance of memories and the eternal desire to be remembered that form the emotional backbone of this tale, unafraid of highlighting the positive and negative ramifications of overt reminders of the past on others in the process.

James Goss delves more deeply into the inevitable death of this alternate universe in ‘The Death of Hope,’ bringing to the forefront the different coping mechanisms and religions the many people are using to find solace in their plight. Naturally, however, some have begun losing their faith and looking for other truths and comforts, and it’s through this fact that the Mother Superior of the Sisterhood of Beedlix has requested Bernice’s presence on a mysterious asteroid holding several distinct atmospheres capable of supporting all manners of life. With hope and happiness increasingly rare commodities, Bernice is offered a glimpse of her happiest life as she lives happily with Jason and a young Peter with Braxiatel her best friend once again. After the tremendous pain and suffering Bernice has experienced throughout the years, this is a most welcome respite that Bernice can only wish with all of her being was real, and the crushing inescapability that this vision can never be real is all the more effective as a result. Still, the power of this asteroid would allow everyone happiness in their remaining days, and the decision Bernice must make whether to have faith in the Doctor’s plan for salvation or to support Mother Superior’s position of proclaiming this asteroid as a god is a fascinatingly complex conflict calling upon faith in all of its many forms.

In Time concludes with a look to the future in Peter Anghelides’s ‘Old Ruins,’ a title referencing not only Bernice’s continuing search for artefacts but also what she calls old archaeologist who do not retire. This isn’t the first short story to look at Bernice in her more advanced years, but there’s something undeniably comforting about knowing that she will continue doing what she loves to do with her trademark intellect and sarcasm her constant companions no matter how much she must do to adjust to the passing of time. With nothing ever quite as straightforward as it seems, however, this series of vignettes filled with colourful characters offers a surprising revelation about similar pursuits and a fitting tie to Bernice’s past that satisfyingly and adeptly brings everything full circle.

Each and every one of these authors and stories has perfectly captured the shifting nuances of Bernice at these various points in her life that Lisa Bowerman brings to life so incredibly well. Though this is understandably a title geared more towards those with a deeper knowledge of the character’s long history, In Time is also a fitting overview for those with only a passing knowledge, using its general continuity to maximal effect to set the scenery without becoming overly encumbered by the specifics for its plots. While no short story collection can ever hit upon every area that would prove so important to the legacy of Bernice, this is a wonderful encapsulation of twenty years that ends this anniversary year on a distinct high.

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