Oh No It Isn’t!

Posted in Audio by - July 20, 2018
Oh No It Isn’t!

Released September 1998

Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield became one of the standout successes in Virgin’s The New Adventures novel range with the franchise in flux while on indefinite television hiatus. Introduced in ‘Love and War,’ this witty, intelligent, fierce, and sarcastic archaeologist would go on to feature in some forty-four novels while also earning a successful range of her own that wonderfully developed the character even further. It was only natural, then, that this wildly popular character should be the first of the Doctor Who universe for Big Finish to adapt for and explore within the audio medium, and an adaptation of Paul Cornell’s introductory novel for Bernice’s eponymous range proves to be the perfect audio introduction as well despite the very bold risk of parodying pantomime right from the start as a great missile strikes her ship.

Bernice is an incredibly complex character, and even without any pre-existing knowledge about her strong moral compass often coming into conflict with the darker Seventh Doctor’s or her brief but failed marriage, it’s astonishing just how layered she is right from the start of this production and just how perfectly Lisa Bowerman captures the many nuances of her to make it feel like this role was created specifically for her. Indeed, ‘On No It Isn’t!’ proves to be the perfect story for anyone unfamiliar with the character since she is put in distinctly unfamiliar circumstances which allow both her strengths and faults to come to the forefront in equal measure, and her sudden belief in the Goddess when she believes she has died and apologises for her sinful life, only to quickly find that she is censored from her beloved swearing in this Heaven-like realm, are brief but incredibly enjoyable and crucial moments that develop her just that little bit further.

This is a story that wisely does not reveal all of its secrets too early so that characters and audience alike work on a common ground of confusion and assumption, but the godlike Perfectons deciding to save their race from extinction due to the destruction of a nearby sun by using a computer matrix that will then allow their race to live once more within the beings who come to explore their world is a stunning concept that proved immediately that Big Finish had no fear presenting more complex narratives to its burgeoning audience. Unfortunately, the Perfecton plan goes awry when it instead integrates with the ship’s computer mainframe as Bernice is reading about English pantomime, and the world that results is exactly what one would expect within those circumstances. With gender confusion, the possibility of incest, and time anomalies as the world tries to integrate Bernice’s more outlandish ideas and as the characters express their belief in the land beyond the sky where the big light shines and where the audience lives, ‘Oh No It Isn’t!’ captures everything that makes pantomime so unpredictable and successful and never forgets the most familiar tropes and importance of audience interaction to drive its narrative of Bernice trying to escape forward.

Along with Lisa Bowerman, the supporting cast does a tremendous job of fleshing out this production, and special credit unquestionably goes to Nicholas Courtney who, as Bernice’s cat Woolsey, proves through his impestuous and charismatic nature just how fiercely loyal he is to Bernice while also coming to discover his true purpose in life and that he is driven purely by instinct. With the stellar sound design and the likes of Mark Gatiss as the Grand Visier and James Campbell as Professor and Dame Candy fully getting into the spirit of the production as well, this is a fine example of the incredible range of adventures that Bernice can anchor in any medium and easily overcomes the slower start and some strange voice modulation to offer a thrilling adventure that puts Bernice’s morality squarely in focus.

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