The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume Five: Buried Memories

Posted in Audio by - September 13, 2019
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume Five: Buried Memories

Released September 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Paired with Bernice Summerfield, the David Warner Unbound Doctor has quickly become one of Big Finish’s most fascinating characters as his pragmatism and self-serving cynicism battle with an inherent compassion for others that isn’t always the most overtly expressed. Without constrictions from any of the Unbound universe arc, four writers new to full-cast Big Finish adventures now tackle this most unique companionship in The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume Five: Buried Memories.

Alyson Leeds begins volume five with the Doctor and Bernice at an intergalactic sale in ‘Pride of the Lampians’ as a strange clay bowl draws Bernice’s interest. Told rather dubiously that this is the last known artefact of the lost Lampian race, Bernice begins a half-hearted search to find any trace of this race she and the Doctor are both sure never existed. Yet once she finds one lone entry in a comprehensive Archive, the history of the Lampian race quickly reveals itself, and a vast threat that the universe seemingly saw deleted or agreed never to make mention of again once defeated soon presents itself to wreak havoc once more as their previous victories are realized and entire planets disappear from existence like newfound history books recount. While the Doctor undertakes his own research into the history of the Lampians by conducting in-person interviews in the supposedly affected areas, Bernice and the archivist who is struggling to cope with the myriad of discoveries hiding in plain sight that punch such glaring holes into her collected knowledge undertake the exhilarating archaeological hunt of a lifetime, both providing a contrasting body of evidence that leads to a momentous truth for Bernice.

The trouble with ‘Pride of the Lampians’ is that it quite explicitly gives away the fact that the antiques dealer from whom Bernice purchased the artefact created the Lampian name on the spot when pressed for information. While the story does later try to add some ambiguity to this by saying that the artefact still holds a great power and significance even if the term Lampian was a translation error, it never quite manages to overcome that front-loading of the plot once the climax and resolution arrive. Indeed, although the potential destruction that could have resulted once Bernice’s innate desires to make a discovery she will forever be remembered for come true is nicely tied into her very best characteristics, the ease with which the Lampian presence escalates also paints her as a less discerning and intelligent character than how she has always been written. Still, with a steady pace and multiple viewpoints leading into the truth that are buoyed by incredible performances, this is an enjoyable return to the Summerfield saga that has been missing from Big Finish’s lineup for too long.

The second slot in this set goes to Doris V Sutherland’s ‘Clear History’ in which the Doctor and Bernice arrive on Civitas-G. This is a planet on which the people have voluntarily retreated into an idyllic simulacrum of their homeworld, and one that Bernice has researched in-depth because it provided an easy subject with no conflict when she found herself short on time during her studies. Aided by the ever-helpful Lloyd as they enter the simulation, the Doctor is all too wary that what seems too good to be true normally is even as Bernice assures him his fears are unfounded, but a strange voice and the appearance of a young woman named Zeta proclaiming that the truth before them is not real suddenly presents a world rife with a danger nobody could have expected. Josie White quickly becomes the standout star of this story as her past and the fates of people like her slowly come to light, and although the story doesn’t try too hard to hide the fact that the Administrator is the villainous presence behind the changing history and creation of conflict, she emotionally provides the necessary background on which the leads can act to uncover the full scope of a very traditional plan for total dominion.

‘Clear History’ is made far more resonant by the fact that current world affairs also see the truth being stretched not just to hide certain events but to try to alter the foundations of previous events and assumptions, and outsiders helping a local population that overall has no idea of these actions is poignant and effective. The idea of tying glitches and errors into the intended purpose of this simulation is a fitting one as well, but the Administrator’s own insecurity and lust for power means that his inevitable downfall and defeat come far too easily, his power to delete anything he deems necessary only managing to provide a temporary inconvenience for the leads. Again, while this may not be the most revolutionary story, it still allows Warner, Summerfield, and the supporting cast an opportunity to shine and again unfolds at a great pace.

April McCaffrey pens the third story, ‘Dead and Breakfast,’ in which Bernice and the Doctor find themselves on a planet where the law dictates that people must act in an accepted normal and orthodox manner. As the two adopt the guise of being married to ward off any suspicious glances that even claiming to simply be friends would warrant in this land, the narrative allows for a good deal of comedy to be mined from the situation given the acknowledgements and supporting information to which the local population is not privy. Yet while both Lisa Bowerman and David Warner excel in these lighter moments, far more effective is the gradual realization both characters experience about just how much they mean to each other as friends. The Doctor, in particular, is not one who is comfortable or familiar with these types of emotions, and the discomfort and acceptance of that internal exploration is brilliantly realized and gives a sense of genuine scope and gravitas to a character who now finds himself so very far away from home alongside Bernice who at some point will likely have to confront the ramifications of her own return to this universe.

While Bernice pretends to be an amateur archaeologist on a dig set up to lend credence to the legends and history of this world that proves to be fruitless, the hidden and connected depths of this world prove to be far more revealing and puts this totalitarian world into an entirely more horrifying context. Stories are more than simply stories here, and the strict justice system in place serving simply as a larder but also as an unknowing trap is vividly and emotionally powerful. And although the resolution that relies on a unique quirk of another outsider is perhaps less effective than a solution relying strictly on this world’s own people may have been, the performances throughout are pitch perfect and help to bring the uneasy and cautious atmosphere to life exceedingly well. In particular, Jacqueline King shines as a woman who finds herself constantly haunted by her past but unwilling and unable to forget the true love she once knew, and her scenes with Warner as the Doctor comes to accept his own feelings more openly are amongst this set’s very best. Not many stories are able to change tones so effectively midway through, but ‘Dead and Breakfast’ capitalizes on its unique setting to tell a surprisingly emotional and introspective tale that will hopefully have lasting effects on its leads going forward.

‘Burrowed Time’ by Lani Woodward closes out this set with Bernice and the Doctor joining an archaeological dig to shed further light on the Byrinthian civilisation that was wiped out centuries ago. Creators of an advanced train system that could continually remodel the tunnels through the underground substrate to retain stability, the opportunity to learn about Byrinthian history presents yet another prime opportunity for Bernice to do what she does best, an opportunity that the Doctor and his willingness to peek ahead in time suggest will not end well. When paired with the character development in the previous story, the Doctor’s insatiable curiosity that he knows Bernice would never approve of allows for another genuine moment between the two that sees them connect far more deeply than simply having the Doctor half-heartedly follow Bernice ever could have, and the payoff as the Doctor admits that Bernice has a habit of being right regardless of her tact as they continue ever onward through Bernice’s own universe continues to highlight the immensely nuanced performances of both Lisa Bowerman and David Warner.

Naturally, nothing goes quite as planned on this world, and Bernice soon finds herself separated from her companions and aboard a train that is somehow still running after all of this time with one passenger still alive and well. The truth behind the genuine advancements of this train is a clever idea that is executed exceedingly well, and although it’s not necessarily difficult to determine just who this girl and the sinister voices around them are, the pure emotion at the heart of this story and the sacrifices that have been made for so long to ensure that the original purpose of the journey can be fulfilled are surprisingly effective and touching. Some stories can collapse under the weight of ideas as odd as this one, but ‘Burrowed Time’ manages to adeptly tell a very intimate tale that makes the most of its expansive backstory, its unique setting, and its leads and guest stars in equal measure to culminate this showcase of talent on a satisfying high that sets the scene nicely for the already-announced sixth series.

Bernice Summerfield is arguably Big Finish’s most important character, and these four stories have proven that the immense work that has gone into defining her in prose and in the audio mediums as well as the tremendous power and emotion Lisa Bowerman has always brought to the role have resulted in a leading lady capable of naturally fitting into any type of story coming from any writer’s mind. The future for both Big Finish and Bernice appear to be bright given the success of these stories and the fresh voices behind them, and fans of any sort should find plenty to enjoy in a series that has successfully re-established Bernice’s universe without yet delving into her explicit history or just what the Unbound Doctor being in this universe could mean.

This post was written by

Trackbacks

  • Trackback from Clear History: Review Round-Up! – Attack of the Six-Foot Tranny
    October 15, 2019

    […] “‘Clear History’ is made far more resonant by the fact that current world affairs also see the truth being stretched… [the story] allows Warner, Summerfield, and the supporting cast an opportunity to shine and again unfolds at a great pace” says Kyle at Doctor Who Reviews! […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.