The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume Two: The Triumph of Sutekh

Posted in Audio by - April 20, 2018
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume Two: The Triumph of Sutekh

Released June 2015
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Since her introduction in Love and War, only the ninth novel of Virgin’s The New Adventures range, that quickly saw her become the definitive companion for a more manipulative and harsh Seventh Doctor, Professor Bernice Summerfield has been a constant force in various mediums, earning her own series of novels before headlining her own audio range under Big Finish. Following a successful first volume of the reinvented The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield that brought the Seventh Doctor and Ace into her life once more in a somewhat more limited capacity, the second volume now arrives with four interlinking tales chronicling the rebirth of the famed Osiran Sutekh first seen in ‘Pyramids of Mars’ while attempting to appeal to fans of the Fourth Doctor, Seventh Doctor, wilderness, and modern eras along the way.

Opening this set is ‘The Pyramid of Sutekh’ by Guy Adams wherein Benny finds a pyramid on Mars and, more shockingly, the Doctor battling and in danger of losing to Sutekh himself. This is a wonderful central conceit that makes the most of her archaeological background, and the imagery of Benny being trapped amongst dead Osirans as death continues to nourish Sutekh whose consciousness survived the Doctor’s interference so long ago and is close to gaining a new body through the pyramid’s activation is powerfully evocative and tense. Sutekh is unquestionably one of the most dangerous and iconic foes that the classic series of Doctor Who ever brought to life, and having a figure who can so easily destroy a world still be this dangerous and grandiose when so incapacitated expertly hints at what is to come. Gabriel Woolf returns to the role of Sutekh he made famous and expertly recaptures the bombastic haughtiness of this living god even if his actual interactions with Lisa Bowerman and Sylvester McCoy are sadly limited in this first story.

‘The Pyramid of Sutekh’ perhaps wisely draws rather overt parallels with ‘Pyramids of Mars’ to give listeners a sense of familiarity before beginning its new tale in earnest, and through some aspects like the twin guardians of Sutekh and the possessed Doctor may tread a little bit too faithfully to the source material, each of the elements serves its purpose well to re-establish this dynamic threat and the very unique menace that he presents both against the heroes and his own race. McCoy doesn’t necessarily give the frightening performance that one might anticipate when his master manipulator finds himself being manipulated, instead giving something more akin to agitated creepiness, but his surprise appearance at the story’s beginning as he is animated by Sutekh expertly sets the tone for what quickly ensues and eventually results in one of his more memorable outings in recent times. Lisa Bowerman likewise gives an incredibly powerful performance, especially once she gives into the true emotion belying her unflustered exterior, and the scenes in which she must confront the memory of her dead husband Jason and in which she desperately tries to convince the Doctor he is a good man are particular standouts. Though likely by design, ‘The Pyramid of Sutekh’ is hardly the most original story, but its reintroduction of both protagonists and antagonist is superb, and Benny’s willingness to sacrifice herself to save the universe from the return of Sutekh speaks volumes about the danger so fundamental to this series and the heroism of its dynamic lead.

‘The Vaults of Osiris’ by Justin Richards takes the action to 2015 Egypt where the murky underworld trade in antiquities is about to get a whole lot worse as an ancient and terrible force enters the market. In a story that reaches back decades in local history to the last time the Doctor and Ace visited and tried to obtain the Eye of Horus, an engaging heist story unfolds that reveals the unique mixture of faith and unscrupulous behaviour that still drives elements of this particular side to society. As Diveen Henry’s Alozza guides the search for the Eye of Horus that started at a local museum to a vault in Switzerland that the Osiran Isis built as a trap for Sutekh to be sprung following his inevitable awakening, plenty of engaging action and dialogue drives the narrative forward without ever becoming stagnant, and although there isn’t quite the same level of visual iconography as in the preceding story despite another strong appearance from the mummy service robots, the involvement of Isis from the very beginning works to remarkable effect and shows just how dangerous the Osirans and the followers of Sutekh are and how vital the Eye of Horus remains.

Justin Richards, of course, penned the 1994 novel Theatre of War that featured the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny, and his familiarity with the characters shines through sparkling dialogue that enhances the remarkably engaging performances of Sophie Aldred and Lisa Bowerman. The Doctor has always chosen his companions wisely, and these two prove just how well-deserving of his respect they are as they fearlessly traverse the globe and test their resolve to uncover what happened to the Doctor who both have seemingly seen die at different times and what the truth behind the Eye of Horus is. Ace was always something of a wild car in The New Adventures in terms of angst and aggression, but Richards wisely portrays his two charismatic leads as supportive and driven by logic so as not to alienate anyone not terribly familiar with their written origins, and ‘The Vaults of Osiris’ unfolds all the more naturally and effortlessly for it. As a more traditional action caper tale than the Indiana Jones stylings of the previous instalment and with a superb Osiran twist that eventually sends Benny back to ancient Egypt during Hatshepsut’s reign, this is a strong and well-paced second act that overcomes the absence of the Doctor to fill in crucial pieces of the overall story while setting up further developments for future payoff.

‘The Eye of Horus’ by James Goss sees ancient Egypt enjoying a golden age of peace, prosperity, and a powerful Pharaoh as a forgotten god moves through the sands and requests an invite to the feast. This is the most deliberately paced story so far, allowing a natural progression of the mystery regarding the Doctor who has been toiling away for years designing obelisks and introducing advanced technology while also becoming engaged to the Pharaoh Hatshepsut but who also genuinely cannot remember who Benny is after seemingly deleting significant portions of his mind and memory. It’s clear that this is part of a classically grandiose Seventh Doctor scheme that will come to be revealed, but Sylvester McCoy gives an incredibly effective performance as a man who knows precisely what he is doing but who also seems to realise that there is so much more he should know that is just out of reach as he tries to once more piece together the bigger puzzle and come to terms with the complexities of emotions. For her part, Sakuntala Ramanee imbues the power, authority, and compassion needed to bring the charismatic Pharaoh who has overseen such technological leaps with the Doctor at her side to life, and the scene in which Hatshepsut asks if the Doctor ever really loved her is among the most powerful and resonant this audio range has yet offered, exploiting the genuine emotion that so often follows the oblivious Doctor to magnificent effect.

Benny is no stranger to the complicated machinations of her erstwhile traveling companion, but her frustration when even he does not know who he is or what is actually going on creates an exciting dynamic that enhances the tension and overall sense of danger. With Sutekh on the rise and quickly proving his inherent menace as the destroyer of worlds and bringer of death uses persuasion and the power of subtle suggestion to undermine the very foundations of the society, nobody is safe, and the Eye of Horus suddenly becomes all the more important as the Doctor’s plan hazily starts to take form. Gabriel Woolf is once more immense as Sutekh even as his character is just now beginning to reclaim his power, his voice exuding a suave but chilling menace that only hints at the true threat he holds, and though there isn’t quite enough time for the script to believably highlight the trail to Tutmosis’s betrayal of his mother Hatshepsut, the pieces are all introduced exceedingly well to at least make his quick shift in allegiance plausible. ‘The Eye of Horus’ simultaneously scales down the immediate scope of the threat while at the same time amplifying the future scope for the concluding tale, and the true power of Sutekh taking form with the Doctor positioned once more as Earth’s protector sets a strong precedent for the imminent finale.

Concluding this second volume is ‘The Tears of Isis’ by Una McCormack in which Russell Courtland prophesied the world would end on Tuesday, and nobody was more surprised than he was when it did. With this future Earth nothing more than a barren wasteland, the Doctor, Ace, and Benny get split up while searching for answers and survivors. Naturally, Benny encounters the doomsday cult fronted by Courtland, and her quip about the aristocracy surviving the apocalypse is perfect for her character before she pointedly mentions that Sutekh is evil incarnate and will care no more for the well-being of his most devout supporters than for that of anyone else. Matthew Bates does well as this man who suddenly finds himself basking in his newfound position of power even with the sacrifices it quite literally entails, and he manages to imbue a degree of empathy and humanity to Courtland that contrasts quite nicely to Rachel Atkins’s more resolute Susannah who quickly proves just how devoted to the cause she is as her husband begins to waver ever so slightly. Yet it’s Naomi McDonald who shines even more as the troubled youth, Alyx, and the personal journey she goes on as her time with Bernice takes her to the brink of death any beyond spectacularly blends together aspects of past stories with the severity of the present to allow the story to reach a satisfying culmination with Isis at the forefront.

Strangely, though, as important as the cult and its members are to the overall plot as they form Sutekh’s anchor point to humanity, the overall action of Bernice’s heroism is rather inconsequential with the Doctor instead guiding the story and its outcome thanks to an incredibly complicated and devious plan. For fans of Time’s Champion in The New Adventures, this is sure to be a pleasing revelation, but it’s somewhat odd in a series titled The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield. Still, the twisting plot all makes perfect logical sense, and incorporating a lie into the very narrative to entrap Sutekh in this sequence of events without killing him and allowing his Osiran physiology to begin anew makes excellent use of this particular incarnation’s ability to play the long game and think far in advance of anyone else. While this does still leave the door open for further appearances from Sutekh who has been so gloriously voiced by Gabriel Woolf once again, it also provides a fitting closure to this set that intertwines the four installments all the more successfully even if the Doctor’s despondency about a lack of trust after his companions proved willing to sacrifice themselves seems somewhat misguided.

The Triumph of Sutekh is an immense and incredibly visual undertaking that the superb performances, direction, and sound design have managed to bring to life expertly. With plenty of callbacks to ‘Pyarmids of Mars’ to send the return of Gabriel Woolf’s iconic villain in a wholly new direction against the most manipulative of Doctors, this is a set that should appeal to old and new fans alike regardless of any knowledge about the novels from which Bernice originally arose. With Lisa Bowerman in complete control of Bernice from beginning to end even as her character once more tries to play catch-up to the Doctor in her own series, a strong precedent has once again been set for any future adventures either solo or in the company of a certain Time Lord.

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