The Story So Far Volume One

Posted in Audio by - October 19, 2018
The Story So Far Volume One

Released September 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Continuing with Bernice Summerfield’s twentieth anniversary at Big Finish, The Story So Far presents six full-cast dramas presented in two sets of three, offering a unique look at various points throughout the famed archaeologist’s life in a manner both satisfying to long-term fans and welcoming to newcomers alike.

Opening the first volume is a look back at Bernice’s early life as a rebel living on the grounds of a military academy in ‘Ever Happy After’ by James Goss with Emily Laing’s young Bernice trying to find her position in a world where she remains friendly with the students but only on the fringes of the training designed to take the fight back to the forces who killed her parents. Quickly befriending the new gardener Wintergreen who clearly knows nothing about gardening, the young Bernice must confront the prospect that she is committed to helping others because she doesn’t yet know how to help herself, and the thought of just why she has been allowed to live in relative peace near the academy while even availing herself of the facilities and food forces her to reconsider her assumed resourcefulness while giving thought to the first time of archaeology as a profession. Of course, there’s a greater scheme in play as both Bernice and Wintergreen draw the ire of the academy principal in short order after an enemy agent is shot down, and though the inevitable twist isn’t necessarily the most surprising, it nonetheless provides an important moment in the development of Bernice and providing the impetus to begin the next phase of her life.

Naturally, the story and Lisa Bowerman’s famed voice make little secret of the fact that Wintergreen is an older version of Bernice, a fact her younger self figures out quite quickly from this other woman’s specific knowledge and body language even if she chooses to keep her discovery to herself, and it’s with these interactions that ‘Ever Happy After’ truly comes alive. The older Bernice voices concerns that have come to her through years of reflection, accidentally causing sticky situations for her younger self with thoughts nobody around her has had, and the combination of brutally honest and compassionate reflections she bestows upon herself are the perfect summation of how far the character has come while remaining the same fundamental person. Laing and Bowerman have an immense chemistry as an era of Bernice’s life rarely explored comes squarely into focus, and though the alien threat and military action together become more of a secondary plot device, the characterisation of Bernice in two times that results from the expanded time afforded it as well as a poignant thought about Bernice as a mother from Peter sets this celebratory set off on an enjoyably strong note.

On an Earth desolated by an alien invasion at a time Bernice localises to be at or after the year 2164, Jason finds his attempts to woo his ex-wife through the furtive use of their time rings go horribly against plan in ‘The Grel Invasion of Earth’ by Jacqueline Rayner. The Grel with their fixation on acquiring and espousing facts are absolutely one of the most unique presences within the Doctor Who universe, and inserting their more comedic overtones into a very dark setting that purposefully borrows heavily from ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ is a wonderful dichotomy that allows quirkiness and seriousness in equal measure as Jason dons a squid on his head as part of his rescue attempt in a world where the people have forgotten even the most basic information and actions and are struggling to attain any sort of knowledge at all to formulate an attack against the Grel and their underlings, a random volume of a children’s encyclopedia proving to be the holy grail to this point.

Despite the harrowing backdrop, this is another story in which the characterisation shines most, and the most welcome return of Stephen Fewell in his first featured role as Jason Kane since his dramatic departure in ‘The Final Amendment’ is unquestionably the highlight. This is at a time when Jason is trying to win back Bernice’s heart while she proclaims that he just may make her a version of herself she does not like, but his unexpected alliance with Ellie Darvill’s Davina and Jonny Green’s Kerrigan exemplifies his true compassion and bravery when suddenly thrust into the role of hero. He is acutely aware that Bernice is better suited for this situation given her experience and intelligence, but he never gives up even when the others around him proclaim his search a lost cause, and his faithful search for Bernice proves vital to fueling the ultimate resolution that brings back hope to these people who have had so much taken away from them. Jason’s time with Bernice is tragically brief, but Fewell and Bowerman retain an immense chemistry that is able to communicate so much and recapture their uniquely volatile relationship in short order.

Simon Guerrier closes out the first volume with a return to the Braxiatel Collection following the Fifth Axis occupation in ‘Braxiatel in Love.’ Bernice and Braxiatel have never had the most congenial relationship as Braxiatel has continually manipulated the circumstances and people around her to benefit his own shrouded machinations, and Braxiatel declaring his intention to marry Veronica Bland naturally causes Bernice to wonder if there is some more sinister motive than true love at play. She knows that he desires rarities to put on display above all else, and Veronica being one of the few survivors of the attack on Beta Caprisis that was mentioned in Bernice’s debut adventure Love and War certainly fits that bill. However, the more she intimates that her mysterious employer is up to something, the more he adamantly proclaims that his intentions are pure, and this along with Bernice’s refusal to accept Veronica as a friend as she continues to investigate Veronica’s past force him to demand that Bernice leave the Collection once and for all to maintain peace.

Given this story’s placement in Bernice’s own chronology, it’s unsurprising that Braxiatel and Veronica ultimately don’t end up together, but the manner in which the seeming truth that has overtaken the Collection is proven false makes the most of Bernice’s steadfast refusal to accept what she knows is wrong and brilliantly calls upon the legacy of the gardener Mr Crofton who lost his life during the occupation. ‘Braxiatel in Love’ is arguably the most traditional story of the set while also providing the most genuine surprises, and Gabrielle Glaister easily slots into the lively world of the Collection with an immensely charismatic performance that highlights just why she has become so endearing to those around her in such a short span of time. While it would have been nice to hear some more familiar voices from the Collection to truly develop the sense of this being a lost adventure from this point in the franchise’s run, Bernice is absolutely at her best even if not at her most likable as she follows her convictions, and the charm and humour that eventually give way to a deadly seriousness is a fine example of what has made Bernice’s adventures so enjoyable and impactful for so long.

The first volume of The Story So Far manages to accomplish the difficult task of reintroducing such beloved characters at earlier points in their lives without alienating casual and newcomer fans in the process. Though this does mean that the actual plot is often left more unexplored than might otherwise be expected as the characters by necessity come to the forefront, the end result is a series of three stories that provide a wonderful tease of what once was and could be, each more than capably filling their allotted time with each deserving of more to even better develop the strong ideas contained within that prove so vital to Bernice’s development.

This post was written by

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.