The Story So Far Volume Two

Posted in Audio by - October 21, 2018
The Story So Far Volume Two

Released September 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Continuing with the sequential look at various important points throughout Bernice Summerfield’s life, the second volume of The Story So Far picks up after her time at the Braxiatel Collection as she meets two most unexpected incarnations of the Doctor and confronts a most unexpected foe from the Doctor’s past as even this universe proves unable to contain her.

Eddie Robson opens this second set of three stories with ‘Every Dark Thought’ as the Doctor asks for Bernice’s help digging up some mysterious ruins he claims contain the secret to eternal life. Bernice is, of course, most famous for traveling with the Seventh Doctor, but since she has at the very least encountered the Eighth Doctor as well, it makes sense that she is willing to take the mysterious man before her at his word that he is another version of the Time Lord even as he speaks and acts with a certain disregard for others that seems a bit too out of character for her erstwhile traveling companion whom she knows so well. Of course, as the ominous tones of Michael Jayston suggest, Bernice has stumbled upon the Valeyard continuing with his quest to gain a true life of his own, and suddenly no life is safe as members of the mechanised gastropod Caragot race arrive in pursuit of the Doctor and threaten to consume them all to assimilate their knowledge.

Big Finish has wisely avoided overusing the Valeyard over the years, but each time he appears Michael Jayston gives an utterly engrossing and commanding performance that oozes with menace, desperation, and charisma. Though he quite rightly features most in relation to the Sixth Doctor who was initially portrayed as having some of the most aggressive tendencies, matching him with Bernice who saw the Seventh Doctor become a much darker and manipulative presence in prose than has ever been shown on television creates a unique point of reference against which Bernice must reconcile the Valeyard’s actions. Though he unsurprisingly proves to be quite merciless as he comes upon a man who has lived centuries beyond his normal lifespan and tries to learn his secret while outrunning his pursuers, the very unique life native to this planet that so goes against established assumptions about life proves to be almost as engaging in its own right, and it’s only Bernice’s quick thinking that plays to the pride of the Caragot that averts assured death in this darker affair that blends eras of expanded continuity effortlessly.

Delving back into Bernice’s post-Epoch adventures, Ruth and she crash on the planet Drahva in ‘Empress of the Drahvins’ by David Llewellyn. Having featured on television only once in 1965’s ‘Galaxy 4,’ the Drahvin society and its caste system headed by the elite, maintained by the artificially created slave class, and populated through the minimal number of males kept alive to save on resources is absolutely one deserving of further development, and Llewellyn highlights a time before these women became a galactic scourge to deliver that further insight. With Bernice and Ruth hoping only to find a lost ship to help them escape as quickly as possible, they instead find themselves taken into the very heart of this matriarchal society and put on a pedestal as Ruth introduces herself and finds that she bears an uncanny resemblance to the likeness of these peoples’ empress whose coming has been foretold.

Without Jack, Irving, and Peter who would come to form such an important part of the lives of Bernice and Ruth, Ayesha Antoine brilliantly steps into the spotlight as Ruth overcomes her initial discomfort of having to decide the fates of others to enjoy the comforts of food and consort that her position affords her. Unfortunately, what follows is a very traditional tale that does little to highlight who exactly Ruth is as a character, and having her willingly accept all of the gifts given to her while coming more into conflict with Bernice who remains committed to leaving this planet portrays her in a more self-serving light than how she is traditionally written. Though it’s unsurprising that the role of the empress carries a far darker fate than the Drahvins are willing to divulge which eventually realigns the two companions when hope for Ruth seems faintest, Lisa Bowerman and Antoine share a remarkable chemistry throughout that sells their personal conflict that becomes all too public, and the realisation that these two characters just may be responsible for setting this culture on the warrior path glimpsed in the future so very long ago is a satisfying twist to a formulaic tale that can’t quite deliver on its potential.

Concluding with Bernice alongside David Warner’s unbound universe Doctor who has been her traveling companion in her latest two box sets of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, Una McCormack’s ‘The Angel of History’ delivers easily the most poignant story of the set as Bernice is offered a remarkable personal perspective on her latest historical project. With the archaeology lecturer Annis scorned and chastised by colleagues, her students, and even the police for holding the wrong view of history, what unfolds is a remarkably topical and intellectual tale that is unafraid to touch on unpleasant topics as individuals and entire groups are disparaged. The parallels with current and historical events here are clear even if the script wisely avoids explicit comments, perfectly fulfilling the true potential of science fiction as big ideas play out on a very intimate stage while Annis tries to work within the system that is so against her while remaining true to her convictions and beliefs.

It goes without saying, of course, but David Warner and Lisa Bowerman sparkle in their scenes together while interacting in a most unexpected manner. Indeed, the only potential shortcoming of this story- and even then only because this is the only glimpse of this pairing in the six stories rather than part of a dedicated Unbound box set- is that Bernice and the Doctor are not the focus in the traditional sense even as the two layer an incredibly understated nuance and sense of compassion to the events unfolding. As Annis soon learns, nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems, and Bernice’s memories of her time on this world at this particular time as the Doctor tries to use the practice of archaeology as a reference point for what knowledge remains are sure to haunt her for some time as she continues to chip away at the vast unknowns and misdeeds of the universes she explores.

All six stories in this collection feature incredible performances, direction, and sound design that effortlessly develop and recapture the spirits of the intended eras of Bernice’s life. Though it’s impossible for any singular story to perfectly convey the nuances that the expanded casts of many of these eras routinely delivered, The Story So Far as a whole delivers a remarkable celebration of twenty years of audio adventures and proves that there is still plenty of enjoyable and thought-provoking material left in Bernice’s continuing adventures.

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