Treasury

Posted in Audio by - October 16, 2018
Treasury

Released August 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

To commemorate twenty years of Bernice Summerfield audio adventures, Big Finish has lined up three special releases, two upcoming box sets of full-cast adventures under the banner of The Story So Far as well as the collection of short stories Treasury that has pulled together the writing talents of several esteemed authors from various mediums.

Ben Aaronovitch opens Treasury with ‘The Evacuation of Bernice Summerfield as a Short Film by Terry Gilliam’ with Bernice orphaned and alone against the backdrop of war and thermonuclear warheads. Showing her innate intelligence and ability to reason at such a young age, Bernice soon comes across a motley assortment of individuals comprising a traveling troupe for the troops, the uneasy imagery of a child’s views of a spiderlike man, a chef, a clown, and others spectacularly springing to life. Realising that these people may be working for the enemy, she remains ever wary, but the prospect of a worse war coming as told to her by a fortune teller is a difficult one for her to fathom given what she has already been through and the strange parade of the familiar and unfamiliar dead that she witnesses as this group plays them on their way. This is one of the earliest accounts of Bernice’s life, and the real-world horrors and mature concepts as distorted through a child’s perception with only a general understanding of the broad strokes makes for a surreal but enthralling installment.

‘And Then Again’ by Robert Shearman follows the life of Bernard Summerfield, a man who has fallen out of love with his wife but who steadfastly sticks to the same routine day after day even if that means partaking in a jam doughnut that he does not particularly enjoy. He desires to be called Benny, but he’s perfectly content sitting at a desk facing a wall to avoid any interaction at all and one day finds his world turned upside down when an unknown man offers him a small blue box rather than his typical sweet. Catching just a glimpse of what lies within before his own reality sets in again, Bernard is now a man who realised too late that he actually did love his wife, and a second encounter with the strange man shows him what his life should have been, offering a poignant and emotionally unique take on what could have been within the Bernice Summerfield universe.

Paul Cornell takes listeners back to the Braxiatel Collection in the rebuilding aftermath of the Fifth Axis Occupation in ‘Misplaced Spring.’ The Collection has just been granted university status and is just about to begin its first term as Adrian and Peter begin to bond and as Bernice and Jason begin connecting emotionally as much as physically. With Bernice on a one-year contract and taking up lecturing duties, new student Parasiel questions how this new establishment can possibly have traditions to follow and just how that is different from life under the Fifth Axis, forcing Bernice to confront another aspect of the uneasy truth that not everyone is wholly accepting of the new conditions on the Collection as is manifesting more overtly outside of the classroom. This is a brief look overall into a beloved locale populated with beloved characters that were so integral to the series for so long, but it’s a welcome and nostalgic return to a crucial moment in Bernice’s life that again shows just how far the character has come.

Kate Orman provides perhaps the most traditional tale of the set with ‘Solar Max and the Seven-Handed Snake-Mother’ and Bernice on a dig suffering from limited staffing and a delayed start due to budget cuts. Exploring the past coffee culture of the planet and its incredibly addictive hallucinogenic that was buried and all but forgotten, Bernice finds herself in charge of two students she humorously refers to simply as Thing One and Thing Two while trying to traverse the cultural norms of a man from a civilisation where humans and women can survive for no longer than a couple of weeks. Bernice would excuse him as being a caveman in his thoughts except that he is a genius ethnobiologist, and he holds far greater knowledge into the workings of this lost culture than what is widely accepted as the natural fauna of this world rears its head and a terrible solar storm approaches, highlighting the internal and external strength of Bernice as his plan to discover what lies beneath it all is put into motion.

Ben Aaronovitch’s second offering, ‘Walking Backwards for Christmas,’ sees Bernice using a unique machine to look back upon her life in a reflective and often brutally honest manner. This provides a fitting retrospective for the character and how far she has come as a woman who started with the advent of her father’s name but who has made a distinct name for herself that is wholly distinct from her heritage. Bernice has always worn her emotions on her sleeves, and she neither glosses over the more harsh components of her younger self nor plays down the attributes that she loved as she narrates various experiences in the military, as a young archaeologist, and in the present with the various challenges that each timeframe presents. Treasury as a whole is a love letter to fans and an intriguing look at Bernice’s varied life for newcomers alike, and this is the tale that best encapsulates that overall mandate of the collection in one short burst.

Recent showrunner Steven Moffatt pens the next installment, ‘The Least Important Man,’ as the life of the seemingly innocuous Gavin is followed from childhood to his early death. Giving all new meaning to a person’s imaginary friend as Gavin realises that his only shows up at the most important moments of his life, Moffatt has crafted a poignant look at the everyday mundanities, fears, and hopes of life while quickly developing a very insecure but dynamic character coming to terms with himself and those around him whom he admires for different reasons. As the twenty-sixth and twentieth centuries collide with Bernice taking a vested interest in this man who is so crucial to her understanding of his time precisely because of the events that led to his reported demise under unique circumstances, ‘The Least Important Man’ is a remarkable character study that is both funny and tragic in equal measure and that proves in short order how incredibly varied the format of this range can be.

Famed Seventh Doctor script editor Andrew Cartmel takes over narration duties for his own ‘Bernice Summerfield and the Library of Books,’ understandably not a replacement for the brilliant Lisa Bowerman but proving to be a capable stand-in by capturing the blend of sardonic and earnestness she has made famous over the years. In another more traditional tale for the character, Bernice is part of an expedition looking to gain entry into and then solving the secret at the heart of an ancient library as a series of corpses in varying states of preservation and decay is soon found. The expanded running time allows the supporting characters and their intricacies and often tenuous relationships to develop in much greater detail, and the unique dangers and temptations they face- eventually best exemplified by a very particular book the library’s evolution has manifested- capture the very best of the spirit of Bernice’s adventures even without the roster of familiar characters who would come to surround her through her audio adventures.

Legendary Doctor Who writer and script editor Terrance Dicks closes out Treasury with a love letter to the legacy of the Doctor in ‘A Mutual Friend.’ Stopping for a much-needed coffee at a busy Starbucks while Jason searches for a Britney Spears album for Braxiatel, Bernice strikes up a casual conversation with the woman entrenched in her work at a nearby table and soon finds that she has much more in common with this stranger than she could have ever believed. Though this reporter’s identity is clear far before this woman officially introduces herself as Sarah, the fondness and frustration that both share for the enigmatic traveler that has formed such a crucial part of each’s life is realised with a gentle affection that perfectly illustrates the tremendous experiences both have had with an understated mutual understanding. Treasury as a whole is a wonderful encapsulation of the expansive life and times of Bernice Summerfield, and ‘A Mutual Friend’ is the perfect ending that once more cements her adventures within the greater context of her parent franchise.

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