True Stories

Posted in Audio by - October 10, 2018
True Stories

Released September 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

To coincide with the release of the fourth series of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, the second series in which the famed archaeologist has traveled and adventured with David Warner’s Unbound Doctor, Big Finish has released an audiobook collection of six short stories detailing more of Bernice’s time in this unique but dying universe, opening True Stories with Bernice put on trial for breaking and entering, tampering with council property, and attempting to destroy the government and then needing to calibrate her jury by telling three truths and three lies from her recent past so that her plea of innocence or guilt can be judged.

Easily the longest story of this set is ‘Hue and Cry’ by Kate Orman and Q in which Bernice finds herself in the middle of a political row with neither opposing side wanting her dig at the ancient sky pyramid that crashed into this world so long ago to happen, one side citing religious grounds as its reasons and the other a fragile ideology of grave desecration. As external pressures continue to mount and near a breaking point, the tensions within the dig team also escalate, especially with the scholastic QYU sponsoring the dig and placing a socially awkward but physically proficient art major on the team who just so happens to belong to a race with a reputation as smugglers and thieves. Indeed, Gilly quickly becomes the major source of mystery as she is seen to often disappear during the day and come back covered in strange colours, the team cautiously allowing her to carry on due to her unmatched excavation results while ridiculing her behind her back, and she adds a unique and personal angle to the exploration of the strangely magenta sky pyramid that has spawned an uneasy official doctrine designed to keep the lower classes in place and that features a strange statuesque stone army known as stone demons or the unkillable.

Things are not quite so straightforward as they initially seem, however, and as Bernice and her companion try to bring the stone soldiers to life knowing that they could upset so much culture and history in the process, Gilly shows Bernice a diary embossed with her name that has somehow been inside this pyramid for eons. The latter aspect is a lingering mystery for a future story to develop, but it does give a nice bit of world-building and continuity even within the short story remit that gives a greater cohesion and scope to Bernice’s smaller adventures as well, and the introduction of bright violet as the force Bernice has been unknowingly searching for is a fascinating one that is certainly worthy of further exploration as well. ‘Hue and Cry’ runs longer than most of Bernice’s feature-length stories, and that extended running time allows the characters and plot to intricately develop with the true motivations and plans of Gilly that so go against assumptions creating the perfect ambiguous presence for Bernice to figure out in this familiar but wholly unknown environment that quickly turns deadly serious.

‘Never the Way’ by Jonathan Blum and Rupert Booth acts as a continuation of sorts of the preceding tale as Bernice has accidentally stumbled her way up the social ladder of an alien world and now finds herself tasked with saving a princess from an assassination plot. Through the introduction of the Red Queen and White Queen, the former in charge of dealing with life inside the Empire and the latter with life outside, the authors offer an incredible amount of setting development in short order, especially given that the two are presently not on the same side of the board and thus making the children outside of the immediate line of succession into easy pawns. As Bernice avoids the gestalt threat of the intriguing Pede, events quickly lead her charge and she to the sky pyramid at its prime, gaining entrance by stating that she knows exactly what the Crown Prince is up to thanks to her historical knowledge. Then finding herself quickly imprisoned as only she can, Bernice realises the improbability of her coming into contact with the one person who can act like a master key to this station, but she also understands that events could not have possibly unfolded any other way as she comes to learn the history and true power of bright violet and to perhaps set in motion the ultimate fate of the pyramid with its occupants choosing to take their secrets with them to the grave rather than letting the truth of the conspiracy be known. With Bernice leaving her diary in place to be found by herself two months ago so far in the future, ‘Never the Way’ uses quick pacing and a tight plot to further develop this universe and another nuance of its well-established heroine to great effect.

Matthew Griffiths takes Bernice into the world of speed dating in ‘Fast Contact,’ not uncovering her next love interest but instead revealing a plot designed to take advantage of her name and credentials. As Bernice simultaneously tries to glean information from these individuals taken from throughout time to understand just when the civilisation of interest first met with an outside influence, she finds that this setup is all a ruse designed with actors for the company to get her seal of approval to gain further funding for the as-yet-unsuccessful time field generator experiments. With the unexpected discovery that the generator in fact does work and that a permanent link has unknowingly been established to form the basis of first contact originally being searched for, ‘Fast Contact’ blends humour and intelligence while showcasing the vast range of Lisa Bowerman as her character looks into varying truths of the past and finds her romantic interests the subject of an unwanted wager.

‘Futureproof’ by Victoria CW Simpson introduces Bernice to a foundation dedicated to ethically preserving the ecology of heritage world HP79 even as others insist that there is no point since the universe is dying anyway. Following a student who winks to her friends and slyly removes herself from the group, Bernice suddenly finds herself in a grey and desolate landscape that soberingly represents the true fate of the vibrant world upon which she just stood. Having grown up under the ever-present threat of a dying world and wanting to travel to the end of everything where she is sure like her friends that the greatest party of them all must be waiting, the student is understandably shaken by the grim horror before her as gaunt vestiges of people struggle to even stand, a dour reminder that Bernice’s adventures do not all end happily with little consequence and injecting an understated moroseness to the set and this unbound universe as a whole.

Believing she has unknowingly checked into a spa resort, Bernice instead finds herself trapped in a retirement home with alcohol served only one day weekly which just so happened to be yesterday in ‘Stockholm from Home’ by Tim Gambrell. Finding herself treated exactly like any of the geriatric denizens, Bernice suddenly finds her interest taken by an alien overlord broadcasting his intent to invade at some point in the near future, a long-standing presence and threat to which the people around her have grown familiar and now pay little heed as they even offer to fulfill the alien’s request for supplies due to the difficulty in keeping a fully stocked invasion force in orbit. With unwanted but randy sexting from an insectoid as a backdrop, Bernice finds her way to the ship and discovers the invasion force is little more than an individual who has previously installed himself in a position of power elsewhere and who has now quirkily crafted unilateral animosity and aggression. While Bernice is, of course, able to save the day through quick thinking and communication, ‘Stockholm from Home’ perfectly blends the offbeat and the mundane to craft a quintessential Bernice story in a short burst, the retirement community’s leaders deeming her far too exiiting and out of the ordinary to allow her to stay.

Closing the set is ‘Bliss’ by Xanna Eve Chown, perfectly highlighting the disruptive influence of Bernice as she arrives on the idyllic world of Bliss that seems strangely unpopulated except for a series of maintenance robots. As she stumbles upon an individual who seems determined to do nothing but get back to sleep, Bernice makes it her mission to find the man in the tower shown in the welcome video, discovering that this was a world on the verge of destruction and collapse upon which the people jointly decided two years ago to put aside their differences to follow their dreams and to give their lives meaning by entering a state of permanent sleep. She finds it strange that the people all dream in isolation, but the man who proclaims himself king explains that they are happy even if their lives have no meaning, aware that they have the ability to leave their dreams but with no desire to even if that means that they will instead simply dream until they die. Never one to mince words, Bernice pointedly asks what the point of this all is if the population is doomed either way, but it’s fittingly the visceral sensation that a real-world cup of tea provides that delivers the needed stimulus after Bernice’s interjection for at least one person to reconsider the situation.

True Stories benefits immensely from the fact that there is no set running time for its short stories, and the result is a collection of tales that never feels rushed nor artificially padded. With Lisa Bowerman able to change intonations and inflections expertly to bring the cast of characters to life so vividly, True Stories features the best of Bernice and the incredible range and scope of the franchise as a whole, not necessarily adding to the integral mythology but expanding this unbound universe immensely in the process.

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