Posted in Audio by - September 24, 2018

Released September 2011

After eleven series that saw Professor Bernice Summerfield routinely defy the odds to survive a universe and one particular close friendship that routinely seemed so against her even as those around her were not so fortunate, the famed archaeologist now makes the move to special four-story boxset releases beginning with Epoch that both continues the tale in place while also presenting a jumping-on point for those unfamiliar with what has come before. As portrayed at the end of ‘Dead Man’s Switch,’ Bernice has now reached the world of Zordin that she hopes will offer her the answers about just where and when she finds herself in this universe under control of the mysterious Great Leader that has seemingly eliminated all knowledge of the time before Year Zero, but this world has just been reassigned as Atlantis, a name befitting of the strange occurrences she is about to behold.

With Bernice suffering from partial amnesia regarding her trip to Atlantis and just why she made it in order to allow the audience to discover Bernice and her story alongside her, Epoch deftly opens with Mark Wright’s ‘The Kraken’s Lament.’ Befriending the great talesmith Acanthus who gives Bernice work while also providing at least some of the history and context of this world that looked so much like Earth to her from space, she must find her way within this civilisation seemingly built upon the ancient myths of Earth that also has such a limited history stemming from Year Zero. While this setup does not necessarily allow for the usual intimate exploration of Bernice’s emotions stemming from her friendships, betrayals, and more lately the search for her son and own time, the character’s usual intelligence, determination, and sarcasm are proudly on display, complementing the very visual appearances of Pegasus, a minotaur, and a kraken wonderfully.

Framed within John Montgomery’s narration as Acanthus speaks of the winged goddess searching for the child of two worlds, Bernice is intelligent enough to realise that the kraken that has taken the form of a five hundred foot man rather than the usual tentacled creature of legend is not repeatedly attacking this city out of some brutish mentality like the locals believe as they continue to combat its advances. With everything about this city seeming to stem from the great stone palace high above the city, the eventual revelation about the Queen and King of this world who have both found themselves so integral to recent mythology is all but inevitable and thus initially lacking somewhat in dramatic impact, but Tracy Brabin gives an immense performance as the Queen who shockingly stays true to her long-held beliefs that she knew had been simmering just beneath the surface as Bernice persuades her to look at the problem from a different angle. In the end, ‘The Kraken’s Lament’ may not be the most original or surprising story, but it uses a successful framing device and evocative imagery to further highlight the strong performances that successfully reintroduce the world and character of Bernice Summerfield that still have so much intrigue to offer.

Inadvertently but not unhappily allying with Historians Ruth and Leonidas who constantly risk their very lives looking into the past that is meant to be forgotten, Bernice soon discovers the dangers of trying to unearth the truth behind Atlantis in Jacqueline Rayner’s ‘The Temple of Questions.’ In a world where identities, histories, and memories are seemingly fluid in nature, Ruth and Leonidas appear set to form a friendly foundation for Bernice, and Ayesha Atoine and Marcus Hutton each make a strong first impact in their respective roles as their investigations take them to the Temple of Poseidon, god of the seas, where they are confronted with a series of puzzles that will challenge their own resolve and their assumptions and knowledge about their friends.

Though Poseidon’s challenges themselves are not necessarily the most original, they unquestionably provide plenty of interpersonal drama, especially once Poseidon reveals himself to be the Great Leader. It’s a surprising move to make this grand reveal so early in the set, but it also gives a more overt and focused trajectory for the remaining stories to take thanks to a strong voicing from John Stahl, and the mind games he is able to play with Bernice who so proudly proclaims that she knew she was walking into a trap given the inconsistencies surrounding her arrival create a definite highlight that gives much greater depth to Ruth in particular. With tantalizing hints about an unknown force known as the Epoch and the truth behind why this world changes so much, even Bernice’s apparent victory against this computer after the prospect of losing the game and her life seemed so imminent proves that the mystery of Atlantis does not end with a singular computer. ‘The Temple of Questions’ may not quite reach the heights that this range has achieved on several occasions before, but it confidently puts in place a new team and dynamic for Bernice while again spotlighting her shrewdness and resolve.

With Atlantis in disarray following the Great Leader’s death, the Historians have taken to hiding to Bernice, Ruth, and Leonidas in their safe house in ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ by Tony Lee. However, the world is changing more than anyone could have ever imagined, and people are being erased from existence with their memories wiped and replaced with those of others. As the Hierophants march to find Bernice and make an offer that seems far too good to be true in what Bernice realises could be the first time the Hierophants have ever been utilised, she along with her companions must navigate the shifting histories of their associates and of the world around them. As a building that would be modern by Bernice’s own standards appears overnight in place of an ancient temple with little concern or question from anyone around her, Bernice finds the focal point for her inquisitiveness, and the Historians’ previous actions along with the information found within lead her to wonder just how often this world completely changes and if new realities are simply layered atop older ones.

While there is a great amount of tension and unease created by the Hierophants’ unlikely advance as they instantly take over the lives and histories of others as if this individual had always been in their employ, Marcus Hutton truly steps up to give a dazzling performance as Leonidas refuses to accept the reality presented to him. With a diamond ring to fuel his determination, he poignantly wonders just how many lives have been changed and forgotten, and if any of the many women he passes on the streets on a daily basis is the wife he knows in his heart that he once had. Bravely opening his heart to Bernice and finding a warm reciprocation in return, Leonidas and Bernice emotionally resonate when together given their respective tortured pasts, making the Hierophants’ takeover of Leonidas all the more harrowing as events rush to a silent ending as the world of ever-increasing change and unknown succumbs to the mists of nothingness itself. Enhancing the mystery of Atlantis while providing some wonderful character exploration, ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ is surprisingly emotional but always impactful and aptly sets the scene for the finale.

Closing out Epoch is Scott Handcock’s ‘Judgement Day’ in which Bernice and Ruth are put to the ultimate test. Opening with the two characters in three distinct adventures to put the listener on uneasy footing, the revelation that Bernice must decide which world and version of Ruth and herself are real and completely eliminate the other two adds a needed dramatic element to the mysterious enigma that the Epoch robots present. Sporting a false sense of modesty as Bernice wonders just why she is so important since she believes herself to be just another insignificant person, she also begins to contemplate whether it really matters which version survives as long as one does within a favourable backdrop. Yet within the confines of assuming that the reality in which she is presented with the levers to eradicate worlds is the prime reality, she still cannot bring herself to end a life, even when shown such a preposterous notion as gay cavemen living in harmony alongside dinosaurs and using Bluetooth and GPS before having mastered fire. While this segment is somewhat let down by the cavemen’s Muppet-like voices that seemingly wish to play up the ridiculous nature of this concept, it also captures the unique blend of comedy and charm that this range has featured from the very start.

More effective, however, is the introduction of the mysterious Springheel Jack character within the Victorian London setting, the eccentric character who has been reminding Bernice of what she lost throughout earlier stories but who here reveals himself to be a simple traveler who was caught a bit too close to Zordin as the Epoch were remapping it and now remains trapped. This is a character who could have easily been a one-note filler role, but David Ames sparkles throughout and makes this unlikely do-gooder into a beguiling ally for Bernice. This is a story that is wise enough to look back and reference the fact that Atlantis was initially presented exactly as the stereotypes would dictate, but it also references Bernice’s previous adventures and time with the Doctor as references to The White Rabbit, The Diogenes Club, and Bernice’s witnessing of the extinction of the dinosaurs before put this tale in greater context. In so doing, ‘Judgement Day’ is able to build a sense of personal scope and cohesion to complement the Epoch’s grander plans to continually remap the solar system and disallow exploration into the past in order to circumvent the foreseen threat to their own past, present, and future. As The Sky’s No Limit song takes on greater meaning and Ruth begins to remember latent memories, the central mystery and strong and emotional character work for both Bernice and Ruth are able to overcome a somewhat lacklustre climax and a resolution that echoes the previous story’s to deliver an enjoyable ending to this set that boldly sets Bernice on course to find her son once again.

Epoch doesn’t necessarily offer the tightest story arc through its four stories, but it confidently takes a beloved character stripped to her bare essence and rebuilds her for a new and long-standing audience alike while giving Bernice a new world and family to explore as the Year Zero saga comes to a close in emotional fashion. With Lisa Bowerman as engaging as always and Ayesha Antoine quickly developing into a well-rounded and deep character to highlight a strong cast overall, Epoch is absolutely worth a listen and proves that this proclaimed bold fresh start for Bernice has plenty to offer.

  • Release Date: 9/2011
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