The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume Seven: Blood & Steel

Posted in Audio by - September 24, 2022
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume Seven: Blood & Steel

Released September 2022


Tracing an alien energy signal in 1930s Berlin as Nazism continues to gain a foothold, David Warner’s Unbound Doctor and Lisa Bowerman’s Professor Surprise Summerfield find themselves in a city swirling with ideologies as a storm amasses and ancient forces loom large in The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume Seven: Blood & Steel.

Blood & Steel makes no secret that the Cybermen will be a prominent force through this set, and while it’s the Daleks who are often compared to Nazis as both races look to achieve racial purity and to eliminate anyone who is not the same, the opening ‘Wilkommen’ quite explicitly showcases the shared desire for conformity- if by different means- that fuels the Cybermen as well.  It’s a story that certainly isn’t afraid to highlight the body horror of the conversion process, and their stated desire to reshape Germany is altogether more unsettling precisely because of what exactly that entails, a strategy the Doctor is horrified to discover being at least partially executed within the Conformity Institute as the purportedly less desirable and less important individuals of society are deemed worthy of sacrifice. The Cybermen are naturally driven by logic, but to see it applied so calculatingly and mercilessly with willing accomplices who fully believe exactly what they are being told and nothing more is a chillingly effective visual and a frightening parallel to far too many narratives that continue in modern society. Putting the Cybermen front and centre from the start is a tremendous asset for this story, and it allows both David Warner and Bernice Summerfield to delve into the deepest and most powerful emotions of their characters as they confront the burgeoning and inevitable atrocities before them. Likewise, the ruthless advancements of the Cybermen and the continued growth of the Nazi viewpoint allow for an effective exploration of the vibrant life that persists within Berlin at this time, Andrew Pepper giving a strong performance as the non-binary Compère and serving as a reminder of the diversity that has long been present within human society no matter the backdrop and any attempts at censorship. While some elements of the story are somewhat rushed precisely because of the tremendous amount of exposition needed, Berlin as a city manages to come to life very effectively, and the tremendously devastating coda after the Compère’s servant, Wulf, discovers the true fate of those who have been disappearing in the Black Forest is a fitting reminder of the implicit danger of this locale as fiction and non-fiction combine to set a strong foundation for this latest collection.

A young Wulf who has been converted into a Cyberman returns home in Aaron Lamont’s aptly-titled character piece ‘Wulf.’ The Doctor is all but entirely absent from this story, allowing Jack Forsyth-Noble an expanded opportunity to truly delve into the conflicting glimpses of humanity that break through in a world he finds so familiar but that has changed so much both in his absence and precisely because of his return. Wulf was a boy who eagerly set off to Berlin to make a name for himself despite his family’s protests, and his return in such a different form naturally causes a great deal of consternation and discord to the point that his family does not initially accept him back into their home. Yet despite the disdain of sorts shown him, he continues to care and tries to help with a certain sense of protectiveness for those around him, something Bernice begrudgingly admits while she continues to sound the alarms about the crushing inevitability about what she is sure will occur. She’s wary of completely ignoring his Cyber nature given her long history, and while Wulf is certainly not painted as a boldly heroic figure by any means, she does come to recognize the humanity still present and forms a touching relationship as she attempts in her own way to rehabilitate him. This sort of dichotomy between the natures of humanity and Cyberman is something that has been explored before, notably with the Doctor’s companion Bill Potts, but the insertion of Bernice’s own bias within a world populated by people who knew and cared for the Wulf of old as fascism continues to swell combine to create a fascinating and complex morality at the core of what ultimately proves to be a profound tragedy. ‘Wulf’ is a very atypical adventure for Bernice Summerfield as the threat is more one of implication and possibility for most of its running time, but the performances and brilliant sound design bring the heightened emotions of this small town that finds itself- along with its country- on the precipice of history brilliantly to the forefront for a stirring exploration of a less commonly seen aspect of the Cybermen’s advancement.

Intrigued by the presence of alien energy preventing the TARDIS from translating ancient runes, the Doctor and Bernice join an expedition looking to uncover the history of the ancient Vril race and to rewrite the known history of humanity in the process in Rochana Patel’s ‘Übermensch.’ With Bernice in her natural element and showcasing her archaeological prowess even as those around her insist on pressing on via quicker and more convenient methodologies, ‘Übermensch’ manages to combine the best traditional aspects of both the Bernice Summerfield and Doctor Who ranges as the Doctor and Bernice work together to understand the vast puzzle of the hidden city before them. This is the first story in this set that truly allows David Warner’s Doctor to take a proactive role, and the trademark scorn and haughtiness he has imbued into his Unbound incarnation who is nonetheless kindhearted, caring, and at times even humorous again make for a brilliant combination here as the Doctor’s self-assuredness is used against him. Of course, logic puzzles are nothing new to the Doctor, and he proudly helps the archaeological mission advance ever deeper as he looks to sate his own curiosity, but ‘Übermensch’ quite spectacularly subverts expectations by having the Cybermen boldly return with a scheme that has already taken the motivations of humans and Time Lords alike into account. This naturally sets up a brilliant cliffhanger heading into this set’s finale, but these scenes also adeptly explain the presence of the different iterations of Cybermen featured on the cover of Blood & Steel while providing a startlingly effective commentary on fascism that is as resonant today as it assuredly would have been in 1930s Berlin. Alongside Bowerman and Warner who once again prove why this unique pairing is so beloved through their immense chemistry, Natascha Slasten gives a commanding performance as Lotte who is so determined to put her name in the history books and who is willing to overlook inconvenient truths that don’t fit her perceived narrative, and Nicholas Briggs is once again brilliant as the Cybermen threat truly comes to the fore. ‘Übermensch’ begins on a fairly generic note, but its impactful messaging, constantly amplifying tension and danger, and bombastic conclusion make for an engrossing experience that highlights the many strengths of this franchise.

Returning to the Berlin from ‘Wilkommen’ as the Cybermen continue their march to convert the city’s denizens via psychic impulse, Bernice looks to put an end to this successful invasion in Victoria Saxton’s ‘Auf Wiedersehen.’ The Doctor is held captive within the Eclectika, refusing to give in to an enforced conversion but forced to watch others entertain on stage before themselves being converted. Intriguingly, the Cybermen have taken note of the unique complexity and resilience within the Compère who has always fought to retain a sense of self no matter society’s norms, and Andrew Pepper is superb as this more sinister version of the cabaret character introduced earlier who has here been semi-converted to serve as the Cybermen’s human voice and to provide a unique means of torture for the Doctor to suffer through while remaining ever cognizant of what humanity at this time must soon endure. This is very much an atypical situation for any Doctor to be in, and David Warner spectacularly delivers a performance laden with both despair and grim determination to remind everyone of how much his incarnation has already lost and just how much he will bear to ensure all hope is not lost here as well. However, while Bernice has still not completely forgiven the Doctor for being late to wholly prevent any semblance of a Cyber influence on her earlier, she very much takes on the role of protagonist here as she seeks out the Doctor in an increasingly unfriendly locale. This particular storyline isn’t quite as captivating as the Doctor’s, but it proves essential in further fleshing out the current state of despair within Berlin. Perhaps a bit too much time is spent with a woman who sees conversion as an honour and cannot understand why she has not been chosen, but Lisa Bowerman is fantastic as always as Bernice does her best to navigate a seemingly impossible situation and deftly combines with Warner to give a truly dramatic and emotional conclusion that pays off lingering plot threads exceptionally well. With the devastating news that David Warner has recently passed away, these last two stories serve as a fitting testament to the staggering range he possessed as an actor and the particular complexity and weightiness his take on the Doctor possessed, helping to craft a wonderful (suspected) conclusion to this era of Bernice Summerfield’s continuing adventures that should easily appeal to newcomers and long-time fans alike regardless of the two leads’ lengthy time together.

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