‘BERNICE SUMMERFIELD AND THE CRIMINAL CODE’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Solving The Criminal Code With Bernice Summerfield
It’s time for an audio adventure with Benny Summerfield and the Seventh Doctor!
‘Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code’ is a ‘Companion Chronicle’ of ‘Doctor Who’ that changes the standards of what a ‘Companion Chronicle’ does. Most notably, this is the first time we have a companion of the Doctor who has never appeared at all on TV to perform a ‘Companion Chronicle’ story.
Lisa Bowerman reprises her role for Bernice Summerfield, Benny to her friends, as she recollects a tale from her travels with the Seventh Doctor during the ‘New Adventures’ book series. I found this a really enjoyable listening experience as it was refreshing to hear a different slant of a ‘Companion Chronicle’.
I’ve had the CD cover of ‘Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code’ signed by the lovely Lisa Bowerman at the ‘Dimensions 2013’ convention in Newcastle, October 2013. I’ve had immense pleasure meeting Lisa. She is a nice lady and have enjoyed chatting to her at ‘Doctor Who’ conventions.
Bernice Summerfield was a character created in ‘Doctor Who’ for the Virgin series of ‘New Adventures’ novels during the wilderness years in the early 1990s. Benny was first introduced in the novel ‘Love and War’ (now an audio drama) by Paul Cornell, where she first met the Doctor on the planet Heaven.
Benny eventually joined the Doctor at the end of the story. Since then she’s had more adventures in the ‘Doctor Who’ novels, had her own book series and has now appeared in plenty of Big Finish audios in her own spin-off series as well as ‘Doctor Who’ adventures with Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann.
In fact, Benny was the character that started Big Finish in the first place and was responsible for getting the license for Big Finish to do ‘Doctor Who’ audio dramas. Benny has been one of the longest-serving ‘Doctor Who’ companions ever to feature in any medium, even though she’s never been on television.
In the Big Finish audios, Lisa Bowerman, who played Karra the Cheetah-Woman in the story called ‘Survival’, has brought Benny to life as a character. We as fans and listeners have the luxury of hearing what she sounds like as Lisa puts her heart and soul into Benny, who is witty, clever and slightly sarcastic at times.
Benny also has this boldness to drive the traits of what makes a really good ‘Doctor Who’ companion. There have been plenty of Big Finish audios with Benny and Lisa has been blessed with directing many of ‘The Companion Chronicles’ that have featured the other companions than herself in ‘Doctor Who’.
This is a change for Lisa in this ‘Companion Chronicle’ as she doesn’t get to direct herself in this story but merely perform as her character. John Ainsworth gets to direct this story with a good number of Big Finish audios to add to his name like ‘Circular Time’ and the ‘Destiny of the Doctor’ audio CD series.
Lisa also gets to indulge into Benny’s character with a two-part story by Eddie Robson. ‘Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code’ is an adventure set during the ‘New Adventures’ of ‘Doctor Who’ from the Seventh Doctor era. This takes place after Ace has left the Doctor for the second time in ‘Doctor Who’.
For those unfamiliar to the ‘New Adventures’, Ace first left the Doctor in ‘Love and War’ when Benny joined. Then she returned to re-join the Doctor in ‘Deceit’ as ‘New Ace’ (three years older when she last met him) before leaving a second time in ‘Set Piece’. I like how Benny references Ace in this audio.
In this story, Benny recollects when she and the Doctor visited the planet of Shanquis as he takes part in the peace negotiations between this world and its neighbouring planet Esoria. Negotiations don’t seem to be going very well as the Doctor’s out of his element. But Benny is occupied with other things.
Whilst the Doctor’s sorting out these negotiations, Benny attends an archaeological conference. During that conference, Benny discovers a forbidden language on the planet that hasn’t been spoken in years and is illegal to read and speak. She discovers this forbidden language could assist the Doctor.
There’s a political flavour running throughout this story, especially when the Doctor’s involved with the peace negotiations. Although we don’t get to hear that side of the story so much. It’s mostly from Benny’s point of view we get to enjoy, since she’s now back to her archaeology and using her expertise.
I found it intriguing when Benny discusses with Gatlin, one of the attendees at the conference, about the forbidden language. I liked the banter Benny shares with the Doctor, especially she gets annoyed about him not listening to him. I’ve not read many of the ‘New Adventures’ novels from ‘Doctor Who’.
Yet this audio adventure has that flair of the ‘New Adventures’ novels in it. I wouldn’t be surprised as it certainly feels more sophisticated and grown-up in the storytelling, context and how it addresses the listening audience who perhaps aren’t very familiar with what goes on in a ‘New Adventures’ book.
I enjoyed Lisa’s amusing interpretation of the Seventh Doctor. It sounds like Sylvester McCoy with its Scottish accent and rounded ‘r’s on the r words in some of the Doctor’s dialogue. Lisa brings across the broodiness and sometimes darker, thoughtful aspects of the Seventh Doctor which was intriguing.
Charlie Hayes guest stars as Gatlin, one of the attendees at the archaeological conference. I’ve enjoyed listening to Charlie Hayes. Charlie happens be the daughter of Wendy Padbury who played Zoe alongside Patrick Troughton’s Doctor in ‘Doctor Who’. Charlie has done quite a number of Big Finishes.
Here in this story, Charlie plays a keenly enthusiastic and open-minded person attending the conference and is interested in what Benny’s discovered about the forbidden language on Shanquis. Charlie as Gatlin sometimes sounds like her mother and has this sunny texture to her voice that I liked.
There’s no specific monster in the story as there’s no apparent villain throughout. But what stands out is the stakes and the rising tension in the negotiations between the two planets and how Benny relates that the Doctor is essential to these negotiations. It becomes so tense when the Doctor gets arrested.
Soon Benny goes off to rescue the Doctor. I like how the Doctor and Benny work things out and how the use of thought and word command is developed for these particular type of nano-robots that are featured in this story. This story may require a few more listens to get to understand what is going on.
The CD extras are as follows. There’s a trailer for ‘The Suffering’ with Maureen O’Brien as Vicki and Peter Purves as Steven. There are also behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews with Lisa Bowerman and Charlie Hayes, conducted by director John Ainsworth. I enjoyed how Lisa and John compared notes on directing ‘Companion Chronicles’ and the complexities of acting and performance.
‘Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code’ has been great to listen to and I enjoyed Lisa Bowerman as Benny in her first ‘Companion Chronicle’. The story feels like a diary entry as is sometimes often the case in how Benny tells her adventures via her own ‘Bernice Summerfield’ spin-off series by Big Finish.
If you’re not familiar with Bernice Summerfield, I’d certainly recommend listening this audio adventure. Better still, hear the audio adaptation of ‘Love and War’ in order to get to know who Benny is and how popular she is in the ‘Doctor Who’ series as with Big Finish as she’s had a long-lasting legacy.
‘Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code’ rating – 8/10
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