Click here to return to the main site.

Audio Drama Review


Bernice Summerfield
New Frontiers


Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £25.00 (CD), £20.00 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 101 2
Release Date: 30 April 2013

S.O.S. Emergency. Please send… an archaeologist?” On a routine postal mission for a deranged millionaire, Bernice, Ruth and Jack intercept a distress signal from the most haunted planet in the galaxy: Nemeqit. Taking their newly-christened shuttle – the Irverfield – down to investigate, the trio soon find themselves confronted with a pair of childlike extra-terrestrials; Vonna Byzantium, the presenter of Paranormal Planets and part-time diva; and an awful lot of dust. But something else is going on beneath the surface of Nemeqit, something none of them ever imagined. And this time, Bernice really can’t save everyone...

As with the Doctor Who novel Dark Horizons, I find the title of this box set somewhat bland and ill-fitting. It’s a curiously non-specific moniker, which seems more Star Trek than Bernice Summerfield to me. Advent might have been a more suitable title, given the references made in all three stories to an upcoming public holiday, the planet Legion’s version of Christmas. Ghost Stories or some similar title could also have worked, since all three CDs in this collection feature hauntings or apparitions – or at least the threat of them.

For example, the opening story, A Handful of Dust, deals with what is reputed to be the most haunted planet in the galaxy. However, after a notorious TV ghost hunter called Vonna Byzantium (Ellen Salisbury) shows up, this proves to be something of a red herring. The mystery of the planet’s disarmingly naive inhabitants, Bel (Charlie Hayes) and Lud (Peter Sheward), turns out to be spiritual in quite another way, and more bizarre.

Talking of red herrings, Bernice’s mad millionaire client, who is mentioned quite a lot, has surprisingly little bearing on the plot. I assumed that we would meet him at some point during this box set, but we don’t.

Xanna Eve Chown leavens her story with humour, though some of these lighter moments are better than others. The regulars’ discussion of Advent and its eccentric traditions (including bowls of lobsters placed under chairs – the mind boggles) works well, though their forced hilarity over the naming of Irving Braxiatel’s shuttle falls rather flat.

On balance, though, A Handful of Dust is far from a dry and dull experience.



Mortis Dock: the last manned shipyard in the cosmos… Population: six thousand and two… And now, not a soul in sight… at least, until Bernice, Peter and Jack are drawn off course and land there. Where have all the workers disappeared to? Why is Jack behaving so oddly, even for him? And what is the secret of the HMS Surprise? Only a stranger in a lighthouse holds the key – but can he be trusted? Not everything is quite as simple as it may at first appear. Life is never straightforward for Bernice – and creaking jetties, sinister shadows, a spooky ship and waterlogged zombies will prove to be the least of her worries...

From a haunted planet to a haunted shipyard: the morbidly named Mortis Dock in HMS Surprise. The similarities to A Handful of Dust don’t end there, however. Once again, Bernice and her gang have arrived in response to a distress signal, which is an unfortunate bit of repetition.

Writer Alexander Vlahos does ring some changes, though, by teaming Bernice with Jack (David Ames) and her son Peter (Thomas Grant), leaving Ruth behind on this occasion. This allows for a little exploration of (and a reminder to the listener about) the mystery introduced in the previous box set, regarding Peter’s apparently imaginary boyfriend, though more pressing concerns take priority, leaving this plot strand to be resolved on the next disc...

Featuring traditionally spooky story elements such as a vessel from the past, a siren-like lure, doom-laden foghorns and a lonely lighthouse, HMS Surprise provides straightforward scares before things get complicated...



It’s Advent Day: a time that traditionally calls for celebration; a day spent with the people you love, when all the family come together, setting aside their differences… or when they bring old scores to settle. An old foe has been biding her time, manipulating the people and events around Bernice Summerfield for as long as any of them can remember. She knows so many secrets – the secrets they’ve all been hiding – but not everybody wants to learn the truth. Today, Avril Fenman comes to Legion. She comes to claim her son, and to set Bernice on her final, lonely battle. But will Benny’s friends stand by her, one last time...?

How many times can a franchise be rebooted? Big Finish’s Bernice Summerfield range is rapidly catching up with DC Comics in terms of its parallel-universe-spanning, timeline-rewriting, character-eradicating clearing of the decks. Recent restarts have included Bernice’s move away from the Braxiatel Collection in Beyond the Sea, the history-altering apocalypse that was Escaping the Future, and the rebranding and world reshaping of Epoch.

Part of the problem, for both DC Comics and Big Finish, is that having cleared those decks of complex continuity, with the aim of enticing new customers on board, it is seldom very long before plot arcs old and new begin to get tangled up again. In this series, these include the return of Braxiatel (Miles Richardson) and Peter, and the question of the latter’s boyfriend – both of which are addressed in The Curse of Fenman.

Old hand Gary Russell provides the answers, in a script that clarifies the nature of the new Braxiatel compared with the devious rogue of old (or does it?); establishes new back-stories for Ruth (Ayesha Antoine) and Jack (in addition to all the different ones they had in Epoch); and reunites Bernice with a very old enemy, Avril Fenman (Georgia Moffett), who last appeared in the 2001 novel The Squire’s Crystal.

Avril is a decidedly obscure element of the series’ past to be reintroduced now. As co-producer Scott Handcock has stated: “Long-term Bernice Summerfield fans might recognise the Fenman name. She has quite a pivotal part in Benny lore – she was responsible for the birth of Peter, after all – and yet she’s never appeared in the audio series... until now! Gary was very keen to wrap up a few ongoing mysteries for Benny fans, but we were also very mindful of telling a good, solid story as we did so – and by bringing Avril Fenman into the mix, there’s a very good reason for everything coming to a head the way it does!” What will those aforementioned new customers make of this continuity-fest? Even I got a little confused, and I’ve been listening from the start!

There are good performances all round, particularly from Ayesha Antoine as Ruth’s real self, David Ames as various members of Jack’s family, and Sean Biggerstaff as… well, that would be telling. However, I can’t help thinking that it won’t be long before it’s all change yet again for these characters, which makes it hard for me to truly care about what happens to them.


Richard McGinlay

Buy this item online

Each of the store links below opens in a new window, allowing you to compare the price of this product from various online stores.