Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Crystal of Cantus

Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 10.99
ISBN 1 84435 132 7
Available 25 June 2006

Fabled crystals from long-dead civilisations; Jason Kane blundering into situations out of his control; entombed Cybermen waking from centuries-long sleep. It's all in a day's work for Bernice Summerfield. Armed with her endless supply of witty quips, she'll find the Crystal, rescue Jason, destroy the Cybermen and be home in time for supper. Except this time it's different. This time, as the saying goes, it's personal. After this adventure, things will never be the same again...

Despite my current excitement about the return of the Cybermen in the new series of Doctor Who, their presence here as the latest in a long line of guest monsters isn't the only reason why I have given this audio drama such a high mark. After all, this isn't even the first time Benny has met the metallic menaces - she encountered one of them a couple of years ago in the Doctor Who Magazine freebie CD Silver Lining.

Also contributing to this story's appeal is a challenging multi-layered script by Joseph Lidster. His narrative is conveyed from at least three different points of view, and the true state of affairs turns out to be quite different from how it initially appears. Some of the characters' arcs tie in with recent developments in Big Finish's Gallifrey and Cyberman series: respectively, Braxiatel's (Miles Richardson) departure from his home world and the revelation that the Cybermen have cryogenic "tombs" on planets other than Telos.

As though in acknowledgement of the debt owed to Nicholas Briggs's Cyberman series, Briggs not only gets to contribute the voices of the Cybermen, as usual, but also plays the role of an innocent victim known as Ronan McGinley. (Incidentally, I found it quite disconcerting to hear Braxiatel repeatedly addressing "Mr McGinley". It's spelt differently to my name, but it sounds the same!) Fittingly, director/producer Gary Russell, who is also the co-producer of the Gallifrey range, gets to play his part too, as a Pakhar called Thesanius. Even Lidster mucks in to play a small role.

As with their recent television two-parter Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, the machine-creatures take on some of the more unnerving qualities of Star Trek's Borg. Trek fans may raise a Spock-like eyebrow, but it seems only fair, since the Borg themselves owe obvious dues to the Cybermen. Here the cyborgs combine their Tomb of the Cybermen catchphrases "We will survive" and "You belong to us" in a Borg-style chant. They also borrow one of the Borg's favourite words, "irrelevant".

This story, the conclusion to Professor Summerfield's sixth season of adventures, marks a point of closure in her life that is far from irrelevant. Things really will never be the same again. The Crystal of Cantus is a little gem and a stunning piece of drama.

Richard McGinlay