Bernice Summerfield
The Tub Full of Cats

Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 10.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 272 2
Available 28 February 2007

Negotiations have failed and the Braxiatel Collection now sits within a war zone, caught in the crossfire as the reptilian Draconians spar with the sponge-like Mim. Bernice Summerfield and Maggie Matsumoto are racing back there with something that might just end the war - or at least help the Collection to survive it. That something is Irving Braxiatel, Maggie's sort-of dad, Benny's sort-of boss and the would-be killer of Benny's sort-of husband, Jason Kane. But the Collection is on the far side of the Mim blockade, and there's no possible way they can get through it. They'll just have to do something impossible...

Picking up where The Empire State left off, Season 8 of Professor Summerfield's exploits kicks off with a decidedly bizarre journey back to the Collection. But then what else would you expect from writer Daniel O'Mahony and with a title like The Tub Full of Cats?

Yes, the ship in which Benny travels really is filled with felines. The vessel also boasts a faster-than-light drive whose wild hallucinogenic trips make The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's Infinite Improbability Drive seem like a sedate and relaxing cruise. Then there's the ship's steward, Chanticleer (Diane Fletcher), who might be a man or a woman.

The trouble with the latter story element is that Diane Fletcher's voice sounds thoroughly masculine to me, so we only have the dialogue of Bernice (Lisa Bowerman) and Maggie (Sophie Louise Dann) to tell us there is any gender confusion. On the subject of misleading voices, Dann (reprising her role from The Empire State) sounds unfortunately very similar to semi-regular cast member Louise Faulkner (alias Bev Tarrant).

And talking of confusion, I've been trying to make sense of the chronology of Irving Braxiatel's (Miles Richardson) recent appearances in Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield and Gallifrey series. Cardinal Braxiatel's appearances in Doctor Who: Zagreus and the Gallifrey series up to and including Chapter Seven - Pandora clearly take place before his encounters with the Doctor and Bernice in numerous Virgin Books novels and Big Finish releases. At the end of Pandora, infected by the Pandora virus, he is forced to leave Gallifrey. After years of adventures with Bernice, Braxiatel once again finds that he must make himself scarce, this time from the Collection that he himself founded, because of his regrettable actions (possibly motivated by the Pandora virus) in The Crystal of Cantus. But what happens next...?

I theorise that Brax's next adventure is his return appearance at the end of the Gallifrey series. In Chapter Fourteen - Panacea, his attempt to save Gallifrey from destruction in a forthcoming conflict could be a conscious or subconscious attempt to make amends for his misguided attempts to protect the Collection from outside aggressors. He appears to predict the coming Time War, possibly informed by his recent experience of battling the Daleks in Death and the Daleks.

We next meet Brax at the end of The Empire State, when Bernice realises where and how he has been hiding out - for centuries, as it turns out - and releases him. His transformation into the Stone of Barter might have enabled him to survive the Time War, and would certainly explain why, in the Doctor Who episode Dalek, the Doctor is unable to sense Brax's existence, even though he claims that he would be able to telepathically detect any other Time Lord survivors. Therefore, Bernice's adventures could now be taking place post-Time War.

Further comparison with Doctor Who is invited when Brax plays down his fatherhood - rather like the Doctor's relationship with his granddaughter Susan has sometimes been swept under the carpet by fans and writers over the years.

This audio drama shouldn't be swept under the carpet, though. It may be rather spaced out, but it's an all-the-more memorable trip for it.

Richard McGinlay

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