Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Masquerade of Death

Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions
RRP 10.99
ISBN 1 84435 075 4
Available 13 April 2005

Bernice and her sidekick Adrian find themselves in a crumbling palace in the Prison Season of Spring, replete with an imperious queen and a prissy but rather sweet AI gaoler. How did they arrive? Why doesn't anyone know who the famous Professor Summerfield is? Before long there is murder as there always is and Benny is accused...

Although, for a change, there is no Doctor Who monster in this audio adventure, there is a distinct flavour of a couple of Who's more offbeat stories here. Like the Second Doctor in The Mind Robber, Bernice (Lisa Bowerman) finds herself in a bizarre alternative to reality. And the solution that she eventually hits upon for escaping this realm owes a particularly large debt to the aforementioned Patrick Troughton serial.

There's also an element of the equally oddball William Hartnell story The Celestial Toymaker, in that the threat to Benny - that of being reduced to a fictional character - is not unlike the Toymaker's penalty - that of becoming one of his toys.

The strange land in which Bernice and Adrian (Harry Myers) are deposited is divided into four kingdoms, which are named after the four seasons of the year and populated by a trickster-like playwright, the Player (Robin Sebastian), and a Lewis Carroll-style Queen (Sunny Ormande). Hmmm... Lewis Carroll... Writer Stewart Sheargold's previous Bernice adventure, The Mirror Effect, involved a looking glass. Do I see a pattern emerging here?

In a sense, this story brings Benny's adventures full circle, because its theatrical theme is also similar to the pantomime setting of Oh No It Isn't, the heroine's very first spin-off novel and audio adventure. However, whereas Oh No It Isn't offered clues as to what the heck was going on, Sheargold's approach is more surreal. Only at the end of the CD do we find out whether these bizarre events are some kind of parallel universe (at the outset Benny and Adrian appear to be long-term lovers), a deranged hallucination, or what.

Memorably loopy performances by Ormande and Sebastian, the latter of whom possesses a distinct quality of Kenneth Williams in his voice, help to pass the time while you scratch your head in bemusement.

I'm not sure what Sheargold has been smoking, but I wouldn't mind trying some.

Richard McGinlay

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