Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Lost Museum

Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 10.99
ISBN 1 84435 133 5
Available 11 September 2005

Trib City is at war with itself. The old dictatorship has been crushed, but the population have turned on each other. The army cannot stop the fighting, only clean up the mess. Bernice and Jason try to assess the damage to the local museum. Prized relics are missing, and even the kids on the street seem to know more about who took them than the museum's curator. They struggle to find answers amid the farrago, but all they unearth are more questions...

Trib City is a fairly obvious metaphor for Iraq. Like that troubled country, it has recently been liberated from dictatorship, yet the situation is far from peaceful. Various ethnic groups vie for control, while much of the populace regard the peacekeeping forces as invaders rather than saviours. So far, so familiar. However, writer Simon Guerrier latches on to a lesser-known fact about Iraq: that it was the cradle of human civilisation. Similarly, Trib City is described by Bernice (Lisa Bowerman) as one of the oldest civilisations in the galaxy - yet tragically many of its relics have been lost, stolen, damaged or desecrated.

Another inventive means by which the writer distinguishes his metaphorical morality tale from the many that have before involves the use of a translation device devised by Jason (Stephen Fewell). This device - which, in a neat bit of cost-cutting casting, speaks with a simulated voice based upon Jason's own - is used to relate some of the atrocities that have taken place over the years. As it describes the horrors, its dispassionate tone works more effectively than any cheesy, sentimental acting could have done.

Along the way, our heroes learn something about the value of moving on as opposed to enshrining the past, while curator Enil (Claire Carroll) tells Bernice that she has no right to criticise the running of her museum when the Braxiatel Collection is hardly the most transparent organisation in terms of its admissions and acquisitions.

As with the last few offerings in this series of audio dramas and books, the supporting cast of staff at the Braxiatel Collection, with the exception of Jason Kane, once again don't get a look-in. However, there are hints of developments to come as Jason tells Benny that he believes Adrian Wall and Bev Tarrant have been "carrying on" - presumably following their mission together in the short story Reparation, in the anthology A Life Worth Living. The repercussions of another tale from that collection, Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants, also come into play...

I am in danger of hyping up this CD - which, at just 56 minutes in duration, is one of the shortest audios in the Bernice Summerfield range - into something greater than it truly is. However, Guerrier and director Gary Russell have managed to pack a lot of treasures into their brief hour.

Richard McGinlay

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