Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Plague Herds of Excelis

Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions
RRP 9.99
ISBN 1 903654 70 X, BFPCD12
Available now

The once proud city of Excelis is now a crumbling ruin. The population is besieged by barbarians, who catapult pestilent animal corpses into the town to spread disease. A stranded Professor Summerfield makes the acquaintance of an unlikely ally: a mysterious traveller known as Iris Wildthyme...

At the risk of sounding like the cover blurb to Douglas Adams' So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish, this is the fourth part of the Excelis trilogy. Plague Herds is an addendum to the three dramas, Excelis Dawns, Excelis Rising and Excelis Decays, that were recently released as part of Big Finish's Doctor Who range.

Having found the previous two instalments rather disappointing, I was very pleased to hear the return of Katy Manning as Iris Wildthyme. She was definitely the best thing about Excelis Dawns. Two equally strong but very different characters, Manning's Iris and Lisa Bowerman's Benny make a great team.

Quite why they need to be cagey about using the "D" word and the "T" word is a mystery to me, however - surely Big Finish is allowed to use the Doctor's name and the word TARDIS? Perhaps writer Stephen Cole was just trying to recapture the flavour of Virgin Publishing's final few Doctor-less New Adventures, when they weren't allowed to say such things!

As it happens, we should be grateful that this is an audio adventure. Many of the most dramatic scenes concern the contested ownership of "the Relic". Considering that this artefact is shaped like a handbag (hence Iris' desire to reclaim it), this could have undermined the drama somewhat had it been told via any visual medium.

Plague Herds brings what has been an uneven saga to a satisfactory resolution.

Richard McGinlay