The dream team are back and once again exploring virgin territory. For many of us who grew up in the early nineties, The Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice Summerfield of the New Adventures novels will always be ‘our’ TARDIS team – the nostalgia triggers of our lost generation are not hiding behind the sofa from tea-time title sequences, but rather concealing from classmates our paper portals to time and space. Not for us the thrills of Matt – we got our kicks from WH Smith.
This isn’t the first time that Big Finish have dabbled with this particular crew – they were reunited for a couple of outings quite early on in the main Doctor Who range, as well as for some more recent, and extremely welcome, novel adaptations – but now we find this travelling trio gifted a proper new lease of life courtesy of this series of box-sets, of which this is the second, with the somewhat clumsily comprehensive umbrella title of Doctor Who – The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.
While the intention is clearly to recapture the glory days of the books, these escapades actually take place at a later continuity conflagration, with Ace mentioning her training at the Time Lord academy, and Bernice having recently attended her son’s wedding. But that really doesn’t matter – it’s just glorious to have the triumphant triumvirate back in action. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the extensive back-catalogue of Bernice’s solo adventures, or have never picked up a New Adventures novel (although you’re missing out if that’s the case) – this box-set and its predecessor tell you everything you need to know.
Bernice: “Typical though, isn’t it? The world ends and somehow the aristocracy survives. What is it with these people – do they have pictures of Sutekh in compromising positions? Or do they just manage his hedge funds?”
The Triumph of Sutekh is a four-part epic that takes us on a thrilling voyage, one with destinations that include ancient Egypt, Mars, a mysterious croquet lawn, and a devastated future. Each individual episode is separate and distinct, but, rather like the chapters of a good novel, together they make a satisfying and comprehensively-connected whole. Guy Adams’ Pyramid of Sutekh opens proceedings with an effectively claustrophobic horror story, and boasts a jaw-dropper of a pre-titles cliffhanger…
The Vaults of Osiris by Justin Richards has Bernice and Ace take the spotlight in an action adventure that would see Indiana Jones proud. James Goss takes us back in time with The Eye of Horus and delivers a touching tale of family, empire, and… the Doctor betrothed… The Tears of Isis is a ferocious finale from Una McCormack that ups the stakes to the nth degree and will have you wondering if The Doctor has finally gone too far.
Ace: “One grand plan too many Doctor. I always knew something would go wrong. Look at this – look at what you’ve done!”
The three leads are pretty much perfect. Sylvester McCoy sounds a little greyer and graver than he did on television, but that’s entirely in keeping with the later setting of these adventures. Sophie Aldred is well directed as the more mature Ace, and the always-sublime Lisa Bowerman is nothing short of magnificent. Whilst this is indisputably a Doctor Who title, it’s Bernice who is our guide through the time-loops within time-loops that make up this cat’s cradle – hers is the chronology that we follow while other characters come and go. The Doctor and Ace still get plenty to do, indeed – pleasingly more than in the preceding box set, but it’s Benny that’s the main focal point. We’re happy for that to be the case in this instance – we love her and could listen to Bowerman all day – but would perhaps wish for slightly more balance in future collections.
“Sutekh: With the Eye of Sutekh in place, humanity shall swim in a sea of blood for thousands of years, and when that sea dries I shall walk upon its bed.”
It’s really quite extraordinary that Big Finish haven’t used Sutekh before – not only is he one of the all-time greats of Doctor Who villainy, but he’s also perfect for the audio medium. Gabriel Woolf chills our very bones every time he utters one of the deranged deity’s deliciously unveiled threats. We visit Sutekh at varying degrees of power – from frail desert wanderer to triumphant god of death – and in each and every instance Woolf uses his unique vocal qualities to delight and disquiet with devilish precision. We listened, and found it good.
The Triumph of Sutekh is an apposite epithet – this four-disc delight is an absolute treat. I may be bias – this is, after-all, a personal favourite time stream in which to take a dip – but there’s plenty here to enjoy for anyone who’s partial to TARDIS travel. Modern and invigorating whilst at the same time honouring one of Doctor Who’s finest chapters – do yourself a favour and unwrap Sutekh’s gift of death for yourself.