If you haven’t tried the Bernice Summerfield line of Big Finish audios, the new short story collection Treasury is a chance to dip into her world. And celebrate 20 years since the character debuted on audio.
For the devoted fan, this set is littered with easter eggs and additional background on the beloved character, and for the new fan this is a starting point.
Bernice “Surprise” Summerfield began life in 1992 as a companion for the Seventh Doctor in the Virgin New Adventures novels. Created by author Paul Cornell and originated by Lisa Bowerman, who became the voice of Benny when she moved to audio with Big Finish 20 years ago.
Treasury is a collection of eight short stories written by some of the best known names in Who fandom. Each author brings his or her unique style to the mix without a single weak link in the collection. The real treat, however, is Bowerman’s indelible voice acting. Her vocal dexterity separates her voice as narrator from that of Benny and the other characters with perfect grace. Andrew Cartmel narrates the story he wrote for this collection, though perhaps his soporific voice doesn’t resonate with the listener as much.
Aaronovitch & Shearman
The collection starts with two surreal stories. Ben Aaronovitch’s “The Evacuation of Bernice Summerfield Considered as a Short Film by Terry Gilliam” and Robert Shearman’s “And Then Again” take unexpected approaches to a Benny story. In Evacuation, Benny’s a lonely orphan meeting her fellow travelers on a transport ship. The characters that cross her path feel a bit like Jim Henson characters circa The Dark Crystal. They are both helpful to the orphan girl and strangely challenging.
And Then Again puts the listener in the shoes of Bernard Summerfield, a man who feels lost in his own life and confused about losing his spot in the company car park. We are put in his head as he reflects on why he thinks of himself as Benny when no one, not even his wife, calls him by the name, and we anticipate his opening of a small box that seems to contain a secret he feels drawn to reveal.
Cornell & Orman
For the next two tales, we’re given some more traditional Benny stories courtesy of the character’s creator Paul Cornell and his fellow NA novelist Kate Orman. Cornell’s “Misplaced Spring” sees Benny at the Braxiatel Collection recovering from an invasion by starting a school. This challenges our intrepid archaeologist, who prefers adventure, as she helps the first class of students acclimate to academia while dealing with domestics. As Treasury is a love letter to the adventures of Bernice Summerfield, Misplaced Spring is an actual love story as Benny and Jason Kane reconnect. It also feels the most typical Benny tale in the collection, since Cornell reminds us of her penchant for booze and sex.
Orman’s Solar Max and the Seven-Handed Snake-Mother shares that tone, placing Benny in a traditional adventure. She takes two students, who she thinks of as “Thing One” and “Thing Two” on an expedition to a remote site. Of course, everything goes wrong and she is forced to confront a fellow archaeologist on the dig about his nefarious plans.
Aaronovitch (againovitch) & Moffat
Our next pairing doubles up as Benny backstories. “Walking Backwards for Christmas” by Ben Aaronovitch feels like a poem as the line, “I loved Benny as…,” is repeated as Bernice looks back at her life using a history machine. Her honest reflections about her intended expression versus what her face revealed to the world at each stage make the audience nod in recognition of how life is both a struggle and a joy.
Steven Moffat’s story “The Least Important Man” feels like a Bernice Summerfield story and an episode of Moffat’s later career as Doctor Who showrunner. We meet Gavin and follow him through what appears to be a miserable life. Moffat turns a quirk of childhood, the imaginary friend, into a possibly sinister being while making Blake’s 7 references. It’s an odd combination but it works wonderfully.
Cartmel & Dicks
The final set of stories provides a nice wrap-up to the Treasury. “Bernice Summerfield and the Library of Books” departs from Bowerman’s luscious voice work for author Andrew Cartmel’s more staid narration. He manages to capture Benny’s sardonic tone in the words he has chosen for her, but his voice work cannot recreate her voice or create distinct voices for the other characters. The story itself is another traditional Benny story as she joins an expedition to an ancient library with a mystery to be solved. The final story is perhaps the most nostalgia filled as Bernice is forced to share a table in a crowded café and discover her table partner has…
“A Mutual Friend” with Terrance Dicks as the author we’re in for a peek at traditional Who fandom. But even the listener who has never seen the original series will understand the importance of this meeting.
For anyone who’s wanted to try the Bernice Summerfield range or for long time fans of the intrepid archaeologist, Treasury is an excellent celebration of her various adventures. Written by some true talents in the genre and voiced by the brilliant voice talent of Lisa Bowerman.
Update: A previous version of this article stated that Paul Cornell based the character of Benny on Lisa Bowerman herself. This has been corrected.
This title was released in August 2018. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until September 30th 2018, and on general sale after this date.
The Evacuation of Bernice Summerfield Considered as a Short Film by Terry Gilliamby Ben Aaronovitch
A lonely orphan on a vast transport ship meets some peculiar fellow travellers.
And Then Again by Robert Shearman
Who is Bernard Summerfield? What’s happened to his life? And why has he lost his spot in the company car park?
Misplaced Spring by Paul Cornell
The Braxiatel Collection is recovering from an invasion in a variety of surprising ways.
Solar Max and the Seven-Handed Snake-Mother by Kate Orman
Bernice is on an expedition to a remote site. She’s about to discover something unpleasant about her fellow explorers.
Walking Backwards for Christmas by Ben Aaronovitch
How did we get here? Bernice looks back at her life using a history machine.
The Least Important Man by Steven Moffat
Gavin’s had a fairly miserable life, all of it watched over by the ghostly figure of a woman silently commenting.
Bernice Summerfield and the Library of Books by Andrew Cartmel
Inside an ancient library is an ancient secret. The secret is, of course, deadly, but it’s deadly in an entirely unique way.
A Mutual Friend by Terrance Dicks
Bernice Summerfield learns why you should always talk to the person you’re sharing a table with at a cafe.
Please note: Bernice Summerfield: Treasury contains adult themes and may not be suitable for younger listeners.
Producer James Goss
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Ben Aaronovitch, Robert Shearman, Paul Cornell, Kate Orman, Steven Moffat, Andrew Cartmel, Terrance Dicks
Lisa Bowerman (Narrator), Andrew Cartmel (Narrator)