To my shame, I am more familiar with Lisa Bowerman’s turn as Ellie in the Jago and Litefoot stories than I am with her portrayal of Benny. Before this boxset, I had only heard a couple of stories, but boy have I been missing out. There’s a reason she has been going for 20 years – Bernice Surprise Summerfield is an absolute delight. Here’s to 20 more.
This anniversary box set, one of several celebratory releases for Benny, includes stories from throughout her life. Each story uses a different theme tune that I am reliably informed are taken from various Benny releases from throughout the years. One of which was excellent and one of which was an actual song with lyrics (that wasn’t so good).
I found The Story So Far: Volume One to be a great jumping-on point and should be suitable for people who have no previous exposure to Benny.
Ever After Happy
This first story throws a bit of a curve ball, as Lisa Bowerman is not playing Benny. The story takes place on the military training camp that Benny grew up on. A new actress, Emily Laing, is playing the role of Young Benny and she is very believable as the same character you hear Bowerman inhabit later in the release.
Ickle Benny is living on the edges of the camp, acting as a councillor/tutor to her fellow students. This may be an army base in the middle of a war in the far future, but the problems of the trainees will be very familiar to anyone who has ever been a student. Revision, hangovers, and relationship issues: the foundation of any education.
The tale’s by James Goss (The Lights of Skaro), so you instantly know that Summerfield is in more than capable hands. In fact, Big Finish has meted out the boxset to some very dependable scribes – alongside Goss, we have Jacqueline Rayner (The Glass Prison) and Simon Guerrier (Many Happy Returns).
The Grel Invasion of Earth
Good fact here: Jacqueline Rayner has written one of the funniest stories I have listened to from Big Finish. (Additional fact: this rivals some of Iris Wildthyme’s maddest adventures.) The Grel have invaded the earth by making the human race forget even the most basic information like how to make toast, what a penguin is, and, indeed, who anyone is.
Thanks to her ex-husband, Jason and some dodgy time rings, Benny is thrust back in time. They both land on an earth under the control of the Grel, a race of aliens obsessed with facts. Their entire purpose in life is to amass knowledge and spout it off at even the most inconvenient venture.There is a lot of comedy in the Grel yelling out random trivia when they should really be shooting their enemies. It’s like being chased by a psychopathic pub quiz team.
This was my first exposure to Jason, having previously only been slightly aware of their relationship. He had some excellent chemistry with Benny; you could really imagine that they had been married at one point.
My only issue with this release was that the sound effects for the Grel were quite generic – they sound like a lot of other Big Finish villains, like if you stuck a Cyberman underwater and gave them a sense of humour.
Benny uses the archaeological term, “Terminus Post Quest” which denotes the earliest possible date for something. It made my little archaeology student self quite excited. She’ll be banging on about Phenomenology and the materiality of stone next (don’t look that up unless you want to be very confused). Ahem. Big Finish, if you need someone with knowledge of Archaeology to write for Benny or River, then I am very much available. Cough, cough…
Braxiatel in Love
Listening to this boxset is like getting drunk with your lecturers and seeing a whole new side to them… or is that just Archaeologists? Benny is such a deeply interesting character, every facet of her being has been parcelled out in books and audio (and even the odd comic) with Lisa Bowerman bringing something very special to a role she has been portraying for a long time. In this final story, we see Benny the teacher, who struggles to continue to be the free thinking, hard drinking action hero who also has to grade papers. It’s difficult to imagine the other important archaeologist in the Doctor’s life getting stuck in the more mundane aspects of being a professor.
Benny is a Professor at the Braxiatel collection, and its owner, as you may have gathered, has fallen in love. Benny is suspicious of Brax’s sudden infatuation and, with the aid of her students, seeks to get to the bottom of it.
If Ever After Happy reminded you of being a student, then
Braxiatel in Love will make the current intake nod along with terrified understanding. When one of Benny’s student is scared Benny says ‘You’re pulling the face you pull when I mention your dissertation’, I don’t need my fiction reminding me of my real world responsibilities, thank you very much.
The episode takes place over what I assume is a series of months and you get a real sense of the passage of time, with various functions happening throughout the academic year. You can really understand Benny’s frustration with having to deal with this issue for such an extended period of time – not that the tale drags, however. Far from it.
I would highly recommend this release for those who have been with Benny for the past 20 years and those who are yet to meet her.
Bernice Summerfield: The Story So Far – Volume One is out now from Big Finish, priced £25 on CD or £20 as a download.