Big Finish Folly, Part 6½

While I plough on through Renaissance of the Daleks, there’s a backlog of Bernice Summerfield adventures to get through. Let’s see if we can catch up a bit, eh?

Dragons’ Wrath, by Justin Richards

From this point onwards the Bernice Summerfield plays shrink down to a single CD. On one hand this is a good thing – speedier narratives, less clunk. On the other hand… oh dear. This one feels rushed. The last of the New Adventures adaptations, this should have introduced Irving Braxiatel as a recurring character, but licensing issues got in the way. That’s the least of the problems here however. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the abridged script, but the production itself sounds horribly flawed to me. In places – including one or two key moments near the end – the dialogue is overwhelmed by sound effects and music, and the effects themselves are very poorly edited in. You can almost hear someone press the “sound of cat purring” button as Benny talks to Wolsey. The other first season plays didn’t have this problem, which makes me wonder if time was a factor with this production. And the new theme tune…? An improvement perhaps, but it really didn’t warrant a vocal version….

Buried Treasures, by Paul Cornell

Two short plays to complement the first full season – one light and fluffy, the other decidedly not. The fluffy one is neither here nor there, with far too much forced humour for my liking. The second, meanwhile, is a far more thoughtful look at a familiar “what if” scenario – what if you could stop a war by going back in time to assassinate the sadistic general?

Of course there is more to it than that, and Benny isn’t actually there to assassinate the infant general. her reasons for wanting to go and make a difference in the first place link back to the events of Just War, as well as her current mission to this world as a neutral observer. In the interview that precedes the episode Paul Cornell points out that all of the atrocities listed have already happened in real life. These aren’t made up. Benny’s disgust and horror are real, as is her determination that this should never have happened at all. As a single episode it has more power than most of the previous stories put together. Unfortunately it is coupled with the teethgrindingly daft first play, which lowers the average score.

The Secret of Cassandra, by David Bailey

Season 2 begins with Benny stranded on a desert island, cursing her travel agent. She is rescued, naturally enough, by a replica sailing ship called Cassandra. The aphorism “any port in a storm” could be utilised here, along with “out of the frying-pan…”

After the jumble of Dragons’ Wrath, this is the first truly original full-length audio adventure for Benny. And actually, shorn of the Doctor Who baggage and allowed to do something non-timey-wimey for once, The Secret of Cassandra works in its own right. Benny’s adversaries are well-drawn, and the plot is kept taut and fast-moving right up until the final “villain reveal” in the last five minutes. This time none of the humour feels forced, and neither the effects nor the music get in the way of the story. Even the theme tune doesn’t grate in quite the same way. You never know, I might end up humming it….


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Epic Fantasist & SFSF Socialist.

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