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Audio Drama Review


Bernice Summerfield
Dead Man’s Switch


Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £10.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 529 7
Available 31 December 2010

26 years ago, a team of scientists came to a moon to unearth the secrets of a long-dead civilisation. They were later found to have died in what the authorities called an anti-matter explosion. The offer of a job could be Bernice Summerfield’s best way of getting home, but archaeology is illegal... and there’s a quarantine... and she’ll have to leap from a spacecraft in orbit. On a world guarded by armed satellites and patrolled by defence drones, she’s going to have to use all her skills and wits - and that’s just to get there! It’s not the moon itself that’s the problem, it’s what happened there, what remains there, what might escape... nothing...

Though technically this story follows on from the previous month’s Year Zero, it carries little baggage in terms of continuity, so you can jump straight in (preferably not from a spacecraft in orbit) with little or no foreknowledge of the series. It is explained along the way that Benny is far from home; that she will do anything to get there, to be back with her son, but that she doesn’t even know where home is; that she has recently found herself in a system of worlds where investigation of the past is illegal; and that the distant capital world of Zordin seems to offer her only hope of finding answers.

Hence she is now in the employ of the renegade Matka (Maria McErlane), in order to pay for the voyage. Matka’s relationship with Benny, calmly and confidently dropping her (quite literally) into danger to help solve a mystery, is evocative of the archaeologist’s former travels with the Seventh Doctor. Matka even delivers the very Doctor-ish line, “I’ll explain later.” However, it soon becomes clear that this isn’t going to be a long-term arrangement for the two...

Whereas Year Zero reminded me of a particular Babylon 5 episode, Dead Man’s Switch is reminiscent of Season 2 of Lost, as a man (Otek, played by William Whymper), has his sanity sorely tried by the need to keep his finger on a button, in order to prevent a catastrophe. Whereas the button in Lost had to be pressed every 108 minutes, poor old Otek has had to keep his finger on it all the time for the last 26 years.

Zero is a theme once again, this time in the form of “nothing”, a deadly, destructive force that lies at the exact midpoint between matter and antimatter. Even the synopses of these audio dramas seem to be counting down to nought: last time the number of years was 54, this time it’s 26...

Writers John Dorney and Richard Dinnick leaven the grim tension with moments of black humour, including Otek’s lack of personal hygiene and the gurgling voices of some little aliens.

With Benny still separated from everyone she knows and far away from any answers, Dead Man’s Switch doesn’t feel much like a season finale, but it pushes the right buttons to provide enthralling listening.


Richard McGinlay

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