Bernice Summerfield
The Two Jasons

Author: Dave Stone
Big Finish
RRP: £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 279 1
Available 08 June 2007

When Bernice Summerfield first met Jason Kane, she failed to spot his many fine qualities and assets. Over the course of many subsequent adventures, including marriage and divorce, she continued not to see them. When Bernice first met 2Jason, he was disguised as a critic of the work of Jason Kane. She saw through his false moustache and literary pretensions, and had him and his other clones expelled into space, there to make their own fortunes. One Jason Kane was, she felt, rather more than enough. Now something is astir in the universe, a plot that threatens all the Jason Kanes and everything they hold dear. Before long, there might not be any Jasons left at all...

Big Finish seems to be cultivating a new sub-genre: a book that expands upon a previously published short story from the same range. The Doctor Who: Short Trips anthology The Centenarian used as its springboard the Grainger family depicted in Joseph Lidster's story "She Won't Be Home" from a previous short-story collection, The History of Christmas. Later, the same series' Time Signature developed ideas from Simon Guerrier's "An Overture Too Early", originally published in the anthology The Muses. In the case of Time Signature, the short story in question was reprinted at the beginning of the book for the sake of clarity. Similarly, this book explores the fate of some of the duplicate Jasons from Philip Purser-Hallard's brilliantly amusing "Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants", originally published in the Bernice Summerfield anthology A Life Worth Living. As with Time Signature, the short story is reprinted at the front of this novel.

Long-term Doctor Who/Bernice Summerfield readers may experience a sense of déjà vu during approximately half of this book. This is because alternate chapters flash back to Jason's first encounter with Benny in the New Adventures novel Death and Diplomacy. The author has substantially re-edited these passages since their initial publication, changing the tense to first-person singular, removing all overt references to the Doctor, and generally polishing the text, though the dialogue remains virtually intact. This repackaging of old material does serve a vital purpose, though. Death and Diplomacy was released in 1996 and has been out of print for almost as long, so it's not exactly accessible to any newcomers who might be wondering what Benny ever saw in this Jason bloke in the first place. Thus The Two Jasons is a timely reminder and/or a useful primer.

You may have noticed that Jason looks a bit different on the front of Death and Diplomacy than he does on more recent Bernice Summerfield covers. This is because Adrian Salmon's illustrations for Big Finish reflect the likeness of actor Stephen Fewell, who has dark, curly hair, whereas Virgin Books' New Adventures tended to visualise the character with straight, blond hair. Dave Stone obliquely refers to this phenomenon, suggesting that it might be an illusion caused by Jason's own self-image, the result of some forgotten surgery or even an effect of his replicants' memories having been tampered with. One of the duplicates ponders that: "It's like a new picture has been stripped in over the old one, or like a different actor is playing the part of me and no one's talking about it." Quite!

While I'm quoting, allow me to present the final two sentences of this novel's blurb, as they appear on the back cover: Now somthing [sic] is astir in the universe, a plot that threatens Benny and all she holds dear. If she stands any chance at all, she needs all the Jason Kanes she can get... I've rewritten that bit for the synopsis that appears on the top of this review - and not just to correct the spelling. The blurb as is implies that Bernice meets the multiple Jasons again, which is misleading. In fact, Benny does not appear in the "present" segments of The Two Jasons, only in the flashbacks and (kind of) in a flash-forward to several years in the future.

This flash-forward forms the epilogue to the novel, which appears to be setting something up to be continued. (Without wishing to give too much away, it also provides a handy get-out clause in case any other depictions of "future Benny" - such as Paul Cornell's "The Shape of the Hole", from the anthology A Life of Surprises - end up being invalidated by subsequent stories.)

Stone seems uncertain how to end his book. After the epilogue comes an Author's Note, and then a Two Ronnies-style sketch. No, really! And you thought the title was a spin on The Two Doctors, didn't you?

Prior to that point, however, this is one of Stone's most readable works to date. In his Author's Note, he admits that his earlier prose "tended to confuse the complex with the complicated, the erudite with the overblown" but that he has improved in recent years. I am inclined to agree. I wouldn't usually describe this author's blend of verbose word play, footnotes and Douglas Adams-esque humour* as a page-turning experience, but that's exactly how I would describe this book.

The One Richard McGinlay

*Blimey, now I'm recycling my old material, just like Dave Stone. It must be catching. I previously used many of those words in my review of Parallel Lives. Oh, and I used a footnote there, too.

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