Bernice Summerfield
Missing Adventures

Editor: Rebecca Levene
Big Finish
RRP: £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 278 4
Available 27 November 2007

One day she will bring down empires and decide the fate of the universe. One day she will be feared by creatures of evil and revered wherever people have had just a little bit too much to drink. But all that is yet to come... Explore the early life of Bernice Summerfield and witness the events that shaped the archaeologist and space-adventuress we know today, as a boarding school tries anything to make her behave; a bizarre circus offers solace following the loss of her father; the military catches up with her, and her freedom will cost her dearly; ancient books prove to be deadly; and Benny thinks she may have discovered evidence of her dad’s existence...

Containing 12 all-new stories, Missing Adventures celebrates 15 years of Bernice Surprise Summerfield. Wouldn’t 15 stories have been more appropriate, though?

Many of the contributors have played a formative role in the character’s creation and development back in her Virgin Books New Adventures days, including the book’s editor, Rebecca Levene; Peter Darvill-Evans, who provides the story “Home”; Ben Aaronovitch, who contributes “The Evacuation of Bernice Summerfield Considered as a Short Film by Terry Gilliam”; Andrew Cartmel, who lends us “Bernice Summerfield and the Library of Books”; and Andy Lane, who leaves “Blood on the Tracks”. Benny’s creator, Paul Cornell, is conspicuous by his absence, though Eddie Robson’s “Thirty Love” acts as an effective lead-in to Love and War, the Cornell Doctor Who novel that introduced us to Professor Summerfield.

As you may have gathered from some of the titles listed above, there’s something of a flavour of the movies in this anthology. “The Evacuation of Bernice Summerfield Considered as a Short Film by Terry Gilliam” only really reflects the film industry in its title (though the story is a truly and, perhaps appropriately, bizarre affair). Similarly, the plot and tone of Andy Owens’s “Postcards from the Edge of Reason” have nothing in common with the movies Postcards from the Edge or Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Conversely, “Bernice Summerfield and the Library of Books” emulates the Indiana Jones series in both title and content, with a dash of The Name of the Rose added for good measure. “Benny and Louise”, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, is obviously a spin on Thelma and Louise, though a more light-hearted affair, featuring the return of the snail-like Slarvians, aliens that have previously appeared in the writers’ Tomorrow People and Doctor Who work. “Home” is conveyed in the form of a documentary transcript, which lends a certain dramatic quality.

The stories cover a period of about 20 years, from Benny’s schooldays (in Xanna Eve Chown’s “Biology Lesson on Mal Oreille”) to a short while before she met the Seventh Doctor (in “Thirty Love”).

I am somewhat disappointed that the book does not cover a more extended period, to include Bernice’s time aboard the TARDIS, or her residence on the planet Dellah or the Braxiatel Collection, but at least “The Evacuation” includes some tasters of the strange beings and situations that will eventually come into her life. Many of the eccentric circus performers that the young Benny encounters in this story resemble incarnations of the Doctor, including a woman sporting Sixth Doctor-style “unrealistically curly blond hair” and a clown wearing the Third Doctor’s trademark frilly shirt. A soothsayer called the Pythia also appeared in a couple of Marc Platt’s New Adventures (admittedly, not in novels in which Bernice appeared), while (more pertinently) the sinister, long-limbed character known as Spider probably represents the scheming Braxiatel.

Not surprisingly, given the period of future history in which Benny is said to have grown up, there are numerous references, in stories such as John Binns’s “Charged” and “Postcards from the Edge of Reason”, to the Enemy. These are obviously the Daleks, though (probably for copyright reasons) they are not named as such. This euphemistic title invites speculation, by fanboys such as myself, as to a connection with the similarly nameless Enemy fought by the Time Lords in several Eighth Doctor novels, and thus a connection with the Time War referred to in the relaunched Doctor Who TV series. Perhaps the war against the Enemy in the Eighth Doctor books was an earlier campaign of the Time War...

I do seem to keep defining this collection by what it isn’t rather than what it is, what’s missing rather than what’s here: 12 stories rather than 15; no Paul Cornell; no Doctor; no Dellah; no Braxiatel Collection. Nevertheless, Missing Adventures has its moments.

My favourite stories are the gripping lunar-based “Home” and the moving “Blood on the Tracks”, the latter of which also features a quite fascinating multi-dimensional species. Similarly stirring are the courtroom tale “Charged”, Jason Arnopp’s “Prime Five” and “Postcards from the Edge of Reason”, all of which have some pretty disparaging things to say about the military. For sheer entertainment, I recommend the “jolly hockey sticks” boarding school setting of “Biology Lesson on Mal Oreille” (even though some of Chown’s plot revelations are a trifle predictable), and the spirit of adventure that is present in “Benny and Louise” and “The Library of Books”.

On the other hand, Andy Bodle’s “The Tunnels to Heaven” leaves me unmoved, while “The Evacuation” and Magnus Anderson’s “The Slight Façade” are both hard to assimilate. “The Slight Façade” seems to exist primarily as a context for a genuine treasure hunt arranged by Big Finish. There’s a real prize hidden somewhere in the UK (it says here), with clues to its whereabouts concealed within this story. I hope you have better luck than me: I haven’t got a clue where to look!

Missing Adventures is my least favourite Bernice Summerfield short-story anthology to date - but even so, you probably wouldn’t want it to be missing from your collection.

Richard McGinlay

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