Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Grel Escape

Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions
RRP 9.99
ISBN 1 84435 041 X
Available 07 July 2004

Benny, Jason, Peter and Sophia find themselves on the run from a time-travelling party of fact-obsessed Grel, who wish to capture Peter for study. The escapees face a frightening festival, sinister sands and a ridiculously inaccurate robot double, in what can only be described as a sort of chase...

Following the intense Life During Wartime and the action-packed Death and the Daleks, the Bernice Summerfield range is in need of a little light relief. Writer Jacqueline Rayner, whose previous contribution to Benny's adventures was the harrowing novel The Glass Prison evidently decided that she could use some of the same. The result is the whimsical caper that is The Grel Escape.

However, the Dalek presence can still be felt, albeit indirectly, due to the fact that this story is a pastiche of the extremely silly William Hartnell Doctor Who serial, The Chase. Though you don't need to have seen that particular story in order to follow this one, fans who have done so will recognise and appreciate numerous aspects of the plot structure, including a haunted funfair, a Grel rising from the sand, an unconvincing robot "duplicate" of the main character, and even an equivalent of the space-time visualiser sequences. You will probably either like or loathe Rayner's decision to lampoon an already laughable story to such an extent. I like it a lot!

The villains of the piece are those comedy fact-collectors, the Grel (all voiced by Daniel Hogarth). These creatures have always worked better on audio than they ever did on the printed page. A friendlier Grel, Peter's godmother Sophia, who was introduced in The Glass Prison, makes her audio debut here, played to good effect by Julia Houghton.

It's not all fun and games, however. Unlike other writers, Rayner, who after all was responsible for the two novels in which Peter was respectively conceived and born, does not allow Benny to abandon her childcare responsibilities to bugger off and have an adventure. Furthermore, in attempting to demonstrate to Peter the fun aspects of a 20th-century childhood, Jason Kane (Stephen Fewell) touches upon the unpleasant sides of his own upbringing. There are also some sinister hints at what might lie ahead in Peter's future...

Good fact: despite its derivative nature, The Grel Escape is well worth listening to.

Richard McGinlay

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