Professor Bernice Summerfield
A Life of Surprises

Editor: Paul Cornell
Big Finish Productions
RRP 14.99
ISBN 1 903654 44 0
Available now

Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield has led an extraordinary life - you might even say several lives - and she still has an exciting future ahead of her...

This hardback collection of short stories commemorates the tenth anniversary of Benny's debut in print, in the Doctor Who novel Love and War.

The stories herein span her entire lifetime, but they are arranged in no particular order, which certainly helps to keep the emphasis on "surprise". Several entries refer back to her travels in the TARDIS, including Paul Cornell's The Shape of the Hole, in which Bernice attempts to locate the Doctor's final resting place. Jim Sangster's Dear Friend takes the form of a letter to the Time Lord, while Might by Neil Corry is a partial sequel to the Who novel Return of the Living Dad. There are several other allusions to Benny's adventures with the Doctor, but it would spoil the impact of the stories themselves if I were to reveal which ones they are.

The Shape of the Hole also looks forward to the future of Bernice and her descendants, as do Mark Stevens' Setting Stone and Lance Parkin's Paydirt. Curiously only one story, Jonathan Morris' witty yet profound The Spartacus Syndrome, is set during the Professor's residency on Dellah.

Humour plays a major part in many of the more enjoyable entries. In Alien Planets and You, a narrative written as an account by Bernice herself, Dave Stone spoofs the conventions of adventure stories in general and the Professor's exploits in particular. Steve Lyons' Taken by the Muses is similarly conveyed in the diarist's style, complete with her characteristic deletions after the fact (although the idea of rhyming dialogue has been done before). The Collection, by Peter Anghelides, is an amusingly complex time-travel tale. Channel 4's Time Team programme provides inspiration for sitcom-style shenanigans and complications in David A McIntee's Time's Team. Television also provides the source material for Nev Fountain's Beedlemania, which features a planet of irritating pranksters, a member of the Beta Centauran race - the second finest arbiters in the galaxy, after Doctor Who's Alpha Centaurans, we are told - and a troublesome game of Twister.

My favourite story of all is of a more serious nature, though. Penned by Stephen Fewell, who plays Jason Kane in Benny's audio adventures, Cuckoo shows the Professor coming to terms with becoming a mother whilst making a fascinating archaeological and xenobiological discovery. Neil Corry's Might is similarly exhilarating and moving.

As is often the case with anthologies of this nature, some of the stories leave you wondering exactly what they are trying to say. Such is the case with Kill the Mouse! by Daniel O'Mahony, a seriously strange story featuring a monster that steals people's faces. Robert Shearman's And Then Again is only slightly less weird.

However, the standard of the writing is generally very high and this collection is sufficiently full of life and surprises.

Richard McGinlay