“You’re different, somehow.”
“That’s because you’re lying on the floor.”
“I’m examining the floor…a-ha! As I thought. There’s nothing archaeologically significant about this floor…now I’ll have a cocktail, and put an umbrella in it with a question mark handle.”
Benny’s back, but it’s not quite what you’d expect. And while there are strong echoes of the woman we’d only recently left in the excellent Missing Persons, longtime fans may well be caught blindsided by the changes.
We join a rather Edina Monsoonlike Benny very much out of sorts on an ‘unremarkable’ planet called Arviem 2 (“there’s not even an Arviem 1. In a one-planet race to be called Arviem, it came in second”). Unfortunately, she appears to have fallen afoul of a local inquisition and its service call-style robotic entourage…
“Thank you for waiting. You will be interrogated by the faculty inquisitor shortly.
Your testimony is important to us. Confessions will be recorded for training purposes.
In the meantime, here is some music.”
By the unlikeliest of coincidence, an old compatriot is also present, albeit in a form of suspended animation and discovered in a rather bizarre manner…
“I’m curious – what is the purpose of this place?”
“It’s a bar. Citizens come in here to imbibe intoxicating liquids for the purpose of inducing unconsciousness.”
“…and the humans hanging on the wall?”
“They add to the ambience.
One is a twenty-third century female engineer wearing a blast visor, the other is an eccentric twentieth century professor, as you can see from the hat and the amusing pullover.
If you put money in the slot, you can make him dance, if you want…”
Can a besotted Bernice and dotty Doctor upend a fascistically materialist society run exclusively on cold scientific logic and teach them the importance of accepting irrationality, intuition and the miraculous?
And more importantly, can Bernice, faced with a hunky if dull witted bartender as compatriot and the untimely interference of a particularly addlebrained Doctor, actually manage to get laid?
“What’s the point of a Doctor without a plan and a Tardis? The Doctor without a plan and a Tardis is just an annoying man in a hat.”
Author Nev Fountain packs The Revolution with more rapid fire absurdist humor than even longtime fans of both Benny and the Mel-era McCoy Doctor are likely to expect. While operating straight down the former alley and playing directly to the comic strengths of the latter, this is practically Monty Python and the Holy Grail by way of the original Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy miniseries.
In short, if you don’t crack a smile or two (dozen) within the first 10 minutes, there’s just no hope for you…
“Can I finish?”
“No, I think ‘I was stupid to think’ just about covers it…”
Can Bernice remain sober long enough to elude her pursuers and commandeer multiple vehicles to her destination in one piece?
On a planet where The Doctor is considered something of a sex symbol…and yes, we mean the Seventh Doctor…can the brawny, stereotypically “manly” Renk Van Magnastein possibly measure up?
And will The Doctor finally cease to be something of a useless and addlebrained liability?
Starting off what would appear to be something of a sea change in the world of Bernice Summerfield, The Revolution kicks off the proceedings in fine form, playing to many of the best elements of both Benny and the lighter side of McCoy’s Doctor admirably. While the presence of the redoubtable Irving Braxatiel in particular is much missed herein, it’s wonderful to hear Bowerman and McCoy back together again after so long a remove.
“We have to get out of here before she picks my brains.”
“She was dead, wasn’t she?”
“Very dead, I’m afraid to say. She’s been dead for some time.”
Of all people, Nicola (“Peri”) Bryant cameos as the zombified Professor Geller, former coworker and current corpse, though you’d be hard pressed to pick that up without a credits list. Sounding for all the world like a crustier take on Iris Wildthyme, she’s part and parcel of the cast for all too short a time, but certainly makes an impact as something of an auditory sight gag…
Special note should be made of Miles Jupp as the vaguely Brax-like, hoity-toity yet petulant Inquisitor Xavier and the wonderful sound design by Steve Foxon, who sets a number of very different atmospheres and locations with admirable evocativeness (the midsummer in Japan-like storm of cicada that accompanies their time on the zombie infested island particularly stands out).
“Say, how about you and me, we could, er…”
“I could punch you, and you could lose consciousness…”
Sure, there’s more going on than may be apparent from the above, but in the end, it’s all in fun, which is as it should be. Don’t expect another Dark Flame (much less a Shadow of the Scourge…), and don’t hesitate to dive right into the frontlines of this particular Revolution.
Sadly, this is something of a misleading start to the season. Like those “alternative bands” of the early 90’s, where you really loved that one song, only to find the rest of the album sounded nothing like it, there’s precious little this season playing in a ballpark remotely proximate to Fountain’s highly entertaining offering here…
Unfortunately, here’s where things turn a bit ugly.
“Ace has gone missing, and I need you to find her.”
With this proclamation, we dive headlong into far darker waters, with the ensuing three episodes digging into grim introspection and (oy) once again, Daleks.
Crash landing on a barren planetoid peopled by two bizarre stranded spacefarers, Benny leads her new ‘friends’ down into the ancient cathedral ruins they were never apparently motivated to explore…
The first of the three remaining stories, despite some major variances thereto, would seem to adhere closest to the more serious end of the Bernice Summerfield series template. With sarcastic humor used as punctuation to a more serious adventure rather than as the focus, first timer Una McCormack drafts up a horror-tinged archaeological mystery that just happens to feature the overused salt and pepper shakers in somewhat more than a supporting role.
Touching on such weighty issues as orphanhood’s impact on the impacted parties relation to the concepts of family, death and the development of self, the story finds Benny working out some major personal issues relating to her lost parents and eventually dealing with mortality by proxy. No, we’re not exactly talking about fun and frolics, this time around.
In New Who fashion, the Daleks are cast with some measure of sympathetic light herein, which leaves this listener with mixed feelings.
Now, it’s certainly true that there is no room for those naive, closed-minded and hard hearted souls who see only in “black and white” when the real world operates in more elusive shades of grey. And to see that message hammered home in so many forums of late is both a welcome and much needed development.
But sympathy for the Daleks smacks of sympathy for the Nazis, particularly after Robert Holmes so eloquently and directly associated the two back in 1975 with the character defining origin tale, Genesis of the Daleks. And that leaves the door open to any number of uncomfortable associations, and offers undeserved attempts at understanding and conciliation towards forces that only offer hate, contempt and oppression in return.
When seen in this light, such misguided openmindedness takes matters well beyond the naivete of Romantic Miltonian “sympathy for the devil” posturing straight into the realm of pure foolishness. Just because the world operates in shades of grey doesn’t mean there aren’t lines that shouldn’t be crossed…
“My apologies are rare, don’t interrupt them.”
In summation, this one gets something of a guarded recommendation.
Sure, it’s the Daleks once again, and that in itself leaves a portion of the audience, among which I count myself, sighing and rolling our eyes. But there’s at least a nod to more interesting elements, particularly in the earlier half of the adventure, so if their very presence doesn’t elicit a groan, there is the novelty of placing them in a Bernice Summerfield story, complete with the usual mix of mystery, exploration and snarkiness to contend with.
In other words, it would have worked better without the presence of the Daleks. But it’s not too bad either way…if admittedly quite depressing.
“What is a forbidden world? Put simply, it’s wrong.
There are some planets that the universe no longer wants to think about…we can cut off a limb if we have to, but it is harder for the universe to cut off a planet…”
Next up, we get Guy Adams’ Random Ghosts. Working that odd postmodern writing trope of scripting through the eyes of the addlebrained, insane or drug trip, it’s one of those hallucinatory pseudo-Buddhist “what is real” joyrides that leave its characters questioning their own sanity while listeners attempt to piece together some shred of logic before the big reveal.
It’s a strangely ubiquitous yet extremely annoying authorial form that seems to pop its unwelcome head up all over television and film of late, less the cold logic of the third person mystery than the sensation of waking up out of a dream or trying to remember details from a particularly drunken evening.
In short, the style comes off less intellectually challenging or emotionally involving than personally invasive. It’s a form of writing that indubitably proves pointlessly uncomfortable for its viewer/listener ‘victims’, leaving more perceptive members of its audience feeling violated to some degree or another.
And while it does take a bit for the story to devolve to quite this level with full force and authority, it’s quite irritating when it does, making for a particularly difficult listen for those looking to kick back with a ripping Who-like adventure.
“Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life…again.
You keep reliving the same events, making the same mistakes.”
Working a similar “storytelling through sound bite” territory as the earlier (if far superior) Live 34 and playing to the same arena as The Wrong Doctors and arguably the McGann/Charley Eighth Doctor story Memory Lane, Adams tells his tale through a succession of soundbytes and recordings, literally flipping from one to the next within the course of a single sentence. And yes, this is actually repeated, very nearly without surcease, for the greater part of the running time.
Trip to the dentist, anyone?
Colin MacFarlane provides a likeably McGannesque investigative reporter in the single monikered ‘Foster’, helping tremendously towards offsetting the imperiously snotty ‘Varna’ (Amber Revah), the channel flipping, screamed and shouted line deliveries and general noisiness that plague the story to a particularly pronounced degree.
“Where is he?”
“Probably trying to chase Ace down. I think he likes her.”
“Good luck with that one…”
Even the presence of the excellent Sophie Aldred (and even better, she’s here as Ace) is delimited to a succession of strident bellows and seemingly endless repetitions of “I’m sorry…”, delivered much in the sense of someone in desperate need of the loo…
While certainly delivering exactly what the script demands, it’s not what I’d hold up as a career defining moment.
On a certain level, Random Ghosts does fit in to the general zeitgeist of Bernice Summerfield, in the sense that it does involve a sort of archaeological mystery with a science fiction twist at the reveal (think Big Dig for one recent example).
But like three of the four stories in this season, the New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield are far more Doctor Who than Benny, even going so far as to appropriate the McCoy-era Who theme music for each episode…
“You will be exterminated.”
“No, I won’t. I’m just going to walk out of here, and live. That’s the greatest insult I can see to give a Dalek…”
Our final trip into the newly minted, rather dark and Whovian take on Benny comes in the form of James Goss’ The Lights of Skaro, which once again makes an admirable, if in context somewhat questionable effort to humanize the opposition, as addressed earlier.
“Sorry, I just assumed that…”
“That the Kaleds were all just evil people, thinking evil thoughts, singing evil songs while having evil showers before putting on evil clothes and going out evil dancing?”
“And making evil sculptures…”
While the last two stories were particularly Dalek-focused lead-ins, they still had a sense of tangenital relation. Like an anthology where each writer brings a wholly different set of characters who are impacted in some way by an encounter (however brief or vague) with the central event, place or personage of focus, both McCormack and Adams have another story to tell, with the Daleks both central to and wholly removable from the text. But there’s no mistaking exactly who Goss is focused on.
“You’re just a huge Dalek brain…the only one that’s allowed to think. You’ve made the others stupid, nasty children playing with guns. They just scream across the universe wherever you order them, to go pull the wings off flies.”
“They obey orders.”
“And the one day they don’t obey, the one day they question, it all goes wrong.”
Featuring a cameo from Davros and a full bore helping of Daleks, despite a quick politicosocial message tossed in halfway through, The Lights of Skaro is neither better or worse than any dozen other Dalek stories.
“Daleks, death and taxes. There’s no stopping them.”
While there have been a precious few of particular merit over the years (the sadly eviscerated Daleks Master Plan, the quite political “opposition as causation” Pertwee era masterwork Day of the Daleks and the aforementioned Genesis of the Daleks), in point of fact, most stories involving the tin plated pepperpots are slight variants of the same story, retold over and over like an oft-related folk tale.
And I have to apologize to longstanding voice of the (televised and audio) Daleks Nick Briggs on this one, but here’s the facts.
For some, they are the sine qua non of Who, the reason for the series ongoing success and an essential, necessarily recurrent counterbalance, the yin to the Doctor’s yang, a Manichean evil that matches and equilaterally offsets the good our favorite Gallifreyan represents.
But for a less outspoken but nonetheless increasing number of Whovians both longtime and newly minted, they represent more of a liability: so overutilized and utterly played out that we’d love to see them put on ice.
Perhaps permanently would be too much to ask and eventually regretted, in the manner of toys long since put away which elicit a wistful sense of nostalgia decades hence. But at the very least, let’s agree to stuff them in a closet or away on a shelf for several years to come, in order to allow those warm feelings to grow once again.
Or as long-ago area glam metal act American Angel once put it:
“how can I miss you…if you never go away?”
In the end, and speaking as a comparatively newly minted but decidedly heartfelt fan of Benny throughout the various guest appearances, Companion Chronicles and assorted bits and bobs of stories and series box sets I’ve been privy to over the years, I’m certainly glad the series still continues, in whatever form.
Better yet, one of my all time favorite Doctor/companion teams (namely the McCoy Doctor and Ace) are present herein, albeit separately and in far smaller doses, particularly in Aldred’s case, than the listener might expect.
But as Paul Stanley once crooned, back in those halcyon days of my earnest youth, “it ain’t quite right”.