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Thursday, September 3, 2015

REVIEW: Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Vol. 2



Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield
Volume 2 - THE TRIUMPH OF SUTEKH (Big Finish Audio)
Reviewed By Jesse Kiefer

Written By: Guy Adams, Justin Richards, James Goss, Una McCormack

Director: Scott Handcock

Sound Design: Steve Foxon

Music: Steve Foxon

Cover Art: Tom Webster

Number of Discs: 5

Duration: 300' approx.

Available on BigFinish.com




Listen to the trailer.


"Run my children, I will be waiting for you. I am the end of all journeys...The eternal embrace."


Another Big Finish Box Set Review! Yes! I’m way behind on this one but “better late than never” I always say. This set was released back in June and you’ll remember that I decided to go ahead and listen to and review Volume 1 in anticipation of THIS set. While I didn’t need to do that because things don’t really crossover much from that set. While there are some fun call backs to the original Bernice Summerfield series (which I haven’t listened to yet) they do a nice job of referencing them in a way where you know as much as you need to in order to enjoy it.

If you didn’t watch Tom Baker growing up then you might be wondering who Sutekh is. Sutekh is an Osirian alien/god who is the template for the Egyptian god of the same name. This Egyptian god of Death was a big draw for me in picking up this series because the last time we got a glimpse of Sutekh was in The Pyramids of Mars (which is a classic Tom Baker 4th Doctor Adventure) way back in 1975 and since then? Nothing. We had not seen nor heard from this genuinely scary and powerful villain in any of the TV or Big Finish worlds of Doctor Who since that legendary episode, until now!

I didn’t intend to become a Bernice Summerfield fan because I already plunk down an impressive amount of my monthly budget for Big Finish audio adventures however in one of their sales last year Big Finish had the audio adaptation of her first appearance (which was originally the novel entitled “Love and War”) at a great discount so I snagged it. It was all downhill from there. I dig Benny, and I think she’s great both as the 7th Doctor’s companion and all on her own. I sang her praises a bit in my last review as well as in my Worlds of Big Finish review so I won’t belabor the point but I’ve really enjoyed these New Adventures Box Sets.

This new one is bigger in scope and very cinematic, with a villain as big as Sutekh they had to have an equally epic story and Big Finish rarely disappoints. This one I’m going to take piece by piece for reasons I’ll explain later. So without further delay let’s dig in!...

The Pyramid of Sutekh by Guy Adams was the opening part to this 4 parter. The last Bernice Box set felt more like episodes that were very loosely connected. This set feels much like one big 4 part story, this first story really sets that up. It has some genuinely creepy moments and we get to hear a Seventh Doctor that is clearly out of control as Benny comes across the Doctor deep in one of the pyramids of Mars. Guy Adams really does a nice job setting the hook with this story and Gabriel Woolf returns to the role of Sutekh with chilling consistency. It’s hard to imagine he hasn’t been playing Sutekh these last several decades because he instantly invokes the image of Sutekh with only his voice to command us to that conjuring. This story jumps us directly into the story as it’s happening. It is full of action and suspense. The odds are stacked mightily against our heroes and heroines as Sutekh is well on his way to awakening and it doesn’t look like anything can stop him. 

With clever nods to old Bernice Summerfield series this story manages to keep things simultaneously funny and heartbreaking while setting things up for a longer arc overall. I really like that that this tale throws us right into the action and still leaves much for us to wonder about and mysteries to solve along the way. Robots, and Death Gods, and the Seventh Doctor fighting a losing battle all set in a Pyramid on Mars!  My Rating: 5/5

The Vaults of Osiris by Justin Richards

This second part starts by explaining how this all started from the point of view of Ace. It details how the Doctor and Ace came to be involved in the resurrection of Sutekh in the first place. So right off the bat we get that “flashback” narrative format that I’m not overly fond of but that part was just a quick narrative recap catching Benny (and us) up to speed on what Ace knows and then it’s off to the races with Ace and Benny traveling through time. They are looking for the eye of Horus when they accidentally travel to the right place in the wrong time (apparently Ace flies the TARDIS about as well as the Doctor does… wicked!) As fate would have it they have a lead on the location of the Eye of Horus in modern Egypt which brings them to attempted robbery of a museum, chatting up a smuggler at gunpoint, stealing a car, and lots of running away from Osirion mummy robots.

Bernice’s expertise as an archaeologist plays into a ruse that really helps them follow the eye of Horus in their attempt to intercept the eye from getting into the hands of “the Temple of Sutekh.” It’s a fun chase story where Benny and Ace pull out all the stops. I really enjoyed  hearing Benny and Ace work together as a team without the Doctor to run interference. These first two stories clearly set up the first act of this story. There’s some monologue/Soliloquy stuff from Ace at the cliffhanger end of this episode that I didn’t particularly care for which felt clunky and unnatural but overall so much fun. My Rating: 4/5

The Eye of Horus by James Goss

This one took me entirely by surprise all of a sudden Benny is in ancient Egypt on a ship… a flying barge to be more precise... Benny is hailed as a goddess: Hathor the goddess of Hope and Beer (fitting) and was apparently on a list full of names of Goddesses who were all names of the Doctor’s former companions. This episode started out very confusing due to that sharp left turn in terms of setting but it quickly becomes a very fun mystery as Benny (and us as the listeners) try to puzzle out what exactly what is going on as Ancient Egypt has access to some very interesting technology. While we try to figure all of this out Sutehk’s progress becomes slowly apparent.

Once I got over that jarring jump in setting this story quickly became much more enjoyable. It created an interesting “alternate history” story which is written and produced so well, the imagery and sounds (particularly in this episode) really lent to making this strange setting believable. What unfolds is an almost fairy tale version of ancient egypt full of kings, princes, gods and goddesses. My Rating: 3.5/5

The Tears of Isis by Una McCormack

The Seventh Doctor’s grand plan seems to have fallen apart and Sutekh’s Triumph is at hand, or is it? This is the final chapter and either Sutekh will devour everything or he won’t. Also what IS it like when you are part of Sutekh’s Temple? What is there to do when you are on the winning side of the Egyptian god of desert, storms, and death?

I’ve often thought that if the Tenth Doctor were a female she’d be VERY much like Bernice Summerfield (minus the drinking) this final chapter starts with Benny chasing across a wasteland following a beeping scanner device. That image actually made me laugh out loud as I couldn’t help but think of Tenant’s Doctor and his crazy beeping machines.

This final chapter takes us through a journey that seems hopeless and gradually brings this box set towards a poetic end (or is there ever actually an end to Sutekh’s gift of death?). “The end of the world is a sad thing.” I’ll dig into this later but this episode’s end was confusing and kinda bugged me, but there’s still a lot left in this finale to really enjoy. My Rating: 3/5

So now let’s look at the set as a whole and as usual let’s start with my list of Favorite things:

  • The Pyramid of Sutekh and The Vaults of Osiris (parts 1 and 2) set this story up really well, I was hooked. I gave the first part 5 stars because I was enthralled start to finish. I liked the second part too maybe not quite as much as the first but with the exception of that piece of dialogue at the very very end spoken by Ace it was an almost perfect little romp of an episode for Ace and Benny.
  • Sutekh and Bernice were spot on perfect their characters were written and acted perfectly and really... as the two major selling points of this set they really needed to be... but they didn’t disappoint in the slightest. 
  • Sutekh was such a wonderful return! There was no rust on this character that Gabriel Woolf could not shake off with ease. He was delightfully spooky and there seemed no change in his voice from almost 40 years ago! The epic return of Sutekh was up to both Woolf’s portrayal as well as Big Finish’s exemplary character writing. It seems no one gets everything right all the time… but Big Finish almost always nails their character development.
  • Bernice Summerfield played by Lisa Bowerman was of course pitch perfect. In fact... I know that the character came before Lisa started playing her but even when I read the character now in prose I still hear Lisa’s voice in my head because she so embodies the character in her performances and this set was no different.
  • I like the pseudo history approach to The Eye of Horus (part 3) I didn’t love all of that episode as it related to the set as a whole but overall I really liked the vibe and I would have enjoyed this idea even more if it were expanded into a fully realized story and not just a piece of a set. The “absent minded doctor” in the Third part was fun; he’s lost a part of his mind which changes the character while keeping most aspects of his personality the same, I quite enjoyed it. 
  • The Doctor in Part 1, the doctor falling prey to Sutekh’s mental attacks in part 1 was genuinely creepy, I love it when Sylvester McCoy does creepy! The doctor wasn’t my overall favorite part of this set for a change… (Benny and Sutekh had him trumped) but he did have some golden moments.

Yeah this set really came out of the gate swinging and it offered us a lot. In many ways you can see that they were really going big with Volume 2. The payoff in some regards was mighty and in others I felt like it fell short. Taking on Sutekh in a story where the Doctor isn’t the focal character was a bold decision and in the first parts they proved to me that it worked I was really enjoying it… then episode three took me on a weird curve that took me out of the story for a second and then episode four came along and totally left all of that behind throwing me what felt like another curve and ALSO tried to wrap things up in a way that still kind of confuses me. Other folks have tried to explain it on internet forums and I feel like they are reading things into the story that are NOT actually apparent and some of their points sound decidedly more like they are simply “sticking up for it.” Which is fine, you can like the story even if it’s not airtight.... because I guess I fit firmly in that camp too. I liked it, but I didn’t always get what was going on and the end it a head scratcher.

My other complaint with the ending is that the story of this entire set is experienced through Benny’s viewpoint but in the end you probably could have yanked Benny out of the story entirely for all she actually mattered to the outcome and I don’t know how much it would have changed at all… and I’m not sure I like that from a set that is SUPPOSED to be more about Bernice Summerfield than the Doctor. Benny and Sutekh were the best parts of the set and yet she doesn’t get to be much of a hero all? Yeah that bugged me.
Again, If you like either Sutekh or Bernice Summerfield you will likely enjoy this set because they both ROCK! But If you are just curious then I’m not sure if this is the best jumping on point for you. You don’t need to listen to previous sets in order to enjoy this one but knowing who Sutekh is would greatly help your enjoyment. So if you haven’t seen Pyramids of Mars I really advise that you watch that first.

I don’t regret the purchase of this set at all because there’s so much working well here and I like it overall despite a rocky end, even with those episodes that are a miss for me it still averages out to a solid 4 out of 5 stars making this set every bit as good as the first volume and I eagerly await news about volume 3.

I am looking forward to even MORE Seventh Doctor goodness with the upcoming release of Terror of the Sontarans which is set to drop sometime this month! You know I’ll be here with my Monthly Main Range Review to let you know how (I think) it stacks up.

Did you think Sutekh’s return was a “Triumph”? How did you feel about it? I say some polarizing things this go around so I’d love to know if you agree or disagree let me know in the comments below or shoot us an e-mail to letters(at)grawlixpodcast.com.

4 Stars



Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Vol. 2 (Big Finish Audio Play)
Reviewed by Jesse Kiefer on Sep 01, 2015
Rating: 5Another Big Finish Box Set Review! This time 'Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume 2 - The Triumph of Sutehk'.

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