THE EVENTS OF THIS
STORY TAKE PLACE
BETWEEN THE NOVELS
"HUMAN NATURE" AND
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 4.06
RELEASED IN JANUARY
The Doctor and
are on the planet
Shanquis, where the
Doctor is trying to
negotiate a peace
this world and the
Yet after days of
talks, the situation
is getting worse. The
planets are on a war
footing and HE cannot
break the deadlock.
He’d Planned to join
Bernice at an archa-
eology conference on
the planet, but she
ends up going on her
own in an effort to
from the Dismal
Bernice learns of the
language’, which it is
illegal to read, speak
or even think. As SHE
pursues the root of
this obscure, archaic
law, BERNICE finds
and threatened - and
realises that her
have given her the
only hope of stopping
Bernice Summerfield and
the Criminal Code
January 2010 saw the release of the first Companion Chronicle to showcase a
non-televised companion: Professor Bernice Summerfield. The Eddie Robson-penned story, Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code (or you can just call it ‘The Criminal Code’) starts on the planet Shanquis where pivotal negotiations are taking place between two powers on the verge of all-out war. Whilst that half of the story has the Doctor involved
in the peace conference, we end up following Bernice as she attends an academic seminar on archaeology that just happens to be unfolding at the same time.
Robson really captures the New Adventures era (white linen suit and all) well, especially for
a tale that occurs some time after Ace’s departure (which shows, given the seventh Doctor’s mood). For the most part, the tale does tend to have a slow pace at times but it is necessary.
Lisa Bowerman is on top form (as always - there’s never a problem on that front), and as a regular director of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles range, not to mention the upcoming Jago and Litefoot series, she really has the narration spot-on. Bowerman is Bernice, and this production ably demonstrates why. I particularly like how, by the end of the first episode, Benny talks to various people about the Shanquin “forbidden language”. Her interest in the language and in promoting its uncensoring may be pretty sudden, but I suppose she does have a habit of picking up the cause of the unjust from time to time. But then again, who doesn’t?
I understand from the CD extras that Gatlin being voiced by another actress was a late addition to the story, nevertheless Charlie Hayes (Master, Seven Keys to Doomsday)
fares well here too. Bowerman’s take on Sylvester McCoy’s seventh Doctor is also highly amusing.
What’s more, the sound design and music by Jamie Robertson succeeds in capturing the The Criminal Code’s atmosphere from the conference and beyond, and the direction of John Ainsworth (who succeeds Eddie Robson as producer of the Bernice Summerfield range this year) is all the more superb.
Overall then, Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code is a great addition to the Companion Chronicles. Here’s hoping they use more companions from various media
Copyright © Kory Stephens 2010
Kory Stephens has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
2010’s inaugural Companion Chronicle, Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal
Code, is the first to feature a companion from the spin-off media: the eponymous Bernice Summerfield. Prior to this release, all of the range’s featured “companions” had at least appeared in the television series, even if it was merely as a one-off supporting character.
Yet for me, the penny didn’t drop until I was listening to director John Ainsworth speaking
in the CD Extras after I’d finished listening to the production. In my mind, Benny is one of
the Doctor’s foremost companions, and so the thought that she might not be given her own Companion Chronicle because she wasn’t on the telly hadn’t even occurred to me. In fact, given Lisa Bowerman’s long-standing association with the range, I’m quite surprised that
we didn’t see one sooner.
The script for this landmark release comes from Eddie Robson, the erstwhile producer of Big Finish’s Bernice Summerfield range. It’s little surprise, then, that it heavily evokes the feel of a conventional Benny adventure. Indeed, The Criminal Code sees the (relatively) young Benny in her element as she investigates an arcane, illegal language and becomes involved in an ardent attempt to repeal the legislation that prohibits its usage.
However, Robson does furnish his script with a few leading touches that help to conjure up
a distinct New Adventures feel. The story opens with a rather strained potted history of the novels up until Ace’s departure in Set Piece, and Robson gives Bernice a throwaway line about the Doctor having worn his pale linen suit for most of the time that she’s known him. Most decisively though, Robson’s prose captures Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor splendidly; all those quirks and foibles are captured wonderfully concisely. There’s a moment towards the end of the second episode which sees him scribble down the terms of a peace treaty on the back of a serviette, which for me effectively sums up McCoy’s eccentric portrayal.
Lisa Bowerman’s rendering of the Doctor’s dialogue is less impressive, however. She really goes overboard with the Scots accent – instead of a delicate burr, Bowerman’s Doctor is
a full-blown Scotsman! Fortunately her performance as Bernice (and, indeed, as just about every other character) more than makes up for such shortcomings. Bowerman has played Bernice for so long now that her interpretation feels effortless. Pretty soon Bowerman and Summerfield will be as synonymous as Roache and Barlow.
Charlie Hayes, who has a number of Who credits to her name (not least of which is being Wendy Padbury’s daughter) also does well as Gatlin. I’m grateful that plans to make The Criminal Code a one-voice production were belayed as a Companion Chronicle’s guest star really makes a world of difference to the tone of a story, particularly one as measured and as plot-driven as this one is.
The caper itself is intriguing enough,
but when compared to Robson’s
other Doctor Who scripts (perhaps
save for ID) it clearly lacks punch.
When I listen to a Robson story, I’m
used to hearing sharp, contemporary
dialogue and being hit with dazzlingly
original concepts. And although this
production certainly has its moments
(the reveal about the origin of the
Shanquin language had me slapping
my head in frustration as I realised how obvious it was with hindsight!) for the most part the narrative is standard fare: rather good, but not rousing in any way.
Overall though, Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code is a remarkable and indeed a significant side-step - one that I’d definitely like to see repeated either here or, preferably, in Big Finish’s main monthly range. As controversial as they often were, I’ve a real fondness for the old Virgin New Adventures, and so the prospect of new New Adventures certainly has curb appeal…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story makes it explicit that Ace left the TARDIS (for the second time) a while ago, placing it somewhere between the novels Set Piece and Original Sin. Given that Sanctuary picks up from where Infinite Requiem
left off - i.e. shortly after the TARDIS leaves Gadrell Major - and that the traumatic events of Sanctuary flow straight into Human Nature, we posit that this story takes place between Human Nature and Original Sin.
Thanks to Jason Robbins
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