Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 9/25/17 8:58 pm
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In The City and the Clock, Bernice Surprise Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) is in heaven; sent to lead an archaeological with unlimited funds that has the potential to uncover something to save the universe, Benny is happy to help the Doctor (David Warner) with whatever he needs. But when the Doctor comes to visit, he shows a distinct lack of interest in what she's doing, and a blas├ę attitude towards the object of their labours. But when the dead begin to rise around the dig site, even the President of the Universe can't ignore that... unless there's yet another issue with the ambassadorial bathroom. The City and the Clock starts off the fourth The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield box set right, with yet another rompy journey in the Unbound Universe. Lisa Bowerman was in rare form here in this story; a story returning her to her archaeological roots, in a story that bears some similarities to her original appearance in Love and War brings out the best in Bowerman's performance. David Warner was solid too, wringing a lot of humour out of his performance throughout the story is the beleaguered President of the Universe. Guy Adams' opening script for this set starts off the set well, with a rompy tale for Benny and the Doctor to get embroiled in, along with a strong arc for the two characters as they come into conflict.
Lisa Bowerman once again stars as Bernice "Benny" Surprise Summerfield, the original Big Finish star, the 27th century archaeologist and space adventurer. Bowerman has been playing the role of Benny for about 19 years now and, whatever issues with the story, by now Lisa has it down to a science. Her version of Benny is pitch perfect in every way, shape, and form. She's sarcastic when needed, hilarious nearly all the time, vulnerable at just the right times, and beyond all, brilliant all the time. Bowerman gives a great performance here, from her telling the Doctor to shove off at the end when he admits that he considered her dig to be below the situation with the ambassadorial bathroom in terms of importance, or her barely contained annoyance at the Doctor throughout the story. Also joining Bernice in the guest cast is Samantha Be├írt as Chamu. Be├írt has been around the block at Big Finish, appearing in starring roles across several ranges, including Vienna and Torchwood, and so she's a seasoned actor for Big Finish. Be├írt is an excellent guest star here alongside Bowerman, bouncing off both Bowerman and Warner well, though I found her chemistry and interactions with Warner to be my favorites, as the contrast between the two characters made for some great interactions.
Guy Adams opens this box set up with a story that has some vague similarities to Love and War; an archaeological dig where the dead are rising from the grave, threatening an all important archaeological dig that Benny and the Doctor are at. But whereas Love and War is a more deadly, serious affair, The City and the Clock is meant to be a dead funny, completely irreverent affair. Indeed, the archaeological dig and the search for the Apocalypse Clock are almost completely superfluous to the main plot of the story; the main plot instead is the interaction between Benny and the Doctor, and that's where the story truly shines. Adams does a really great job bringing Benny's sadness and anger to the forefront of this story, with her lamenting that she was shunted off to the other side of the universe by a man who kidnapped her and took her away from her family and friends. All this leads to one of the brilliant moments from the story, where at the end, as the Doctor admits that he doesn't consider Benny's adventure to be terribly important, she kicks him to the curb, and tells him to get the hell out. It's a well written moment, especially for Warner's jaded Doctor, and the way Benny is written in that scene is mildly heartbreaking, especially considering she's used to one of the most manipulative Doctors in the universes.
However, the story isn't without it's faults. As I mentioned earlier, the actual archaeological dig and Apocalypse Clock are almost completely superfluous to the main plot of the story. But that doesn't mean they're not important, and really, those are the weakest parts of the story. The idea is interesting, with a new adventure looking for the something to stave off the destruction of the universe. However, that plot is very quickly dropped, in favor of the focus on the Doctor and Benny's relationship. That's not inherently a bad thing, but I think the story leans far too much on that aspect of the story, to the detriment of the overall story. Characters like Chamu and Joto almost completely blend into the background of this story because they aren't interesting compared to Benny and the Doctor. Again, it's not the worst thing, and it's really only a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, but it's still a noticeable contrast to the rest of the story.
The final part of the story I'd like to mention is the cover artwork for the box set of this release (more on the individual releases' artwork later on). The cover art for the box set, done by Tom Webster, is a bold, striking set of artwork that puts Warner front and center, surrounded by Sam Kisgart and Bernice Summerfield, placed as if acting as an angel and a demon on the Doctor's shoulders. The artwork is a solid bit of work by Webster, and I especially like how Benny, while off to the side, is still prominent, as she's the first one you'd see normally. The colors used for the set, as well as the set dressing (a clearly busy President of the Universe at his cluttered old desk) is well done too. The individual covers more or less take snapshots of each character on the cover, including the TARDIS, and do stuff with them. I'm a big fan of the box set cover, but I've never really liked the way that the covers for the individual stories just reuse bits of the main cover; I really wish they would allow Webster to do more individualized covers for each release.
Overall, The City and the Clock starts off the fourth The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield set right, with a bit of a rompy tale about an archaeological dig and a row between the two main characters of the set. Boweman is on top form, having played the role for 19 years at this point, while Warner is good with his beleaguered performance as the President of the Universe. The guest cast, especially Be├írt, was solid, and all that enhanced the script by Guy Adams. While I felt the story focused too much of it's energy on the conflict between Benny and the Doctor, to the detriment of an otherwise interesting story, the conflict between those two characters was the best part of the story, giving the story a lot of weight. The set is off to a good start so far, and I'm interested to see where Adams and James Goss take Benny in her adventures within the Unbound Universe in the next three adventures.