So here we reach the end of the Excelis story and have the debut of the original Bernice Summerfield series on the blog (don’t expect any more of those any time soon… though I will at least finish the box set era of Benny soon!) What I thought was just an extra tacked onto the trilogy with The Doctor and Greyvorn turns out to be really important as with the return of Iris Wildthyme comes the actual explanation of the mysterious relic and how the planet ends up in ruins… Let’s take a look!
The once proud city of Excelis is a crumbling ruin in a state of siege, as barbarians catapult pestilent animal corpses into the city to spread disease among those trapped inside.
Excelis is a city clinging to life by a thread. But ancient prophecies foretell a final retribution for the past arrogance of its rulers. When the sun is eaten away from the sky, when the ancient relic of Excelis is taken from its rightful resting-place, and when strangers are discovered among the people, then shall the whole world be doomed to die.
Today, the sun is a moth-eaten shadow. Plans are afoot to steal the relic. And a very tired and very fraught Professor Bernice Summerfield has just stomped into town in the company of a mysterious traveller in space and time known only as Iris Wildthyme. Pitted against a sinister prophet, the machinations of the Imperial court, and hordes of animal undead, Benny finds herself embroiled in the final stages of an aeons-old plan to commit genocide twice over — with no way out.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
You can tell this is one of the few (possibly only?) times Iris Wildthyme has not been written by Paul Margs as she is actually bearable here, and she and Benny make a good team actually. Bernice is on the run and hides on the nearest planet, which turns out to be Artaris, and soon lands in Excelis, but Excelis after the nuclear apocalypse we saw at the end of Excelis Decays, complete with a medieval-like society where some have slipped back into superstitions while others seek a way to bring back the old technology again. Benny soon meets Iris and the two get nicely drunk at a nearby bar together but when it becomes clear Ms. Summerfield isn’t from around here she’s arrested, mostly due to a local preacher named “Snyper” (Trevor Littledale) who had been saying the end of Excelis would start with the arrival of an off-worlder and then would end when the sun becomes blotted out, which sure enough begins to happen…
As the Excelis Empress Vitutia (Kate Brown) and her loyal right hand man Aragon (Stewart Alexander) struggle with appeasing the panicked locales by killing Benny but also not wanting to prove Snyper correct, Iris and Benny reunite and its here where it’s all revealed. Snyper is actually the person once known as the Sister Jolene and all this time she/he/it was actually an insectoid whose race was destroyed by a Queen who had since repented her evil ways and was due to fly past this planet right about now. Iris was charged with protecting the Queen and was kidnapped and hypnotised by Snyper/Jolene to set up the Relic to detonate the planet at the right time. That’s why keeping the handbag on the planet was so important to her I guess. Snyper had gained the power to bring animals back to life as zombies thanks to his/her time with the zombies from the first story and unleashes a plague herd on Excelis (after having previously wiped out the other survivors across the whole planet outside of the city, apparently) but Benny and Iris manage to disrupt the Relic and Snyper ends up devoured by his own zombie animals. It was a fun story, and Benny being outraged that Iris is having fun partying it up with a former genocidal Queen even if she’s changed her ways was a good bit of back and forth. The sun blotting out was the Queen’s precession, by the way…
In the end Empress Vitutia, Aragon and a small handful of other Excelis residents are the last people left on the whole planet of Artaris, so… not quite doomsday for the planet after all, though as Benny says, I wouldn’t want to be one of the few survivors trying to rebuild an entire race in the animal-less ruins of Excelis city…
I’ve always liked looking at the more comic booky covers for the early Benny series. Hiring an artist was no doubt easier than creating new photos and objects on Photoshop back in the late 90s!
Not a lot really, like I said even Iris was toned down a bit. I mean the guest cast wasn’t up to much acting-wise and even for a tongue-in-cheek story some of the explanations of how this whole thing ended up starting was a bit much, but overall it was fine. Not a five-star “will be raving about it” story, but good.
Obviously this links straight back to “Excelis Dawns” with Iris and Sister Jolene, and the post-apocalyptic version of Artaris was created at the end of “Excelis Decays”. I don’t know if / when I’ll get round to listening to the original Bernice Summerfield stories, but if I do I can tell you that the story “The Dance of the Dead” follows on directly from this, with Iris dropping Benny off.
Apparently in that story its implied that Iris’ appearance in the Sixth Doctor Audio “The Wormery” takes place right after this, from her perspective.
The Plague Herds of Excelis ended up being a really fun end to the “Excelis saga”, tying up a few lose ends and giving the titular city one more disaster before a tiny little bit of hope. Even Iris wasn’t as over-bearing as she has been in previous, and indeed future, releases. A fun way to spend an hour!