We reach the end of the “Box Set Era” of Bernice Summerfield (well, the “box sets not called ‘The New Adventures of” era anyway) and after a pretty poor final part to the previous box I wasn’t going into this with a lot of enthusiasm. Did it exceed my expectations? Meet them? Fail to even reach them?! Let’s find out!
When Bernice Summerfield was invited to participate in a cult archaeology broadcast on the mysterious world of Saravas, she could never have imagined the secrets she might unearth there… or the terrible Truth that would stalk her back to Legion.
With friends and family by her side, Bernice quickly finds herself flung into the face of danger: either combatting deranged despots at terraformed garden parties, appeasing gunslingers in the White Rabbit bar, or simply attempting to survive on a barren desert planet, all alone…
The odds are stacked against her, and this is undoubtedly the end for Bernice Summerfield… but she’s determined to go out fighting!
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Episode 4, “The Winning Side”, is very cleverly written and easily the best story in the box. Benny is wondering a dead world with no memory of how it came to be like that, only that she was apparently responsible for it. She starts listening to recordings of her previous self to piece it all together, hearing of a world that was warring between two sides and that both tried to use Benny’s ship to create ways to one up each other, eventually the radiation from the ship’s drive causing the downfall of the entire planet’s populace. So it WAS Benny’s fault, but also wasn’t… It was very clever and quite stand-alone, beyond our protagonist being saved at the end of the story by the Epoch… (Sadly you can read about that final story down below in the “bad” section)
The first episode of the set is called “Big Dig” and is half a parody of old Channel 4 archaeology show Time Team and half a good old fashioned bit of tomb exploration. The people who lived on Saravas, the planet the team are on, considered writing a sin so their civilization has always remained a mystery to the people of Benny’s time, which is a fun idea. They uncover a suit of armour (then cover it back up so they can find it in front of the cameras) that soon begins to control the actions of Mr. Rothwell (Philip Bird), the team’s host, allowing him to influence people with his voice alone, a power he soon loses control over. This story sees the return of Ruth and Jack, not that they recognise Benny, or she them for a good portion of the story. The mystery revolving around the Epoch (who were on Saravas 150 million years ago) and why Ruth and Jack vanish at the end are a good little trickle of info relating to a bigger arc to kick us off.
“The Revenant’s Carnival”, the second episode of the set, also tells a good, twisty tale. Benny reunites with her son Peter on a world led by your classic dictatorship with an over-exaggerated high society that pray on the lower class (named ‘Kai’) for organs while also “upgrading” themselves with cybernetic implants. It’s a very unpleasant world, but there is a good vein of dark humour here. Even the Dictator, Williem van der Heever (David Warwick) knows he’s seen as evil but carries on anyway, his secret that he killed his wife after she tried to kill him putting an even darker spin. At the end Benny loses sight of Peter, who is abducted by the Epoch again… Still, it was a good story, I liked the self-referential humour in it.
I’d love to hear how the “leaning forward towards the camera looking like you’re about to pick something up” shot became a thing… I really would…
Sadly the big ending to the whole arc, Episode 5 “In Living Memory”, is a bit of a mess. The Epoch turn out to be led by a man named Bernard Springmoore (Seán Carlsen), who as you’d imagine turns out to be an alternate version of Bernice Summerfield who wished to eliminate her and her complicated timeline from history. They did this by grabbing her companions from different points to “uncomplicate” her timeline before destroying her. It starts including alternate timelines from previous stories, twists and turns out of nowhere, and an awful fourth wall-breaking scene where they turn into a timeline where they’re recording an audio drama called Bernice Summerfield and were actually actors. It features the writers and directors as themselves and it was just so… cringey and completely took me out of the story. They’re all saved by an alternate Benny from a Victorian timeline seen in an early box set jumping into the vortex and erasing the Epoch entirely. Frankly after five box sets have the big finale feature a long extended scene of the actors and writers playing themselves just completely soured me on the whole thing.
In a classic case of “not necessarily bad, just not that good”, Episode 3 “The Brimstone Kid” wasn’t that… well, good. It was set on Legion and features Benny and Braxiatel in the White Rabbit when a would-be school teacher named Miss Hannigan (Katharine Mangold), an outlaw named The Brimstone Kid (David Menkin) and a bounty hunter after Brimstone Kid named Cazador (John Schwab) all arrive. There are a bunch of Western tropes and a funny twist when the Brimstone Kid turns out to be a bounty hunter himself who is after Brax, and Miss Hannigan turns out to be the actual Brimstone Kid that Cazador is after. Still though, it wasn’t that entertaining, but it was short. It ends with Brax also being taken by the Epoch, leaving Benny with no memory of her friends or family at all and leaving Legion behind, setting up the two final stories.
There are many callbacks to other Bernice Summerfield boxes in this series, but I’m not just going to link to all four previous boxes! Just click on the Bernice Summerfield tag down below to find them…
Missing Persons is a good box set, with three good to great stories, an average one and then one poor one, but sadly the poor one was the big finale so the boxset left an overall bad taste in my mouth. I will separate the stories for the scores though, in fact this box has nearly a bit of every score type! At some point I’ll tackle the New Adventures boxsets, I have already listened to the first three or four a couple of years ago (pre-blog) so it will probably be awhile until they appear here! Until then…
Episode 4 “The Winning Side”:
Episodes 1 “Big Dig” and 2 “The Revenant’s Carnival”:
Episode 3 “The Brimstone Kid”:
Episode 5 “In Living Memory”: