Review: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield – Blood & Steel (Vol. 7)

Review by Jacob Licklider

This review was always going to be a difficult review to write. As announced The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Blood & Steel is set in Weimar Germany during the rise of the Nazis and as such this review will be discussing fascism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism due to the historical setting. This is also discussing the last time David Warner will be playing the Doctor due to his passing this year, though not the last Big Finish release (or even Doctor Who release) to feature Warner. While there is no word yet from Big Finish, it would not be a surprise if this was the end of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield as a range, ending as a fitting tribute to the Doctor who came to define the range, appearing as the secondary lead in five of the seven box sets released. As a range, it became a wonderful opportunity for new talent while continuing the legacy of perhaps the most important character to Doctor Who’s continued life during the Wilderness Years. Bernice Summerfield is what gave the Virgin New Adventures their longevity and is where Big Finish Productions got their start. If this is the end for the range and possibly the character, it is a brilliant set to go out on, but since there have already been two Bernice Summerfield ranges before this, Benny may not be truly gone. At least, not yet.

This set returns to the format missing from the previous two sets, a box set long story arc connecting several threads and each of the four episodes together. While Volume Five and Lost in Translation were great sets, the episodic nature meant that there wasn’t as much of a hook between episodes, but for Blood & Steel producer James Goss and script editor/director Scott Handcock have brought together four very bleak episodes reflecting upon the time period and examining how the rise of fascism can come about. The Cybermen are the big connection (outside of Warner’s Doctor) to the Doctor Who universe and the writers are intent on using them as a parallel to the rise of fascism, with specific parallels with the Cybermen’s drive towards conformity. The middle two episodes are especially good at exploring this theme with Rochana Patel’s Ubermensch avoiding the simple trap of falling into a cheap The Tomb of the Cybermen style remake, instead taking cues from the classic Doctor Who story to explore the human side to the Nazis. Note, this is not meant in a sympathetic Nazis are people too, but a damning Nazis are people, anyone can fall for various reasons down the rabbit hole towards fascism. Propaganda can be powerful, silence can be deadly, and the corruption of academia by the right wing is a major theme with Benny having to share a tent with a Nazi sympathiser whose archeology expedition is trying to find the mysterious Vrill, the superior Aryan race. David Warner brings some humor to the episode, but never to make fun of the Nazis, but to make fun of the horror of the Doctor and Benny’s situation while Natascha Slasten and Jeremias Amoore play chilling roles as the establishment characters, Slasten in particular.

The second story, Wulf, from Aaron Lamont, a writer who has done excellent work on Big Finish’s Dark Shadows audio dramas, writes a story at its heart about being an outsider. Okay, this really isn’t something new, but this is the story that takes itself out of Berlin and into the German countryside where Lamont explores the life of a young man, estranged, returning from the city. This story works because Benny really isn’t there until about the halfway point and when she appears she doesn’t become the focus, the ending of the story leaving fallout for Benny to reckon with before the end of the set. Jack Forsyth-Noble plays Wulf, a character who is introduced in the opener, and in this episode we explore what it means to be human and why someone like Wulf would be driven to the city. This is done, of course, by exploring what happens when he is forced back home, his family takes him back, but they aren’t happy about it. His father and the village in general end up using Wulf for pack labor and the listener deals with the mounting tension before Wulf is going to crack. The entire story has this melancholic atmosphere with a genuinely bleak ending that plays around with the ideas that this might lead to the end of everything.

Willkommen by James Goss and Auf Wiedersehen by Victoria Saxton bookend the set, and both are at their forefront drawing on the musical Cabaret for their setting and tone, with Willkommen starting out as your typical Doctor Who story, building to the introduction of the Cybermen and an emotional gut punch from James Goss that sets out where the rest of the set will be going. Auf Wiedersehen then puts the setting on its head with the Cybermen having taken over and the Doctor being tortured in the middle of the cabaret, on stage, and with increasing tension until he breaks. David Warner gives this heartbreaking performance as he becomes more and more desperate, begins to lose more and more people. The people that are lost are all the outcasts and those that the Doctor on some level knows will be targeted in what is to come historically, but he has to find a way to save them from the fate of becoming a Cybermen, though there is the playing around with the idea that maybe it’ll be okay. Lisa Bowerman as Benny also has this plot that’s there to provide relief but still contributes to the overall messaging and examining the rich and privileged position in Germany. Connecting the two stories as well is the Compere, played by Andrew Pepper, essentially the Emcee from Cabaret but a perfect character archetype to contrast the opening and closing of the set.

The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Blood & Steel is somber, bringing together performers to explore the rise of fascism and how it isolates people and groups to the point where they are helpless. Each script serves a purpose and deals with a different aspect of Germany to great effect while giving a gravity to the situation that avoids typical tropes. It’s a set that’s reflective of the present day and several of the issues coming to the forefront as pockets of fascism are on the rise. This is a pitch perfect set and one that should be listened to by everyone. 10/10.

Order on CD/Download from Big Finish
Order on CD from Amazon

Review: Bernice Summerfield – The Slender-Fingered Cats of Bubastis

Review: Bernice Summerfield – The Weather on Versimmon

Check out the rest of our Big Finish reviews!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.