The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Beyond the Sun (novel)
Big Finish
Beyond the Sun
A Benny Audio Adventure

Author Matt Jones Cover image
Adaptation Matt Jones
Released 1998
Cover Mark Salwowski and Lee Sullivan

Starring: Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield
Special Guest Stars: Sophie Aldred and Miranda and Anneke Wills as Doctor Kitzinger

Synopsis: Benny is all that stands between Jason and his own mistakes as she tries to prevent the wrong people from acquiring a weapon that has powers beyond the sun.


An Excellent Sophomore Outing by Peter Niemeyer 15/5/01

This was my second Benny CD, and I enjoyed it nearly as much as the first. The subject matter was more serious than that of Oh No It Isn't, which is the only reason why I didn't enjoy them to quite the same level. But the writing and characterization was top-notch.

My first rave must be, once again, about Bernice Summerfield the character and Lisa Bowerman the actress. Benny unquestionably has enough depth and conflict to be the focus of a series of stories. She has enough experience to be the mentor figure to her "companions", Emile and Tameka, and enough inexperience to still fret over her feelings for Jason. Lisa does such an excellent job portraying these character facets that I find it harder and harder to tell where the actress ends and the character begins.

Kudos should also be extended to most of the cast. I was most impress by the Lewis Davis (Emile), Nicholas Pegg (Scott), and Stephen Fewell (Jason Kane). Sophie Aldred did an excellent job playing Miranda, and I didn't quite realize at first that it was she, the erstwhile Ace, that was providing the voice. Anneke Wills also did a nice job as Kitzinger, but it's been so many years since she was Polly, and she has no prevous Big Finish audio experience, that I can't say the jump was quite as difficult. The only actress who let me down was Jane Burke (Tameka). Something about the delivery just felt less than genuine.

I also enjoyed the storyline very much. I found the Ursu society very convincing, and it raised interesting questions about our own, particularly with the love/possession idea. I also liked Benny's insistance that ancient societies don't leave weapons lying around for their descendants to stumble upon. This is a mantra that makes a ton of sense, despite the fact that many sci-fi writers are just as happy to pretend the opposite is true.

My only quibble, and it's so minor that it's anal, is the word "Sunless". It's the name of the alien baddies, and the fact that they're called Sunless does play a role in the story. But for the life of me I couldn't figure out what the word was in an audio-only environment. I thought people were saying "Sunlers", which made me miss the whole point. But I can't have imagined any way this really could have been caught during production, so I won't even mention it here.

I heard the audio before reading the book, but I didn't want to submit the review until after I read the book. Having done that, I must also compliment the person who adapted the book for audio. Some characters were replaced by others (Miranda serves the role for both herself and Nikolas, and for most of the story Kitzinger replaces Jock), and some small bits were tweaked (such as the bad drag performance which could never have been done well in audio and instead becomes food service), but the original story is remarkably held in tact. I wish the same skill had been applied to the Dragons' Wrath CD.

So, in short, this was a great second experience with Benny. At this point, I was already starting to consider the notion of reading the books, and Walking to Babylon convinced me to do so. But that is another review...

9 out of 10

Explosive emotions by Joe Ford 15/11/03

This is our first real taste of Benny's world on audio and it is an agreeable mixture of good and bad. Of the six opening instalments this is probably my least favourite but that is still high praise, there is much to recommend Beyond the Sun, it's just some of the incidentals are less than satisfactory.

I remember reading reviews about the original book, it was favourably received and I could understand that. Matt Jones is an accomplished writer; his New Adventure Bad Therapy is one of my favourites from that period of Doctor Who. He has the (rarer than you think) talent of really getting inside his characters heads whilst still telling a fast paced and moving story.

The only thing I don't like about Matt's work is his inclusion of a gay character in all of his books. Jack worked fine in Bad Therapy, he was almost the mirror image of myself at that tender age but another gay character crops up in Beyond the Sun and it starts to stereotype his work. Don't get me wrong, Emile works fine in this play and has a good reason to be there but I would hate to be coined 'the gay writer' which I've heard Matt called a few times.

Emile is such a bizarre creation, the epitome of the indoor boy. Quiet but seeking adventure, too scared to admit his sexuality and flustered and embarrassed when people notice it, yes I can see where Matt Jones gets his reputation for fine characterisation. I'm certain a large amount of gay Doctor Who fans can see themselves in this character. His scenes with Scott are quite touching; Emile gets angry as Scott tries to sleep next to him, afraid to explore what he is desperate for.

On the other hand it quite annoys me. I long for the day we can see a gay bloke in Doctor Who who is not an outcast child coming to terms with his feelings. How about a sensible, cultured, brave adult, who doesn't once mention the fact that he is gay, it is just there and everyone already knows it. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

Another off kilter aspect is the performances. Scott, as played by Nick Pegg (C'tpain Swan!) is clearly an adult, Lewis Davis who plays Emile sounds like a young teen (with sniffly cold apparently!). The age difference is questionable when listening.

It is a lovely thought to think of Bernice taking a day trip with her two kids. Unfortunately they are not her kids and it isn't a day trip, the ship explodes, their escape pods crash land and they are forced into this adventure of lost trinkets and a defeated civilisation. But the feeling of family runs strong in the play, Benny's quiet "I just hope I can get them home" speaks volumes. I love the fact that she doesn't pamper Emile or Tameka, she swears and curses in their presence but she clearly cares for them a great deal, especially when it appears Emile has been blown up. Later scenes with the two of them trapped in an airlock, a bargaining ploy to retrieve the artefact is quite discomforting to listen to. Benny is torn between her love for these two children and the fate of an entire planet.

Lisa Bowerman gives a typically good performance although Benny really isn't the focus of this story. What we do learn here is a more about her feelings for her ex husband, the hunky bit of beefcake, Jason Kane. Their scenes together are probably the highlight, bristling with sarcasm despite the fact that they still love each other. Lisa has a way of making every insult Bernice throws at Jason hit the spot perfectly. Stephen Fewell is an odd one to grasp; his depiction of Jason was not what I imagined (for a start he isn't as damn butch as I thought he would be!) but re-listening to these audios he is grown on me quite a lot and certainly has sparkling chemistry with Lisa Bowerman. Bernice's raw admission that she loves Jason gives the audio its most powerful moment; we finally see through all the bluster and witness a woman who has never let her feelings go.

Remember Slipback? And Minuet is Hell? And Invaders from Mars? Remember what they all have in common? Irritating as hell US accents that embarrass us Brits and cause our US cousins to hurl the CDs at the wall (Peter Niemyer's brilliantly scathing review of Minuet in Hell confirms this!). Well drum roll please... step forward Tameka! Why oh why Jane Burke chose to play the role with such an annoying accent is beyond me. Every time this pivotal character opened her mouth I was wincing. It isn't convincing for a second and adds more ditziness to an already stereotyped character. If it is a real accent I apologise... and offer my commiserations to poor Ms Burke. Tameka is one of the most shallow characters I have ever crossed, one of those make up and clothes girls, who can't see outside of her cosy little world. Admittedly it was Matt's aim to show her progress into a much mature character throughout the story but it fails to make an impression... her "See ya! See ya! Wouldn't want to be ya!" kind of ruins his good work.

I miss Jac Rayner's script meddling that made Oh No it Isn't! so amusing. Matt obviously felt territorial about his story (and understandably so) but I think with some of Jac's witty lines this would have bounced along a bit more happily. As it is, this is a decent character piece with lots of interesting things to say, it's just a bit slow. It needs a kick up the arse with some joy; too many characters are soaking in their angst (oh wait! It's a New Adventure isn't it! Of course!) for it to be good fun.

As a bonus though Sophie Aldred (Ace) and Anneke Wills (Polly) turn up as very different characters from their television roles. Aldred turns on the melodrama, offering up a camper-than-Butlins Miranda. But it works because Miranda is supposed to be hissed at! Wills' Kitzinger is another good character, humourless and with an acid tongue, her decision to abandon their friends to sneak away the artefact is shocking. This is the sort of Who crossover the Benny audios did well in the first year to bring the fans over... Nick Courtney, Lis Sladen, Richard Franklin, Colin Baker... a star studded first year!

It pains me to bring the subject to Gary Russell's direction, which I have been deeply critical of late. Not offensively, but I feel he grabs all the choice assignments being the head of Big Finish and yet fails to dish out everything the stories have to offer. He has a tendency to overdo sound effects and down play more emotional moments.

His direction of Beyond the Sun is competent, but nowhere near as assured as Nick Briggs' great work on Oh No it Isn't! Early scenes of an exploding spaceship hold no dramatic weight, only Bowerman's performance reminds us of the fact that this is a life or death situatio... some gritty music would be nice! Wisely, considering this is a character drama he lets the actors do most of the hard work, often letting two go at each other with only background music to distract you from their relationship troubles. I have to say I hated the sound of the Sunless, not scary and slightly overused. Alas he fails to inject much pace in the story and it does seem to crawl at times. You have to be very involved in the characters to be gripped.

But not to whinge on like Ms Jovanka, this is not a bad release, just underwhelming. It doesn't want to shatter your world and change the way you think about storytelling; it's a pleasant, charming piece of drama. Even the ending is quite relaxed. Just sit back on a day when you're really bored and let the emotions of the cast wash over you.