The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Big Finish
The Bone of Contention
A Benny Audio Adventure

Author Jacqueline Rayner Cover image
Released 2004
Cover Adrian Salmon

Starring: Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield
Also featuring Robin Bowerman, Tracey Childs, Steffan Rhodri

Synopsis: When Benny arrives on the Clutch to ask if the Perlorans can have their Bone back, she soon realises she has her work cut out for her.


Maternal connections... by Joe Ford 25/10/04

An excellent tale, and one that takes full advantage of Bernice's range running side by side with the Doctor Who one. I was absorbed by the story, especially how Simon A Forward managed to explore Bernice's emotional connection to the young without involving Peter at all. Like the best of this range it allows us to see the character in a new light, astonishing really considering how long she has been running now, but with a full gamut of human emotions to explore, motherhood being the latest they have conquered, Benny continues to impress her audience. I fear many people groan at her prolonged existence but then I doubt many of those people follow her adventures any more and fail to recognise that these tighter, simpler dramas are some of the best character drama Big Finish have to offer.

The Sandman, Forward's first audio, was a sixth Doctor adventure that dared to push his character back into the bullying, violent mind set that left so many viewers unable to cope with him back in the 80's and I have to say it did not impress me greatly. However I have since discovered it is one of the most re-listenable (that is such an awkward word but it fits the description perfectly) audios, packed with detail that I missed during the first listen and with a story that is far more interesting than I dismissed. Colin is striking and the music is phenomenal but the best aspect of Forward's debut audio is his introduction of the Galyari, an avian descended species of reptile who travel the galaxy in a collection of spaceships called the Clutch, like a migrating species of fish, always on the move, communicating and trading. Their way of life was forced upon them by the mythical "Sandman", a vicious bully who helped their enemies force them from there adopted home soil... an evil interloper known as the Doctor.

With so many species in the Clutch and such a rich backstory the Galyari is one of the few species created by Big Finish that deserved a return appearance. So who better to stumble across their fleet in the pursuit of a piece of cultural heritage but the eminent Professor Summerfield, desperate for a bit of peace from her hectic life on the Braxiatel collection...

Hang on a minute! Didn't Benny, Jason, Sophia and Peter leave in a stolen Grel spaceship in The Grel Escape, heading towards planets unknown? Did they get home to the Braxiatel collection after all? Or is this diversion just Benny abandoning ship for a few days to fulfil her dangerous quest quota for the month? The story refuses to answer the question although from her dialogue about Peter and going "home" I can only assume they made it back pretty swiftly. Hopefully the answers will be forthcoming in the next story, The Relics of Jegg-Sau.

I can fully understand Benny's wish to rush off on some hair-brained mission, risking her life to save some precious artefact. I understand she is a mother now and has responsibilities but any of us who have been following her adventures know how exciting her life has been... to surrender to the lifestyle of domestication after such drama would be frustrating in the extreme. She does occasionally seem selfish, especially with how frequent these trips are (The Big Hunt had a similar opening), ignoring her son so, but it is clear he is in safe hands in the Collection. And as if to bring the matter to her attention Benny has something of an revelation during this story, her intimacy with the Galyari child reminding her of how beautiful her own son is and how little time she spends with him. Its this sort of development that keeps you coming back to these characters, especially Benny, her ability to grow is pretty much self-perpetuating these days.

We get to catch up with Mordecan too, the space gypsy who aided the Doctor in The Sandman. He is as ruggedly humorous as ever; a Del Boy in Space and his interaction with Benny is spiky and fun. It should be too considering he is played by Lisa Bowerman's brother, Robin and they have the sort of chemistry only siblings share, bitching at each other but enjoying the company too.

This is another of the Bernice adventures that uses its tighter running time to tell a much simpler, gripping story than its Doctor Who counterparts, cursed with their endless padding. It is a very enjoyable story about a unique child being forced into the skin of an alien race to contain the dangerous reality of its birthright. The Galyari are portrayed as the villains at first, perverting Greco's bloodline but it becomes more complicated than that and transpires they are trying to create the ultimate warrior to bring down their "Sandman" (making this a prequel to The Sandman) and keep his incredible powers on a leash. It is Benny who ultimately harms the child, thinking she is doing the best thing by running off with it but unable to control its natural evolution. The way the story switches viewpoints so suddenly, turning the villains into the heroes and vice-versa is an unexpected delight and as usual it is lack of communication that causes the problems. If only Benny and the Galyari had been honest with each other, none of the problems here would have arisen.

The ending is striking where Benny is trapped between a rock and a hard place, unwilling to let the Galyari kill Greco, lost in a blanket of emotions, admitting that she cares for the child and telling him how beautiful he is. She shrieks hysterically that she doesn't know what to do or how to save him... and is overwhelmed at being so close to such an incredible creature. Lisa Bowerman remains as good at doing these poignant scenes as ever and takes you on roller coaster ride of highs and lows, it is real lump in the throat material. Benny's maternal instinct has never felt stronger and Peter is nowhere in sight.

One thing the Doctor Who audios usually achieve better than the Bernice ones is the post production and music but this is obviously a matter of timing and money and the more expensive range is obviously lavished with more. That's not to say the Benny audios aren't atmospheric, Dance of the Dead and Death and the Daleks are two of the best... they just aren't quite as stylish. Kudos to Simon Robinson then who manages to create a surreal experience with The Bone of Contention, taking us through lots of areas in the Clutch and each one standing out rather well. I loved the bar Benny met Mordecan at; the futuristic club music reminded me of a similar scene in Attack of the Clones. And there are some wonderful moments when the musical score captures the feelings of the story perfectly, especially the aforementioned scene where Benny realises she is witnessing the birth of a Shadow Swan.

You could do a lot worse than listening to this audio, like listening to the last two Doctor Who releases. As seems to be par for the course these days, Benny knocks spots of its sister series and it crushes me to think only a small amount of that Doctor Who audience will give this a try.

Thumbs up to Adrian Salmon too... his cover art gets better and better!