The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Life During Wartime
Big Finish
Death and the Daleks
A Benny Audio Adventure

Author Trevor Baxendale Cover image
Released 2004
Cover Adrian Salmon

Starring: Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield
Also featuring   Miles Richardson, Stephen Fewell, Harry Myers , Steven Wickham, Louise Falkner, Beverly Cressman, Nicholas Briggs, Ian Collier, Michael Shallard, Andrew Westfield

Synopsis: Braxiatel confronts his destiny, Jason risks all for his love, and lives are shattered and lost, as the battle of the Braxiatel Collection reaches its epic conclusion.


Emerging from the shadows... by Joe Ford 9/5/04

Slowly, quietly, there's been a revolution brewing...

The Benny-verse has existed side by side with the Doctor Who universe for many years now. The ugly sister, the one that pales in comparison to 'real' Doctor Who and only offers a substitute for the real thing. And just how DS9 emerged from Babylon 5's shadows as the superior television show despite those early years, the Benny audios have leapt ahead of the Doctor Who stories in terms of individual quality. With the ever-expanding universe of recurring characters, suggestions of an arc whispering in every story and enough Doctor Who monsters about to remind us this is still the same series, the Benny series has continued to surprise and amuse and thrill. With the Doctor Who series plummeting to new depths of tedium (Zagreus, Creed of the Kromon, The Twilight Kingdom) this spanking series is sparkling even more than perhaps it should. I would go as far to say that I now consider the Benny series the more important and the Doctor Who's mere diversions.

Death and the Daleks highlights all the strengths of the series and pulls the fourth season to a breathtaking close. Coming on the heels of Life During Wartime is a daunting task, it has been acknowledged as THE Benny anthology, a moving, involving book that tells the gripping story of the occupation of the Braxiatel Collection and yet somehow it doesn't manage to be an anti-climax. What is the one thing that could top the military occupation of Benny's home? The bloody Daleks of course!!!

It's quite a shame that Big Finish didn't go all the way with their little prank. They forecast the release of this story under the false title of The Axis of Evil, a clever ploy to impress the listener when they suddenly spot a bloody great Dalek on the front cover! Imagine the surprise though if they had kept that title and not mentioned the Daleks in the blurb and had the picture. Imagine the listeners reaction to the twist then, it could have been as big as the Master's unveiling in Dust Breeding.

Benny thoughtfully recounts the events of Life During Wartime (in a wicked cool piss take of the Buffy-verse 'previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer...') and so you're not lost, I will too. Bev Tarrant leader of the resistance has been captured and tortured. Jason Kane has been exposed as a hero, posing as a traitor to aid the rebellion causes. Braxiatel is still being questioned/persuaded to reveal where his time travel equipment is. Ms Jones is having an affair with an Axis agent and is being touted as a 'Jerry bag'. Benny has the shock of her life as she infiltrates Axis intelligence - her missing father is the figurehead for the Axis campaigns...

Which is where we pick up here. I have already expressed my dislike for deliberately ending a story in a book to be picked up in an audio, especially if you are averse to one media, where you would only get one half of the story. I feel I should eat my words, switching media here proves extremely successful not only because I got goosebumps all up my arms to hear the story being performed that I read in Wartime but because finally I got to experience many of the secondary characters on audio that have only previously featured in the books.

This is a New Adventures fan's wet dream. Paul Cornell has made no secret that his favourite period of Doctor Who is the Darvill-Evans/Levene edited period of the books and whilst I have to disagree (strongly) with that statement he uses his NA knowledge wonderfully here, taking us on a tour of several of the books (links to Love and War and Return of the Living Dad are very important here) and creating a unmistakable bond between the Big Finish Benny-verse and the NA one.

The story is a huge one and encompasses threads going way back when. As soon as the Daleks are involved this goes from being a Benny thriller to a intergalactic masterpiece, their involvement makes all the difference. The Axis and their dislike for the unlike is brought to the fore superbly when it is revealed that the Daleks are the power behind the throne, that this force that has been a plague on the Benny verse for so long has been duped by an even greater power. It is like the power games in Day of the Daleks, like a Russian Doll peeling away layers of corruption until you reach the Daleks at the core, the pure expression of genuine evil.

One the strengths of this series is its wonderful sense of humour and that is what lifts this story from being a mere invasion tale. The script is alive with wit and energetic adventuring; despite the fact that serious issues are being dealt with here, Paul Cornell never forgets that we want to have some fun too. So when Benny and Jason head off to Heaven to rescue her father you know there will be some fireworks along the way, revelations about Dalek involvement, lots of bitch fights and Jason running for his life in the nude! Once Benny, Jason and Issac are all free we approach sitcom-land with all sorts of funny lines about their relationships.

But by far the funniest moment in this entire play and the one scene that made me punch the air with delight was Benny's summing up of the Daleks:

"It's always something MAD isn't it? You've got the firepower to just wade in and have a go at the rest of the universe but NO! You twat about! You make duplicates of people, you come up with plans to pit one galactic empire against another, you get in century-long wars with races whose idea of camouflage would only be successful if the universe was one gigantic disco! How did the Movellans outthink you? They haven't figured out that it might not be an idea to build warriors which die when you yank their power pack off their belt? Oh dear have I let a strategic secret slip? Have I just altered the course of centuries of War? No! Because I'm talking to the bloody Daleks who couldn't EXTERMNIATE their way out of a tomato!"
Some may say that this is belittling the mutated pepper pots and I say good! Big Finish have been so damn po-faced about the Daleks, only letting them sink into comedy when it is in the hands of Rob Shearman. It was about time somebody mentioned how bloody thick they can be at times! Yes they are clever tacticians and managed to bring the Braxiatel collection to a halt but there is always, ALWAYS some part of their plan that is fundamentally flawed and it's about time somebody pointed that out. They still get a chance to massacre on a massive scale here, to come up trumps in the end with a last minute twist of gob-smacking audaciousness so why not take the piss a bit while you can?

Where this story is most important is when dealing with the relationships that have built up over four years of storytelling. The Benny/Jason/Adrian love triangle comes to a conclusion here. After the drama of the war Benny finally decides which of these two strapping men she wants to be with (why not both? Ahem, sorry...) and in true Benny style leads them both to believe they are the victor. Jason and Adrian have a rather amusing conversation at the climax about the better man winning...

Powerful moments abound when dealing with Ms Jones and her Axis lover Moskof. Surprisingly this rather unimportant character in the past is suddenly brought to the fore in a very dramatic way, as the fight comes to a close Ms Jones has to make the choice, stay and face the music for being a collaborator or run off with the man she loves? In a brilliantly played sequence, her choice is made for her in a gut-wrenching manner.

Even dear old Mister Crofton gets in on the action as the rebellion movement chooses its moment. To say he's vital to the plan's success would be an understatement and the small coda with the flowers reminds me beautifully of his heart-wrenching story from Life During Wartime.

When Brax finally emerges from the shadows we get to see just what a manipulative bastard he really is. It is his ambiguous morals that make him so compelling to follow and whilst some his secrets spill out here (one in particular has a sound effect that will slap a huge grin on your face) there is still much he is hiding. Miles Richardson becomes more and more important in the Benny-verse and heads up the series with Lisa Bowerman with great aplomb, these two make far more compelling leads than many of the Doctor Who ones.

How comes Gary Russell can sabotage so many of this/last years Doctor Who CDs and then direct something as fantastic as this? His passion for all things Benny is a credit to the series which continues to sparkle and his treatment of Death and the Daleks is phenomenal. It has some belly laughs, powerful drama, showcases some exceptional performances and has a terrific musical score. It is everything his Doctor Who work is not.

This has the feel of an important season finale which is quite handy really because it is an important season finale. By bringing plot threads to an end that have been hanging since the series began the Benny series is starting to feel cohesive and very well planned. This wonderful piece of drama puts to rest this chapter of Benny's life and leaves us with no doubt that we will soon be privy to another. If things remain as sharp and as exciting as this I hope we continue to travel to Benny for a long, long time...