The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Oh No It Isn't! (novel)
Big Finish
Oh No It Isn't!
A Benny Audio Adventure

Author Paul Cornell Cover image
Adaptation Jac Rayner
Released 1998
Cover Jon Sullivan

Starring: Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield
Special Guest Star: Nicholas Courtney as Wolsey the Cat

Synopsis: What could possibly go wrong on Professor Bernice Summerfield's investigation into the lost civilisation of Perfecton? Nothing, it seems - until they leave the planet and spot a dirty great missile heading towards their ship. But instead of oblivion, Benny finds herself plunged into the strange world of - panto.


Oh Yes, It Is! by Peter Niemeyer 23/1/01

First off, I have to clarify that this is a review of the audio play of Oh No It Isn't! done by Big Finish, and that I have never read a Benny book or an 7th Doctor New Adventure with Benny in it. My only exposure to Benny is The Shadow of the Scourge. So I'm judging the audio play on its merits alone.

I really enjoyed this production! The writing was crisp and clear, and the situations Benny got into were original. I enjoyed it thoroughly, from the title to the very last line of dialog spoken.

As an American, I am not intimately familiar with the pantomime play as an institution, but a friend did describe it to me once, so I have a vague idea of what it's about. (It sounds very similar to an occasional American institution known as melodrama.) And I was pleased to find that I was still able to follow the flow of what was going on. I loved the way in which panto conventions came into the story: Benny being perceived to be a member of both genders, Wolsey the Cat being a walking talking person, and the whole "sure fire method" for getting the genie back in the lamp. Good stuff!

I though the cast did an exceptional job in general, but special kudos go out to Lisa Bowerman as Benny. I found the character very engaging, and although the other characters were interesting, it really was Benny's show and Lisa carried it off with panache.

Nicolas Courtney did a good job as Wolsey. (During the first few seconds, Wolsey meows and I thought this was all Courtney was going to do during the story...sort of a twist on the South Park joke of George Clooney being the voice of Kyle's dog.) I feel like I should say something more...after all, he is the Brigadier...but in the universe of Benny, he was just another guest actor. A good guest actor, but just another guest actor.

I notice that some people criticized the original book as a bad choice for the premiere Benny book because so much of the book was spent with people under the Perfecton influence. And perhaps the same could be true for the audio adventure. But as a Benny novice, I have to admit that this seemed like a fine introduction to who Benny is and the sorts of things she might be getting herself into in the future.

9 out of 10

Pantomime genius by Joe Ford 12/11/03

Pilots for any series are always very important. It is vital to capture your audience with that introduction, to introduce the characters, to give a potential regular a taste of what they could be getting. Doctor Who's own pilot, An Unearthly Child is a masterpiece of controlled writing and concrete acting; it is a brilliant slice of the twenty-six years of telefantasy that were to follow.

So why oh why did the creators of the Benny Summerfield decide to launch their range with a comedy all about pantomimes? I'm sure I detect the hand of Gary Russell in there somewhere... and if I do, well done Russell! This is an absolute hoot! Ignoring its duties as serious drama and character introductions, it is a comedy of the highest order. There are some genuine belly laughs here folks, a script that rivals the brilliant The One Doctor for laughs per minute.

It was a safe move to take six of the strongest novels involving Benny and adjust them to the audio setting. The six in question were all winners, Oh No It Isn't!, Beyond the Sun, Walking to Babylon, Birthright, Just War and Dragons' Wrath. To indicate the series that was to come, this was probably the most accurate, dizzily funny, loads of charismatic performances, a strong dramatic idea at the core and loads of priceless Benny moments.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bernice Summerfield (and if you are you should be ashamed of yourselves!) she is an old companion of the seventh Doctor (and the 8th if we're being picky!) who stood out as the best character in the New Adventures line. An archaeologist with a lust for beefy men and booze and always available for a witty quip on the absurdities of the adventures she was involved in. Paul Cornell said he loved Bernice when she was wryly commenting on the situation and it's true, her very down to earth reactions to alien invasions, torture, losing friends, etc was often the highlight of the New Adventures. She was an amusing distraction from all the violence and swearing on display.

And if any companion deserved her own series it was Bernice. She held up a series of books for over two years very successfully (if Robert Smith?'s positive reviews are anything to go by... I've hardly managed to read any of them yet!) and it was now her turn to be heard. Literally.

It must have been a nightmare to try and cast the part. Bernice was a Doctor Who icon; this was not a part that could be thrust at an old hack actress. Bernice needed to be funny, bitchy, charismatic, intelligent, drunk... often all at the same time! Who could possibly match up to our expectations?

Lisa Bowerman, that's who! What do you mean who? She's brilliant! Her own Doctor Who credentials before this was covered in leopard fur in Survival, the feline Karra who seduced Ace to the dark side. A powerful performance but in that costume it was impossible to grasp her talent.

Lisa Bowerman is Bernice Summerfield. She is, there is now doubt about it. Nobody else could match her sheer exuberance and energy. The voice is just perfect, a touch sardonic, a twinge of sarcasm but behind it all a woman desperate for comfort and protection despite her multitude of abilities. One of which being her fabulous motor mouth that gets her in and out of trouble in equal measures.

God knows what Lisa thought of Oh No it Isn't! but she certainly does the story justice! For a story that demands she say lines like "And at least I don't owe it all to my pussy!" and "Please! Please! Don't leave any droppings!", pretend to be Cinderella scrubbing the floor, has her fighting intergalactic squid, searching for a magic lamp, ask five people to marry her, sing "Row, row, row your boat!" and discuss her gender with her cat! And that's just the start of it! Lisa is superb, throwing herself into the absurd script with utter conviction. It is her reaction to so many of the panto world's insanities ("Harmonising bluebirds!", "I don't want to hear anything about a liquorice winter!") that provides the best laughs. It is the best kind of actress that will play a part that doesn't see them at their absolute best and Benny's hysterical treatment in loopyland provides Lisa with some real challenges.

I have no idea how much of Paul Cornell's original novel is here, I have never read it but the story was adapted by writer extraordinaire Jac Rayner and the mixture of Paul's toilet humour and Jac's focus on the characters leads to some brilliant lines. This has to be the rudest audio ever with double entendres flying about all over the place... here are a few choice examples:

"The Kings balls get bigger every year!"
"This is Dick!" "That's one way of putting it!"
"I'm bitchy!" "Yeah I gathered that.!"
"I haven't seen something like that since I went round the back of the fishmongers and had a look at his buttered plaice!"
"Hello! Puss in Boots!"
"May the goodness of the oceans flow up your rivers!" "And up yours!"
and many, many more. But instead of coming across as crude and tasteless professional actors like Nick Courtney and Ms Bowerman subvert the material. It sparkles with wit and slaps a huge grin on your face. The story is not an excuse to be rude, go read the NA's for that, this is one of those heart-warming family type stories, that pulls together some wicked eccentrics, gets them adventuring and ends up giving you some real belly laughs. It really is a delight.

Yes the Brigadier is on hand in the shape of a cat. Huh? It was inspired to have such a revered Who figure involved in this farce. Nick seems to relish the part, his playful voice perfect for highlighting the ruder lines and managing to drive some real ethos from the script when Wolsey realises he is only a cat in the real world and he will lose his ability to speak and walk upright. His devotion to Bernice is sweet without becoming sickly.

There is a plethora of amusing characters to follow. I was listening to this at work in the staff and wetting myself much to my co-workers' confusion. The hysterical Dame Candy has to be the campest character I have ever heard, "Ohh my giddy kippers!" is one of her first lines followed by "Ohh! You sinister squid!" He/she gets all the best lines, making fun of everything that happens. Her exclamation "Scarper!" is brilliantly timed!

And then there is the Grel, either annoying as hell or utter genius depending on how you take such mannered characters. I loved them; they are used for expert comic effect, I love it when they say "Conclusion!", "Information!", etc before they say anything!

And don't forget the seven dwarves, proud of their dwarfiness, firm believers of dwarf pride. You get the message.

The fairy Godfather and the Visier are also camp classics. Most brilliantly of all is the Visiers apparent magic spell " Parathon! Alay shay! Pashwari Naan!" to which Benny replies "Are you summoning a demon?". "No you fool I'm ordering a curry!". Genius.

You get the message... it's very, very funny. It almost seems a shame to return back to the boring normal world at the end. If there was a fault with the story it would be the enormous lengths it goes to excuse it's setting, all this guff about computer programmes, information missiles and an extinct race spoils the fun somewhat. Shame to give it an excuse at all, why not just have Bernice at the end after having a particularly weird dream. More time for fun that way!

Tremendous fun, a shock reminder of how po-faced most 'real' Doctor Who is. Bowerman scores an A plus for her marvellous portrayal and what's more the series kicks off in real style, proving above all else that it is going to be a bit different.

And don't forget kiddies... be good or they might drop the liquorice flavoured A-bon bon!