Monday, 28 February 2011

Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code

Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code is something of a slow burner. Over the course of an hour Lisa Bowerman, as Bernice Summerfield, tells us a tale that’s clearly designed to evoke memories of the ‘Virgin New Adventures’. It’s heavy on big, alien, metaphysical ideas too vague to be comprehended by puny mortal brains, although Eddie Robson has a good go at it. And by the nature of the stories huge, huge scope boiling down to an interplanetary war and the peace conference designed to prevent it, things become very heavy on the exposition.

A large portion of this exposition is dished out by Gatlin, played by Charlie Hayes in a rather blank and muted performance. It’s a shame, because there’s very little as an actress she does wrong, but the role only exists to throw information at the listener and to break up Lisa Bowerman’s voice.

In episode one we are talked through Bernice’s typical day at the conference; social chinwagging with other academics, and a brief dalliance with politics as she provokes junior ministers for information… Although many questions are asked nothing, well almost nothing, of any substance actually happens. Two plot threads slowly build from the story, one in which Bernice follows and one for the Doctor, who remains rather aloof and distant. When the cliffhanger to part one arrives it is an update to his part of the story, which the listener has no emotional investment in at all…

Perhaps the one upside of the Doctor’s absence for much of the play is the ugly fact that Lisa Bowerman’s impression of Sylvester McCoy is slightly off. Out of all the actors from the Companion Chronicles this is perhaps the most understandable, as Lisa Bowerman hasn’t had the chance to gain the on and off screen chemistry with her Doctor like other actors and actresses have, but considering how good an actress she is normally this is an annoying chink in the production.

Part two rectifies things a little by tying the two plot threads together, giving a neat explanation for the forbidden language and having fun playing around with it. Sadly no one besides the Doctor or Bernice really evolve into full characters, with a group of faceless ghosts revealed to be behind the whole thing. Allowing Gatlin a few moments at the end to ponder the ethics of their moral victory fails to flesh her out and just leaves the story… hanging.

Although Lisa Bowerman does her best here the script is just a little to slight. The ideas are good but the pacing isn’t there, and when the revelations do come they come fast and thick and then they’re gone. Lisa Bowerman's performance is competent but with only a sarcier than normal Bernice, a blank character in Gatlin and a slightly dodgy Doctor as points of reference there isn't enough here to raise it above the rest.

For fans of the format only.

6 / 10

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