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BOOK
Professor Bernice Summerfield
Something Changed

Editor: Simon Guerrier
Big Finish
RRP: 14.99
ISBN 1 84435 153 X
Available 11 January 2006


There's a fresh grave on planetoid KS-159, but only Bernice Summerfield seems to have noticed. Her friends are too busy with their own affairs to see how keenly she feels this loss. There's no time to grieve. Life must carry on, and Benny has been lumbered with a new assignment, babysitting some daft experiment. Doggles claims his "history machine" will change everything. The worst thing is, he's right...

In my review of the previous Bernice Summerfield book, Parallel Lives, I noted that its title had led me to expect a set of parallel universe stories. However, that's actually what we get in this short-story collection - well, alternate timelines to be precise, but they amount to pretty much the same thing. I suppose the sight of an eye-patched Bernice on the front cover should have tipped me off.

The activation of the history machine (an ancient artefact, the description of which makes it sound like it's probably a space-time visualiser, as seen in the William Hartnell Doctor Who serials The Space Museum and The Chase) accidentally breaks down the barriers between dimensions. In each of the short stories that follow we experience alternate versions of the familiar characters and settings of the Braxiatel Collection. At first the differences are basic, involving the injury or death of different characters. But they gradually become stranger as the anthology progresses, to include some non-Martian variants of Hass the gardener and a male equivalent of Bernice.

Sometimes the differences are carried over and/or developed in successive stories. For example, Jason's face is scarred in both "Writing in Green", by Dave Hoskin, and David Cromarty's "Showing Initiative".

Braxiatel's solution to the trans-dimensional crisis, as revealed in Ian Mond's "Family Man", is extreme, and unfortunately it is also very similar to that of Sabbath and his allies in the BBC Eighth Doctor novels that ran between Time Zero and Sometime Never...

And talking of Brax and the Doctor, for those of you who have been wondering whether Doctor Who's Time War has happened yet from Braxiatel's point of view, Simon Guerrier's introductory story, "Inappropriate Laughter", appears to confirm that the Time Lords are still alive and well at this juncture. Both Brax and Benny seem to refer to Gallifrey in the present tense. However, perhaps Guerrier has in mind the potential problems posed by developments in the new Doctor Who series, as his concluding tale, "After Life", suggests that the Braxiatel Collection's timeline has been permanently altered. Could it be that the Professor Bernice Summerfield range is hereby divorcing itself from its roots as a Doctor Who spin-off? We shall have to wait and see.

Aside from Guerrier's two bookend stories, I tended to enjoy the tales that worked towards the grand plan of his anthology, such as "Family Man", Dave Stone's Memento- and 50 First Dates-inspired "Back and There Again" and Sin Deniz's "One of My Turns", in the latter two of which, characters begin to become aware of the changes to their worlds. In addition, James Swallow's "Siege Mentality" is a tense piece of writing, and Joseph Lidster's "Dead Mice" is an unnervingly nightmarish exploration of Brax's guilty conscience, while Eddie Robson's "Match of the Deity" is good light-hearted fun.

On the other hand, Ben Aaronovitch's "Walking Backwards for Christmas" is rather hard work. It is also more of a flashback tale than an alternate timeline story, and so it is of dubious relevance to this anthology.

While I'm nit-picking, the standard "Braxiatel Collection" introductory text wrongly claims that Benny's son Peter is five (he's not, he's four, as the jacket blurb correctly states) and that Adrian Wall reports to Ms Jones (he doesn't - Clarissa Jones was written out in Parallel Lives).

As with most anthologies, Something Changed is a mixed bag, but there's still something here for all Bernice Summerfield fans. No change there then.

Richard McGinlay

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