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BOOK
Bernice Summerfield
Collected Works

Editor: Nick Wallace
Big Finish
RRP: 14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84435 241 8
ISBN-10: 1 84435 241 2
Available 16 October 2006


The Braxiatel Collection. It's a museum, an art gallery, an academic institute, a home for renowned archaeologists, runaway art thieves, and galactic waifs and strays. It's been a private playground and the battlefield in the fight against tyranny. Now things are changing again. With the Collection's founder missing, it's up to those left behind to make the place their own. Amidst the chaos of visitors from the far future, dark secrets, old friends and new enemies, Bernice must do whatever's necessary to keep the doors open and her family safe. Yet through it all, there's one truth she cannot escape. Braxiatel is gone, and nature abhors a vacuum...

I can almost imagine that synopsis reading thus: The Braxiatel Collection. It's a port of call, a home away from home, for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs and wanderers... No, wait, that's Babylon 5! As it happens, though, recent developments in the world of Bernice Summerfield seem to have been almost as thoroughly thought out as those of J. Michael Straczynski's landmark TV series.

Though Nick Wallace is named as the editor of this anthology, I suspect that a great deal of credit is also due to Philip Purser-Hallard. He has written five linking interludes, entitled "Perspectives", which focus upon the Quire - a clan of fascinatingly strange visitors from humanity's distant future, who crop up throughout this carefully controlled book - and he also co-wrote the final tale, "Future Relations", with Wallace.

Kudos should also go to Range Editor Simon Guerrier for his efforts to link Bernice's audio and prose adventures in a way that is not off-putting to casual readers. I would still have appreciated footnotes to confirm the placement of the audio dramas, but it is easy enough to perceive that, for example, Wallace's untitled introduction takes place between The Crystal of Cantus (at the end of which Braxiatel buggered off) and The Tartarus Gate. The recent Summer of Love CD evidently occurs some time soon after Kate Orman's short story "Lock". The final two stories, the aforementioned "Future Relations" and "Mother's Ruin", by Dale Smith, deal with the consequences of Braxiatel's misguided contingencies against future catastrophe in both Cantus and Gallifrey: Panacea, complete with sneaky allusions to the Time War.

Yes, this book also ties in with the wider realm of Doctor Who. It looks like I was wrong when I theorised, in my review of Something Changed, that the series was divorcing itself from its Doctor Who roots. It doesn't really matter if most of these references fly over the reader's head, but both Dale Smith and Nick Walters, the latter in his story "False Security", refer to planets they created in BBC Books Who novels (Heritage and Yquatine respectively). Watch out also for Smith and Purser-Hallard's name checks of Freedonia (from the Doctor Who Annual 1975 and Warmonger), Zebadee (TV Comic), Delta Magna (The Power of Kroll) and Skaro (I don't need to explain that one, do I?). Lance Parkin, being Lance Parkin, alludes to several familiar motifs of future Who history in his story "Anightintheninthage", while "False Security" sees the Collection's systems going all Edge of Destruction, with melting clocks, scissor attacks and the like.

Many of the stories focus upon regular and semi-regular characters other than Bernice. David N. Smith's "The Tears of Laughter", Sin Deniz's "Outside the Wall", James Swallow's "The Inconstant Gallery", Simon A. Forward's "Grey's Anatomy" and Ian Mond's "The Cost for a Collection" all explore and develop the relationship between Bev Tarrant and Adrian Wall. "Key", by Jonathan Blum, is a Peter story; Eddie Robson's "The Two-Level Effect" turns the spotlight on Jason; and "Sleeptalking", by John Fletcher, features the student Parasiel.

In fact, Professor Summerfield doesn't seem to appear all that often. Perhaps when the series title was changed from Professor Bernice Summerfield, such anthologies as this should have been renamed The Braxiatel Collection (or something similar), with the title Bernice Summerfield being applied only to the "young Benny" books.

That minor niggle aside, this is a very enjoyable anthology. Some of the tales function better as part of the whole rather than as stories in their own right. For example, "Grey's Anatomy" sets things up for Purser-Hallard's "Perspectives: Forging a Bond", while "Anightintheninthage" develops the mystery of the Quire rather than drawing any conclusions.

However, in general they all read well - though Simon Bucher-Jones's "The Painting on the Stair" is somewhat incomprehensible at times. My favourite tales are the amusing "Key", as well as "False Security", "Mother's Ruin" and "Future Relations", the latter three of which build upon the mystery surrounding Braxiatel's disappearance.

Collected Works is definitely a collection that works.

Richard McGinlay

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