AUDIO DRAMA
Bernice Summerfield
The Empire State

Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 10.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84435 254 8
ISBN-10: 1 84435 254 4
Available 07 January 2007


A remarkable construction once stood on a desert moon between six colony worlds: an entire city contained in a single vast tower. In honour of an architectural feat from an earlier age, the pioneers who built it christened it the Empire State. The phrase "once stood" implies that the city isn't there any more, and until yesterday it wasn't, having been destroyed almost a century ago. Yet now it has reappeared, the members of Bernice's expedition scattered throughout it. One member in particular proves difficult to track down, which is awkward because Bernice believes she may hold the key to what's happening at the Empire State - and the means to save the Braxiatel Collection...

Being the final story in the seventh season of Professor Summerfield's audio adventures, I had expected the situation on the Braxiatel Collection (the threat of being caught in the crossfire of hostilities between the Draconians and the Mim, as well as spatial and temporal anomalies within the Collection itself) to be the focus of events.

However, Eddie Robson's script feels somewhat distanced from the ongoing plot arc, despite the back cover blurb telling us that "Bernice Summerfield has reluctantly left behind a Braxiatel Collection in turmoil" to launch her expedition to excavate the site of the Empire State, and a few much-needed reminders presented to us as recorded messages from Jason (Stephen Fewell). It doesn't help that Bernice dissociates herself from the Collection, operating on an officially freelance basis, with initially no stated motive other than academic prestige, even though this proves to be a cover story.

As it is, the recent threat of war or occupation by the Draconians and/or the Mim has remained ill-defined across the series so far, though the dimensional instabilities affecting the Collection were comprehensively explored in the short story anthology Collected Works. However, surprising developments towards the end of this audio drama promise more of a focus during Season 8.

Those developments mean that this tale must take place after all of the stories in Collected Works, despite it also following on from The Oracle of Delphi in terms of Bernice's quest to find the Stone of Barter. I theorise that it must have taken some time for her to set up her expedition, especially since (as we are told) a clean-up operation was necessary beforehand in order to remove dangerous levels of radioactivity. It's probably a good thing that (by my reckoning) four short stories separate Oracle and Empire, because both dramas concern women in possession of paranormal, if not godlike, powers.

The Empire State is not the earth-shattering big finish to the season that I had been expecting (though there is plenty of city-shattering). Nevertheless, the production is in a reasonably good state.

Richard McGinlay

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