Big Finish: Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Vol 07: Blood and Steel, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Vol 07: Blood and Steel, Review

Allegory unbound! Matthew Kresal returns to 1930s Germany.
Big Finish: it's the gift that's gone on giving for Doctor Who fans for nearly 25 years now. Starting by giving voice to prose companion Bernice Summerfield in the form of actress Lisa Bowerman, they also gave fan-pick performers such as the late David Warner a chance to play the Time Lord in their Unbound range. When the two came together in 2016, it was a pairing that my fellow Big Finish reviewer Tony Flyer described as "by the power of fandom squared." Perhaps for that reason, their box sets have become an almost annual highlight of the Big Finish calendar. Blood and Steel, released this month, is no exception as it takes fandom squared even farther by having them face off against an iconic foe in silver.

Blood and Steel isn't just another encounter with Mondas' finest, though. Indeed, script editors Scott Handcock and James Goss (with Handcock also acting as director) take things one step farther by dropping the pair, and Benny in particular, into an all-too uncomfortable location: 1930s Berlin as the Nazis are coming to power. It's a time and place that harkens back to Benny's earliest days and her experiences facing them in the early audio drama Just War. With that, too, comes the uncomfortable knowledge that no matter the outcome, history has preordained that things will not end well as a number of the characters Benny and the Unbound Doctor meet all carry on as if nothing is happening, and the party will last forever.

What Handcock, Goss, and the trio of writers (Aaron Lamont, Rochana Patel, and Victoria Saxton) do with the Cybermen and this location is quite interesting. Using the Cybermen, with their emphasis on apparent logic and conformity, in 1930s Berlin offers up one heck of an allegory that hints neatly at history while also playing up the horror behind these iconic foes. Indeed, how the Cybermen use what's happening to their advantage is in keeping with their M.O. we've seen time and before, but doing it in a historical setting like this one highlights not only their manipulative nature but also how timeless their menace is. Not to mention that, like all good ideas, it's also one that, once presented, makes one wonder, "Why hasn't anyone done that before?"

What the writers also do here is something we've not seen in this range in quite some time: make a serial out of it. Though there are four episodes by as many different writers, Blood and Steel is very much a single story, even if the connective tissue between episodes isn't always immediately apparent. Within it, of course, are different tales, with Goss getting the ball rolling superbly in Willkommen, establishing the setting and the threat. From there, Lamont's Wulf takes us to a small village for a Gothic-inspired tale of a young man coming home, while Patel's Übermensch gives Benny some archeology while putting some new twists on old tropes. All before Saxton's finale offers up a bleak tale of resistance, selfishness, and the price of standing up to tyranny in Auf Wiedersehen. As all that might imply, Blood and Steel isn't a set full of laugh-out-loud moments. Though there are moments of sarcasm and dark humor, for all its bleakness, there are some of the strongest hours of this range to be heard across its four episodes.

Something that is made apparent by the strength of its performers. Indeed, there's a certain bittersweet quality listening to this, knowing that this is almost certainly the final time we'll hear David Warner playing the Unbound Doctor. If it is a swansong, it's one heck of one, calling back to his performances in the role dating all the way back to his first appearance in 2003's Sympathy for the Devil, offering up hints of Pertwee and Capaldi, a weariness marked with a sense of the adventurer. That's not to forget Bowerman as Benny, who gets some meaty material to play with thanks to the events of the set and the harkening back to past experiences, with her performance taking us on an emotional journey as she and this Doctor face off against the tyrants of logic. Director Handcock surrounds them with solid supporting players, including Andrew Pepper as the Compère, Aletta Lohmeyer, and Issy Van Randwyck. Meanwhile, Steven Foxon brings a mix of 1930s Germany with familiar Cybermen sounds together, creating an all-too-immersive soundscape mixed with a tension-building score.

Or, to put it all another way, Blood and Steel is a strong contender for one of Big Finish's best releases for the year, offering a fine tribute to David Warner's Unbound Doctor, and another example of way Benny remains Big Finish's longest running character.

What more reason than that do you need to seek out?

Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume 07: Blood and Steel is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 October 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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