Happy birthday, Bernice Summerfield!

Bernice Summerfield - Many Happy Returns coverMany Happy Returns is a lot of fun.  This is Benny’s Five Doctors, celebrating twenty years since her début in Paul Cornell’s New Adventures novel, Love and War, in 1992.  And like The Five Doctors, it brings together many of the important people in Benny’s life over the years, both from her days as one of the Doctor’s longest-serving companions, and especially her life on audio with Big Finish.

This is literally a guided tour of Benny’s life, and all the set pieces you expect to be there, are there—the audio ones, at least: her current “companions,” Ruth and Jack; her former robotic secretary, Joseph; “old” Irving Braxiatel; Bev Tarrant; Adrian Wall; her son Peter; Leonidas from Epoch; Iris Wildthyme (and a brief cameo by Panda, too); and, of course, Benny’s former husband, Jason Kane.

The return of Jason is especially touching.  Truthfully, I don’t know too much about Jason’s development in the audios—I subscribed to the series through season four, but at the time, Big Finish was a luxury I couldn’t really afford—but not being too afraid of spoilers, I have a rough sketch of how his storyline played out.  Benny’s reunion with Jason is emotional and cathartic, and their final scene together is both uplifting and heartbreaking, perfectly played by Lisa Bowerman and Stephen Fewell, who bring just the right chemistry and emotion.

And the Doctor and Ace?  Well, I’m not afraid of spoilers, but…  In true Big Finish form, this reunion in Many Happy Returns of the people who shaped Benny’s life isn’t as straightforward as many might like (e.g. Zagreus and The Four Doctors), but it’s nevertheless extremely satisfying.

Benny’s lullaby to Peter is one of the most moving moments in the entire 96 minutes, and such a brilliant tribute to her adventures over the last twenty years, recalling both her time with the Doctor and Ace in the New Adventures, and all that’s happened since. If nothing else, Many Happy Returns is worth the very nominal price for this beautiful scene alone.

There are a few in-jokes here and there, the best of which is right at the end.  I definitely won’t spoil that one, but if you’re a regular Big Finish listener, I promise you’ll laugh out loud in real life.

And just to make Many Happy Returns even more worth the £10 price, all the cast and crew participated for no charge, and all the proceeds are donated to the Hampshire, UK-based charity, Invest in M.E.  Invest in M.E. works to raise awareness regarding myalgic encephalomyelitis.  Please visit their Web site for more information, or to make a donation.

It remains to be seen how Many Happy Returns will fit into the ongoing Bernice Summerfield storyline, or how Benny will be affected by her experiences here, but it’s one that even causal Benny fans won’t want to skip.

Daniel Lestarjette

Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He's been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he's way behind.)

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