01 September 2016

Audio Review: Bernice Summerfield - The Green-Eyed Monsters

The Green-Eyed Monsters continues the third series of the adventures of Bernice Summerfield in admirable style. Mixing two seemingly unrelated plots into one impressive whole, Dave Stone balances levity and drama expertly to create another enormously enjoyable story.

The episode begins with Benny completely fed up with motherhood. The constant attention demanded by little Peter is taking its toll - she's exhausted. It's a blessing then when a little relief seems to come her way in the form of a simple job of validating some trinkets' authenticity. Jetting off to the Goronos system, Benny leaves Peter in the care of his father Adrian Wall, and her ex-husband Jason Kane, apparently the only two men she would trust to the end of the universe.

When she arrives on Goronos Four, Benny is soon acquainted with Lady Ashantra, her employer, and the planet's two princes, Boris and Ronald. There's immediately more to this lady than meets the ear, as evidenced in her hushed machinations behind the scenes. The background to this part of the story is that a myth has recently done the rounds in the warring system that the rightful rulers will be twins, have strange birthmarks and the like - and that their eyes glow green in the presence of certain strange artefacts. That's quite a lot of specific conditions, and as Benny points out, not necessarily the qualities you look for in leaders, but the way Stone makes this part of the story does it complete justice.

Luckily, the twins under Lady Ashantra's care meet all of these conditons except the last. Just as luckily, some artefacts have recently been discovered that match those in the legends. Benny has been brought in in order to confirm Boris and Ronald's claim to rule over the whole Goronos system. In order to try and match the stipulations of the myth, the Royal Houses have been striving desperately for twins, going so far as gene pool manipulation. This has the unfortunate side effect of giving the twins phenomenally low intelligence. Perfect rules then.

Before long though, we learn the truth about Lady Ashantra. When Benny and Joseph investigate the artefacts, they discover they're worthless nick-nacks bought for a couple of credits at the futuristic equivalent of Poundland. It turns out all Ashantra wanted was Benny's word, not her opinion. To this end, she has Peter kidnapped to ensure her co-operation.

And it's at this point that the other half of the action shifts up a gear. This is just as much a play about Adrian and Jason as it as about Benny and Ashantra. After several moments of sparring between the pair as they attempt to familiarise themselves with looking after a newborn, the Braxiatel Collection is invaded and Peter snatched - and so begins stronger part of their story. Forced to work together, they go on the hunt for the missing child. The scene where they confront Sloaty is a particular highlight, showing them both as comedic gold, and as a team to be reckoned with. I certainly hope future stories force them together as they make a winning double-act.

Back on Goronos Four, Benny's exposed Ashantra's plan and the baby is recovered just in time for her not to have to falsely endorse the Lady's junk. It turns out she bribed officials on the system's other worlds to spread the myth she had conceived, and deliberately dumbed down Ronald and Boris in order that she may rule in secret. All that stood in her way was authentication from a reputable source. Maria Darling seems to relish playing such a batty old mare, giving it everything she's got. It's a great performance, and really does wonders for the story. With Darling's zany take on the role, you can believe she really would come up with such a crazy, convoluted plan to take over the system.

All of the cast are really strong though. Lisa Bowerman of course gives a memorable central performance, nailing every line, and Harry Myers and Stephen Fewell are just as good as Adrian and Jason. Myers does seem to underplay a couple of lines but I can excuse that as his throat must have been pretty sore by the end of the day. His and Fewell's chemistry is brilliant and without question the funniest line in this is when Adrian calls Jason a "complete prat". They bounce off each other marvellously and prove they can more than support their own strand of the story. Steven Wickham is once again great as Joseph, supporting the action with just the right amount of cheek. Director Gary Russell takes up the reigns as Ronald and Boris and plays them really quite strangely. It's an odd turn from him.

Dave Stone is clearly a writer for me to watch then. This is my first encounter with his work, though he is of course no newcomer to the worlds of Doctor Who or Bernice Summerfield, having been the one to create Jason Kane. I'm delighted to see he has another couple of plays later in the series, as this was a hugely enjoyable script. This is a decidely different Jason to the one I met in Just War, with far more oomph and one-liners, but that's to be expected given he's no longer living through one of the most depressing periods of history. In the conflict with Adrian, you can't help but feel Stone favours his own creation over the KILLLLOOOREENAN but at the same time the scenes feel completely natural. This is very well paced and tells an excellent story, so more from Stone will be most welcome.

Overall then The Green-Eyed Monsters is a story to be proud of. The title perfectly encapsulates the episode as a whole and rounds of what's a thrilling instalment in the Summerfield series. David Darlington and Alistair Lock do wonders with the post-production as always and the very beginning, which was actually my first time of hearing the 'Adventure is My Game' song, is hilarious. The end credits are very well done too, with superb ad libbing from the cast. The music throughout is accessibly sophisticated and differentiates this from other series. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and sincerely hope Benny's third series can live up to this strong start as I move into the second half.

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