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on 29 March 2006
I approached this novel with interest as the blurb reminded me of one of the earliest 'New Adventures' - 'Timewyrm: Exodus'. The vision of an Earth where the Nazis have triumphed or will triumph is a well-worn theme in Sci-Fi but Lance Parkin has refreshed the theme; placing the action on the Channel Island of Guernsey in 1941 and setting a scene where the Nazis have a 'super weapon' that will change the course of the war.
Parkin's first 'New Adventures' novel is far more concerned with ordinary people and what drives them than green slimy monsters or Machiavellian manipulators - the treatment that Benny receives at the hands of the sadistic Nazis is unprecedented for a 'Doctor Who' companion and is right up there with any factual account of the atrocities committed in the name of Fascism.
What really works with this book is the way the author weaves the strands of the story together using Benny, Chris and Roz effectively and keeping The Doctor in the background for the majority of the story. It deals with the differing ways people perceive the 'truth' and the lengths to which they'll go to support their ideals. Pretty powerful stuff.
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The majority of the Bernice Summerfield novels have seen her visit a variety of other planets whilst generally remaining in her present, however the full-cast audio Just War continues the Big Finish range’s tradition of whisking Benny back in time, deploying a time-ring (initially given to her as a wedding gift) and ending up in a Nazi-occupied Guernsey in 1941, whilst her ex-husband Jason Kane arrives five years earlier, having received a matching ring when the pair were married. Benny assumes the alias of a young islander; however her subsequent involvement in the island’s resistance movement quickly leads to tragedy, and soon Benny and Jason find themselves facing torture and imminent execution at the hands of the brutal Obsert Oskar Steinmann, and his superior, the no-less sinister Standardtenfuhrer Wolff.
The presence of Mark Gatiss, playing the malevolent Wolff automatically raises the quality of this audio drama, however the story itself is somewhat slight, and we’re never really given much insight into the motivations of the various characters we meet. I have to say that the increasingly pleasant relationship between Benny and Jason doesn’t really fit with their previously acrimonious attitudes towards one another, and Stephen Fewell’s Jason comes across as a fey and almost completely uncharismatic individual that it is hard to really care about. Lisa Bowerman of course continues to be outstanding as the conflicted Benny, and as long as she remains in the role, these plays will always be worth listening to.
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on 30 March 2007
My original review of the Bernice Summerfield CD:

I never read the 'New Adventures of Doctor Who' book of the same name so I can't compare the effectiveness of the two formats. However, this audio CD is excellent and works really well. It doesn't suffer at all from not including the Doctor (who I hear wasn't in the book much anyway). In fact his absence enhances the notions of human frailty and suffering which are its focus. Lisa Bowerman is a brilliant actress and really shines here, making Bernice easy to relate to. She makes the character and the suffering really believable. It also really makes you think about the Nazis who are brilliantly portrayed as three dimensional human beings rather than merely 2D monsters. Once the story gets going (and it doesn't take long) you won't want to tear yourself away from it. Listening to it is a real emotional experience. Sometimes it feels like watching a car-crash - horrific but you can't turn your eyes (or ears) away. I must get more of these Bernice Summerfield adventures. Think I'll try 'Birthright' next, based on a book I have read!

A review of the book:

Finally got hold of the book. The Bernice Summerfield strand is similar to the CD. The book is the most violent (and callous) Dr Who adventure that I have read, with some surprising sentiments and actions from all the Doctor's companions. It is also one of the most realistic given the setting, and an excellent historical novel. Unsurprisingly, the book is more fleshed out than the audio adaptation and pleasantly informative, seeking to educate as per the original remit for Dr Who. It also gives a very balanced consideration of both WW2 and of the Nazi's showing them as varied and rounded people but in a way that doesn't scale down or deny the horrific beliefs and actions of many of them. In summary, one of the gems of the very good series of Virgin New Adventures and well worth tracking down.
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