Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Beginning Benny - Season 2

I’ve decided that, for the purposes of the next ten seasons of Benny’s adventures, time did get a slight rebooting at the end of the subscriber story “Closure”.  If you don’t know what I’m referring to then nip over to the Intermission article about Benny then come back here once you’re done… Ready?

So this is Bernice Surprise Summerfield’s “first” full blown series of original audio adventures.  No reworking of old stories, everything is new.  However, it’s also the first time that Big Finish decided that Benny should be a “cross product” range.  In their infinite wisdom they decided that you should have to get both the book series AND the audio series to get the full story and, in going back to the start of Benny it’s left me scrabbling for the internet to get a memory jog of things that don’t take place on CD.  Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to piece together what you’ve missed if you’re only interested in the audio format but a “Previously on Benny” might have been a little useful towards the end of the range.

“The Secret of Cassandra” stands out a little in this second season as being the only non “archaeology as a starting point” story.  Instead we find Benny having slight issues whilst on holiday.  Even though she’s no longer travelling with a certain Time Lord she hasn’t lost the knack of ending up in trouble and, in this particular case, she’s ended up holidaying in the middle of a war zone.  Not the safest thing to do and Benny’s essentially left adrift without a paddle.  Fortunately there’s a ship to pick her up, Captained by Big Finish stalwart Lennox Greaves.  He’ll eventually crop up in all kinds of Big Finish Doctor Who stories, most obviously in “The Chimes of Midnight”, but here he’s keeping one or two secrets from his new ship mate.  Also on the ship is General Brennan, a representative of one of the sides in the war, her prisoner, Sheen and a computer called Cassandra.  Not the largest cast in the world but they manage to keep the story going at a pretty reasonable rate, with enough plot developments to keep your mind working though the story.  The ending is a little bit gender bending (but nothing compared to what wouldn’t be happening soon in the CDs) and they manage to play out the emotional part of the story without it becoming too heavy handed.  Oh and there’s nothing in it that you need the books for, it’s a stand alone adventure and takes place before the novel “The Squire’s Crystal”.  And if you’ve never read that then the next set of stories are going to be a little bit weird.

“The Stone’s Lament” picks up where Squire left off.  Benny’s dog-man non-lover Adrian (look, I said things would get weird) is accompanying Benny on a chance to visit a rather unique archaeological dig at which several of his colleagues have already gone missing.  Sadly, Bratheen Traloor, the owner of the lump of rock she’s there to look at is one of those “lived away from the rest of society for numerous decades” people and, as such, doesn’t have the greatest social skills when dealing with people.  It doesn’t help that his only companion in his home is the house computer, a rather jealous and possessive device that fancies its owner.  Sadly, the owner fancies Benny, as does Adrian (even though Benny makes it very clear she’s not interested) and this just pushes the computer a little too far.  Aided by the fact that the house is made up of haunted stones, the computer sets out to deal with the love problems and get rid of Benny.  There’s poltergeist activity, voice mimicry and all kinds of other shenanigans  to deal with but by the end of the release I did start to feel that the story was dragging on just that little too long.  The computer had thrown its voice just once too often, there were a few too many things being thrown around and at the characters and slightly too much computer/human rivalry to keep things moving at a fast pace.  Having said that though, it’s by no means a bad story but, coming straight after Cassandra, it’s a little weird to have two “computer has issues” stories right next to each other.

And so onto “The Extinction Event”.  I need to go back and find my CD of this one (I’ve been doing these on my iPod at the gym) as it sounded as though it had rather weird sound design which meant that the character of Brax sounded as though he was speaking from another room.  Brax, by the way, is Benny’s boss and, in this story, he’s getting Benny to check out the authenticity of a Halsted harp that’s come up for auction at “The Extinction Event”.  The event’s so named as all of the pieces involved have come from civilisations that have been wiped out at some point and so are seen as highly prized.  Brax, who runs the Braxiatel Collection (his own private museum sort of thing), doesn’t want to spend money unless the harp’s genuine.  Things get complicated when the harp’s “owner” nearly dies at the hands of the last surviving member of the Halstead race and, as it just so happens to transpire, the harp’s real owner.  I hadn’t re-listened to this one too much since it came out on CD but I remembered the plot developments for pretty much every stage as I was going through it this time which has to be a good thing.  That’s not to say it’s a perfect release, on top of the potential sound issues there were some bits that I really didn’t think worked (the joke about expletive at the end wasn’t particularly funny the first time they used it and they then used it repeatedly for several minutes), the voice at the start is too obviously Lisa Bowerman (meaning it’s very easy to guess where several bits of the story are going to go) and it does seem a little obvious what the baddies are doing. Plus, listening so soon after Stones it means that there’s another love issue going on involving Bennybutnotbenny.

The season ends with “The Sky Mines of Karthos” which isn’t exactly an earth shattering story.  A now rather heavily pregnant Benny (you REALLY need to read The Squire’s Crystal) gets a message from Caitlin, an old acquaintance, saying that she’s discovered something rather unusual and would Benny come and help her investigate.  When Benny arrives though, she’s gone and, Michael, her less than wonderful partner is left to have to deal with a slightly less than tactful Benny.  Unlike the previous three releases, I didn’t remember too much of this one at all.  I remembered the idea of radioactive elements being harvested from the sky, I just about remembered the cave systems and I just about remembered the flying creatures.  What the significance of it all was though came as a “surprise” at the end though so I’m guessing it either made no impact on me when I listened to it first time around or I didn’t make it to the end conscious (I’ve been known to fall asleep to the less enthralling releases from time to time and don’t always remember to redo the endings).

There’s one other thing to mention about the season.  It’s rather a large thing as they redid the theme music.  Season one had a rather punchy brassy and bold theme which really suited the range well.  Sadly they decided to replace it with an actual theme song. I’m not entirely sure why they decided to make the change, I’m not entirely sure who decided that this would be the one they used but, whoever it was, really needs their heads examined.  The most complimentary thing I can say about it is that it’s awful, I mean really truly and utterly awful. As soon as you hear it start on any release, fast forward about 70 seconds and your ears will be forever grateful.

For the first of the “new” sounding Benny stories, this season is pretty successful.  There aren’t any really bad stories, everything is at least a vaguely enjoyable listen and once you get over the fact that there’s a lot going on between the stories most things are just about filled in.  So I suggest you now go and read up on “The Glass Prison” or season three is going to be just a little confusing…

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