Previously on Benny… dog-faced lovers, thieves and ex husbands banded together to protect probably evil Time Lord’s private collection of antiquities from time travelling daleks led by Benny’s father. Jason got naked, father got mad, daleks got defeated. Weird stuff with linking narration put it all in the past and Peter still cries a lot. Try and remember the bit about Brax probably being evil as it won’t come up in this season, it’s a hangover from season three and won’t get dealt with till next year.
So season four, pretty heavy going. Huge epic dalek battles, Benny being tortured by Draconians and the listeners being tortured by Sea Devils. It’s clear there’s going to be some pretty heavy going stuff ahead (quite a few plots hanging at the moment) which can only mean one thing… time for some inspired silliness. No, not just inspired but silliness on the genius level. “The Grel Escape” has one very simple premise. Take one of the daftest Doctor Who stories ever (“The Chase”) and rework it with Benny, Jason, Peter and Peter’s Grel godmother Sophia… you did read “The Glass Prison” didn’t you… replace Daleks with Grel (as daleks were SO last season) and make it very clear to the audience what you’re doing. Include “destroy time rings” as part of your brief and set up even more future plot lines (this time suggesting that there are dark things ahead for Peter as he grows up). In short, produce an audio drama that’s brilliant on pretty much every level. The robot Benny that looks nothing like her to the extent that even Jason isn’t fooled, Grel rising up out of the sand, ghost trains and time travel all appear but with a knowing wink that leaves casual listeners laughing and Doctor Who fans in hysterics. There’s a rather strange section in the middle that’s almost deadly serious (involving Egyptian Gods judging Peter, clearly setting things up for the future) but, for the most part, the jokes come thick and fast. There are a few odds from “The Daleks’ Master Plan” in there as well (the football match sequence is the weakest part of the release sadly as the commentator’s voice is too recognisable as also being the Grel voice) but mostly this is an audio tribute to daftness, with just a few hints of sorrow in there to play with your minds a little.
Sadly the same can’t be said for “The Bone of Contention”. To understand this one fully, it helps if you’ve heard the Doctor Who audio “The Sandman”. If you haven’t then don’t worry as it’s pretty much all contained somewhere in the story. Benny’s caught in the middle of some rather delicate diplomatic relations. The Perloran’s want their bone back but the Galyari aren’t prepared to return it. There are myths and legends about the power of the bone but no one will admit to knowing where it is. There’s also a child with extreme growing pains that latches on to Benny as a surrogate mother. It’s all very corridor based (if you’ve heard “The Sandman” then you’ll recognise the Clutch as being a 50/50 mix of corridors and ships) so it’s not very surprising. Also, if you’ve heard “The Sandman” then you’ll remember that the Clutch isn’t the most action packed place in the universe and this story is no exception. The voices are modulated to just the right side of being able to understand them, Mordecan (the trader) gives a charming insight into the Irish accent but it takes a very long time to get going. Everything is also a little too obvious. The location of the bone is guessable quite early in and nothing really took me by surprise in the story. It’s not bad as such but it’s just a little tedious.
“The Relics of Jegg-Sau” (don’t know why but I don’t like the name for some reason) goes for the surprise return rather than a predictable old monster coming back. The (giant) Robot, from the fourth Doctor’s first story, makes a reappearance and, unusually, it seems fully justified in its return. You might be wondering just how the robot comes back (given that it was rusted to death in its only onscreen appearance) but it is explained in the story well enough as to be believable. Benny finds herself crashing whilst looking for lost treasure and is rescued by Kalwell and his daughter, Elise. The acting from the guest cast, whilst technically “correct” does mean that there are times that you struggle to stay awake through it and there’s the same issue as in “The Draconian Rage” (weapon from a museum ends up being used to kill someone) which does make things a little predictable towards the end (as does the fact that the Robot grows, they would probably have had complaints if it didn’t). It’s not a bad release but just a little long winded again. Michael Kilgariff just about gets the robot correct after quite some absence from Who and the twist at the end isn’t signposted too obviously through the rest of the tale but, even so, it’s just too slow for my brain to want to focus on it for over an hour.
Sitting somewhere between this and the last release of the season is a DWM freebie, “Silver Lining”. It’s an odd tale of a buried cyber-city, a bomb about to go off and a very gullible cyberman. Its purpose will become obvious eventually but for now, enjoy it for what it is. Half an hour of running around cyber corridors, logic puzzles in the form of music and ummm yeah, that’s actually about it.
So finally there’s “Masquerade of Death”, or “Oh No It Isn’t Again” as my mind wants to think about it. Benny and Adrian are in the rather surreal world of the season based prisons. There’s a murder that seemingly has no victim and an overall style that says “We want to be weird and wacky” but actually came over as “We’re not exactly sure what this is trying to be” but it sounds like the Who story “Axis of Insanity”. The baddie, known only as The Player is very similar in sound to the jester from Axis and the unreal world that Benny and Adrian are in is almost reminiscent of “The Mind Robber”. It’s very difficult to listen to and concentrate on though (okay, others may find it easier but I found it very hard going) and after about half way though it starts to feel exceptionally repetitive. When there’s the eventual reveal of what’s actually going on at the end I couldn’t help but think it was a case of “let’s come up with an ending of some sort and we’ll get around to dealing with it later, maybe”. Apparently Benny had been trapped in some sort of sentient book and suspected that it had been a trap designed especially for her. For a trap it seemed overly elaborate and unnecessarily complicated (so, on that front, I guess it ties in with a lot of Who etc) but I didn’t really buy it. The opening of the story also serves to highlight something that really is becoming something of an issue in the range. Looking back over the last few seasons, Benny’s been tortured, chased, seen her home invaded and had it suggested that her son isn’t going to be a nice person. Yet she still seems… well, Benny. Nothing about her seems to have changed, she doesn’t seem to have been affected that much by things and everything seems to be reset at the end of every story. I hadn’t actually considered this that much, until this story went out of its way to point it out…. Ooooops.
So that was season 5. Not Benny’s finest set of stories, one clear highlight and an awful lot of missed opportunities. Or, in the case of Masquerade, opportunities that weren’t even really there to begin with.