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The Bernice Summerfield Adventures - Audios (Big Finish) #4
Brick Fry

In the last days of Hollywood it will, one day, no doubt be written that the middle film in a trilogy is always the strongest. However in this case, Nigel Robinson's Birthright, it has to settle for the Who-est.

This is the first of the Benny audios to adapt a Doctor Who novel, albeit one that, in what was at the time a groundreaking departure, did not feature the Doctor. As if to make up for that deficiency, it stacks up the Who style thrills to a monumental height. Crossing off the checklist we find- a power crazed asiatic villain, a cannibalistic alien insect race with its own codes of honour, time corridors, cockerney waifs, a parallel future earth, swirling fog, damsels in distress.

Into this heady brew is thrown Lisa Bowerman's increasingly deft performance, who, a dodgy drunken episode left aside, just keeps getting better. To be fair she's on well trodden ground, Victoriana and alien possession helped out many a Who-girl.

Here too we find Stephen Fewell's Jason hitting his stride. Though, as in Walking to Babylon, he languishes in sub-plot on planet exposition, here he has some great lines and characteristic moments, that finally give the character some definition. Colin Baker excels as Russian cypher Popov, never overwhelming the action with his considerable prescence, while Barney Edwards' cameo as Lafayette almost makes you miss him. John Wadmore delivers sterling work in the great villainy tradition, although other members of the cast could benefit from his restraint when in multiple roles.

Nick Briggs' direction helps focus the action in a way Walking to Babylon can only dream about, albeit with far broader strokes. The extended climax never falters for a moment, especially as it arrives just a shade too late in the day, and sustains some of the best moments in this epic adventure.

Break Birthright in two and, like a stick of rock, Doctor Who runs right the way through it. In the days before Big Finish got its licence to thrill this type of thing was like manna from on high. These days we might be inclined to judge it a little harsher, but in doing so we overlook that it was the competency of Birthright and its companion plays that swiftly won us many, many joyful hours of new Who. I, for one, am more than grateful to it for that.