Bernice Summerfield is a long-running franchise about the titular interstellar archaeologist from 2540, whose adventures take place across hundreds of books, audio plays and other media. The series originated in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe and still takes place in the world of Doctor Who.
Benny was originally created by Paul Cornell (known best for "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood") in 1992, as a companion to the Seventh and Eighth Doctors in the Doctor Who New Adventures novels. When Virgin Publishing lost their license to release Doctor Who novels, they continued their line (now called just New Adventures) around Benny's solo career.
The series focuses on classic adventure as well as the relationships between its characters. Benny travels across the universe to right wrongs, explore new planets, and prevent the end of the world on many occasions. Joining her are her ex-husband Jason Kane, her friend Bev, her son Peter, a Time Lord named Irving Braxiatel, and many other friends and adversaries. And unlike the Classic Doctor Who TV series, the Bernice Summerfield range tends to deal with very mature themes. The stories don't shy away from war, torture and death, as well as celebrating love and sex (Benny being from an almost Free-Love Future) and showing relationships in a realistic way.
In addition to the New Adventures novels, Bernice has an audio series produced by Big Finish. The Audio Play series started with loose adaptations of Benny's existing novels and became a full-fledged range of original stories and new novels after its first season, frequently intersecting with other Big Finish Doctor Who ranges. It's been going strong since 1999.
Benny's video appearances include the CGI webcast "Dead and Buried", the live-action short film "The Crystal Conundrum" (alongside the Seventh Doctor) and Big Finish video trailers.
With the division between "classic" and "new" Who being gradually erased in the 2010s, Bernice is now also free to meet the modern Doctors, starting with an appearance alongside the Twelfth Doctor in the 2015 novel Big Bang Generation.
All in all, the Bernice Summerfield series has quite a few Broad Strokes, and can be approached from a wide variety of starting points. It is one of the Doctor Who Expanded Universe's most successful spinoffs, and the longest-running one if you're not picky about which medium it's in.
For recaps of the audio episodes, see the Big Finish Doctor Who page.
As of December 2020 the audio releases up to Series 6 are available as downloads.
Bernice Summerfield provides examples of the following tropes:
- Adapted Out: Two of the early audio dramas (Birthright and Just War) were based on novels that originally featured the Doctor and his companions (Ace in both, Roz and Chris in the latter). In the audio versions, they are dropped (as at the time Big Finish did not yet have the rights to Doctor Who), and their roles are mostly taken by Jason.
- Adventurer Archaeologist: Bernice is an archaelogist by trade, and she goes on various adventures with the Doctor.
- Aloof Big Brother: A bit. Braxiatel is kind of this to the Doctor, although it never really comes up in the Big Finish series, due to Writing Around Trademarks.
- Ancient Astronauts: Very common, and also the subject of Benny's doctoral dissertation.
- And I Must Scream: All too often. The fate of the Monoids in The Kingdom of the Blind, for one, and the nature of the hyperdrive in The Tub Full of Cats for another.
- The Big Damn Kiss: Benny tackles the Eighth Doctor to the bed during their goodbye, after their first adventure together.
- Broad Strokes: The complicated nature of Benny's continuity (she started in the books and migrated to the audios, which don't always agree) means it's now explicit that Benny's early personal timeline is a little tangled, and she often remembers both versions of a story. For instance, it's hinted she remembers the events of Just War happening with both the Doctor (in the book) and with Jason (in the audio).
- Character Name and the Noun Phrase: "Professor Bernice Summerfield and the..."
- Comically Missing the Point: Brax: "And that's another thing you're misremembering! I spent the last cosmic cycle as a rock, not under one!"
- Continuity Nod: "You know, Braxiatel... that thing in your head... it's still there."
- Creator Cameo: Being audio, there've been quite a few. Director Gary Russell in The Crystal of Cantus (although fans love to try and spot Russell's cameos, there's so many), writer Joseph Lidster in The Summer of Love, writer Mathew Sweet in Diet of Worms and writer Scott Handcock as Plato(!) in The Oracle of Delphi. Actually, from Epoch onwards, most of the bit parts are played by Gary Russell's co-director/producer/writer Scott Handcock, who seems to have taken over the role of being Big Finish's Alfred Hitchcock.
- Crossover: Frequently. Benny's sometime boss, Braxiatel, is the same character that appears in Gallifrey; Ace occasionally visits; and Iris Wildthyme has popped up a time or two. The Daleks showed up in Death and the Daleks. The Doctor himself appears in 'The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield' box-set.
- The David Warner Doctor from the Doctor Who Unbound range joins Benny in the third volume of 'The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield' range, with the Mark Gatiss Master making recurring appearances in volumes 3 and 4.
- Does Not Know His Own Strength: Peter. Braxiatel manipulates him into killing Jason due to this.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: A couple of characters, notably...
- Miss Jones (repeatedly!)
- The Jason Clones.
- Everybody Is Single: Thanks, in part, to Executive Meddling. Benny marrying Jason in Happy Endings really was going to be her happy ending and departure from the New Adventures. Then the editors lost their license to Doctor Who, and decided to re-launch it around Benny. Since she'd have to be single for romantic subplots, Benny and Jason's marriage was deep-sixed. They still love each other deeply, though, frequently have sex, and genuinely look out for each other throughout their adventures.
- FaceHeel Turn: Robyn, in Resurrecting the Past.
- Fantastic Racism: During the Fifth Axis occupation especially.
- Final Solution: Hass's extermination of the Mim.
- Free-Love Future: Almost, but not quite. Benny is an Ethical Slut, as is Jason, but both can get very jealous and value some level of monogamy. And people from Benny's university may be more enlightened about sexual matters than kids from our time, but there's still the occasional character who's in the closet, or ashamed of their sexual preferences.
- Future Imperfect: Benny catches people out on their knowledge of history, and is not infrequently caught out herself. (She thought Star Trek was a documentary.)
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: Benny becomes trapped in one in Random Ghosts, though unusually for the trope nobody actually remembers what happened the previous days. Instead, they're forced to look through footage taken by floating camcorders that's held outside of time...which becomes problematic when the cloud service is corrupted, characters can choose what footage is retained (and not just the owner of each camera) and the various recordings are scattered about, and nobody has any idea how long they've been within the loop. It's implied to have been a very long time.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Benny's son, Peter.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Benny loves — loves — beer, and has long since given up on the idea of ever having slim thighs.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Starting from The Mirror Effect Braxiatel has been conditioning Jason not to question the inconsistencies around him and by The Crystal of Cantus has set him up to be cyber-converted as a defense plan for the Collection. This process undoes the conditioning and now not only does Jason remember everything, he scares Braxiatel away from the Collection.
- It's Braxiatel's efforts in Escaping the Past to manipulate the situation and his alienation of Benny and her friends that make the Diendum more aggressive, the outcome Braxiatel wanted the least.
- Humanoid Aliens: And how. Benny's babydaddy is a wolf/ape alien, one of her close friends is an enormous sentient hamster, and another is a squid-headed humanoid.
- Ink-Suit Actor:
- Actress Lisa Bowerman has been the voice of Benny since the first audio dramas featuring the character were produced in 1998. However, she (coincidentally) resembled the artistic rendering of Benny dating back to the character's first appearance on the cover of the novel Love and War six years earlier. As Bowerman became more identified in the role, artistic renderings of Benny began to resemble her more, to the point where the 2010 CGI animated short Dead and Buried directly based Benny's appearance on that of Bowerman (with elements from earlier renderings tossed in). Then, beginning with Epoch in 2011, Big Finish just started using straight photographs of Bowerman for the cover art.
- Miles Richardson also already looked exactly like the first illustration depicting Braxiatel◊ (from the cover for the 1997 Doctor Who New Adventures novel Happy Endings). There is a joke amongst fans that Miles Richardson is the alias for Braxiatel's human self, just waiting to open a fob-watch, and Miles hasn't bothered to deny it.
- Depictions of other members of the cast though have only gradually moved towards this trope. In the novels, Jason was short-haired and blond◊ and then Stephen Fewell◊ was cast. The changes in illustrations that have resulted are obvious◊. Bev Tarrant was sketched to resemble Louise Faulkner and Peter looked a little like Thomas Grant (until they started using photographs on the covers, from which we can conclude that Peter looks exactly like Grant but with dog-ears-and-nose).
- The only cast members that have escaped it are those playing non-human characters such as Harry Myers (Adrian/Hass), Stephen Wickham (Joseph/Doggles).
- Little Old Lady Investigates: Parodied in Ship of Fools with the character of Agatha Magpole.
- Manipulative Bastard: Braxiatel, from The Crystal of Cantus onwards. And earlier than that — he's been one that since at least The Mirror Effect.
- A Mistake Is Born: This is how Bernice "Surprise" Summerfield got her middle name. Apparently more of a happy accident than a mistake, though. She also has one of these herself, which was particularly a mistake since her body wasn't even under her control when she got pregnant.
- Musical Episode: The Worst Thing in the World, said "worst thing" being Bernice Summerfield singing an obnoxiously cheerful, obnoxiously catchy musical number to save the day.
- Mythology Gag: As with many DWEU properties, many, but The Relics of Jegg-Sau is built entirely around a Mythology Gag, in which the Giant Robot from Tom Baker's debut story is found on a desert planet and replicated by the inhabitants, thereby answering the question "When in Whoniverse history did anything resembling the picture on the 1978 Enemies of Doctor Who: The Giant Robots jigsaw puzzle actually happen?"
- Nonindicative Name: The People. They're made up of several races, none of which are human beings.
- Not as You Know Them: Chris Cwej, although not as much as in Faction Paradox stories.
- Opposite-Sex Clone: Maggie to Braxiatel.
- Oh No It Isn't!, both pantomime and deconstruction of pantomime.
- The same goes for The Masquerade Of Death.
- Put on a Bus: Parasiel, at the end of Collected Works. Also several of the minor characters.
- Rape as Drama: "Closure", as well as the circumstances of Benny's pregnancy. (She was possessed by someone who had sex with her friend Adrian while in her body.)
- Redshirt Army: Bernice has an unfortunate tendency to be part of expeditions where, through sheer luck (bad or good), everyone besides from her ends up dead. She's not the least bit happy about it.
- Single-Biome Planet: The water planet Maximediras. It's also a complete hole.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Hass's threat to nuke Braxiatel.
- The Time Traveller's Dilemma: Return of the Living Dad.
- Timey-Wimey Ball: As its name suggests, Timeless Passages.
- Veganopia: Benny's home society ate engineered meats only. Benny views food derived from an actual animal with vague distaste.
- Vichy Earth: The Braxiatel Collection, during its occupation by the Fifth Axis.
- Wham Episode:
- Where Angels Fear... The planet Dellah gets invaded by the Gods. Everyone evacuates. Clarence dies, and Emile becomes possessed by a demon.
- The Mirror Effect: Everyone tries to kill each other. And Brax is revealed to be a really evil bastard.
- Life During Wartime: The Collection is invaded. By Benny's dad. And the Daleks.
- Resurrecting the Past: Braxiatel's plans come together. Robyn tries to kill Bernice, but Hass kills Robyn first and accidentally starts a trans-temporal war.
- Escaping the Future: Everybody dies. But that's okay, because all of history (and established continuity) is completely rewritten.
- Writing Around Trademarks: Not so much this as keeping distance from the parent series — Daleks and Cybermen can appear as they're covered under a separate licence, but in stories not featuring the Doctor, nobody goes any further than occasional accidental references to the "Doct..." before stopping themselves.
- You Cloned Hitler!: There's a Hitler clone working at the university library. He's a very nice chap with a keen interest in Jewish studies, which Benny thinks might be a case of overcompensating.