Big Bang Generation by Gary Russell

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An old friend summons the Doctor when a huge pyramid materialises in Sydney Harbour.

With the recent news that characters and aliens from the modern television series can now be used in spin-off stories from Big Finish, it seems that a door, once opened, may be stepped through in either direction. The Doctor’s companion in this story is Professor Bernice Summerfield, a character who originated in the Virgin New Adventure book range. Introduced in the novel Love and War by Paul Cornell, she travelled with the Seventh Doctor before continuing in her own book range when Virgin lost the Doctor Who licence back to the BBC in 1996. Benny looms large in the Wilderness Years canon because she was then brought vividly to life by the actress Lisa Bowerman in a series of Big Finish audio plays, which then helped the company win their own Doctor Who licence. It is a part that she plays (most recently in the excellent Triumph of Sutekh) so well, that it’s impossible not to hear her voice while reading Big Bang Generation. Naturally, Bowerman has narrated the audiobook version.

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Newer fans might remember Benny from the reprinting of Cornell’s Human Nature as part of BBC Books History Collection earlier this year (which, again, Bowerman has narrated a superb audiobook of). I wasn’t sure whether the Doctor would remember his old friend, as his memory has starting deteriorating  over his most recent incarnations. The Tenth Doctor could recall adventures as early as The Sensorites, The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Romans (in Planet of the Ood, The Stolen Earth and The Fires of Pompeii respectively). The  Eleventh Doctor couldn’t remember The Abominable Snowmen or The Web of Fear in The Snowmenand his millennium-plus stint on Trenzalore has left the current incarnation unable to recall The Girl in the Fireplace.

Reassuringly he does remember his companions, even though this incarnation isn’t one for remembering guest characters. Their dialogue is sharp and witty, and convinces as two old friends who have been through a lot together. Benny would not be out of place among the sassy, capable, ultra-confident companions of modern Doctor Who, and it’s interesting to see the Twelfth Doctor with a different counterpart to Clara.

Benny is not only the character returning from the New Adventures, with Keri the Pakhar (from Russell’s Peladon tale Legacy) putting in appearance, alongside character’s from the Bernice Summerfield Big Finish series. The author mashes these elements with modern mythology like the Church of the Papal Mainframe and shimmer technology, to show that the Doctor Who universe is huge and exciting, with a rich and varied mythology.

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Gary Russell has been working in Australia, and sets most of this story in Sydney. Famous landmarks have become a staple of the rebooted series, but the ones outside London are usually seen only on television news reports. Living in the North and having spent a year backpacking around Australia, I’ve spent more time in Sydney than London, so it’s cool to imagine the Doctor in places I know quite well like Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, and parking the TARDIS in the shadow of the Opera House.

The striking imagery of a huge alien pyramid appearing in Sydney Harbour (which recalls the Fortress’ sudden arrival in the Tenth Doctor BBC book, The Eyeless by Lance Parkin) leads to an adventure equal parts heist, and apocalyptic disaster story. The dialogue is sharp and snappy, while the story is just as accessible to those unfamiliar with the characters from the previous books and audios.

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Order Big Bang Generation:

Doctor Who: Big Bang Generation

On audiobook:

Doctor Who: Big Bang Generation: A 12th Doctor novel (Dr Who)

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