Since her debut in the New Adventures novel Love and War, Bernice "Surprise" Summerfield has become the most recognised companion of Virgin's eight years' worth of Doctor Who books. And as the BBC reclaimed the license to publish their own Doctor Who novels, it became clear that the time was right for some Bernice-led New Adventures novels starting with Oh No It Isn't in May 1997. In 1998, a then little-known company called Big Finish Productions began audio adaptations of the New Adventures books that were at the time featuring the Bernice Summerfield character (an exclusive license to produce original Doctor Who audio adventures was not obtained until 1999). In September of that year, Big Finish released their debut audio play based on Paul Cornell's 1997 novel Oh No It Isn't, adapted for audio by Cornell's then- girlfriend, Jacqueline Rayner.
The actress portraying Bernice in this release and hereafter would be Lisa Bowerman. The former Casualty star was no stranger to the world of Doctor Who, having appeared as the Cheetah person Karra in the series' last televised story, Survival. Her performance as Benny is all kinds of wonderful, and her voice really makes you believe that she IS Bernice Summerfield. This reviewer would be very happy if the folks at BBC Wales would bring Bowerman as Benny into the new series of Doctor Who (no substitutes, 51st century archaeologist comr Companion offspring included!)
Based on the original novel, this story begins at St Oscar's University on the planet Dellah (as the planet was first mentioned in The Dying Days). When Bernice gets the opportunity to take her tutorial group to the lost civilisation of Perfecton, an alien missile hits their ship. But instead of the afterlife, Benny wakes up in a strange world of (wait for it)... panto! Everthing from Cinderella to Puss in Boots.
"The King's Balls get bigger every year!"
Amongst the supporting cast is Nicholas Courtney (better known to everyone as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), who gives a fantastic performance as Benny's cat, Wolsey. Big Finish mainstay Nicholas Briggs, along with Jo Castleton; Jonathan Brüün; and Mark Gatiss also manage to keep the panto versions of their characters fresh, enjoyable and fun.
Overall, this story is a great beginning to the many New Adventures adaptations and later original adventures that would follow from Big Finish Productions. Highly recommended.