Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield, known as 'Benny', is a fictional archaeologist born in the 26th Century. She was created by Paul Cornell in the Doctor Who novel Love and War, published by Virgin. She has appeared in over 50 Doctor Who novels1, 20 non-Who novels, also by Virgin, around 50 audio adventures by Big Finish2 and a series of Big Finish novels and short story collections. As such, she has one of the longest-running science fiction series in the world to her credit, yet remains virtually unknown outside Doctor Who fandom. At one point, official Benny merchandise was available, although this no longer appears to be the case.
Virgin had obtained a licence to print original fiction based on the then-defunct BBC TV series Doctor Who. They realised that there was a good possibility that if their range of novels was successful, the BBC would take them in-house rather than renewing the Virgin licence. Virgin therefore decided to introduce a character who would be able to support a novel line in her own right.
Author Paul Cornell took the name for this character from an old schoolfriend of his, and based her physically on the actress Lisa Bowerman, who had appeared3 in the final televised Doctor Who story, Survival.
Born in 2540, Bernice grew up in a galaxy dominated by the Dalek Wars, where mankind fought against the Dalek invasion of our galaxy. Her father, Isaac Summerfield, an Admiral in the Earth space fleet, was disgraced after fleeing a battle. Although he had never been seen again, Benny was strongly motivated during her early adventures by her beliefs that her father was still alive and was not a coward. Both these beliefs were revealed to be correct in the novel Return of the Living Dad. Bernice's mother Claire was killed when Bernice was young, dashing back into a Dalek air-raid to retrieve the infant Bernice's favourite doll. Guilt over this is another motivating factor for Bernice during her early novels.
Bernice was conscripted into the Earth military, but rebelled and went AWOL4, claiming false scientific credentials to join an archaeological expedition. She discovered that archaeology was her passion, and was engaged in field research when she met the Doctor. Despite claiming the academic title 'professor', she had no formal qualifications at this stage.
Cornell invented a number of engaging traits that help to give Benny a realistic presence in the novels. Benny is a heavy drinker, and is rarely without a hip-flask. She keeps a diary, but uses yellow Post-It notes to rewrite any part of her life that she feels uncomfortable with, writing a more acceptable version of her personal history over the truth, and only removing the sticky label when she feels able to cope with reality.
Benny also has a distinctive dry wit, a marked aversion to fascism, a fondness for dresses, and a developed sense of justice that makes her a suitable heroine in the Doctor Who mould5.
Although Benny has never expressed any religious beliefs, she uses the phrase 'Oh, Goddess!' as a mild expletive.
In such a lengthy oeuvre, involving so many authors, it is not surprising that many styles have been used, including historical fiction (e.g. Walking to Babylon) and comedy (e.g. Return to the Fractured Planet). However, the majority of the Benny solo adventures have been light-hearted space operas. Benny is typically menaced by forgotten alien civilisations, power-mad dictators or implausible invading alien races.
Character Development - The Doctor Who New Adventures
Benny features in the majority of the Virgin line of New Adventures. Very early in this series, she meets and falls in love with a medieval knight called Guy de Carnac, but he is killed. During this time, she resolves her father story arc and meets Jason Kane, a semi-vagrant space traveller from her own time whom she marries in the 50th New Adventure, Happy Endings, becoming Bernice Summerfield-Kane. The Kane/Summerfield marriage does not last, and the two are soon separated.
Benny leaves the Doctor to take up a position in the University of Dellah6, having finally studied to gain a genuine doctorate. She returns intermittently to the New Adventures range, notably including a single meeting with the eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, in The Dying Days, where it is implied that the two may have slept together.
Character Development - The New Adventures
Following the lapse of the agreement with the BBC, Virgin continued to publish its New Adventures range, without reference to any BBC-copyright characters. By this point, Benny has established a career as an acedemic, having finally obtained a genuine doctorate. Wolsey, the former TARDIS cat, has accompanied her.
Over the course of 22 books7, Bernice's life on Dellah is established and explored in some detail. The most significant development is her growing realisation that her relationship with Jason is far from over. Towards the end of the series, the University of Dellah is destroyed by the 'Dellan Gods' and Jason is lost in an alternate universe in the process of defeating them.
Several characters became mainstays of this series, including Clarence (formerly a warship battle-computer, now in the body of a winged angel), Jason (Benny's ex-husband), Irving Braxiatel (her wealthy sponsor) and Joseph, her spherical robotic assistant.
Character Development - The Big Finish Novels, Short Stories and Audio Adventures
As sales of the New Adventures declined, the rights to the character were picked up by Big Finish Productions, who already had a license from the BBC to produce audio-plays on CD featuring the Doctor. Big Finish launched both books and audio adventures for Benny. Stylistically, it's clear that the writers' brief uses words like 'rollicking'. Nevertheless, Big Finish's policy of primarily using established authors means that the quality of the Benny adventures compares favourably with that of their better-selling Doctor Who range.
The audio dramas were divided into 'seasons' much more explicitly than the Virgin novels were. There have been nine seasons of audios to date, with between four and eight stories in each and each story covering either one or two CDs.
Season One consisted of six stories adapted from the New Adventures and modified to varying degrees. Oh No It Isn't! launched the audio range, just as it had the Virgin book range, and required very little change; Birthright, on the other hand, required the writing out of the Doctor and the TARDIS, and a complete rewrite of the climax. The Big Finish book series started with a paperback collection of ten short stories, The Dead Men Diaries, notable mostly for its hints of a return by Jason.
From Season Two onwards, most dramas have been limited to one CD, and all are original. Books continue to be published, and continuity references are exchanged between the two media, making the 'correct' ordering confusing. To make matters worse, both the novels and the short story anthologies switched from paperback to the larger hardback format, with anthologies being numbered in Roman numerals and novels in Arabic.
By this point, Benny has relocated to become the archaeologist-in-residence at the Braxiatel Collection, an asteroid-based museum run by (and named after) her fantastically wealthy benefactor, Irving Braxiatel.
The first paperback novel, The Doomsday Manuscript, introduced a new adversary for Benny, the fascistic Fifth Axis. Later novels included Benny's pregnancy by Killoran8 construction worker Adrian Wall and Benny's reunion with Jason. The fifth and final Big Finish Benny paperback, The Glass Prison, features the birth of Benny's son Peter Guy Summerfield (named after her first romantic interest from the original novel line). Both Adrian and Peter would go on to become major recurring characters. In tribute to the end of Benny paperback fiction, the book also heavily features continuity references to all of Benny's eras.
Season Four involves the Braxiatel Collection being taken over by a newly regenerated Fifth Axis. This gives the opportunity for the standout short story collection Life During Wartime, as well as a return from Benny's father Isaac Summerfield and Benny's first encounter with the Daleks. The final CD of this season, Death and the Daleks, was originally titled Axis of Evil to conceal the presence of the Daleks; it was retitled shortly before its release.
Later seasons deal with the departure of Braxiatel from the Collection and its near-capture by the Draconians. When Brax returns in a villainous role, Benny leaves with her son Peter, continuing her adventures on a more nomadic basis. There are now over 30 Benny audios, with more being produced each year.