Lisa Bowerman originally appeared in the final adventure of Doctor Who’s original 1963-1989 run, Survival, and since then she has been pretty much tied to the Whoniverse, most notably as the audio incarnation of the Virgin New Adventures companion Bernice Summerfield.
Now in its tenth season, the Bernice Summerfield Adventures predate Big Finish’ Doctor Who adventures – meanwhile Lisa has branched out into directing plays across the range from Sapphire and Steel to various Doctor Who productions.
I caught up with Lisa a couple of months ago and we began by discussing her work with Big Finish, beginning with the long-running Bernice Summerfield Adventures.
“Well this is the tenth series! Technically it’s been going for 11 years and this time we recorded them in a block at the end of last year. There’s a little bit of a story arc to it but not so tight you need to know 100% of the detail from previous series.”
You’ve got some well-regarded scriptwriters once again I see.
“The first one is Glory Days by Nick Wallace and that’s like a bank heist, we’ve also got a few of the regular cast of the last few years who are back for Glory Days. If you’re doing a long running series it’s good to have a few jumping on points!
“The second one is Absence by Daniel O’Mahony who has written some very good scripts for the Benny series. Absence is centred around Benny and her son Peter who goes on expedition to the centre of the Earth, and it centres on how Benny deals with that and reintroduces the narrative device of Benny’s Diary.
“Venus Mantrap is by Lance Parkin and his writing partner Mark Clapham, it’s a good old adventure in which Benny follows up some of the shenanigans her husband has been up to – it turns out his money came from nefarious activities, and deals with – as they say – “adult themes”!
“Secret Origins by Eddie Robson is a good old fashioned adventure in which she has to find out who the nemesis is. Doug Bradley is in it, who I’ve known for years and who played Pinhead in the Hellraiser movies!”
And you’ve got Adrian Salmon illustrating the covers again I believe?
“He did the vast majority of covers from season 2 and permanently on from season 3. The colours, everything it is a very graphic, not a conventional comic look. Of course it’s all difficult but when it comes to portraying a character who’s been around for some time; when Adrian came along it was a little like me and little like the other artwork, I think he trod the line wonderfully.
“Simon Guerrier, when he was leaving as producer, asked me what my favourite cover was and he got me Adrian’s original artwork and he and Adrian signed it and I have it hanging in my kitchen! Of course it was black and white because they colour it on the computer. It’s pretty good stuff, it’s great!”
Now the process of recording; how does that work? Is it all in one go, over a couple of days or a few weeks?
“We used to record over the course of a few months but this time did them all over the course of a couple of days in 2 blocks within a month. John Ainsworth directed all of them and he’s on board as executive producer.”
They’ve done a good job over the years haven’t they?
“Big Finish has succeeded well in keeping Benny afloat and they’ve been really clever in reinventing her, bringing different story types and so on.
“Paul Cornell created such an extraordinary character, it’s a bit of a shame she’s still considered a niche – you know, she’s stood on her own feet for so long, its succeeded and it’s testimony to the strength of the character. I’m always keen to stress to people who have only encountered Benny in the novels, she’s grown and her character traits have been picked up in other series – you’ve got the archaeologist in Primeval (Juliet Aubrey’s character Helen Cutter), or River Song in Doctor Who. Of course she also predates Lara Croft which I think is interesting and you could argue she’s the blueprint for all of these strong female adventurers.”
Of course, Lara Croft appeared in 1996 and Benny’s first appearance in Love and War (the ninth release in the Virgin New Adventures range) was a few years before that.
“Love and War was the first in 1993, I think she’s been going 16 or 17 years now. I found on some internet site that she’s one of the longest running ongoing characters out there. She’s way beyond a spinoff niche now – she’s pretty buoyant and I’m delighted! Big Finish could have dropped her like a stone when they got the Doctor Who licence and they didn’t, and I’ve got Gary Russell to thank for that as he had faith in the character.”
You’re naturally very fond of Benny as well…
“I think once you play a part for a certain time you take possession and as an actor. You take great care in what happens to the character, you have a vested interest but also a sense of responsibility to the character and don’t want to see her going in odd directions.”
I’ve long thought that Bernice Summerfield would work well as a TV adventure series.
“I am of course extraordinarily biased and will say yes, of course she can. The irony and frustration is she was probably first on the block – now the character of archaeologists in whatever context is quite a well-trodden character.”
The idea of her turning up in Doctor Who is quite popular among some fans…
“I think it would be good to put all the canon stuff to bed and have her as a one off character.”
Look out for the second part of this interview later in the week, in which Lisa gets rightly passionate about the treatment of older actors and actresses and the state of TV drama…