Legion establishes a new set-up for the Bernice Summerfield range. Benny is now living on the planet Legion, the furthest planet out in the galaxy, joined by her new friend and pupil, Ruth. Legion is also home to Irving Braxiatel — but supposedly not the same Braxiatel who killed Benny’s lover using her son as a weapon — now a bar owner; one of his bartenders is Jack, the spring-heeled alien she met in the Epoch’s simulation of Victorian London. Plus, her son Peter is 18 now and working as Legion’s fearsome chief of security.
Aspects of it are vague. Who does Peter work for? Why is Jack even there? What is Braxiatel up to? Legion gives us three adventures on or near Legion, but it doesn’t really explore the characters or setting as much as it ought.
The exception to this is the first story, Tony Lee’s Vesuvius Falling. An ancient spaceship might crash into Legion City, so Peter taps an expert to help him investigate — the mother he’d really rather not talk to. It’s sort of a weird story; at first it seems to partake in that old trope of two men arguing over a dead woman, but then things get complicated, I think in an attempt to subvert that old trope. But I didn’t like either man, and some of the danger seemed contrived. But the story does make a good attempt to set up a dynamic between Benny and Peter. It’s not a dynamic I’m particularly into, though; I liked the bond that Benny and Peter built during Series Nine and Ten when they were on the run together, and now it’s been tossed aside in favour of a somewhat forced estrangement. (An explanation is eventually given in Everybody Loves Irving, but it beggars my belief still that after the Deindum War, Peter would fall in with Braxiatel of all people and not, say, his own dad!) Also (and this will be damning with faint praise), Vesuvius Falling is an actual story with conflict and stakes.
Shades of Gray would be a weird story in any context; it’s an especially weird one as the first adventure of our new adventuring trio of Benny, Ruth, and Jack. Benny’s been hired to recover an artefact from an old house outside Legion City; no-one ever bothers to explain why Jack would even be there. When they discover a weird painting, Jack sets up a séance to discover its provenance, and what we get are three flashbacks about Dorian Gray, starring Alexander Vlahos who would later star in Big Finish’s The Confessions of Dorian Gray range, produced by this story’s writer, Scott Handcock. Benny, Ruth, and Jack play the non-Dorian characters in the story’s vignettes, plus Richard Franklin appears. It has nothing to do with anything, it’s not really a story, and as part of our introduction to Legion, it’s exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.
I was looking forward to Everybody Loves Irving because it’s by Braxiatel himself, Miles Richardson, even though I think the range would have been better off taking a break from Brax for at least one series. However, the story is absolutely bizarre. Benny goes shopping with Brax… and that’s it. There’s no conflict, no stakes, nothing. I think it’s supposed to be a joke that Benny thinks something will go wrong and nothing does… but nothing going wrong is not sufficient substance for a 62-minute story! There are some good jokes (the people who come for Benny in her new base are pretty good) and hints at stories to come, but when I got to the end, I could not believe that was what I had listened to. Also, I really like Richardson as Brax, but he works best as a mixture of flamboyance and menace. With the new Braxiatel’s insistence that he’s a good guy, you’re left with just flamboyance, and it gets a bit tiring.
To be honest, I just don’t get what producer Gary Russell was thinking with this box set. Benny’s new status quo feels underexplored and underdeveloped (though I do like David Ames’s performance, I legitimately have no idea why Jack is suddenly part of Benny’s team) and two of the three stories here aren’t even stories. After Road Trip moved things in the right direction after Epoch, this is another misfire in the box set era of Bernice Summerfield.
Legion (by Tony Lee, Scott Handcock, Miles Richardson; starring Lisa Bowerman) was released by Big Finish Productions in September 2012.