The Heart’s Desire
by David Bailey and Neil Corry
The Heart’s Desire
Written by David Bailey and Neil Corry
Directed by Gary Russell
Post Production and Music by David Darlington

Lisa Bowerman (Professor Bernice Summerfield), Conrad Westmass (Raymond Hardy), Steven Bugdale (Barron), Lucy Beresford (Ms Topsy Turvé).

Christmas is a time for family, for feeling a bit sick after you’ve stuffed your face full of food, and for forcing a smile at the musical socks that Braxiatel thought would amuse you. It’s not a time for zipping halfway across the galaxy with the wafer-thin hope that you can save your home from being destroyed by a previously uncharted pulsar that’s heading your way.

And that’s pulsing a message in Morse Code.

Deciphering the message leads Bernice Summerfield to Marlowe’s World, a place where death is irrelevant even though it lies at every corner, where the wildlife is just sooo cute -- but lethal -- and, most important of all, where you must be very, very careful what you wish for...

  • This is the seventeenth audio in Big Finish’s new series of The Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.
  • Released: June 2005

  • ISBN: 1 84435 130 0
(drn: 56'56")

Benny travels to the planet Marlowe’s World on an urgent mission to save the Braxiatel Collection, but instead of being greeted at the spaceport by someone in authority, she is met by private investigator Raymond Hardy, apparently the only man on the planet who’s willing to take her story seriously and help her save planetoid KS-159. Hardy ushers Benny to his self-driving hover-car, and as they head for his office, Benny explains her problem: impossibly, a pulsar has appeared out of nowhere on a collision course for the Braxiatel Collection, and it’s pulsing the co-ordinates of Marlowe’s World in Morse code. Today is the day before Christmas, but the Collection will be destroyed for the holidays unless Benny, the only one of Braxiatel’s people close enough to reach Marlowe’s World before the disaster, can find out what’s going on. At the moment, she is unaware that someone else has noted her arrival: a gangster named Barron, who sends his gun moll, the curvaceous Topsy Turvé, to Hardy’s offices to create a distraction.

The hover-car behind Hardy suddenly begins ramming into his, and Benny realises that the driver appears to be possessed. Before Hardy can disengage his car’s automatic controls, another hover-car joins the attack, causing Hardy’s car to crash. He and Benny survive the crash, and flee from the wreckage as an unseen sniper begins to shoot at them. Hardy suggests that their attackers may be after him; he has a habit of sticking his nose into other people’s business, which is why he’s taken an interest in Benny’s unusual story. Before they can reach the safety of his offices, however, they stumble across a bank robbery in progress. The robbers, led by Barron, run out of the bank only to find that their getaway car isn’t where they left it, and head straight for the car behind which Benny and Hardy are hiding. Instead of fleeing to safety, Hardy breaks into the car and rewires its computer core to believe that he is its rightful owner. The cops then arrive on the scene, and despite Benny’s protests, they open fire on Barron and his minions and kill them, nearly catching Benny in the crossfire.

Benny spends the next two hours giving her report to the police, and then accompanies Hardy to his office; however, since it seems that he’s been targeted for death, he now intends to skip the city and leave Benny to her own devices. He does offer to help her contact people in authority, but is distracted when they enter his office to find Topsy Turvé waiting for him. She claims to be the assistant of the famed illusionist known as the Dazzling Darren, third-place finisher in the fourth series of So You Want to Revive a Flagging Career, and, more importantly, the wife of the notorious gangster Maximillian “One-Eyed Mad Max” Katschovsky. She has been having an affair with Darren, but her husband has found out and killed Darren. She asks Hardy to protect her, but he explains that he too has been targeted for death; thus, hiring him would place Topsy in double danger. He ushers Topsy out of his office, but is aware that she was sent to him as a distraction -- and quietly comments that his opponent will have to do much better than that.

Moments later, Benny and Hardy hear a loud crash and a high-pitched shriek, and rush out of the office to find that Topsy has nearly been crushed by a falling piano. Hardy flounders for an explanation for a moment but then reveals that there’s a music school four storeys above his office; however, Benny is still suspicious of the bizarre “accident.” At that moment, someone arrives and opens fire on them all, and Benny recognises him as Barron, the man she saw killed by police outside the bank. She and Topsy flee while Hardy shoots Barron dead -- again -- but Benny realises that something odd is going on and orders Topsy to drive her away, leaving Hardy behind. Alone, Hardy drops his gumshoe demeanour and warns Barron that turning up alive after being shot dead almost gave the game away. Barron is confident that Benny will work out the truth, but Hardy is equally confident that she’s too concerned about her home to consider anything else. Nevertheless, he warns Barron not to make the contest too easy for Benny, or Hardy will consider that cheating.

As Benny tries to work out what’s happening to her, Topsy’s car approaches a traffic jam and a chanting mob of possessed citizens approaches the car, intending to kill them both. On Benny’s instructions, Topsy overrides her car’s safety protocols and orders it to lift over the heads of the mob; however, as before, other cars begin to ram into them, forcing their car to crash. Benny and Topsy flee into the Central Animal Preserve, but the mob is hot on their heels, and Benny isn’t getting the chance she needs to calm down and think things through. She does, however, note that Topsy doesn’t seem to have been affected by whatever has turned the people of Marlowe’s World into raving lunatics.

Benny and Topsy try hiding from the mob in the zeffalump enclosure, but the zeffalumps, apparently panicked by this break in their routine, break into a stampede. The women must flee again, and this time, they shelter in the birdhouse. Elsewhere, Hardy protests that Barron is making it far too easy for Benny to realise the truth; nevertheless, she is still just reacting to events rather than using her intelligence, and it seems that Hardy will win his wager after all. However, Barron pushes things even further, driving the birds to attack Benny and Topsy. The women flee from the birdhouse only to find themselves surrounded by the angry mob as well as enraged zoo animals: frions, zigers and zebears. Benny leads Topsy into the Cute Little Mammal House, but even there, the crazed lambsters, zerbils and deercats begin to throw themselves at the glass walls of their cages, trying to get at the women. Finally, the absurdity of the situation becomes too much for Benny, and despite Topsy’s apparent confusion, Benny bursts out laughing and announces that she’s not playing this stupid game any more.

This is just what Barron has been waiting to hear. Suddenly, Benny is no longer in the zoo but is facing Hardy and Barron, who are arguing over the outcome of the contest. Barron insists that he won fair and square, but Hardy claims that the ridiculous events that he contrived made it too easy for Benny to work out that this was all an illusion. Frustrated, Benny reveals that she guessed something was wrong back when Hardy referred to her home as planetoid KS-159; even when they contacted the emergency services, they only referred to the asteroid as the Braxiatel Collection. Barron compliments her on her insight, but in a very patronising manner, and Benny learns that he and Hardy are Eternals, immortals who regard the ephemeral mortals of the Universe as their playthings.

For centuries, Barron and Hardy have been duelling for possession of a shard of the crystal known as Enlightenment, which gives its owner power over all creation. Hardy currently possesses the Enlightenment, and he has used it to create Marlowe’s World and move its people around like puppets. For centuries, Barron has been selecting ephemeral champions from across time and space and challenging them to discover the truth about Marlowe’s World; until now, they have all failed and ended up trapped on Marlowe’s World as Hardy’s playthings. Now that Benny has won, Barron insists that Hardy hand over the crystal shard. Hardy refuses, and Barron thus draws a gun out of thin air and shoots him -- and to Hardy’s shock, he discovers that he’s been a part of his own creation for so long that he now lives by its rules and has become mortal. Barron realised this long ago, but could do nothing with the knowledge until he’d won the game and Hardy had revealed the location of the Enlightenment. Before Barron can grab his prize, however, Benny snatches the shard out of the dying Hardy’s hands.

Barron shoots Benny, but to no avail, as she has used the Enlightenment to wish herself invulnerable to harm. She’s had enough of being used as a pawn by crazed super-beings, and before Barron can stop her, she wishes that, just for once, she could live an ordinary, normal life. Her wish immediately comes true, and she becomes an ordinary housewife in a council estate, with no memory of her other life. She takes care of her baby son, Peter, makes iced buns for the residents’ association, and gossips with her friend Topsy about the neighbours -- but then Barron bursts into her flat in a blaze of gunfire, demanding to know where Benny has hidden the Enlightenment. The terrified housewife has no idea what he’s talking about, even when he guns down Topsy before her eyes; however, when he threatens to shoot her child, she becomes a protective, spitting fury -- and in her rage, she starts to remember her other life.

Before she can answer Barron’s question, Hardy bursts into the room in the guise of her husband, Jason, shoots Barron and insists that Benny use her powers to take them somewhere safe. She is shocked and confused, particularly when her “husband” insists that they leave their baby behind; nevertheless, he calms her down and urges her to think of the one place where she feels really safe. She finds herself in a strange room, like something from another life, but tries to resist these strange memories, insisting that she has a real life to get back to, with friends, family and a child who loves her. Hardy again tries to soothe her, telling her that she has the power to wish for whatever she wants; all she has to do is will herself to the safe place, and she and her husband can be together forever, with no fear that Barron will track them down. But Benny recognises that she’s being played, and with some effort, she puts aside her fantasy life and wishes herself back aboard her shuttle.

Barron scoffs when Benny uses the infinite power at her disposal to return to the pulsar that threatens her mortal home with destruction. However, he becomes much less arrogant when she threatens to smash the crystal, or perhaps to use its powers to destroy him. Hardy arrives in the shuttle as well, explaining that, when he was shot, all of his creations were destroyed, including his subconscious belief in his own mortality. The pulsar still exists because it’s not Hardy’s creation, but Barron’s; it was an opening gambit designed to get Benny to Marlowe’s World, and the Braxiatel Collection would merely have been collateral damage in their pointless game. Disgusted, Benny uses the power of the Enlightenment to unmake the pulsar and put all her friends back on the Collection where she belong. Then, once everything is back to normal, she tosses the crystal shard out of the airlock.

Barron and Hardy laugh at her foolishness and prepare to step out of the ship to reclaim the crystal... only to find that they can’t. Before Benny gave up the power of Enlightenment, she used it to make them both mortal. They are now unable to step out into the vacuum of space to collect the crystal -- and no doubt another of their kind will already have found it and taken it for themselves. Benny tells the enraged mortals that they’ll now learn how pointless ultimate power really is, as they live out the rest of their mortal lives. As Hardy and Barron start blaming each other for this disaster, Benny sets course for the Collection, noting that it’s now past midnight... which means that today is Christmas Day, a day that Barron and Hardy regard as meaningless, but that Benny regards as special -- just like every other day in her ephemeral but meaningful existence.

Source: Cameron Dixon

Continuity Notes:
  • A P.A. announcement in the Marlowe’s World spaceport announces the departure of a flight to Stella Stora, the location of an unrecorded Sixth Doctor adventure mentioned in Terror of the Vervoids and Davros.
  • Benny recalls facing an angry mob at a veterans’ convention on Mars, in Beige Planet Mars.
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