The first series in the Bernice Summerfield range of audios was released by Big Finish Productions in 1998–2000 and marked the first commercially produced audios by Big Finish. The titular character of the range, Bernice Summerfield, was originally created by Paul Cornell for Virgin New Adventures novels. In contrast to the following seasons and, indeed, to most of the audios produced by Big Finish, the first series consisted of six adaptations, or "dramatisations" as they were called on the covers, of Virgin Bernice Summerfield New Adventures and some Virgin New Adventures (in the latter, the character of the Doctor had to be omitted or replaced). It was on the strength of these adaptations that Big Finish were granted a licence from the BBC to produce original Doctor Who audio dramas in 1999.
The season included 6 regular releases and one limited-edition bonus release. Three of the releases (3–5) formed the "Time Ring Trilogy". Lisa Bowerman was cast for the titular role of Benny and remained the only actress to embody the role for 20 years and counting. For supporting roles, Big Finish were able to secure the talents of several prominent actors of televised Doctor Who fame, including Colin Baker and Nicholas Courtney, best known as the Sixth Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart respectively. The producer Gary Russell had been even more recently involved in writing the novelisation of the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie. Nicholas Briggs, who directed several of the adaptations, came into the production with the fresh experience of making unlicensed Audio Visuals Doctor Who audios.
With all six regular stories being adaptations, their original authors were credited alongside Jacqueline Rayner, who "dramatised" all stories except for Beyond the Sun, which was adapted by its author Matt Jones. The bonus Buried Treasures release featured two original short stories by Rayner and Paul Cornell. These two stories held the distinction of being the first original stories recorded by Big Finish Productions, but were overtaken on the release stage by The Sirens of Time.
The first five regular releases were produced in two variants: on two cassettes or two CDs. Only Dragons' Wrath was squeezed into one CD, whereas the cassette format has been abandoned altogether. The bonus release was also distributed on a cassette or CD, but, being limited edition, has long been out of print and became a rarity. The cassette releases have been discontinued. As of March 2019[update], no stories from the season were available as downloads, making CD the only available format.
Apart from actors already known to Doctor Who fans, the series witnessed debuts of many actors who would later have an extensive career in Big Finish dramas and sometimes beyond. Mark Gatiss, Barnaby Edwards and Maggie Stables are all graduates of this season, to name just a few.
The production process was not yet completely stabilised sometimes causing significant delays. For instance, the problems with the recording studio and post-production for the sixth story Dragons' Wrath, adapted with all the others, resulted in a 12-month gap between the recording and the final release. But by the end of the season many recognisable fixtures of the series were already in place, including the "Professor Bernice Summerfield" logo by Paul Vyse and the music theme.
- Lisa Bowerman
- Nicholas Courtney
- Sophie Aldred
- Anneke Wills
- Elisabeth Sladen
- Colin Baker
- Stephen Fewell
- Richard Franklin
Aldred, Baker, Courtney, Franklin, Sladen and Wills were all known for their Doctor Who roles, which they would all eventually reprise in Big Finish audio dramas.
|1||Oh No It Isn't!||Paul Cornell and Jacqueline Rayner||Nicholas Briggs||September 1998||BFPCD1|
|2||Beyond the Sun||Matt Jones||Gary Russell||Jason Kane||BFPCD2|
|3||Walking to Babylon||Kate Orman and Jacqueline Rayner|
|4||Birthright||Nigel Robinson and Jacqueline Rayner||Nicholas Briggs||February 1999||BFPCD4|
|5||Just War||Lance Parkin and Jacqueline Rayner||See note||Jason Kane||August 1999||BFPCD5|
|6||Dragons' Wrath||Justin Richards and Jacqueline Rayner||Ed Salt||September 2000||BFPCD6|
Alongside Just War in August 1999, subscribers to the Time Ring Trilogy received an additional bonus release Buried Treasures with two original short stories:
|Making Myths||Jacqueline Rayner||Jason Haigh-Ellery|
The cover art for the season was heavily based on the book cover art of the adapted novels. The only exception was the cover for Walking to Babylon, which still represents the same scene as the book cover but drawn anew from a different angle.
Despite this uniform basic idea, the covers went through several styles during the season. The first two releases added the image of reclining Bernice Summerfield as drawn by Lee Sullivan overlayed in the bottom right corner of the cropped book cover. This image also formed the cover of the subscriber-only special release Buried Treasures.
For the releases 3–5, which form the "Time Ring Trilogy", the cover style was modified to include a ring motif. In addition to several typographical changes, photos of featured actors were placed on the cover.
Finally, the last, sixth regular release of the season saw the introduction of "Professor Bernice Summerfield" logo designed by Paul Vyse. It has become a standard fixture for the range and was even applied retroactively when the first five regular stories were rereleased. The placement of the logo in the top left corner required using mirror images for some of the covers. The Time Ring Trilogy retained its ring motif, but Sullivan's Benny was gone. With the hindsight of Jason Kane's role in the range, Stephen Fewell, the actor portraying him, was added as "starring" on the covers of stories he appeared in, whereas the authors of the original novels were removed.
to be added