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'The Plague Herds of Excelis'

CD audio Bernice Summerfield adventure released July 2002. 1 episode.

Writer: Stephen Cole
Director: John Ainsworth

Roots: Alien ('in space I can't hear him screaming'). The New Testament (many of Snyper's sayings recall those of John the Baptist, 'I am truth and I am light'), The Goodies ('Ecky thump!'), the second Crusade featured dead animals (and fallen soldiers) catapulted into enemy strongholds to spread contagion and destroy morale. Star Trek (cloaking device).

Intertextuality: This story follows the Big Finish Bernice Summerfield novel The Glass Prison and makes mention of Bernice's son Peter and the Axis Forces.

Goofs: Aragon says the Barbarians have been laying siege for three months, then later for a year.

Double Entendres: 'Iris Wildthyme - I bet that's a made up name'

'I'm no agent, if anything, I'm the star.'

'Have you met the rest of our audience?'

'You and I both know the universe is full of old Queens.'

Dialogue Triumphs: 'I'm going to effect a daring rescue!'

'I've got a kid back home.' '-Well, that can be an adventure too.'

'Oh great, he can fly. Now he can dump on us from a great height all over again.'

'We can only ever do what we think is right, Bernice, especially once we've realised what it is that's wrong.'

Iris on the Doctor: 'Know him? I've 'ad him!'

Dialogue Disasters: 'I'm not having some vampire cow nibbling at my neck.'

'More old ham, on the bone.'

Continuity: A long time ago in Excelis' past there was a near immortal Queen, the supreme ruler of the most fanatically warlike race imaginable, keeping on the move so as to not have a home world to be attacked. As time passed she grew more and more concerned for her survival, changed her ways (possibly got religion or Hormone Replacement Therapy, according to Iris) and brokered for peace. From that time on, she continues to travel from planet to planet, but only to show off her royal presence. Every time her craft approaches a new planet, she projects the image of a large battle fleet onto the sun (making it appear as if the sun was being eaten) as a warning and conducts a sensor sweep (resembling black lightning) to ensure there is no advanced technology to threaten her.

Understandably, not everyone wants her peace. An unnamed insectoid race that had been nearly obliterated by her created a weapon that could destroy her. The object was created in a form that would draw the attention of a 'mediator' who might put it into position, in this case a gold lamé handbag to appeal to Iris Wildthyme. 'Brainwashing' her (most likely by chatting her up, getting her drunk and mind probing her), the people had Iris take the Relic to Artaris a long time into its past, knowing that years later the Queen would pass by. It was given the power to influence men, to be attracted to those who would guard it, ensuring its survival through the ages. At the appropriate moment, it would channel the black lightning into the person holding it as a weapon. A split would open in the floor of the ancient Relic Chamber in the palace of Excelis for the Relic, and the Relic would be placed for the final moment. At that point, only those with a connection to the Relic could remove it. Upon the death of the last person on Artaris, the world, an organic bomb with the humans as a fuse and the Relic as the trigger mechanism, would explode, taking the Queen with it.

Sister Joelene is a representative of the insectoid race along with Snyper. In this instance the Little Sisters of Excelis were used to arrange for the Relic's initial safety, preparing its chamber atop Mount Excelis in their nunnery. On Artaris, the Relic gathered human souls near it, storing them until their release by war ('Excelis Decays'), upsetting the balance between the dead and the living, setting off the 'final phase'. The taking of the Relic from the Zombies annihilated them; it was the first of many acts of evil in the Relic's name.

The city of Excelis is now no more than a walled village huddled around a palace, which was built on the old nunnery. Empress Vitutia has now been ruling for eight years. She does without the trappings of wealth, all of it having been bartered away by her ancestors. Due to past emperors bringing ruin upon the city, the people are now not willing to follow rulers blindly. The ruler of Excelis (Empress or Emperor) must justify his or her reign every year at Season's End on the Trial Plateau of Excelis, also known as the Plane of Justice. They are usually tested by the Representative of the People, leader of the People's Senate. The surviving Excelans prove to be somewhat prudish, suspecting outsiders of being barbarians. The texts of the Sisters said that only here would the land be farmable. There is a prophecy of the sun being eaten - the Relic's 'sun symbol' (on its clasp) is therefore an image of an eclipse.

Snyper is the last of the insectoid race, having come from the future to the moment of the Queen's arrival in the Artaran System to ensure the Relic's purpose is fulfilled. He can assume human form, and became a prophet ( easy when you know what's going to happen). He developed a viral plague to kill all on Excelis, and has a resistance to it, but not in his insectoid form. He also has a potion to enable him to resist being burnt. Snyper can animate dead animals by thought control. He knows how to destroy Braxiatel's shuttle and reprogram Iris' bus. He killed off everyone else on Artaris to hasten the Relic's countdown, creating machines to continue the siege on Excelis. He uses a secret passageway to leave the city of Excelis. Sister Joelene used the life-extending techniques she learnt from the Zombies to survive to see the end, monitoring the path of the Relic [and joining with Snyper].

Drinks on Artaris consist of Old Mauldin, advocat, brandy and Snowball (-ish).

Unlike Irving Braxiatel's other shuttles, his personal one has padded seats, a movie library, the collection of rare Dilonian wall paintings that move in sympathy with the motion of the shuttle, a jacuzzi (which he claims he doesn't have) and 'stealth mode'.

Iris Wildthyme has a cigarette lighter in the shape of a gun, and a set of skeleton keys. She smokes slim Panatella cigarettes (her lungs have breathed in a lot worse than the plague) and thinks she wants the Relic to go with a fabulous dress she's brought. She is dressed in rags from the Plague House laundry. She knows a bored frustrated adventuress when she sees one. Her bus is a 1973 Vintage Routemaster made in Camberwell, with a few minor modifications; it has an auto-system shutdown timer and can become invisible via a cloaking device. Iris never got hold of a working dimensional stabiliser. She has 'had' the Doctor - he's her fancy man.

These days Benny does little other than run away. She hasn't slept for six nights straight. She's let herself get into some demanding situations before.

Location: Excelis, Artaris, in the Artaran system. 2601 Humanian Era.

Links: 'Excelis Dawns' (Sister Joelene, the zombies), 'Excelis Decays' (the war, the 'floating cities' mentioned by Aragon featured in the original script).

Untelevised Adventures: If Iris is to be believed, the Doctor nearly was the one to broker the Queen's peace, but had to pull out due to an ear infection.

The Bottom Line: 'I didn't spring from nuclear war, I came on the bus!'

Touted as a coda, but in fact something quite different, 'Plague Herds' puts a new spin on the story of Iris Wildthyme and the Relic devoid of Grayvorn. The great thing about this is that the story can be appreciated by any listener, whether they know the rest of the 'Excelis' series or not, even if they've not heard a Benny Summerfield audio before. Entertaining, witty and with a few interesting twists along the way, this is Cole's best audio to date. Performances and direction are solid throughout, but it's the coupling of Benny and Iris which gives the story its style.


Due to Excelis being a largely self-enclosed story, it is difficult to place in the wider context of the history of the Universe. However, 'The Plague Herds of Excelis' is a great help as the dates of Professor Bernice Summerfield stories are well known in the Big Finish universe. Given that events of Big Finish book The Doomsday Manuscript occur just after the start of 2600 (Humanarian era) and The Glass Prison occurs near the end of 2600, 'The Plague Herds of Excelis', chronologically the next adventure (but one), therefore occurs in 2601, and from here the other Excelis stories can be dated. 'Excelis Rising' takes place 'a thousand years' after 'Excelis Dawns'. 'Excelis Decays' claims the Relic was brought to Artaris 1300 years ago, which makes no sense given that the Relic had been on Artaris for 'thousands of years' by that point, but we can use that for the gap between Excelis Dawns and Excelis Decays. The main task is trying to place the Excelis Trilogy relative to The Plague Herds of Excelis. Empress Vitutia talks of her forefathers and her ancestors as having technology, and yet the people know of technology and electricity. 300 years is a reasonable time period for events to evolve over. Thus, we can now give this brief history of Excelis:

'Aeons ago'
The Relic is brought to Artaris by Iris Wildthyme.
'Excelis Dawns'. Grayvorn is Warlord of the First Rank
Grayvorn becomes a Warden when Reeves are established and adopts the identity of Reeve Maupassant
'Excelis Rising'.
Grayvorn escapes his entrapment in the Imperial Museum, taking over someone else's body and [presumably] becomes Lord Vorn Sutton.
The Imperial family is killed, Excelis becomes a totalitarian state 'almost overnight'.
'Excelis Decays'. Grayvorn and Excelis destroyed.
'The Plague Herds of Excelis'

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