Monday 30 November 2015

UNIT - Extinction

One of the most affectionately remembered groupings from “classic” Doctor Who was the UNIT “family”: The Doctor, Jo Grant, The Brigadier, Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton – they had a real camaraderie – likeable believable characters fighting off the unlikeable, the unbelievable and the incomprehensible!
I make absolutely no apologies for the fact that I am a massive fan of “New Who” (actually after 10 years, is it still new?) but my one bugbear (apart from the casting of Matt Smith!) was that UNIT just wasn’t done right. Or maybe it was done too right. Gone were the cosy old days where a scientist, a dippy girl, three soldiers and a load of extras in uniform would save the world – UNIT in the new Who world were a lean mean military machine – a very corporate, soulless outfit, led on screen by a collection of bland soulless Colonels and Captains. Even the addition of former companion Martha Jones to the ranks of UNIT didn’t humanise it nearly enough. Yes UNIT had become a modern efficient paramilitary force. And then one day in September 2012 all that changed with the introduction of Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart. UNIT were still a modern paramilitary force, but they had a face, a heart and a soul, for Kate was the daughter of the late great Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Adding Ingrid Oliver as Osgood into the mix a year later, and finally New Who had a New UNIT “family”.
It is amazing just how popular Kate and Osgood have become with fans – they have only appeared in a handful of episodes but they already feel like part of the makeup of modern Doctor Who and it is already difficult to envisage UNIT without them.
So imagine how thrilled I was when it was announced that Big Finish had the New Series Licence and that their first foray into this world was a UNIT Box Set featuring Kate and Osgood.
But it’s not just Kate and Osgood, they have their own “family”: Warren Brown as Lieutenant Sam Bishop, Ramon Tikaram as Colonel Shindi and James Joyce as Captain Josh Carter, and this first box set sees them face off against The Nestene Consciousness.
 As is the form with Box Set releases, this one is split into four interlinked parts:
Vanguard by Matt Fitton
This one sets the tone for the series – it is grand and epic in scale and almost has the feel of a Bond film. It introduces the villain of the piece Simon Devlin (Steve John Shepherd) a billionaire semi reclusive head of Devlin Future Tech who has developed a revolutionary 3D Printer which his corporation is almost giving away…
Add to the mix Tracy Wiles as Jacqui McGee, an undercover journalist and mysterious objects falling to earth and you have the beginnings of a global thriller of epic proportions.
Earthfall by Andrew Smith
 This story really gives Ingrid Oliver the chance to shine as Osgood – because in this part Osgood is sent on a field mission.
I love Osgood, she is fast becoming one of my favourite characters in Doctor Who, and it is lovely to get to know her character a bit better. She is a scientist, not a field operative, yet in this episode we see she is more than just glasses and an inhaler. She, along with Sam Bishop, are sent to the Gobi Desert to retrieve the Nestene swarm leader unit, but they are not alone, the Autons are also looking for it…
The great thing about audio drama is the scale, an almost limitless budget of the imagination – and the soundscapes created here transported me right into the middle of the search for the energy unit. This one is pure adrenalin, after the measured episode one, the clock really is ticking, the sense of urgency is palpable.
Bridgehead by Andrew Smith
This is it, this is where it all “kicks off” (to coin a phrase), all the pieces put in place in episode one and two pay off and the invasion begins. Josh is undercover at Devlin Futuretech as the Nestene plan is revealed. There are some genuinely disturbing body horror moments in this episode – several very David Cronenberg moments when Josh is captured and subjected to, well, I will let you find that out for yourselves – but it really isn’t pleasant.
The story is really fast-paced helped along by the new Who story telling trait of rolling news coverage – this gives the Nestene threat a really global scale and instills the production with a sense of urgency and danger.
Armageddon by Matt Fitton
A truly epic finale sees Osgood paired with Jacqui and Kate with Colonel Shindi as they both try to come up with solutions to the Nestene Invasion. Rolling news again forms the backdrop to the storytelling with news of pitched battles in the major cities of the world, of humans being rounded up by Autons and of desperate resistance to the invasion.
The story is very UNIT – in fact in structure it is quite similar to the original UNIT story, The Invasion. Head of corporation allied with aliens, starts off as a thriller and turns into a high octane action movie with lots of explosions, the world saved by a combination of science and military might. Yes indeed it is a classic UNIT story. My one gripe is this – I worked out after a few minutes of episode one how the invasion was going to be staged, but it came as a surprise to the characters when it happened (not wanting to give spoilers away), now this may be because I was 1. aware who the enemy was, and 2. because I have seen all the Auton episodes on TV and obviously the characters have not – still, they would have surely been aware as characters of previous Nestene incursions, or at least had a chance to view files…
I am sounding like a real nit-picker, but it really did bother me. But that is only one little thing in an otherwise marvellous box set. The acting, the sound design, the pacing, are all excellent. Jemma Redgrave is her usual Kate, unassuming on the surface with a keen mind, Ingrid Oliver continues to charm as Osgood, and newcomers Ramon Tikaram, Warren Brown and James Joyce give head, heart and soul to the proceedings. Steve John Shepherd as Simon Devlin comes across as evil, but also tragic (as all the best villains do), the way he was brought under the influence of the Nestene is shocking and gruesome and Nick Briggs gives us a truly frightening Nestene voice.
So a strong start to hopefully a long running series of new UNIT stories. It’s nice to see what Kate and Osgood can do when the Doctor isn’t there to save the world, and judging by this box set, they do a pretty good job.

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