UNIT: Incursions – Starring Jemma Redgrave, Ingrid Oliver, Warren Brown, James Joyce & Alex Kingston. Written by Jonathan Morris, Lisa McMullin & Guy Adams. Directed by Ken Bentley – CD / Download (Big Finish)
This UNIT box set has a little something for almost everyone. Creepy alien threat resurrected from a Who release by the original author – check. Battle of potential miscommunication between enormously powerful aliens and the puny humans who stand for the Earth – check. Timey-wimey epic with the Doctor’s wife coming across the new UNIT – double-check, just to be safe.
It’s also got a brio and an energy in the writing which absolutely aims to take no prisoners. You’re coming along for the ride on this one. Strap in – it’s going to be a bumpy night.
Jonathan Morris is first out of the box with This Sleep Of Death, a sequel to Static, a story with which he terrified the socks off listeners to the Sixth Doctor Main Range. The Static are an unconventional enemy, and their delivery in this second script takes a fair amount of hardware to achieve, but Jonathan Morris gives us quite enough front-end threat and UNIT history to render them a convincing threat. When Kate Stewart starts to need people resurrected from their graves, you can be sure the world’s in trouble. Here though there are levels of crossing and double-crossing that might well make your head hurt, and the lines between duty, death and what comes next have never been more blurred, leading to an uncomfortable creepy feeling up your spine and an unavoidable shudder.
Lisa McMullin’s Tempest is something a bit different. Weaponised weather threatens the stability of the planet – plus, there’s a big drill! Who doesn’t love a big drill? Many, many species, it turns out, especially when it’s pointing at their heads. There’s a line drawn here between seeming mysticism – we’ve got a woman who talks to the wind in this story – ecological danger and prophecy, and the very real power of nature to humble humanity if we don’t listen to its warnings. There’s also a great line in Kate taking precisely no crap from anyone when her job of protecting the Earth, even from itself, is concerned, bringing the barnstorming best out of Jemma Redgrave. It’s a story that draws a stark contrast between those who care for people, however unconventional they might be, and those who are driven by profits for shareholders. That might be said to be traditional, with lines driven deep into Doctor Who history, but the ideas have seldom been as nakedly, straightforwardly put as it they are here. It’s almost a reflection of HG Wells’ idea of the human race evolving into two distinct types of creature – the passive Eloi and the aggressive Morlocks. Certainly, there’s a reflection of what feels increasingly like our divided planet in that notion, but, this being science fiction, the Eloi have help – the people-loving people have Kate and Osgood and Josh and Sam on hand to help unravel a climate catastrophe by thinking at it sideways, rather than allowing the continued activity that would bring about the end of the world.
Here’s hoping Lisa McMullin’s a bit of a prophet – and here’s to being more UNIT in our real lives.
And then – drum roll, please – there’s The Power of River Song, a two-part finale by Guy Adams.
On the one hand – and indeed, for the one episode – this is River Song giving of her Delgado Master, as the hidden-in-plain-sight head of a company promoting an energy revolution, coming up on UNIT’s radar and of course, coming up relatively blank, as though her history was an invention, even as her plans to Do Something Dodgy with the power become increasingly clear.
Episode two is pure New Who, with a paradox and a tragedy at its heart, River being more than meets the eye, and action that ranges from parallel potential realities to a big buggering space station, with space walking and alien zapping and a practical odd couple buddy movie, River Song, the Doctor’s wife teaming up with Petronella Osgood, arguably the Doctor’s biggest fan, and both of them having to work within what is essentially quite an uncomfortable dynamic. Guy Adams has proven himself a master of the complicated epic, and he brings that skill to the concluding story of the set in a way that, while it might fry your brain for a little while, is redolent with traditionally bonkers River Song action and yet makes room in the story for it to be first and foremost a UNIT story, with River Song in it, rather than, as is always the danger with a character like River, allowing her to take over the narrative entirely. Challenges from several of the UNIT crew, particularly Kate and Osgood, do the seemingly impossible here – they put River in her place, while still allowing her to be River.
Overall, while it’s not perhaps as all-guns-blazing as some of its predecessors, UNIT Incursions is never less than satisfying as it flits between its moods and themes, from ultra-creepy secrets in a UNIT vault to chatty winds and climate disasters, to the Pertwee-New Who two-part timey-wimey paradoxtastic finale. The Behind The Scenes interviews on this release reveal that after this set, the UNIT team are going off for some R&R for a while, to consider their strengths and weaknesses. On the basis of this set, it’s to be hoped they’re not on sabbatical for too long. Tony Fyler