Review by Jacob Licklider
There is something interesting about the way UNIT: Nemesis has been developing. The first set was quite a nice surprise with an introduction to the basic players and what makes them work. It was also good to see Kate and Osgood given more in depth characterisation than anything that Steven Moffat gave them. UNIT Nemesis: Agents of the Vulpreen moves beyond setting the stage and characters, giving us a look into what the four set miniseries is actually trying to accomplish and the story it is trying to tell. This is essentially UNIT’s chance to prove itself at thwarting a large alien conspiracy to invade the Earth, this set seeing the preliminary invasion being the main thrust of the story. It picks up from Between Two Worlds and explores what the ark is, what the Eleven was doing, and what happens to the captured Jacqui McGee who almost immediately returns in the first episode. It’s somehow a more focused set than Between Two Worlds as well, with only one episode feeling as if it is more of a diversion from what the set as a whole is attempting to accomplish for the furthering of the Nemesis story arc. The nemesis of the title is heavily implied to be the Eleven, who has his presence somehow increased here despite being in quite a lot of the first set.
The opening story, The Man from Gallifrey, for instance is integral to explaining to the audience and to a lesser extent the characters, where the Eleven was before Between Two Worlds, which is how the episode opens. Andrew Smith sets the scene with an agent of the Celestial Intervention Agency having trapped the Eleven between an arch that will take him to an unknown location, revealed to be the Vulpreen homeworld, or simply allow himself to be killed by a flow of lava. Glen McCready plays Hasper here, as well as doubling as some of the Vulpreen later, but this performance is suave and sinister. Hasper appears on Earth with Kate Stewart and army Lt. Jimmy Tan at a scientific demonstration for new advances in space travel which goes awry, and he is incredibly charming throughout. Tan, played by Chris Lew Kum Hoi, is a new regular for UNIT, being introduced as another gateway character from the normal army being exposed to alien incursions, and while he is a lot of fun, there isn’t enough in this story or the box set that fleshes him out, but that can be rectified in the next two sets. Smith never reveals what Hasper did to the Eleven, but there is some sympathy for the character. Of course, Mark Bonnar as the Eleven is still the evil, psychopathic Time Lord responsible for several deaths and is in UNIT custody, but in custody he is still a danger. Now this plot-line, while presented as the A storyline, feels more subservient to the B plot of Jacqui McGee, played by Tracy Wiles, being brainwashed and tortured into serving the Vulpreen, now and always. Wiles sells the plot-line with the pain and uncertainty in what is real and Jacqui will be allowed to live. Varlis and Orgus, played by Alisdair Simpson and David Holt respectively, are the terrifying torturers who bring her to a brink. It’s a good start to things.
Power of the Dominators brings new writer Kenneth Grant to Big Finish Productions with an utterly insane first story. As the title implies, this brings back the Dominators and the Quarks (the Dominators being played by Gareth Armstrong and Andrew James Spooner and the Quarks played by Beth Chalmers) and insanity ensues. This is basically another style of the suburbs are full of horrors beyond the imagination which has been done before but dropping the Dominators as the horrors beyond the imagination, Grant’s script becomes something so incredibly funny. It becomes even more enjoyable when it becomes a vehicle for Harry Sullivan and Naomi Cross, played perfectly by Christopher Naylor and Eleanor Crooks, with Ingrid Oliver’s Osgood feeling like the voice of scientific reason. Naylor’s performance as Harry is once again comparable to Jon Culshaw’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and his old-fashioned nature here kind of works with the absurdity of the Dominators. If anything Jemma Redgrave as Kate is pushed to the background as this isn’t really her story, it’s Osgood who reprograms a Quark which allows for the solution. Grant also doesn’t try to make the Dominators or Quarks threatening, and the vocal effects on Beth Chalmers’ voice are a large improvement over the original Quark Voices by Sheila Grant which were generally impossible to make out. It also does the thing of having one of the cute evil aliens become good like in The Web Planet and The Web of Fear which isn’t a lot but it’s interesting that it’s happened twice.
The next installment feels almost like a backdoor pilot to Big Finish’s next UNIT series exploring the UNIT of the 1990s/early 2000s as seen in Battlefield and Animal. The War Factory is one that involves the Eleven and the Vulpreen causing several instances of temporal disturbance bring different time periods together including Brigadier Winifred Bambera, played by Angela Bruce. Author Lizzie Hopley uses this as a great opportunity to look at how UNIT has evolved as with Bambera’s UNIT it is still very much a military operation while UNIT under Kate Stewart has more of a focus on science. Hopley is also interesting in her scripting process as she doesn’t really make it a competition of which approach is better, as both have their uses. Bruce is wonderful as another voice of authority and a reminder of what other uses UNIT has and what it can be. Sadly, Hopley’s story feels mostly like set up for the finale in quite a few ways which means it doesn’t exactly stand on its own and while the temporal disturbances are dealt with really well in a really clever way, it doesn’t feel like the episode is over.
The set concludes with Ten Minutes in Hell by John Dorney which plays around with both sides of the arch, having Kate Stewart captured by the Vulpreen, Osgood going through and only having ten minutes of Earth time (which is seven hours on the Vulpreen world) to rescue her, and UNIT on the other side ready to close the portal early for the safety of the world. Jemma Redgrave, after three episodes without much focus on her character, is the star of this episode and kills it. Kate is captured and continuously tortured, refusing to break and give up any information on UNIT or the Earth, all the while stoking the flames of rebellion with other Vulpreen which is a difficult task. John Dorney’s writing and Ken Bentley’s direction really bring out performances of desperation which doesn’t end when the story concludes with a “happy” ending, with one final twist setting up the next set in the series.
UNIT Nemesis: Agents of the Vulpreen goes a long way to flesh out the world and conflict of the UNIT Nemesis miniseries which wasn’t as set up with Between Two Worlds. Smith, Grant, Hopley, and Dorney all provide strong scripts with very different but complementary feels to their episodes which bring up the perfect threat and more exploration of the UNIT characters than television ever did, plus plenty of new characters from the previous sets. 8/10.
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