Review by Jacob Licklider
As Big Finish retired their 16 episode miniseries for the Eighth Doctor, late 2021 saw the start of UNIT: Nemesis, a revival of their New Series UNIT range specifically chronicling an escalating threat to the planet Earth in the present day. Between Two Worlds began the miniseries by setting up the threat of the Eleven and the arches, Agents of the Vulpreen chronicled the first bouts of violence between Earth and the Vulpreen, and now we have Objective: Earth setting up the conflict for a final resolution in the fourth set.
Objective: Earth is the first set to really feel like the focus is heading towards an endgame, Between Two Worlds was fairly episodic, Agents of the Vulpreen had an arc but the middle installments pushed it to the background. This set, on the other hand, has each episode actively driving forward the arc, starting after Ten Minutes in Hell, picking up on the immediate plot threads and building through each of the four episodes before ending with the Vulpreen in a position of power above UNIT and allying themselves with a powerful enemy that will be the focus of the fourth set. Because of this as I go through each of the four episodes, there will be some minor spoilers for each episode as they are relevant as well as major unavoidable stories for the second episode’s climax and plot twist. Read on at your own peril!
Andrew Smith once again opens the set with The VulpreenEncounter a story that splits the UNIT team into essentially two groups. Osgood and Lt. Jimmy Tan, played by Ingrid Oliver and Chris Lew Kum Hoi respectively, are on the Starseekerinvestigating an asteroid which is quite large and has been on a collision course with Earth while Kate Stewart, played by Jemma Redgrave, has gone to Norway to check in with Jacqui McGee, played by Tracy Wiles, who has been recovering from her brainwashing by the Vulpreen. These two plot threads eventually converge as the Vulpreen are in fact behind the asteroid, and their forces land in Norway which Osgood and Jimmy are eventually forced to teleport to as Smith brings both sides together upon which the story shifts to an escape plan concluding with Jacqui being captured and the Vulpreen gaining the upper hand. The sequence of the story occurring on the Starseeker works as a very nice little space mystery but Smith sadly has more invested in exploring the trauma between Kate and Jacqui addressing the brainwashing.
Tracy Wiles performance is the standout performance of this, the next story, and the set overall, painting a picture of a broken woman who is attempting to pull her own identity back together after severe trauma. Smith’s script also addresses the trauma Kate had gone through, but that is solved through Kate’s support network at UNIT which Jacqui does not have. There are long gaps in Jacqui’s memory, and the constant feeling that the Vulpreenmight still be in her mind which has led to her pushing away any visitors, including Kate, and only rejoining and regaining her identity and humanity through the second attack of the Vulpreen. This does mean that it is the Vulpreen who capture her are essentially in control which means her journey to recovery is essentially speedrun through the course of this episode and the next which is kind of a shame, the potential for watching a character recover over time is one of the few missteps of this set.
By Jacqui McGee is the second part of this step and as the title suggests it is a character piece almost entirely focused on Jacqui, now captured once again by the Vulpreen and leaving a recording for UNIT to find and potentially come and save her. As a character piece this story was given to the pen of Lisa McMullin, one of the many Big Finish writers who excel at these exact types of stories and this is no exception. It starts out in the framing of being told throughout as a series of recordings with Jacqui inside the Vulpreen cell. Sadly this is a misleading cold open for the episode and its one big misstep, as a story it could have been brilliant and terrifying as Jacqui wouldn’t know if UNIT found her until they appear to rescue her. Yes, this would have complicated things as Kate, Osgood, Jimmy, and Naomi Cross, played by Eleanor Crooks, have their rescue mission to actually mount and the Vulpreen plan to unravel in the episode, but I’m not entirely certain the tradeoff was really worth it, forgoing an experimental format for a standard one. McMullin does include several sequences of Jacqui’s narration and the scenes set in the cell do build to their own plotline, a Chinese tour guide Yang Li, played by Suan-Li Ong, becomes Jacqui’s prison cell which allows some exploration of the time fields the Vulpreen employ as well as allowing Jacqui to be the one to discover how to escape which is wonderful. Now, this only accounts for the first half, with the second focusing in on the various arch’s on Earth being ready to activate and fully thwarting these Vulpreen forces where the piece de resistance of the episode, Jacqui McGee, realizing the Vulpreen weapons age people to death, sacrifices herself, detonating a bomb to age herself and the Vulpreen Commander to death, fulfilling the pun of the title, By Jacqui McGee.
Each set has had at least one episode that has featured a classic Doctor Who monster, usually an obscure one, the first featuring the Ice Warriors, the second the Quarks and Dominators of all things, and Objective: Earth is no exception. Katharine Armitage is tasked with bringing back Axos and the Axons in the third story, Axos Unleashed. This is not an easy task, the Axons while a great villain and The Claws of Axos being a classic serial, they are a villain that is a bit one note in terms of their capabilities. As a space parasite they pose a grave threat to the planet Earth, but since The Claws of Axos ends with Axos in a time loop, they aren’t really allowed to evolve and change as a threat. Now, Armitage does get clever with the first half of the story. While the Axons appear at the end of By Jacqui McGee, Axos Unleashed slowly reveals through Osgood’s investigations with Josh Carter, played by James Joyce, that the Axons have managed to sneak Axonite onto Earth and into the trees meaning that their infiltration/invasion of Earth has already begun adding a countdown element as Axos begins taking the resources from the planet. Armitage also does an excellent job in the first half of building the threat of the Axons and making it different enough that UNIT has to bring in the Eleven, played by Mark Bonnar, as a Time Lord for assistance. This leads to the second half of the episode where things veer quite close in terms of plot beats and progression to The Claws of Axos which isn’t necessarily bad, The Claws of Axos is a good story and doing a lot of its plot in about a half hour means it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it does mean that this becomes a story of two halves. The first half being incredibly engaging and Armitage trying something new. The final few scenes are emotional gut punches that work really well and end the story on a high meaning it’s just the middle that drags.
The set concludes with Time of the Vulpreen by Roland Moore which like the story before it is a story of two halves, though this time not so much of varying quality. This story starts out investigating the arches as they appear throughout the world, including in the garden of artist Daniel Hoyer, played by Daniel Easton, who provides some comedic relief throughout the story as it does go to some heavy places. The invasion and subjugation of Earth has been built up for a while now and the Eleven ends up having to work with UNIT to dismantle the time fields in time before others get hurt. Moore makes great use of the time fields as a threat and this is the story where things fall apart. I mean that in the sense of our heroes entering their darkest hour, the story itself is quite tightly paced and builds towards a great cliffhanger where the fighting is on a pause and UNIT is now aware of other players on the board. That cliffhanger is perfectly executed all while, possibly due to issues with recording dates, not being able to show who the twist villain is and having to relay that in dialogue. The scene itself is great and played with enough dramatic weight that the fourth set is clearly going to be an all out war between UNIT and the Vulpreen with this ending being the calm before the true storm can begin.
UNIT Nemesis – Objective: Earth is the set that takes the miniseries to another level in terms of stakes and danger that the UNIT team must face. Each episode of the set has its part to play in the overall narrative while standing as a complete story on its own, with Ken Bentley’s masterful direction tying everything together. It is the high point of the miniseries and a contender for one of this year’s best releases from Big Finish Productions. 9/10.
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