Perhaps the saddest thing about UNIT: Brave New World is that it is only two box sets long and is currently the only thing announced to use this particular UNIT team.Seabird Onewas already an excellent set and start to the miniseries bringing back Angela Bruce’s Winifred Bambera, but it’s up to Visitants, the second set, to take all the open threads and tie them up.The miniseries is one that genuinely feels different from the other Big Finish ranges, taking what Battlefield started bringing in a new cast of characters that through the great script editing from Robert Valentine and brilliant direction from Scott Handcock.Producer Emily Cook has also really gotten to come into her own in her role as this is a range that is essentially all her own.
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.
Six-part Doctor Who serials are often particular favourites of mine, simply because in storytelling there is quite a lot you can do in six episodes. The 1970s revolutionised the six-parter by essentially dividing them into a four part story and a two part story which I have discussed at length on the Internet before because it allows for more exploration of characters and a plot that needs to be able to go through the length with at least one big twist at a point in the story to send things off in a different direction. Big Finish Productions have done six-part stories before, ‘The Next Life‘ and ‘The Game‘ were the earliest, and several of the Lost Stories range were allotted six episodes as that is how those scripts were pitched and often written which worked especially well for stories like ‘Farewell, Great Macedon‘ and ‘Lords of the Red Planet‘. This year they’ve dipped their toes into a single seven part story with The Annihilators which I enjoyed and reviewed, but as the rest of the Doctors got two box sets, the second set for the Third Doctor continues the trend of longer stories with a single six part adventure set during the middle of Season 11 dealing with some of that season’s major themes written with a more modern sensibility from Alan Barnes. Kaleidoscope at one point directly references similarities to ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs‘ and while there isn’t Malcolm Hulke’s ecological message, it does deal heavily with governmental conspiracy and how the 1970s Cold War mixed with pop culture.
Brigadier Winifred Bambera is a Doctor Who character who is interesting. Appearing on television in Battlefield played by the wonderful Angela Bruce and created by Ben Aaronovitch, had the show lasted past Season 26 there was a good chance she would reappear especially since Andrew Cartmel had what would become the ‘lost story’ Animal in his head as a story at the time. So it became puzzling that in the Virgin New Adventures, while UNIT featured heavily especially in books like Blood Heat,No Future, and Eternity Weeps, Bambera herself would only appear twice, in Head Games and The Dying Days as cameos. The UNIT stories of the New Adventures were more concerned with deconstructing the UNIT family and the Pertwee era as it was the era many of the writers grew up with and were fond of. She had a similar cameo in the novelisation of Downtime by Marc Platt, but after that didn’t appear in any of the novels by BBC Books. Then in 1999 Big Finish acquired the Doctor Who license and begun their takeover of Doctor Who dominating the early 2000s until the revival, yet Bambera only appeared in Animal released in 2011. So it became a surprise with the success of the UNIT spin-off, Angela Bruce was brought back in the second set of UNIT: Nemesis as a backdoor pilot for UNIT: Brave New World, a currently two set release giving Bambera her own UNIT team in the late 1990s post-Battlefield, focusing on incursions from Earth itself and not the standard alien invasions.
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 fromBetween 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 original UNIT mini-series from Big Finish Productions brought back Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, but only for its opening and closing instalments and is generally regarded as a weak miniseries.It would be shelved and not picked up again bar UNIT: Dominion in 2012, but 2015 saw a long running revival bringing for the first time New Series elements were allowed to be used.The series ran for eight box sets from 2015-2019, ending, but being revived this month just a week before Kate Stewart returned to televised Doctor Who, Big Finish released the first of a four set miniseries subtitled Nemesis, beginning with Between Two Worlds, where the UNIT has to contend with the Eleven, trapped on an alien planet and scheming to gain power on Earth.He is the through line for these four stories and Mark Bonnar plays the role brilliantly throughout, the set using the time to flesh out the different personalities of the Eleven with many of them getting to shine throughout.Bonnar is a constant undercurrent providing a clear and present alien danger for UNIT to face, moving away from an older perception of UNIT as only fit to deal with threats like the Bandrils.Continue reading →
October was already set to be a celebration of the Third Doctor era, bringing out the second Third Doctor Adventures set this year, but July saw the announcement of The Diary of River Song: New Recruit, sending River back to Season 7 with the Doctor travelling Europe and Liz and the Brigadier left back at UNIT. Of course, Tim Treloar reprises his role of the Third Doctor for the final story, but this is a celebration of the early years of the Pertwee era with a twist, putting River in the role of the Doctor and Liz as a companion making for a very different dynamic. Each of the four stories pastiches a Pertwee style story with the final one in particular providing one last twist for a Pertwee story which Big Finish have been unable to do until very recently which ends the set with one very pleasant twist. This twist is one which listeners would not want to have spoiled, and the TARDIS Wiki articles for these stories do provide spoilers so I implore potential listeners to avoid looking anything up about these stories. This review will only include light spoilers for plot details, but none of the big twists will be spoiled.
Stranding the Eighth Doctor on Earth was by no means a new idea, it had been done in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels, but making him a landlord with Liv and Helen made for an interesting change. Stranded 1 was released way back in June 2020 when we were all in lockdown and the future releases were sadly delayed, with Stranded 2 moving from its original November release date to March 2021. Stranded 1 was one of those releases while where I enjoyed it quite a bit, I felt slightly underwhelmed by the premise as it was very much Doctor Who does a soap opera, but sitting down to listen to Stranded 2 made me acutely aware of how I have missed this ensemble cast and their interactions. Like Jon Pertwee’s second season bringing some time travel back, Stranded 2 still contains four earthbound stories, it is the first to actually bring these new companions and residents of Baker Street into the TARDIS and exploring their history and interpersonal relationships. This premise allows it to stand out from the first set and the Pertwee era in a number of ways which makes it incredibly fun. As Stranded 2 is still kind of like Doctor Who does a soap opera, this review may contain minor spoilers for certain plot developments in the characters. This review was also written with each section right after listening, so each section may not reflect how any story arcs happen.
Terror of the Master is a bonus audiobook included in the limited edition of Masterfulwritten by Trevor Baxendale and narrated by Jon Culshaw. Unlike other releases from Big Finish Productions, this is not an audio drama, but an audiobook with the occasional sound effects and as such it can only rely on the actual prose of the storytelling and the narration. Culshaw is an excellent narrator, using his impressive vocal range and variety of impressions to bring to life the Jon Pertwee era. While Masterful was a celebration of the Master, the incarnation played by Roger Delgado was not included due to Delgado’s tragic passing in 1973, so for the limited edition only Trevor Baxendale was commissioned to write a three and a half hour story featuring the Third Doctor, UNIT, and the Master; set right after The Green Death. Like many of the Pertwee serials, ‘Terror of the Master’ has a political bent, once again tackling pollution and the increasing global temperatures with a kindly scientist promising to fix Earth’s problems with a revolutionary new process that only he can know the exact details of and behind him is the Master. The Master has plans to take over the world using an alien creature in a story that most closely resembles that of The Claws of Axos with Dr. Drake in place of Axos and the Axons, without the Tory MP. On that front Terror of the Master is a fairly standard affair from Baxendale, with a prose style (and runtime) that intentionally feels like that of a Target Novel of a standard serial that would have been released during that time period.