UNIT – “Extinction”

UNIT – Extinction continues Big Finish’s successful run with Doctor Who’s revival license with a four-part series that portrays the modern-day UNIT exactly as they should be – vigilant, world-wide, resourceful, and most importantly incredibly competent at saving the day. Action, suspense, a familiar and deadly alien threat all add together to showcase UNIT as a fighting force that can stand alone without assistance (and barely a mention) of the Doctor.

X X X X X


Vanguard – While UNIT attend a ‘skyfall’ incident under the eyes of watchful journalists, reclusive billionaire Simon Devlin is planning a product launch that will change the world…


Earthfall – Lieutenant Sam Bishop and Osgood are deployed to the Gobi desert in search of a Nestene energy unit. But there are Autons in the sand dunes…


Bridgehead – Captain Josh Carter has gone undercover inside Devlin Futuretech. But his safety is jeopardised by the activities of investigative journalist Jacqui McGee.


Armageddon – As UNIT leads the fightback on every front, every continent, against an implacable army, Kate Stewart must look to the past for some clue to defeat the plastic menace…

X X X X X

Cast
Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart)
Ingrid Oliver (Osgood)
Warren Brown(Lieutenant Sam Bishop)
Ramon Tikaram (Colonel Shindi)
James Joyce (Captain Josh Carter)
Steve John Shepherd (Simon Devlin)
Karina Fernandez (Jenna Gold)
Tracy Wiles (Jacqui McGee)
Derek Carlyle (Tim Stevens)
Nicholas Briggs (The Nestene Consciousness).

Written by: Matt Finton (Vanguard, Armageddon), Andrew Smith (Earthfall, Bridgehead)
Directed by: Ken Bentley
Produced by: David Richardson
Script Edited by: Ken Bentley

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/unit—extinction-1208

Theme – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Im7_aLoALSA

X X X X X

Throughout the history of Doctor Who, UNIT (once known as the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, now known as Unified Intelligence Taskforce) has been a cutting-edge, elite fighting force dedicated to defending the Earth from all threats alien and paranormal. First introduced in the Second Doctor story The Invasion, UNIT was a vital part of the Third Doctor’s television run as the Doctor served as the organization’s “unofficial” scientific adviser alongside characters such as Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart and Captain Mike Yates. Once the Doctor’s Earth exile was over however, UNIT began to fade into the background with the Fourth Doctor stories The Seeds of Doom and the Seventh Doctor stories Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield being the last major appearances of UNIT in the classic series. While UNIT was mentioned several times in the revival series, it wasn’t until the Tenth Doctor two-parter The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky that the organization made their official return to the series, with the new head of UNIT Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, being introduced in the Eleventh Doctor story The Power of Three. Stewart would go on to play a major role in the 50th anniversary event The Day of the Doctor along with her personal and scientific assistant Petronella Osgood (Ingrid Oliver).

With UNIT being such an integral part of the Who mythos, it was a pleasant surprise in February of 2015 when Big Finish announced that they had obtained the license from BBC Worldwide to produced a box set based upon the “new” UNIT was a huge moment for not just Big Finish fans but for Who fans everywhere. Big Finish was known for their extensive body of work involving characters from the show’s “classic” era, but there was always whispers about what Big Finish could do with the revival series if they ever somehow obtained the rights to it. Having the chance to produce a box set for UNIT was Big Finish’s chance to “put up or shut up” and see if the company could expand and grow and hook a new generation of fans to the wide world of audio plays.

And the good news is, Big Finish succeeded with two top-notch writers working together to pen this four-parter. Andrew Smith is best known for writing the Fourth Doctor television story Full Circle, and he also put together what some people consider the finest of Big Finish’s “Lost Episodes” line, The First Sontarans. Matt Fitton is perhaps the best writer penning scripts for Big Finish today, with The Wrong Doctors, The Last Sixth Doctor Adventure – Stage Fright, Doom Coalition 1 – The Eleven and Return of the Rocket Men and Luna Romana from the Companion Chronicles range to his credit. Working together, Smith and Fitton have written a tense, action-packed story where the alien menace isn’t just invading Earth but coming directly into homes and businesses across the world. This four-parter comes off as a television show on audio. The theme music would be right at home in a mid-to-late 80’s science-fiction action series with a story that spans the globe from London to Puerto Rico to the Gobi Desert mixed in with scenes of mass combat, scientific inquiry, chases and escapes, and personal showdowns between the members of UNIT and the alien threat.   The only complaint I have is that the second episode felt JUST a little padded in a way that can only be described as “SUDDENLY MONGOLS OUT OF NOWHERE,” and it’s a minor quibble at best.

The Nestene Consciousness and its foot soldiers, the plastic Autons, have devised an ingenious and horrible plan to take over the planet. First, the Nestene takes over the international technology corporation known as Devlin Futuretech by curing the company’s founder and CEO, Simon Devlin, of a debilitating bone disease by injecting his body with liquid polymer that strengthen his bones while allowing the Nestene Consciousness to influence and take over his mind. From there, Devlin Futuretech stuns the world by introducing a new, low-cost model of 3D printer that soon finds its way into homes and businesses everywhere. As UNIT attends to a “skyfall” incident that is tied to Devlin and his company, it turns out that the skyfall is simply the next act in the Nestene’s plan to slam meteorites into the Earth’s surface. These meteorites serve as energy sources that allow the Nestene to establish its own self-powered wireless communications network as well as ensuring that the massive number of 3D printers across the world can not be deactivated and unplugged once a print requests has been sent to them – a request that sees each printer create a fully functional and deadly Auton soldier, ready to subjugate humanity, destroy anyone foolish enough to get in their way, and most importantly take down UNIT once and for all…

It’s one of those plots that’s so INCREDIBLY over-the-top but steeped with JUST enough plausibility to seem possible. Smith and Fitton’s scripts play the threat completely straight. There’s some gallows humor, but the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness are portrayed as serious opponents. The Autons are much like the Cybermen – individually tough, with their sheer quantity and mass giving them an incredible advantage against any human foolish enough to resist their demands and the advanced technology and weaponry to give the world’s armed forces as well as UNIT a tough fight. Whereas Rose portrayed the Autons and the Nestene as relatively minor threats easily defeated by the Ninth Doctor, UNIT – Extinction shows just how dangerous the aliens could be in the hands of skilled writers.

It’s not just the plot that stands out. The characters and acting by the cast is also a major point in this story’s favor.  Of course, since it’s a classic Who villain the Nestene Consciousness is voiced by none other than Nicholas Briggs.  With the aid of a very disturbing voice modulator Briggs gets across both the alien nature of the Nestene as well as its sense of superiority, that Earth is nothing more than an annoyance to be quashed on the way to building the next generation of Auton.  The right hand human for the Nestene is Simon Devlin, portrayed by Steve John Shepherd who is best known for his turn as Michael Moon on the eternally popular British soap opera EastEnders.  Shepherd gives off the standard “egotistical CEO” vibe at the story’s beginning, only to slowly give way to the willing partner of the Nestene Consciousness until it’s revealed that he’s the furthest thing from a willing partner thanks to his polymer skull, mixing haughty commands and gloating with obsequious second guessing.  A particularly notable character is that of reporter Jacqui McGee.  Played by veteran radio actor Tracy Wiles, McGee starts out as the typical reporter trying to get the big story, only for UNIT to get in her way time and time again.  It’s not just a friendly word of caution however, as UNIT wipes her mind several times to keep the secret of the alien invasion quiet for as long as it can.  There’s no sense of “you did what you had to do” with McGee.  Wiles shows just how FURIOUS she is (and rightfully so) by McGee refusing to buy into UNIT’s apologies and claims of “the greater good.”  And there’s no grand moment of clarity or coming around to see UNIT’s point of view on her part.  When the moment comes, McGee says “forget THIS” and makes her escape.  It’s a bit refreshing to have a major supporting character run away when it looks like things are going south, especially a non-military type.  McGee’s closing appearance in this box set quite possibly lays the foundation for the next series with a plot thread that I hope the new writers grasp firmly.

On the UNIT side of the story, there are two newcomers – the proper and protocol bound Colonel Shindi (Ramon Tikaram of EastEnders and Game of Thrones and the talented “get out of my way, I’ll handle this” Captain Josh Carter (newcomer James Joyce).  Tikaram and Joyce do have their moments of “protocol vs. improvisation” arguments, but there’s a level of respect between the two when they work together, arguing both sides until an agreement is reached and then backing up the other no matter what.  Carter handles the undercover work to infiltrate Devlin Futuretech, only to be captured by the Nestene and turned into their slave in a chilling sequence where liquid polymer is injected into his body, covering his bones and turning him into a super-strong, super-fast human/Auton hybrid.  The attack on the Tower is led by the converted Carter in several very well done scenes where he uses his knowledge of UNIT’s tactics to easily break through their defenses, the flamboyant Carter now a cold, unfeeling robot.  Shindi is very much along the lines of the Brigadier as he handles the military side of things, taking charge, giving orders, and making the tough decisions (like to abandon Osgood in the Tower) in order to rally his troops.  Tikaram plays Shindi as every inch a model British officer who might back up but will never give up.  The dynamic between Shindi and the rest of the cast is very well done and serve as some of the acting high points of the box set.

One of the major complaints thrown about regarding the character of Osgood is that she’s nothing more than a “self-insert” of a “Doctor Who” fangirl.  I admit that I was interested to see how Osgood would be portrayed away from the presence of the Doctor.  Aside from a few brief mentions of the Doctor, the Time Lord’s influence is barely felt in Extinction.  It’s truly UNIT’s show, and Osgood proves to be a solid character without her idol present.  Osgood is the scientific type for sure, constantly stating that she’s unsuited for field work and much more comfortable in the lab.  And it’s in the lab that Oliver shows the confident side of Osgood in her element as she comes up with a directed energy weapon (“It’s not a ray gun” she tells several people) as well as a way to break the Nestene’s control over Carter when he has her and McGee cornered.  She has her moments in the field as well during the initial skyfall event as well as the final assault on Devlin Futuretech, finding her courage even while McGee is abandoning the UNIT forces to their fate.  It’s the highest praise I can give to Ingrid Olivr that Osgood felt like a breathing, developed character without having the narrative crutch of the Doctor to lean on.  If it wasn’t for the occasional mention of the Doctor it would be easy to believe that Osgood is a top-notch scientist who enjoys her job for both the challenge and the chance to save the world…as well as having a bit of a crush on Josh Carter as the two engaged in some (very) light flirtatious banter that enhances their friendship as opposed to defining it.

When it comes to the role of Kate Stewart, I’m of two minds.  Gemma Redgrave, of course, has been absolutely wonderful on television and her audio turn in Extinction is no different.  There’s no doubt just who is in charge of UNIT, both in the minds of the soldiers underneath her and in the mind of Stewart herself.  Redgrave plays Kate Stewart exactly as she should be played – tough, bold, brave, takes-no-prisoners, and refusing to give up even when the chips are down.  She can be charming when at the launch night gala for Devlin Futuretech’s 3-d printers and she can be ruthless when it comes to confronting the Nestene Consciousness in its plastic lair…as well as when wiping the mind of McGee when she gets close to the truth on several occasions, and calmly ordering the Earth’s water supply to be drugged as to ensure humanity forgets the massive devastation and loss of life brought about by the Auton invasion.  It’s…I understand UNIT’s goal to protect the Earth, and where Torchwood takes the more clandestine route, I always kind of held UNIT to a higher, more honorable standard as the group on the front lines fighting the good fight.  Wiping humanity’s entire memory, aside from being nearly impossible (the entire water supply?) just strikes me as…dirty and not fair play.  It’s again a minor quibble at best, but it’s the kind of action that makes me worry Big Finish will take UNIT into a “Big Brother knows what’s best direction” without any sense of consequence.

My other quibble is a bit bigger, and it involves the Brigadier.  Or rather, the Brigadier being brought up to Kate on numerous occasions.  Several times during the story, Kate’s actions, concerns, and worries are compared to what Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart went through during his time as the head of UNIT.  Devlin brings up the Brigadier during his first meeting with Kate.  A few characters mention that the Brigadier would be proud of the job she’s doing.  It’s done enough that it becomes noticeable and a bit of an annoyance to the listener.  One or two mentions, much like those regarding the Doctor, would have been fine.  But the seemingly constant mentions only serve to undermine the character a bit even as she does things and take actions that should establish her as her own character and the leader of UNIT.   As opposed to how Osgood is a well-rounded and somewhat interesting character away from the Doctor’s shadow, it seems that Kate Stewart can’t get away from the Brigadier, be it constant mentions of him in this story or his picture on the airplane wall during Dark Water.

The problems with UNIT – Extinction are incredibly minor and do not stop me from highly recommending this box set.  Much like Jago & Litefoot + Strax, The Diary of River Song, and The War Doctor, this Big Finish’s revival-era release is well put together, superbly acted, nail bitingly tense, and excellently produced.  It shows that Big Finish isn’t resting on its laurels when it comes to its revival output, but more importantly Extinction showcases exactly what UNIT should be – an elite, competent, tightly knit fighting force defending the Earth from the scum of the universe.

Random Thoughts
– This wouldn’t be the first time Big Finish released a UNIT series.  The company produced a four-part adventure in 2005 that was set during the classic era featuring Nicholas Courtney as well as   releasing UNIT: Dominion, the story that introduced Alex MacQueen’s version of Master to Doctor Who, in 2012.
– According to Big Finish’s press release, the stories in this set occur between the events of The Power of Three and The Day of the Doctor.
– “Colonel Shindi?  Plastic chap with the energy weapon, as many rounds as you please.”
– First plastic chairs, then garbage cans, and now 3d printers.  What’s next, those new credit cards with chips in them?
– …
– …
– …someone get me the ghost of Robert Holmes on the phone, please.

Cobi’s Synopsis – The revival-era UNIT comes into the audio world guns blazing, taking on their long-time nemesis the Nestene Consciousness and its Auton minions in a tense, action packed science-fiction thriller.

Next up – In a time of war, every means of victory must be explored. In the Time War, the unthinkable must be thought, and neither side can afford to be squeamish about their methods…

John Hurt is the Doctor in…The War Doctor Volume 2 – Infernal Devices

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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