A while back, when Nicholas Courtney died, I recommended UNIT: The Coup, a freebie Big Finish audioplay which showed a 21st Century version of UNIT, dealing with one of those loose threads the Doctor left behind him, the pesky Silurians and their need to make an actual peace with humanity.
As well as showcasing Sir Alastair himself, the play introduced Colonel Emily Chaudhry (Siri O’Neal), a media liason working with UNIT. It serves as an introduction to the whole UNIT miniseries (2004), revolving around Chaudhry as she deals with a missing CEO, his replacement Col. Robert Dalton (who is, pleasingly, a skeptic of the Scully variety), the soulless media as personified by reporter Francis Currie, and some serious threats to humanity. The first two are mostly standalone adventures, and very enjoyable largely for the chemistry between the two leads, and the weirdness of their investigations. The style of the dramas anticipate some of the themes and ideas that came up in Torchwood, and I got more of a sense of UNIT as a real, modern organisation with ties back to the Pertwee Years than I ever got from the sparce UNIT appearances in New Who.
The third and fourth stories, The Longest Night and The Wasting, are impressively bleak political dramas, with far more in common with Torchwood: Children of Earth than anything else in the Whoniverse. It’s brilliant stuff. Of special note is the appearance of David Tennant in The Wasting as the long-missing-in-action CEO of UNIT, along with his Scottish accent. It’s a feisty performance, packed with personality, and his scenes with Chaudry are electric. Siri O’Neal’s performance is also brilliant in this final appearance (sadly there was only one series of UNIT, sniff) and every time Tennant looks likely to steal the scene, she kicks him in the kneecap and takes it right back. There’s an amazing hero moment for her which made me very emotional. It also doesn’t hurt that Nicholas Courtney, who made a fairly tame appearance in Episode 1, returns in this final ep with some serious firepower and good old boy action.
These episodes are all available from Big Finish right now at the outrageously cheap price of $5 Australian per download & $8-9 each for the CD including shipping. Definitely worth checking out!
Robophobia [Big Finish Productions]
Meanwhile back in 2011, I just finished listening to July’s monthly Doctor Who release, and it’s an absolute blinder. Starring Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor and Nicola Walker (Ruth from Spooks!) as MedTech Liv Chenka, this is a sequel to Robots of Death (1977) which is one of my favourite Doctor Who stories of all time.
I was delighted to discover that this play works very well on both of the necessary levels: that of modern storytelling with all the focus on character we expect in a 21st century audioplay, and also in feeling like it belongs to the same world of the original story. Obviously writer Nicholas Briggs deserves a lot of the credit for this, providing a very clever script which, like the original, plays with the preconceptions of the audience and presents something that looks like a whodunnit in space, but is actually a more complex thriller that is using the tropes of the whodunnit to mess with everyone’s heads.
I also think the excellence of this story shows how good a writer and worldbuilder Chris Boucher was – he not only wrote the original script to Robots of Death, but a good chunk of early Blake’s 7, which explains the similar sensibilities between the two – and it’s pretty impressive to have two stories told nearly thirty five years apart which feel not only like they belong to the same world, but the same time period. Robots of Death always gave the impression that there were several novels worth of material, hovering just out of sight…
The performances are really good in this one. Toby Hadoke is very good as a head of security coming apart at the seams under pressure, Nicola Walker is rightly the emotional centre of every scene as Liv, and Sylvester McCoy gets to play his manipulative, all-knowing Doctor to the hilt – it is utterly credible that as soon as he was between companions, he would flit about the universe, checking in on what happened after previous adventures, finding out the ramifications, and tying up loose ends.
Then of course, there are the robots. I always thought it was the beautiful design of the robots which made the original Sandminer story so vivid, but this audio made it very clear how much both stories old and new relied on the sibilant, gentle performances of the actors who voiced the robots themselves. Their calm, unflappable tones come across very effectively, and I love how easily they can sound creepy and threatening without in fact changing their performance at all. Lovely stuff! I highly recommend this one to Classic Who fans who don’t know where to get started with Big Finish – 1977 connection aside, the play is completely self-contained.