Following Series 1 (released 2012 and reviewed here) I was pleased I had invested and happy to buy the second series. There has been a re-shuffle among the writers and script editor John Dorney gets to add his touch to the series. I won’t discuss how well this stands on its own merits but discuss the stories themselves and the progression since last year. Meanwhile for the Counter Measures team the 60s await…
The Four Stories
Manhunt by Matt Fitton: This kicks off the boxset with action packed drama – Gilmore is on the run accused of murder and his role in the team taken by newcomer Captain Astor. While this is happening Rachel and Alison are distracted by the grisly murders of biologists.
Gilmore makes contact with Lady Waverley whose husband Gilmore is mean to have shot – he is a friend of the family which doesn’t stop him getting assaulted by his ‘niece’ Emma.
The tale unfolds well with evidence of mysterious experiments, Sir Toby manipulating things behind the scenes and our heroes slowly circle in on a grim truth that Matt Fitton draws out from under our eyes. The story ends with many secrets revealed and we also learn how far Sir Toby will go protect the truth (and hide his own history)
The Fifth Citadel by James Goss: the pace and the tone change in this eerie tale of underground London and cold war fortresses. Celia Imrie is a joy as Dr Elizabeth Bradley as are the ladies who clean the underground at night.
This is, though, a very dark tale and the villain of the piece is a creeping radiation sickness. That said Sir Toby once again makes the ultimate decision and determines the fate of those underground with blunt efficiency.
Peshka by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright: this story takes the team off to Europe to attend a chess tournament. This is so that they can help a Russian chess genius to defect. Why Counter Measures we all ask, as do the characters themselves? The answer is one of soviet hothousing and the possibility that it is the ability to see the future or to read minds that leads to chess success. The truth when it is discovered is much darker than that and will see riots on the streets of London before it is resolved.
I particularly need to admire Cavan and Mark here – for the first 20 minutes I was vexed that they hadn’t written the characters very well: they were arguing, fighting and not at all like themselves. This was, of course, the actual story about how anyone can move from rational to irrational to violence. They also sneaked in a mention of Department C4!
The Sins of the Fathers by John Dorney: this story closes off the loose ends from Manhunt and is another tale of genetic manipulation gone too far. Focussing on a young man out to gain revenge on those who blighted his life this story puts the team on a collision course with Sir Toby.
As you’d expect from John Dorney this is a tightly crafted story that lets the characters shine. The resolution has the single-mindedness we associated with the Cold War and reference back to the dark days of World War II serve to remind us that if we judge Sir Toby by today’s values we are perhaps oversimplifying.
The Series as a Whole
I enjoyed series 1 (as reviewed here) but it is clear that this is a better product. Most of this is explained in the extras – a deliberate move to character based drama over the technology, a move away from the extra-terrestrial and more into how humanity can misuse science all on its own. The cast and writers have also found how each other works as will often be the case; the writers now have a better sense of how the actors work with the material (though only Matt Fitton worked on the first series, John Dorney was overall script editor).
I observe that the various plots have put the team under a lot of strain (I talk individuals later) and I believe that they need a chance to re-group in series 3 (yet to be announced) and maybe also to re-bond with Sir Toby.
The four stories seem set-up to each focus on a separate character. This sort of works but not fully. As I listened I noted a few points about each character. I’d be happy to get some other views on this, particular around Rachel Jensen.
Group Captain Gilmore: He is a major focus of the first story though his separation from the team as a suspected murderer soon fades away and his relationship with the others is largely unchanged through the series. He does spend more time with Alison particularly in Fifth Citadel which is no bad thing as he has tended to focus on interacting with Rachel more. We also get a sense of his past life and career so I believe this has been a reasonable series for him – some action, some growth
Rachel Jensen: has an amount of the attention in Fifth Citadel though Sir Toby’s past relationship with Celia Imrie’s Elizabeth Bradley does usurp her role as the scientist. Coupled with the move towards character I feel that Rachel is less prominent than in the previous series. Her relationship with Sir Toby is also much diluted and she has more of a maternal role towards Alison…
Alison Williams: still coming to terms with shooting her fiancé at the end of series 1 her love-life doesn’t improve and her rebuttal by Captain Astor when fully understood is not to be assimilated overnight. Peshka allows all the team to express their doubts but it is Alison who has most to shout at the others and is still struggling to be thought of as a scientist in her own right and not just an assistant. Of them all Alison seems most damaged by this series and psychologically I am intrigued as to where her character develops next. I could imagine we get the ‘Alison leaves’ story and after a gap the ‘Alison comes to the team with a mystery then rejoins’ story.
Sir Tobias Kinsella: this darkly complex characters becomes more dark and more complex during this series. We learn of past loves, children and misdeeds. We realise that he is shaped by events and also seeks to shape events. We know less of his motives in running Counter Measures than we had previously assumed and it is clear that feels no connection with his team as people. Is this out of inability to care or a desire to protect them from the world as he understand it? Is this shame and self-loathing or stiff upper-lip and the necessities of war? We are none the clearer which is why Sir Toby is such a great character. Let us hope we never understand him fully!
I am very impressed with this series and that starts with the care that has been taken with the art work for the individual stories. Matt and John should be congratulated on providing the bookends to a series that explores the underside of 60s politics and the Cold War and drips in authentic details from the time (even down to a reference to My Fair Lady which would have been appropriate at the time.
I am keen to understand what happens next and look forward to comparing Counter Measures with the team’s Seventh Doctor story The Assassination Games by John Dorney this November.
I’d be very interested in you thoughts – do let me know!