So, here it is, the first post-2005 release for Big Finish in the modern world of Doctor Who. Written by Matt Fitton and Andrew Smith, UNIT-Extinction brings Kate Stewart and Petronella Osgood face to face with the Autons.
This time there’s no Doctor to save the day, but don’t worry, UNIT has some resources of its own.
Ware the spoilers!
Matt Fitton has the honour of opening this range with the story Vanguard. This introduces us to both the world of UNIT and more specifically maverick Captain Josh Carter (James Joyce). More importantly it gives us Kate Stewart attending a press launch of 3-D printers at Devlin Futuretech
While the UNIT characters are introduced, Matt also gives us the villain, Simon Devlin (Steve John Shepherd) and the intriguing character of Jacqui McGee (Tracy Wiles). As the action ends (from the perspective of UNIT) we know it is only just beginning…
Multiple contacts from space as Andrew Smith takes the helm for Earthfall. One of these is diverted into the Gobi desert, giving Osgood a chance for some fieldwork. It also gives us another character, Lieutenant Sam Bishop played with relish by Warren Brown. As they hunt for an errant Nestene energy unit, they have to contend with a force of Autons and the locals.
Plenty of action results and we begin to glimpse the scale of Zygon plans. Of course this is the tip of yet another alien iceberg and the worst is yet to be revealed!
Andrew continues the story with Bridgehead and things are getting serious and we begin to understand the forces driving Simon Devlin. The action moves from desert to the Futuretech offices and back to Captain Carter, who doesn’t need interference from Jacqui McGee.
Some of the darker moments occur here as first Kate Stewart then Captain Carter are threatened with conversion to the Auton cause. Conversion is meant literally here and the consequences for Captain Carter will no doubt be the subject of future stories.
Matt Fitton concludes matters with Armageddon. We realise what the 3-D printers are for (in case we hadn’t) and the scale of the Auton ambition is exposed. It’s grim, very grim. Osgood gets some great moments and every character has an important part to play.
The resolution does owe a small debt to the earlier days of Doctor Who, something that works as a one-off but needs to not become a deus ex machina. It also sets up another character, the Eyewitness, and I hope we here more from them.
A cinematic sweeping story with a good balance of action and reflection as well as old and new characters. Different members of UNIT have well delineated roles and the organisation feels well rendered. There are some nice touches tucked away such as the Nitro-12. Ken Bentley’s direction manages to get better and the extras give some good insight into how he and David Richardson approached the creation of this set.
I want to single out Tracy Wiles’s character Jacqui McGee. Tracy is becoming a regular (I met her on the recording of the first boxset of The Omega Factor) and Jacqui McGee acts both as the proxy for the new listener, asking the ‘what’s happening here’ questions, but unlike Sarah Jane Smith is not (so far) destined to join the team. She is a critical, self-motivated outsider with her own, valid views of what is right for society as a whole. I hope she returns.
Of course Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver are perfect as their TV characters, in fact the extras make it clear they had just filmed the pair of Zygon stories for TV before recording this. Kate Stewart is more developed and Osgood has the same depth and maturity shown on TV over the past two weeks.
[pullquote]…could almost have been an episode of UFO[/pullquote]
My final thought is this: in tone part of Earthfall could almost have been an episode of the 1970s TV series UFO. If ever Big Finish gets that licence, I hope Andrew Smith and Matt Fitton’s names are on the top of the list of writers to bring it to a new set of fans. Their work on both UNIT-Extinction and Survivors gives them plenty of credentials to tell a darker, more adult story of a group defending the Earth from aliens. Just a thought!