UNIT Shutdown reviewed

UNIT Shutdown coverThe second boxset in the new UNIT range, UNIT — Shutdown, is a high-octane set of stories covering several locations while packing conspiracies, aliens and technological mysteries into a gripping whole. Kate Stewart and Osgood are centre-stage as the team investigates the latest threat to humanity. This time UNIT has to counter both alien and local challenges as they race against the clock.

Is it any good? Yes. If you like UNIT —  Extinction, you will enjoy this at least as much. Find out why…

The stories

UNIT Shutdown Power CellMatt Fitton sets up much of the story-line in Power Cell. Here we learn of the machinations of Lyme Industries, led by the wonderfully scheming Felicity Lyme (Alice Krige). Much of the time is spent on a ping-pong set of encounters between Kate Steward and Felicity Lyme in which it quickly becomes clear Lyme Industries has friends in some very high places in the form of Sir Peter Latcham (Nigel Carrington). The story does a good job of reminding us about the UNIT setup, introducing new characters and presenting a satisfying if somewhat violent tale.

The story also widens out Osgood’s life, and brings some of her college friends to the fore.

UNIT Extinction Death in GenevaAndrew Smith takes over the for the middle two stories, and switches the action to Switzerland for Death in Geneva. Andrew does an excellent job of dangling presenting us with possibilities without simplifying the story. In Geneva we meet General Grant Avary (Harry Ditson) and he is well realised and two dimensional. Rather than the simple black and white of friend or foe, he has his own agenda, his own views and his own moral code. Meanwhile Osgood is in danger and we get the first of two echoes of the works of Alastair MacLean (no spoilers).

The action continues and the threat rises as it becomes clearer there are two foes, not one.

UNIT Extinction The Battle of the TowerAndrew’s second location is the UNIT London base itself in The Battle for the Tower. Andrew went on location to get the atmosphere spot-on in another action packed story that still finds room for emotion and relationships. Relationships for Osgood are a strong second theme to this set, but are not over-played. The Black Archive itself is under attack as UNIT starts to run out of friends, and unity itself is under threat.

In the midst of all this, Andrew still finds time for some dry humour with some great dialogue capturing something of the essence of Doctor Who’s Britishness.

UNIT Extinction Ice Station AlphaMatt Fitton finishes the set with Ice Station Alpha (another MacLean reference, this time to the novel Ice Station Zebra). Where that novel was set in the Arctic, this is set in the Antarctic via a trip to the Falkland Islands. We discover just what Lyme Industries has been up to, what Sir Peter Latcham has been trying to achieve and how far Kate and her team will go to defend the world.

Nothing is simple, and the UNIT team are badly outnumbered by the private security hired by Lyme Industries, and find help from an unlikely source.

The second threat is, of course, alien. With the Tengobushi and the alien leader Dokan (Dan Li), Big Finish has added a well-defined and definitely alien race to the mix. The aliens are (like many of the characters) not simplistic but have their own goals and values. There are battles, emotional moments and confrontations before the story is resolved. Of course it all (mostly) ends well, but the ending is natural not contrived.

The storytelling

The heroes of the set are Kate and Osgood, and it is easy to centre the review around them. Other characters do return from the first set, including Josh Carter (James Joyce). In the last set Captain Carter gained some super-powers; while these come in useful they are not a get out of jail free card, and the story avoids overusing them. A second returning character is Sam Bishop (Warren Brown). In this set Sam is something of a minor character, and it is hoped we explore his character more in future releases.

Overall this is entertaining, feels like its own thing, not a Doctor Who story without the Doctor, and satisfying. The balance of two writers works and the locations used all feel distinct. There are plenty of well-conceived minor characters (many played by Beth Chalmers) and like Game of Thrones, not everybody gets to live.

It is available now from the Big Finish website exclusively until August 31.

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