The April 2019 UNIT: Incursions boxset is less heavily themed than others, and is essentially three stories over four discs. The headline is the appearance of River Song; for that we wait until the two-part final story. On the way we have some other horrors to deal with.
The first of the incursions is the Jonathan Morris story This Sleep of Death (a nod to Shakespeare’s Hamlet) and a follow-up (of sorts) to his main range story Static. You don’t need to have heard Static to follow this story, but once you’ve heard this, I suspect Static will hold few surprises.
It’s a dark setting, though one avoiding too much introspection or ethical analysis (it involves returning dead people). There’s an easter egg near the end and a moderate final ending, with the door kept just about open for another return if needed. I found it very dark for UNIT, and wonder just how it would sound in a Torchwood story, and how far it would go in exploring the deeper implications.
The Lisa McMullin story Tempest (and Shakespeare is still with us) is lighted in tone but with no less serious elements. The weather is misbehaving, Kate is having problems on an oil-rig while Osgood and Sam are meeting an eccentric woman on a remote Scottish island.
There are moments of humour (think talking chimneys and some flying) but also a clash between UNIT ideals and capitalist imperatives. The political element is there if you look and perhaps the seed for future funding problems for UNIT (?) but beyond that it’s a story of pulling the rabbit out of the hat one last time. Let’s just say Kate Stewart doesn’t win any friends as she attempts to get her own way.
Guy Adams eschews the chance for a Shakespearean title in The Power of River Song and in many ways also avoids writing a decent story. By his own very high standards this isn’t his best work by a long way.
River herself is ambiguously presented, part of which is the plot but mostly she seems reduced to being a set of cliches. Osgood adds little and there’s a wasted thread involving Jacqui McGee (Tracey Wiles) and dinosaurs and vikings (who speak English despite the lack of translation tech). Much of the story feels like either a one-parter suddenly extended to two with much padding or a more complex UNIT story in which River Song was dropped.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Kate Stewart has plenty to do and in a very timey-wimey (if fatalistic) manner, there’s more sense UNIT isn’t the biggest dog in town, and when River does get a chance Alex Kingston is as wonderful as ever.
It’s a decent enough set of stories, but we’ve been spoiled in recent years, and this is merely good rather than very good.