Counter-Measures: Series 4Bookmark and Share

Friday, 23 October 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Counter-Measures 4 (Credit: Big Finish)

Starring: Simon WilliamsPamela Salem, Karen Gledhill,
Hugh Ross,
 Philip Pope, and Richard Hope

Also Featuring: Oscar PearceNigel CarringtonFrancesca HuntDominic Rowan, Adrian LukisDenise BlackPhillip BrethertonAlex Ferns, and Mary Conlon.

 

  Writers: Mark Wright, Cavan Scott, Matt Fitton, John Dorney,
Ken Bentley

Director: Ken Bentley

 

Producers: David Richardson, Script Edited by John Dorney

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Released July 2015, Big Finish Productions

Spoilers Feature, with a major Spoiler Warning for Story 4 - Please Take Care!

And so we come to another quality box set of adventures which encompass spy thriller, weird science, paranormal and alien intrusion, and mid 20th century period revisitation. This set of stories has been with us now for a few months and I can say the wait this time round  for the next season was much shorter, after consuming three seasons in a comparatively intense burst. However there is a price involved for my (and surely many others') eagerness for new fare...

Although I have yet to enjoy the original 7th Doctor/Ace story from Big Finish The Assassination Games, I still managed to grasp the nature of the Light alien and how it had some very impressive power that let it hide itself amongst 'normal' human beings. It is up to the particular listener though whether to find that story, (and so enjoy another meeting of the Doctor and his Earth-based friends from Remembrance of the Daleks).

 

New Horizons is a fine opener from  Mark Wright and Cavan Scott, which allows Alison and Rachel to take centre stage. We have some rather glaring 'replacements' for Simon Gilmore and Toby Kinsella. They are clearly are not what they appear to be, at least to us if not the two female scientists, any yet they may have some good intentions within them. The story is paced as well as any thriller from this franchise, and is also easy to follow, which often is a personal enjoyment issue I have with audio dramas.

The Keep is a very well done tale which mixes in characterisation with a good conspiracy plot, and some dodgy projects undertaken by unscrupulous scientists. A one-off story not featuring Gilmore and Sir Toby was acceptable, but listeners would struggle to miss out on these two male leads any longer, and fittingly they return to the fray with plenty to do. The series three cliffhanger is addressed well, in its being a logical solution and yet not feeling jarringly 'easy'.

This second story of the box set probably is the most successful of the lot, even if its ambitions are not the highest. Ken Bentley, the writer, certainly has improved on his already promising The Forgotten Village from last year.

The third story, Rise and Shine is in many ways the climax to not only the main arc of this fourth series, but indeed the longer-term developments of yesteryear. Paying off the sleeper arc, and finally seeing some finality to the Templeton character who has been one of the best components of this show over the years. There is a very real threat, as those the team must overcome intend to use global chemicals with harmful effects that may have catastrophic  implications for Earth.

Revelations and twists concerning changes of allegiance permeate this story, and there is a lot of action which makes things dramatic but perhaps also demands a little something from the listener in having to visualise the events.  However, the ultimate resolution is as good as any story and the mind control manipulation aspects are done 'right' instead of falling into predictable cliché. This effort from John Dorney could be the perfect end to a trilogy box set, and set up things for next year. Yet instead...

 

**Spoilers Follow**

..we have the shock of what transpires on the latter tracks of Clean Sweep. This would appear to be the end of Counter-Measures forever.. or at least the heroic trio that first graced us with their precedence in 1988 alongside Sylvester McCoy's Doctor. The actual main story is pretty routine, and rarely shocks, even if the suspense is done well. After the preceding story, this low-key affair does notably provide a memorable fate for Heaton. This individual had been rather dubious in his intentions, and now actively sees the end of the military-scientific group - once and for all.

The way that we realise that Gilmore, Alison and Rachel are taken out by hit men is really almost too much to take in. The sound effects almost spoil the effect, being to my mind 'under done'. But the chilling last scene as Sir Toby pretends not to know of his three (ex)colleagues is up there in Big Finish lore as the best coda to a finale of any.

 

Summary:

So this season takes a lot of new approaches to its stories and where the characters end up. For the most part this is a good change of style. I liked how the stories were closely inter-linked. If one has the inclination the entire box set can be consumed within a day or two rapidly. The core four cast are totally at ease in their roles by now. And with Hugh Ross in particular doing justice to his terrific role in the scripts this is a fine showcase of audio drama performance, and deeply satisfying. Depending on what you take as canon, the fate of Rachel in particular does fly in the face of Millennial Rites - a spin off novel published in the mid 1990s - but perhaps the Big Finish 'big cheeses' are keeping the actual truth well-hidden, and we may still see more material for these wonderfully believable heroes.

 

Extras:

We have come to expect very well done pieces on each of the stories in a box set by cast and crew involved with Counter-Measures for three years now. This CD is no different in showing focus and depth, expanding on what the listener can make of the stories' themes and messages. Casting has almost always been spot on and I continue to enjoy clearly sincere expressions of elation by different performers who help make this series so strong when it comes to interpersonal drama. But the best vignettes are still from the main cast, who have many interesting things to say about their characters' well-done development. What is said about the seemingly conclusive fourth story is also especially fascinating. Simon Williams, Pamela Salem  and Karen Gledhill all seem quite philosophical that that was a positive way to wrap things up (at least for now). The reasons given by the writing team and producer David Richardson are also quite valid. And yet I can only hope that the flexibility of audio and the wider Doctor Who universe will see some way for the endearing protagonists to show their qualities another day; perhaps alongside one of the many incarnations of the 'Madman in a Box'..