UNIT Counter Measures - Series 3Bookmark and Share

Friday, 6 February 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
UNIT Counter Measures - Series 3 (Credit: Big Finish)
UNIT Counter Measures - Series 3
Starring Simon Williams, Pamela Salem, Karen Gledhill, Hugh Ross, Philip Pope
Also Starring: Michael Troughton, Rupert Evans, Timothy Bentinck, George Layton
Written By: Matt Fitton, Justin Richards, Ken Bentley, John Dorney
Director: Ken Bentley
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery an Nicholas Briggs
Released July 2014

This most recent release in the ongoing series by and large continues the good work of beforehand, if at times showing the odd weakness or two. Before discussing the four stories I must criticise the reworking of the main theme tune. The original was quite serviceable for me, if not really up there with a true classic tune (such as BBC Radio's 'The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy' or 'The Lord of the Rings'). All the less pleasing element of the piece seem to have been emphasised and the pitch change just wasn't for me.

Nonetheless the series opens with an absolute belter of a paranormal yarn. 'Changing Of The Guard' allows the London setting of the mid 1960s to really be used well. A bunch of low-life criminals are managing to use some rather disturbing methods that are not of 20th century Earth to outwit the authorities, and the team of Group Captain Gilmore, Ms Jensen and Ms Williams are once again having to use all their experience to cope. Drama is also firmly centred in a trial - during which Sir Toby is put under a most unforgiving microscope and has to use all his mental skill to secure a positive verdict on his conduct. Sound effects are done splendidly throughout and the plot kept me guessing without ever getting too clever for its own good. I really welcomed how the main threat to the public was resolved and the increased focus on Allison, which turns out not to be a one-off in this box-set.

The writing is decent in 'The Concrete Cage' but something is just slightly missing for this to be called a success. The setting is not a bad one in-of- itself. Just as 'Quatermass' has inspired the earliest stories in this spin-off series, once again a Nigel Kneale work ('The Stone Tapes') gives rise to a story. Something has gone awry in a tower block and people seemingly suffer even after their natural demise. Rachel is given the most meaningful involvement of the core cast, but this does not mean that anyone is left out for long. The problem for me lies in the tepid use of the guest participants. They are certainly not helped by some hoary old dialogue that just really grated when I was trying to connect to their individual stories. Justin Richards is a very experienced writer, but some examples of his work speaks to me more than others.

Also whilst I have enjoyed seeing Michael Troughton in some television roles over the years, he really isn't given the most appealing character to play - even if this is the actual intent. The final scenes are also presented in a somewhat blasé manner and consequently the impetus of the story just never quite materialises. The inferior theme tune is sadly not alone in this outing either, as inharmonious electronic stings diminish the listening experience. However I am sure that this story has something to offer for those fans that like claustrophobic tales full of psychological horror. And it certainly outperforms the troubled Seventh Doctor story 'Paradise Towers'.

'The Forgotten Village' is perhaps the strangest story of the run in both structure and what it chooses to do with the cast. It still impresses through brave decisions as well as dialogue that feels very true to the heart of the main participants. The village setting sees much back story and revisiting of past loved ones, as well as the expected dosage of very odd goings on that need the best expertise Britain has to offer. Alison's father (celebrated 'The Archers' star Tim Bentinck) is given a lot of focus as he suffers poor health, but worse is to come. Alison is front and centre as the place where she spent her youth is succumbing to a bizarrely dangerous turn of events. Appropriately enough, Rupert Evans (of BBC prime time TV drama 'The Village') features in this effort, and is equally as strong a presence in this audio format.

Just as this box set begins on a positive note, it ends even stronger, as 'Unto The Breach' moves various pieces on the Cold War chessboard and then throws a game changer or two for good measure. East Berlin sees the bulk of the meaningful action, as the team must try and see if an alien really has been at work - and for the benefit of the Iron Curtain regime. Shades of grey have never been more indistinct as characters that seem benign are something else entirely. Picking up what it needs to from story three, the listener is entranced into discovering just who will be affected and to what extent. I was happy to note that the multi-talented George Layton featured in a good guest role as Lehne, and indeed there is not a false note struck by anyone who contributes to this thriller.

Looking at the overall sequence, Sir Toby doesn't get quite the same character growth of the last series, but is still utterly charismatic and engaging. Instead this is the time for Allison to truly come into her own as she takes more initiative and shows the ability to make strong decisions without being cynical and world weary. Karen Gledhill is a very likeable personality both in character and in real life, and it was high time she was given some more prominence.
However there is enough decent material for both Gilmore and Rachel, and also a continuation of their growing bond with each other, whilst still throwing in some obstacles. The team certainly know how to prevent this arc stumbling into a predictable state. Sir Toby is not always the focus for anger that he once was by those in his team, as Templeton now begins to really display his manipulative traits to quite overt effect. But more importantly, come the last two stories, two regulars are put in dire straits with little chance of a reprieve.

So when all is said and done, this is a solid quartet, with two of the best stories so far, a brave effort that works well enough, and a rather more average entry that still at least feels relevant to the series overall.

The bonus documentary once again merits full attention, and manages to be at least as entertaining as the actual stories. There is plenty of teasing banter, camaraderie and thoughtful reflection - including from the guest stars, some of whom are called upon to perform multiple characters. The decision to let certain cast members go into comprehensive detail over their character profile and the logistics of making the show (e.g. how audio recording differed from tv work in flexibility and attendance demands) leads to some sections being more substantial and meaningful than others. I must assume the interviews were done so as to develop as organically as possible, and then editing choices were made to fit the obligatory time limit. In any case, the regulars themselves again all provide good insights into their approaches to their role which both confirm what listeners are taking away from the stories, but also allow some interesting insights that may not have been obvious at first. And finally, the rationale behind how the creative team choose to end this series with more questions than ever before ensures that the wait for this July and Series 4 is a rather fraught one.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - 1781783225