Over the course of the last few years, Big Finish have been playing with the UNIT family from the modern era of Doctor Who. We’ve been re-introduced to Kate Stewart and Osgood. Then we met Sam Bishop and Josh Carter. This eighth series, UNIT Incursions, sees the team facing threats both old and new. They also come face-to-face with the enigmatic Professor River Song.
The Sleep of Death
This set kicks off with The Sleep of Death by Jonathan Morris. This story is a continuation of Static from Big Finish’s Doctor Who Main Range. While some knowledge of that story is helpful, it isn’t necessary as everything is explained in the first few minutes. In typical UNIT fashion, Morris sees to it that things get out of hand pretty quickly. Even the first scene ends with a bang! From that point on the script rarely lets up. Morris has a great handle on the characters with Kate, Osgood and Josh getting plenty of time to shine. James Joyce certainly runs with the material provided to him. There is quite an amusing moment between him and Osgood in particular.
Morris also show us once again why the characters of Kate and Osgood were so popular when they made their television debuts. Gemma Redgrave is excellent as Kate Stewart, never letting the ball drop. It is clear that she is the daughter of the Brigadier but that UNIT isn’t the only thing in her life. Ingrid Oliver is also as brilliant as always. While there were some fans who criticised Osgood on television, the audio format has really allowed her character to shine and it is clear that Oliver is having a ball here.
Where The Sleep of Death slips slightly is in its villain. The human element, Warren Calder, played by Andrew French is a great addition. However, the Static themselves don’t really get much to do except wander around. It is a shame as they were brilliant in their previous audio appearance. But Jonathan Morris still manages to show us why they were such a great creation in the first place and the sound of the ringing phone is still really creepy!
The second story, Tempest by Lisa McMullin is another interesting story in the UNIT canon with the weather itself threatening to destroy the planet. Tempest is particularly good at handling a truly alien species. At one point Kate can’t describe them to Osgood and it is a great moment which confirms there are some things beyond human-comprehension. Not only does McMullin handle the main cast brilliantly, but the side characters too. Dotty Mother McCraken and the gruff Oil-Rigger, Joel Sanders round out a brilliant cast. Sanders proves an interesting foil for Kate, in a little side-story providing commentary on how corporations are more concerned about profit than they are the planet. Mother McCraken also easily stands alongside the dottier older women in the Whoniverse like Amelia Rutherford!
A few narrative decisions and strange character moves hinder the piece and stop it from becoming a fantastic little story. As a result, it never quite reaches its full potential. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had along the way!
The Power of River Song – Part 1
Guy Adams closes Series 8 out with the two-part story, The Power of River Song which, as the title suggests, sees Alex Kingston return to the role of Professor Song. Throughout the last few years on Big Finish, River Song has gone from strength to strength. She has met almost every incarnation of the Doctor as well as many of his enemies and allies. It was only a matter of time before she met UNIT and this story certainly has some explosive consequences.
Following a rather amusing moment between Kate and a coffee machine, the action quickly kicks off and by necessity, the opening episode sets up the mystery and pace of the overall piece. With temporal anomalies and spoilers too big to reveal here, UNIT has their hands full pretty early on.
Gemma Redgrave puts in another particularly good performance in this one, clearly enjoying the scripts provided. But this is also another audio where, whether by accident or design, some of the performances go a little over-the-top. However by the time the opening instalment winds down, Adams has cleverly left things on a tantalising cliff-hanger with the second half promising to be a story of epic proportions.
The Power of River Song – Part 2
The Power of River Song Part 2 proves to be as epic as promised. With the UNIT Team split up across time, we get some great moments that show us how much they have developed over the course of the last seven series on Big Finish. There is one particularly brilliant moment towards the end where things look a little bleak for Osgood and Ingrid Oliver makes sure to give us a heart breaking performance.
This episode also makes the interesting move to show us a River Song who is no longer in control. Previously several steps ahead of the enemy, here her own Vortex Manipulator seems to be the reasons for the problems. Kingston rises to the challenge excellently, showing us a vulnerability to the character that we have never really seen before. Although River is clearly the ‘Doctor’-type character in this story, it is also interesting that the UNIT characters don’t really trust her implicitly. Adams shows River Song in a very different light here, proving that new things can still be done with her character.
The villains that Guy Adams delivers here are interesting and certainly unique to the Who landscape but they don’t really do much here except stand around, kill people and try to take over the world. But it would be interesting to hear from them again, either here in a UNIT story or a Doctor Who story proper. It cannot be denied that both episodes of The Power of River Song are incredibly imaginative, immersive and have an immensely visual nature to them. This allows it to stand out as the strongest of the set, despite only minor flaws along the way.
This is another great set of adventures for the UNIT gang and for a time, it seems it will be the last. While they will return in the upcoming Legacy of the Doctor release in a couple of months, we have to wait until next year before the next set. UNIT Incursions does have minimal flaws but is a great thrill-ride all the same. Jonathan Morris gives us another delightfully creepy adventure for the Static which expands upon his creations. Lisa McCullin’s Tempest gives the cast a little breather and allows them to have a bit of fun in a story with some serious messages for the listener to uncover. Finally, The Power of River Song shows us how there is still new life to breathed into both the UNIT characters as well as the mysterious River Song.
There is some fantastic sound design and music from Howard Carter which really helps establish each episode on its own terms. Once again Ken Bentley proves why he is such a great director at Big Finish, making sure each episode rattles along at pace. Whilst UNIT Incursions isn’t as strong an entry into the UNIT world as some of its predecessors, it certainly doesn’t fail in trying to reach those heights. It is well worth a listen. A tremendous cast, brilliant, unique and different adventures from Jonathan Morris, Lisa McCullin and Guy Adams shows that this franchise still has stories to tell. More please!
This title was released in April 2019. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until June 30th 2019, and on general sale after this date.
Threats to our planet come in many forms. Some are alien visitations, some lay dormant in Earth itself, and occasionally, danger arrives with a big gun and fantastic hair.
Whatever the threat, whoever the enemy, UNIT is ready to defend the world.
8.1 This Sleep of Death by Jonathan Morris
Abbey Marston. UNIT’s dark secret. A place where the laws of space and time, life and death, can be suspended. Where remembering the departed has consequences…
When UNIT faces a threat from a dead man, Kate has no choice but to return to Abbey Marston once more, to disturb the sleep of death. But the Static are waiting…
8.2 Tempest by Lisa McMullin
When the planet’s weather systems start behaving strangely, Osgood is worried. Soon, she and Sam Bishop are heading to a remote Scottish island where an eccentric old woman speaks to the wind itself.
Meanwhile, Kate Stewart visits a deep-sea oil-rig where strange things are afoot. A tempest is coming, and it could be disaster for the entire world.
8.3 The Power of River Song Part 1 by Guy Adams
UNIT has been assigned to monitor the switch-on of a revolutionary new power system – they know from experience such things can be tricky.
Nearby, Osgood and Lieutenant Bishop investigate mysterious disappearances – and appearances of trans-temporal phenomena. Kate would like to ask the Director some questions, but she’s proving strangely elusive… until there’s a murder.
8.4 The Power of River Song Part 2 by Guy Adams
There’s a dead body in the power station. River Song is the prime suspect. And Kate is most concerned by the identity of the victim.
Meanwhile, Sam and Jacqui chase Vikings, while Osgood finds herself out of time. As deadly predators focus their attention on Earth, it seems activating the power of River Song could spell the end of everything…
- Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart)
- Ingrid Oliver (Osgood)
- Alex Kingston (River Song)
- Warren Brown (Sam Bishop)
- Ajjaz Awad (Private Meghan Coates)
- Andrew French (Sergeant Warren Calder)
- Chris Jarman (Joel Sanders)
- James Joyce (Captain Josh Carter)
- Alexandra Mathie (Mother McCracken)
- Hywel Morgan (Jeff / Barney)
- Leighton Pugh (Leif / Wampeerix)
- Enzo Squillino Jnr (Mr Chant)
- Tracy Wiles (Jacqui McGee)