Fresh from a triumphant TV return, UNIT is back with Big Finish for the start of Nemesis; a new epic and the perfect starting point for new listeners
With perfect timing, UNIT have returned for another series of adventures from Big Finish Productions. Undoubtedly, Kate Stewart’s Doctor Who homecoming was a television highlight of the past two weeks. But alongside her power struggle with the Grand Serpent, she, Osgood, and the rest of their team were back on audio too. And Nemesis 1: Between Two Worlds likewise represents a bit of a rebirth for the team.
The unpredictable, cunning villainy of rogue Time Lord The Eleven adds charisma and danger to the UNIT formula
Flux began a new era for UNIT, explaining their fall in 2017 and clearing the way for their return. Appropriately, Between Two Worlds moves Big Finish’s UNIT on in time too. Up until now UNIT series have taken place before the events of The Day of the Doctor. It was a setting which had begun to strain credulity a little. By the end Osgood had spent thirty episodes defeating Cybermen, trapped on submarines with Silurians, and travelling to alternate universes. Her growing confidence and experience had no longer truly tied in with the meek researcher we first met on screen.
So its a smart move that this new set jumps in time at least as far as Death in Heaven. It also makes for the ideal jumping on point for any newcomers. As does the fact that this is beginning of a brand new epic, the first of four Nemesis boxsets.
The addition of evil Time Lord the Eleven to this mix is another masterstroke. One of Big Finish’s most successful original villains, he’s been the Eighth Doctor’s greatest nemesis in recent years. But if you haven’t encountered him before, this is the best introduction you could ask for. All ten of his previous, argumentative, contrary, incarnations continue to live in his head. The result is a current version who often feels like someone herding cats in pursuit of a common agenda. But there’s more than that to make him distinct among the echelons of renegade Gallifreyans. His schemes and plans feel more rational and achievable than the Master’s, or instance. And more than anything else, he’s sly.
The Enemy Beyond brings the Eleven to Earth and introduces his quest to find the Arch that drives the narrative
The Enemy Beyond kicks off the action with the discovery of a mysterious stone arch buried at the bottom of a lake beneath millions of years of rock. With shades of Agents of SHIELD’s Hive storyline, it turns out to be a gateway to another planet; one which leaves one of the scientists examining it trapped halfway across the universe. Worse it’s already home to the last person to get stuck there, and they’re someone not very nice at all... Soon renegade Time Lord the Eleven has found his way to Earth. Despite swiftly escaping UNIT’s Edinburgh Castle stronghold, he’s desperate to get the Arch back to complete his masterplan.
As entertaining as previous UNIT boxsets have been, they’ve often focused on corrupt politicians and businessmen, or somewhat faceless monsters like the Silence or the Autons. Placing UNIT toe to toe with a mercurial, eccentric figure like the Eleven heightens the tension and drama marvellously. The feints, deceptions and mind games played by both sides make for satisfying ebb and flow between them. And by the end of the first episode, the Eleven has developed a fierce enmity for Kate that adds a nice personal frisson to the conflict.
Fire and Ice introduces a Harry Sullivan that’s lost in time in a down under adventure that makes great use of the Ice Warriors
Ostensibly, Fire and Ice is about the quest to neutralize the Eleven’s bioweapon in case he uses it again. But considering he never actually does, it’s a sidestep from the main action in which UNIT UK becomes involved in a skirmish with Ice Warriors in Australia. They’ve gone down under to recruit the expertise of a certain Harry Sullivan (Christopher Naylor), extracting him from an undercover operation. Quite how Harry, along with a woman called Naomi Cross (Eleanor Crooks), have wound up transplanted from the 1970s to the 21st century isn’t explained. That there was “an incident” is all we’re told. No doubt, in timey-wimey style, we’ll find out more about the pair’s recent past in future Fourth Doctor Adventure.
From the moment Harry struggles with an electric car while escaping an elite Ice Warrior death squad, it becomes clear that this is one of Big Finish’s most successful bits of recasting yet. Naylor’s no impressionist, but his natural speaking voice is startling close to Marter’s. And both he and the script perfectly captures Harry’s affable, slightly flustered manner. The difficult territory of Harry adjusting to a world where his boss is a woman is also skillfully navigated, with Harry endearingly keen to get it right. Just as well since the leader of this elite Ice Warrior death squad is also a female.
Like the best Ice Warrior stories, Fire and Ice plays in the moral grey the Martians live in. They may have a strong sense of honour towards those that win their respect. But it comes tied to a dangerous disregard for the lives of everyone else. And the circling dance of Kate and Jekernia (Olivia Poulet) using both shows of force and good will to win each other’s trust and respect is extremely satisfying. It also highlights Kate’s unique place in the Doctor Who universe. It’s hard to imagine either her father’s or the Doctor’s approaches succeeding as Kate’s does here.
Eleven’s Eleven isn’t the labyrinthine heist movie the title suggests, but features an enticing game of cat and mouse between the Eleven and UNIT. But which is cat and which is mouse?
The second half of the boxset brings us back to the UK to catch up with the Eleven’s scheme in what’s effectively a neat two parter. The Eleven is determined to track down where the Arch’s hiding place, recruiting a gang of professional thieves to help. In Eleven’s Eleven his new crew of, well, eleven, pull off a series of ambitious heists. Despite the playful allusion of the title, the robberies typically involve nothing more ingenious than digging a tunnel or hopping over a wall, while the crew meanwhile consists of the Eleven, nine generic henchmen and hardened gangster Ava Drake (Maggie Service). But the real action lies in the socially distanced tug of war between the Eleven and Osgood. They play move and countermove as they attempt to frustrate each other’s experiments from afar in scenes that highlight the best of each character.
Ava’s alliance with the Time Lord is another highlight of the set. She’s a character who seems to have wandered in lost from the set of Line of Duty. Yet she accepts the outlandish truth behind the Eleven’s schemes with a shrug so long as the money is good. It also showcases another unique selling point of the Eleven. While the Master wears his black heart on his sleeve, the Eleven’s much more convincing as someone who only kills when it’s necessary to his goals. It maeks Ava’s belief she can come out of Nemesis with the money and her life seems much more plausible.
The Curator’s Gambit lets us experience Tom Baker’s mysterious guardian in action in a wonderfully clever battle of wills
By The Curator’s Gambit, the Eleven has located the Arch at the Undergallery. It’s all hands on deck for UNIT to protect the facility under Trafalgar Square. The result is a wonderfully unbalanced battle of wits between the Eleven and the Curator. The Time Lord criminal is placed on the back foot from early on as he had absolutely no idea the Undergallery is protected by such a formidable figure.
And the script takes a perfect course through the mystery of the Curator’s identity. There are hints that he’s been with the Undergallery for a very long time indeed. Kate adopts the same air of slight awe and deference with the Curator as she does the Doctor, and Osgood is sure there’s something very familiar about him that she can’t quite put her finger on. But ultimately, he defines himself as “the Curator. I take care of things. That’s all anybody needs to know.” And after all these years of seeing the Doctor besting whatever obstacles are set in his path, there’s something pleasing about seeing the traps the Curator lays for the unwary. Naturally, Tom Baker will automatically become the high point of anything he appears in. However it’s particularly special to hear him in a different mode, as the smooth, all knowing Curator.
The closing scenes succeed in both satisfying completing Between Two Worlds, and leaving you sitting on the edge of your seat for Nemesis 2
The overall structure of Between Two Worlds, with the Eleven’s quest to find the Arch, feels so complete and well structured that until the final minutes it’s easy to forget that this is Nemesis 1. But the final scenes swerve unexpectedly into a 24 carrot cliffhanger. It’s one that deepens the mystery of the Arch and sets UNIT on a path towards even greater danger than they’ve known so far. Hopefully the next installment will also bring some old friends centre stage. If there’s one disappointment to Between Two Worlds it’s that it sidelines some old favourites to make way for the new characters. The return of Colonel Shindi and Sam is high on Blogtor Who’s wishlist for next time.
UNIT: Nemesis 1 – Between Two Worlds opens up a whole new era for Kate Stewart, Osgood and her team. The addition of the Eleven’s delicious menace to the mix and the special pleasure of a full length adventure for the Curator makes for a thrilling new entry in the series. Nemesis is keeping most of its secrets to itself for now. But this strongly written first installment promises the beginning of something truly special.
UNIT – Nemesis 1 is available to order as a collector’s edition CD (for just £24.99). It’s also available as a digital download (for just £19.99) exclusively from the Big Finish website. Big Finish listeners can save money by ordering the bundle, containing all four volumes in the UNIT – Nemesis series. The bundle is just £88 (as a collector’s edition CD) or £79 (as a download).