The Nemesis saga continues with Agents of the Vulpreen as UNIT’s most exciting battle for the Earth yet accelerates
With the arrival of UNIT: Nemesis 2 – Agents of the Vulpreen, the overall shape of this four box set epic has begun to take shape. It’s emerging like a fractal image of an old school Doctor Who four parter. Each volume so far corresponds roughly to the function of the matching episode in a classic serial. Meanwhile the four episodes within each box themselves do the same thing on a smaller scale. Nemesis 1: Between Two Worlds kicked off with The Enemy Beyond introducing and establishing the menace of renegade Time Lord the Eleven as effectively as any pre-credits sequence.
The rest of Between Two Worlds threw questions at the listener, for later investigation. Such as how an interstellar archway wound up buried under the sea, and who built it. Or why the Eleven is so keen to re-establish a connection with the other side. Volume One’s closing moments followed the best Doctor Who traditions by giving us our first sound of our new villains. We first meet the Vulpreen, bipedal, reptilian wolves, as they bear down on poor Jacqui, trapped on their side of the Arch. It’s as sudden and dramatic as Daleks advancing on a companion at the end of a Terry Nation Part One.
The Man from Gallifrey lays out the scale of the threat from the Vulpreen
Agents of the Vulpreen satisfyingly places the next piece of the jigsaw on the board. And like a classic Part Two, it’s all about revealing the nature of our new monsters, how they operate, and what they want. First episode The Man from Gallifrey deftly sidesteps the challenges of exposition by introducing Celestial Intervention Agent Hasper. The Vulpreen are still contained on the far side of the Arch, and the Eleven in no mood to share his secrets. So Hasper conveniently arrives to brief Kate, Osgood, and the rest of the UNIT team on exactly what they’re up against.
The Vulpreen, it turns out, are another of those pesky, genocidal, cosmos threatening species that the Time Lords figuratively put back in their box and stashed in a cupboard under the stairs many years ago. Hasper trapped the Eleven alongside them too. But now, with the renegade Time Lord’s help, they’re perilously close to breaking free to rampage upon the Earth.
First contact between UNIT and the Time Lord authorities proper creates a unique friction of their overlapping agendas
But Hasper is more than a mere narrative device. His debonair style, and casual attitude to death traps makes him every inch the Gallifreyan James Bond and as fun as that sounds. And he’s an interesting addition to the mix as a Time Lord who’s neither an eccentric defender of humanity or a renegade egomaniac. Rather he has the dangerous edge of someone who may do what he can to preserve human life. But only so long as it doesn’t get in the way of his mission for his own people.
The story also introduces new regular Lt. Jimmy Tan, whose down-to-Earth nature and almost deadpan attitude to alien invasions marks him out as a kind of modern day Benton amid the brainiac scientists and wise-cracking daredevils of the team. There is a sense of him plugging a Sam Bishop shaped hole in the storyline, however. And with Sam, like Colonel Shindi, AWOL for a second box set in a row, hopefully Jimmy’s debut isn’t a sign of no more Warren Brown in UNIT.
Power of the Dominators places the arc on standby for a hilarious slice of pure retro fun
The set follows the same pattern as the first volume. There’s an introductory episode and an explosive two part finale sandwiching a largely unrelated side story. This time, Power of the Dominators is the odd one out, but no less fun for it. In fact writer Kenneth Grant builds the story upon one of the most appealing silly ideas Big Finish have had yet. Prepare yourself for the Dominators going undercover on Earth! From the moment the story opens with a TV commercial starring Gareth Armstrong’s Director Prast, extolling the virtues of the new model town Porstone New Town and calling on people to move there, huge humour is drawn from these most unsubtle of Doctor Who villains completely failing to pass for human businessmen.
The script is positively gleeful in refusing to reimagine either the Dominators or their diminutive henchbots the Quarks. Prast and his subordinate Sabo (Andrew James Spooner) bark and glower and proclaim their threats as worthy successors to their 60s forebears. The very idea of them running a mindfulness course is inherently hilarious. But that’s just one of the concepts scattered throughout. Dominator fans will also be pleased to hear that their big plan is as deliciously logic free as ever. Even if the notion of a new build town with a dark alien secret is becoming a well worn Big Finish standard, Power of the Dominators’ blissful retro fun demands your attention. Command accepted!
The War Factory and Ten Minutes in Hell sees the long awaited return of Brigadier Bambera in a tense pitched battle worthy of the big screen
That finale, The War Factory/Ten Minutes in Hell, is suitably edge of the seat stuff. The Eleven’s obsession with bringing the Vulpreen to Earth enters a critical phase as his experiments with the Arch both edge closer to successfully opening it and create temporal distortions signalling his location to UNIT. The result is a race both against and through time, as past and future begin to overlap around the Arch. Osgood and Jacqui find themselves on a future Earth devastated by an apocalyptic war with the Vulpreen. There they face the temptation of ‘borrowing’ that timeline’s anti-Vulpreen weapons for use in their present.
Meanwhile Kate and Josh pursue the Eleven back in time, coming unexpectedly face to face with Brigadier Bambera. The 1990s UNIT team are investigating the same time fractures from the other side, and the script makes brilliant use of the opportunity to match two of UNIT’s finest together. Angela Bruce’s Bambera is as blunt and courageous as ever. Kate rises to the challenge of keeping up, the two saving the world side by side in fine style.
The UNIT team are tested like never before as even greater dangers ahead come into sight
Meanwhile, the second half of the story continues the battle to secure the archway and stop the Vulpreen from establishing a beachhead on Earth. It also makes clever use of what’s already been established about the Vulpreen. The result is a proper test of character for Kate, and of the loyalty of her team. Some of the character work around the edges of the two parter doesn’t quite convince, with the Eleven succeeding with a very thin line in psychological manipulation on a very credulous UNIT trooper, and pretty standard tactics consistently befuddle the Vulpreen’s supreme leader.
But the overall package is an intense and action packed battle for survival that underscores exactly the sort of story UNIT can tell that’s largely impossible in Doctor Who itself. And it leads Agents of the Vulpreen to a classic Part Two cliffhanger, signalling the stakes are about to get even higher for Nemesis Volume Three.
Full of high octane thrills and action, Agents of the Vulpreen is UNIT at its most exciting and epic
Nemesis continues to represent a new direction for UNIT. But it sacrifices none of the high octane thrills and action of the earlier series. Instead this is where the format of a single, sixteen episode series begins to pay off. The space allows the twists and turns of the story to be deeper and more involving than the original format. And with us only at the midway point, there’s clearly plenty more drama and surprises to come.
UNIT has stopped the Eleven’s efforts to retrieve the Arch. But questions remain. How did an artefact imbedded with advanced technology become buried under a prehistoric lava flow? Why does it form a connection with an alien world? And just who are the Vulpreen, the alien race that live there?
Those questions are about to be answered…